Big Island


The Big Island was my home base for my internship, and as a result, this page has the most day trips by far. After having the opportunity to visit the four main islands, I am confident in saying that the Big Island is my favorite, and I’m happy I got to live in Hilo. The Big Island is larger than the other three main islands combined and gets the second least amount of visitors, just shortly ahead of Kauai. Most of the tourism is found on the western side of the island in Waikoloa and Kailua-Kona, leaving Hilo almost untouched by tourists. Even if it is the third rainiest city in the country, living here was a great way to experience the local life of Hawaii. Below you’ll find a sample of the day trips I’ve written up during my time here:

Day Trip I: Hamakua Coast

This day trip was my second day on the island. I wanted to explore, but also save money, so I settled on driving the Hamakua coastline. This trip includes a stop at Akaka Falls and details of my hike down into Waipio Valley. Afterward I stopped at the local favorite, Tex Drive-In for some toasty malasadas.

Waipi'o Valley Beach

Waipi’o Valley Beach

Day Trip II: Kona by Day and Night

This day trip brought me to Kona to visit some friends from Arizona. On Friday night we attended a luau and on Saturday, we explored Ali’i Drive and the coffee village Holualoa, where I roasted my very own coffee beans.

Looking over the Ueshima Coffee Company estate and down on Kona and the Pacific.

Looking over the Ueshima Coffee Company estate and down on Kona and the Pacific.

Day Trip III: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

After a few weeks of getting used to life in Hawaii, my coworkers and I decided to take the Hele On Bus for $1 down to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We spent the day exploring the mini-trails near the visitor center, trying not to freeze in the cloudy, rainy high-elevation weather.

The fiddlehead of a baby fern before it unfurls.

The fiddlehead of a baby fern before it unfurls.

Day Trip IV: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park II

Shortly after the previous day trip, we returned to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, this time with our own car. We used it to drive around the park and hike the Kilauea Iki Trail, followed by viewing Kilauea Crater by night.

The view from within Kilauea Iki Crater.

The view from within Kilauea Iki Crater.

Day Trip V: Pololu Valley

For this day trip we visited the northernmost valley in the Waipio chain (see Day Trip 1 for Waipio Valley). Since it was facing east, we decided to leave at 3am in hopes of viewing sunrise. The hike itself was magical, especially because we were the only people in the valley besides two campers. By the time we left, around 11am, the valley was busy with visitors making the trek down to the beach.

Pololu Valley

Pololu Valley

Day Trip VI: Ka Lae and Papakōlea Beach

Ka Lae is also known as South Point, the southernmost point in the United States. This is a big adventure spot for daredevils, due to the 40-foot cliff jump off the edge. We were lucky enough to visit on a sunny day when lots of people were out and about. Later that day we hiked two miles to Papakōlea Beach, also known as Green Sands Beach (one of two in the world)! The beach qualifies as a green sand beach because the sand is made of olivine; however, when we were there it was overcast and the sand didn’t look as vividly green as we were hoping.

Papakōlea Beach (Green Sands Beach)

Papakōlea Beach (Green Sands Beach)

Day Trip VII: Mauna Kea Observing Run

My Mauna Kea observing run was probably the highlight of my trip. I got to spend one night acclimatizing and the next three nights observing on the tallest mountain in the world. I even got to observe during a laser run!

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Sunrise over Mauna Kea. Four large telescopes from left to right: Subaru, Keck I and II, IRTF. Lower left are the telescopes that make up submillimeter valley. The dark blue peak in the background is the shadow of Mauna Kea. On full moon nights, the moon sets just as the sun rises.

Day Trip VIII: Things To Do In and Around Hilo

This post is all about the town where I spent seven months living. The third wettest city in the country, Hilo is sometimes overlooked by tourists, but it has quite a lot to offer. The trip included a visit to the botanical gardens, tsunami museum, the local zoo, one of several waterfalls, a planetarium and of course, the Hilo Farmers’ Market.

Pane'ewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens is definitely the most eclectic zoo I've ever seen; there are birds everywhere!

Pane’ewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens is definitely the most eclectic zoo I’ve ever seen; there are birds everywhere!

Day Trip IX: Adventures in Kohala

This day trip was packed with adventure, as I had a long-time childhood friend visiting. Our first day was spent zip lining, exploring beaches and horseback riding.

A photo taken by my friend Kim during our horseback ride in beautiful Kohala.

A photo taken by my friend Kim during our horseback ride in beautiful Kohala.

Day Trip X: Sea Turtles and Sea Arches

The second day my friend was on the Big Island, we visited Punalu’u Beach (known for its sea turtle population) and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park again. This time at the park, we drove to the end of Chain of Craters road.

Lava stops for no one!

Lava stops for no one!

Day Trip XI: Hiilawe Falls

Hiilawe Falls is located at the back of Waipio Valley. The hike itself is only two miles, but it is on a road with an average grade of 25-40% followed by a mile upstream a river. I was sore for days after doing this hike.

The waterfall drops almost 1500 feet, making us appear tiny by comparison.

The waterfall drops almost 1500 feet, making us appear tiny by comparison.

Day Trip XII: Kapoho, Honaunau and Kealakekua

This blog post is actually composed of three day trips to three of the best snorkeling sites on the Big Island, although there are many great ones. My favorite was Kealakekua Bay, which is famous for a reason. But Kapoho Tide Pools and Honaunau Bay are both great options for snorkeling as well. As a bonus, this post ends with a beautiful Kona sunset.

One of the views from Kealakekua Bay.

One of the views from Kealakekua Bay.

Day Trip XIII: Honokane Nui Trail

The Honokane Nui Trail starts in Pololu Valley (see Day Trip V) and continues into Honokane Nui Valley for a round trip total of about 6 miles. Pololu Valley was one of my favorite places on the Big Island, and I vowed to return one last time before I left. On this trip, we continued hiking from Pololu and completed the treacherous descent into Honokane Nui, repelling down a “trail” that had been destroyed by an earthquake 7 years previously.

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One false step and you’ll be tumbling for awhile.

Day Trip IV: Pick a Beach

View this page for a rundown of all the Big Island beaches I visited. Keep in mind, there are many more!

Leaving Makalawena as the sun begins to set.

Leaving Makalawena as the sun begins to set.

Day Trip XV: The Final Drive

Before leaving the Big Island for good, I devoted one day to driving around the entire island, taking in the varied landscapes and visiting some new, out-of-the-way destinations. Some of my favorite photos are from this day trip, so I highly recommend checking it out!

Kilauea Iki in the early morning

Kilauea Iki in the early morning

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