Things to Do in Big Island of Hawaii - page 2
Set back a block from Hilo’s coastline are scores of towering and sprawling banyan trees with their thick and unique trunks. Similar trees can be found throughout the state, but what makes these fifty specimens unique is their planters. Between 1933 and 1972, many famous celebrities, political figures, authors and Hawaiians personally planted or dedicated these banyan seedlings as a way to commemorate their visit or honor friends. In front of the Hilo Hawaiian hotel, a particularly large road-shading tree has a small sign indicating it was planted by George Herman “Babe” Ruth, and across Banyan Drive are trees planted by King George V, Queen Elizabeth and Richard Nixon. Other famous names visible on placards along the leafy corridor are Franklin Roosevelt, movie star Cecil B. DeMille and his wife Constance, Amelia Earhart, volcanologist Dr. Thomas Jaggar (whose name is given to the Jaggar Museum at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park) and musician Louis Armstrong. Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that the many of the trees here have persevered through three city-devastating tsunamis. Giant waves swept through Hilo in 1946, 1960 and 1975, and though these trees were not lost, a combined 222 people were.
Mokuola, or Coconut Island, is just offshore from the Big Island’s Lili‘uokalani Gardens and connected by a wide footbridge. Easy access and calm waters make it one of the Hilo’s most convenient and popular beaches. It’s great for swimming and sea turtle watching, and the picnic tables and grassy areas often host barbecues and local events.
Curvy, cozy and impossibly green, the Hamakua Coast is a verdant time portal on the Big Island’s northeastern side. Often referred to as the “Hamakua Heritage Corridor,” this 50-mile stretch of two-lane road passes through small, historic towns and offers a sumptuous buffet of scenery around every hairpin turn. Sugar was once king along this coast, and though the last field was planted in 1994, vestiges of the plantation past lay scattered along the trail.
Leave the city of Hilo behind and venture north toward Akaka Falls, continuing past the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden to the town of Laupahoehoe. Here you’ll find the Laupahoehoe Train Museum, a small building that showcases the history of the Hawaii Consolidated Railway. The train was vital for transporting sugar from the fields to the port of Hilo, although a devastating tsunami in 1946 obliterated the tracks.
Continue along a serpentine road oft likened to the Road to Hana, and make a stop in sleepy Honoka‘a for a dose of small town charm. Ranching and farming are big in these parts, and the rural economy and coastal location make for a haven for free-spirited artists. Continue further to Waipio Valley, the official end of the road, and if your legs are feeling up for the journey, take a hike down the state’s steepest road to the taro-lined valley floor. Waipio is the valley where King Kamehameha was hidden away as a child, and the way of life and secluded surroundings have changed little since the days of the king.
One of the most scenic roads on the Big Island, the Chain of Craters Road stretches for 19 miles (31 kilometers) from the summit of Kilauea Volcano to sea level, a change in elevation of 3,700 feet (1,128 meters). The drive offers stunning vistas across changing landscapes, access to different volcanic features, and other interesting sites.
Kilauea Iki crater is one of the most visited spots in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and its most popular hike cuts across the floor of the crater—a walk into the heart of an active volcano. Though today the crater looks tame from above, steam vents still rise from areas with moisture, and the otherworldly terrain of the crater floor is unique among others in the Hawaiian chain.
Situated on a hill overlooking Kealakekua Bay, St. Benedict’s Painted Church is a small yet beautiful church known for its lavishly painted interior. An active Roman Catholic parish, the church welcomes visitors and is also listed on the Hawaii State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places.
Enjoy a rush of color and fragrance as you enter Hawaii the Big Island’s Akatsuka Orchid Gardens. Brimming with flowers, exhibits, and hands-on activities, the immersive experience is as meticulously curated as the orchids themselves. See more than 500 orchids, learn the growing process, dine in the greenhouse, and plant an orchid to take home.
Operating for 30+ years, the Hilo Farmers Market is considered by some to be among the best in the US. More than 200 farmers and vendors sell everything from locally grown produce and fresh-caught seafood to handmade cosmetics, original artwork, and coffee. Even just lunch and a shave ice from the myriad food stalls are worth the trip.
Globally, Kaʻu coffee may not have the same ring to it as Kona coffee does, but on Island many say the coffee produced in Kona’s southerly neighboring district is just as good. Kaʻu Coffee Mill, perhaps the largest and most outward facing of the plantations in Kau, takes its beans from branch to brew onsite with regular scheduled tours of its volcanic-soil loving plants, drying mill and roastery. Should you miss the tour, the company offers a big glass window into its drying and roasting production facilities, visible anytime during business hours.
Inside the small but bright and cheerful gift shop is the best part: Tastings of their estate brews and locally-produced macadamia nuts. Among the most popular varieties here include their Peaberry and the unique coconut caramel crunch or macadamia nut-flavored roasts. While you’re tasting, be sure to gaze up at the coffee-themed murals that line the upper walls, or read about noteworthy locals on the Kaʻu Coffee Farmers' Wall of Fame. There’s plenty of coffee to take home, including their 100% estate grown coffee in single-use cups for your coffee maker.
Though this stately two-story lava rock and stucco home in downtown Kailua-Kona is no castle, it did serve as a vacation home for royalty in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Built by Hawaii’s second governor John Adams Kuakini in 1838, the six-room estate was handed down to Princess Ruth Keelikolani after his death, and she opened its doors to many visiting members of the Hawaiian royal family including King Kalākaua and Queen Kapiolani. The palace today is run as a museum of Hawaiian artifacts downstairs—including kapa (bark) cloth, King Kamehameha’s own giant spears, royal busts—and a showcase of royal life with original Victorian furniture and details—koa wood furniture, original bed frames and quilts—upstairs. Docent-led tours give a brief overview of Hawaiian and palace history including the rapid adoption of European tastes evident in the home’s décor.
Set on prime ocean-front real estate in the heart of downtown Kailua-Kona off Alii Drive, the palace is close to other historic attractions including the islands' oldest Christian church (1820) across the street and the final residence of Island-uniting King Kamehameha I visible from the palace’s top floor lanai (porch). A small gift shop on the property outside the palace sells Hawaiian cultural books and souvenirs, and one Sunday a month, traditional music and hula performances take place on the palace lawn.
More Things to Do in Big Island of Hawaii
When it comes to the macadamia nut, never has a nut been so difficult to crack but so tremendously easy to eat. Whether eaten whole, covered in chocolate, or crushed into a succulent brittle, the macadamia is a culinary staple of Hawaiian treats and desserts.
Luckily for travelers visiting Hilo, there is an entire factory and sprawling orchard devoted solely to the wonders of this nut. At the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory, a self-guided tour explains the process of harvesting these off-white nuts, from the lengthy and protracted growing process right up through roasting and canning. More than just a look at the production process, there are also recipes on the dozens of ways to consume a macadamia. From standard methods of baking them in cookies to wasabi or onion flavoring, even the most accomplished gourmands and foodies will likely pick up some tips. Best of all, free samples are often distributed in the visitor center gift shop, and from the moment you turn on Macadamia Road and make the three-mile drive through the orchard, everything about this farm experience seems tasty, engaging, and fresh.
This popular stretch of Kohala Coast beach, commonly called A-Bay, offers beachgoers a little bit of everything needed for a fun day. Known for its fairly calm surf, Anaeho'omalu Bay offers rentals of an assortment of water toys ranging from kayaks to boogie boards. It’s also a popular spot to snorkel, so if you packed your gear, bring it along. The earlier you go, the smaller the crowds. Palms trees add to the picturesque setting, framing sunset views in the evening and providing shade in the heat of the day.
The beach has a bit of a wild side when it comes to creatures you’ll see. Turtles seem to like it here just as much as people so take plenty of pictures to show everyone back home, but keep a safe distance. They enjoy relaxing on the beach just like you. You can also see a collection of feral cats that are cared for by volunteers.
A nine-foot-tall golden-helmeted and spear-wielding bronze depiction of King Kamehameha the Great stands on the North Kohala Civic Center lawn in the tiny town of Kapaau. Though there are similar statues honoring the King throughout the state—including notably in Hilo and fronting the State Supreme Court in Honolulu—this site is perhaps the most significant to the king’s own story: He was born not far from here in 1758, and lived his first few years in hiding deep within a nearby valley where he was safe from battling tribal factions. Kamehameha would later prove his strength, acquiring each of the Islands for the Kingdom of Hawaii by 1810.
The statue, originally intended for a site in Honolulu and constructed in Europe, took several years to make. However, the ship transporting it to Hawaii wrecked in a storm near the Falkland Islands and the heavy sculpture sank to the bottom of the sea. Insurance money was used to quickly replace the missing statue with an even taller one, and that arrived in Honolulu in 1883 where it still stands today. Meanwhile, entrepreneurial fishermen lifted the original and sold it back to the Kingdom of Hawaii for a bargain price. Seeking a spot for the ill-fated statue, the state decided to place the original commissioned bronze here. Each June 11th—the state holiday honoring Kamehameha—all statues of the King, including this one, are draped in community-strung floral lei to celebrate his legacy.
This rocky beach at Pohoiki Bay is a popular surf location and a favorite spot with locals. Weekends often mean crowds, so if you’re looking for peace and quiet, think about a weekday visit. Shoreline views live up to the images that pop into your mind when you imagine Hawaii, just without soft sand in between your toes—it’s rough and rocky, so be sure to have good shoes.
Pohoiki Bay is known for strong currents and rough water, yet Isaac Hale Beach Park (pronounced HA-lay) is still a spot many visit to swim or snorkel. Challenging surf also makes it a popular area for surfers and admirers who make the trip just to watch the professionals tackle the waves.
Along with a boat ramp, there are picnic tables, restrooms and parking. A quick walk along a shoreline trail near the boat ramp leads to a small natural hot spring ideal for soaking.
Yellow tang, surgeon fish, multi-colored parrot fish, pufferfish, humuhumunukunukuapuaa (Hawaii’s state fish) and over 100 other species can be spotted in this crystal clear and protected cove south of Kailua-Kona. Kahaluu Beach Park’s small stretch of white coral and black lava beach makes this one of the great and rare Hawaii Island snorkeling spots that also affords easy ocean access. Couple that with its picturesque setting—fringed with palms and bookended by the tiny white-clapboard 1880s Saint Peter by the Sea mission—shallow u-shaped bay, and year-round water temperatures hovering between 75 and 81 degrees, and Kahaluu is a strong a contender for the Island’s best snorkeling locale. Beyond the ancient rock wall said to be built by Menehune (a hard-working race of little people in Hawaiian legends), seasonal breakers around five feet high entice both beginner and moderately experienced surfers. During the winter months, monster waves rage and bring out the experts as they have for centuries—it’s said this was a popular surf spot foralii (Hawaiian royalty). With all of these great features, Kahaluu Beach Park’s charms are no secret—after around 10 a.m. it can be challenging to find a spot in the parking lot or on the sand.
Hawaii the Big Island’s Hi‘ilawe Falls is a ribbon of white that plunges from lush green cliffs to the Waipio Valley floor. At 1,450 feet (442 meters) high, Hi‘ilawe is one of the tallest and most popular falls in the Hawaiian Islands. The cascade is set at the back of isolated Waipio Valley, so visitors typically view it from a distance.
Hualalai is massive, and yet it’s unknown. For all of its size and volcanic grandeur—gradually rising behind the town of Kona and fading into the clouds—this dormant volcano is shrouded in obscurity by its famous, more active neighbors.
At 8,200 feet in height, Hualalai isn’t nearly as high as Mauna Loa, and having last erupted in 1801, it isn’t considered nearly as active as the currently erupting Kilauea. Nevertheless, Hualalai remains an active volcano just miles from populous Kona, and experts feel that this sleeping volcano is on the brink of waking up.
It’s believed that Hualalai will erupt again within the next 100 years, potentially adding more black lava rock to Kona’s volcanic landscape. As the volcano sleeps, however, coffee farms continue to dominate its flanks and resorts now dot its shoreline. The odd hiker will occasionally venture up to its fog-lined, uppermost reaches, although since much of the land is private property, Hualalai mostly sits stoically behind Kona and silently lays in waiting.
Aside from the towering, active volcanoes that stoically rise behind town, nothing has helped shape Kona more than the coffee crop and its farmers. Plantation workers from around the globe arrived in Kona in the early 1900s to work sugar, coffee, and fruit farms, and the Kona Coffee Living History Farm is set on the grounds of the authentic and historic D. Uchida Coffee Farm. Having arrived from Japan in 1906 to work in a sugar plantation, Daisaku Uchida saw opportunity in coffee and leased this 5-acre, Captain Cook farm that is little changed today. When the lease on the farm was finally up, rather than see the area developed into residential homes, it was donated to the Kona Historical Society as a means of preserving this vital chapter of Kona’s plantation past. When visiting the Kona Coffee Living History Farm today, walk through the farmhouse where coffee was processed and learn the tricks of the trade, and also experience the daily life of pioneering farmers. For travelers who loves history, culture—and coffee—this is a truly an immersive and educational way to experience Kona’s past.
Along the Big Island’s lush Hamakua Coast, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is a nonprofit, rain forest nature preserve promoting education and ecology. The beautifully maintained living museum hosts thousands of native Hawaiian and international plant species, plus a variety of wildlife including birds, crabs, mongooses, and geckos.
One-part traditional science center and one-part cultural center, the Imiloa is a unique multidisciplinary museum that could only exist in Hawaii. Inside the campus’ conically-edged, volcano-inspired buildings, exhibits showcase scientific understanding of the origins of the universe alongside Hawaiian cultural exhibits. Exhibits are divided into two areas—origins and explorations—to help visitors appreciate the scientific understanding of the origins of the universe as well as Hawaiian cultural understanding of the cosmos and how the cosmos guide exploration, whether its into the stars themselves or using the stars to navigate over land and sea. A full-dome planetarium with daily, locally-relevant star (one show is included in admission cost) and free-to-explore native gardens are also highlights.
Operated by the University of Hawaii at Hilo and located in the foothills of Mauna Kea, several exhibits focus on Mauna Kea, shedding insight into both research taking place within the mountain’s 13 summit observatories and Hawaiian reverence for the mountain. Many of the longer tours visiting the summit observatories incorporate an informative stop at Imiloa.
On a grand section of the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, the best way to see Onomea Bay is with a scenic drive — granting views of the coastline, turquoise waters, and tropical forest. The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is located along the route, as is the Onomea Arch (which collapsed during an earthquake in 1956.) With many streams and waterfalls, it is a particularly lush area of the Big Island.
Historically the bay was a small fishing village for early Hawaiians, and became one of the Big Island’s biggest landing spots for large ships. There were once taro and sugarcane fields growing in the hills above, with both products being shipped out from the bay. The “Donkey Trail” is the path (now hike) from the remains of the old sugar mill that was used to take products down to the water for wider distribution. Now the bay is a much-loved scenic spot popular with snorkelers and those driving through.
Discover a unique tropical ecosystem, home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, from ancient and endangered native plants to rare birds, at the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary. Located at an altitude of 3,000 feet (914 meters) on the slopes of Mt. Hualalai, the 70-acre (28-hectare) sanctuary is the most accessible cloud forest on the Big Island.
Honaunau Bay, locally known as Two-Step Beach, is one of the Big Island’s best snorkeling spots. The shallow, calm water makes it a perfect spot for kids and beginner snorkelers, and free divers favor the bay’s deeper areas. The sandy bay’s bright tropical fish and occasional sea turtle or dolphin sightings make it well worth braving the crowds.
Understanding the significance of the Naha Stone requires understanding a bit of Hawaii’s history and the legendary lore of tradition and strength that accompanies it.
The Naha Stone is a rock that reportedly weighs between 2.5 and 3.5 tons and is believed to have been brought to Hilo from the island of Kauai using a double canoe. According to legend, in ancient times it was used by those of Naha descent in a test of royalty. When a baby boy was born, he was placed on the stone—if he stayed calm and quiet, he was Naha, and if he cried, he was not.
It was also believed that whoever could move the rock would rule Hawaii. Legend says King Kamehameha I proved his strength at the age of just 14, when he overturned the Naha Stone. Following years of conflict, it was King Kamehameha I who united the Hawaiian Islands into one royal kingdom in 1810.
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