A visitor walks toward Akaka Falls on Hawaii Island. // © 2012 Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson
With so many things to do on Hawaii Island, it’s no wonder they nicknamed it the Big Island. Land, sea and air adventures abound across the destination, and active visitors who are heading there will want to make a battle plan ahead of time in order to accomplish everything on their agenda.
Following is a list of my top 10 favorite Hawaii Island pastimes.
Paddle Boarding with Kona Boys
Here’s a way for visitors of all ages to experience the beautiful waters of Hawaii without getting wet. Even if visitors have never tried paddle boarding, Kona Boys will get them up on that board and out on the water in about 15 minutes. They're a family-owned and -operated business and they care about the customer’s experience. Kona Boys also offers kayaks and snorkel gear for rent, or visitors can book a tour. They are located at the beach shack in front of King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. A 90-minute group lesson costs $75 per person, which includes rental gear.
Hawaiian Coffee at Mountain Thunder
Mountain Thunder coffee is gourmet in every sense of the word, and possibly the best cup of coffee in the world. They offer complimentary coffee tasting plus a tour of the facilities. All of their coffee is handpicked and they grow, roast and bag their product. They even have a couple of sassy donkeys that provide some of the fertilizer. The coffee is not cheap at $31 per pound, but for the best cup of 100 percent Hawaiian coffee, this is the place to go. They have two locations: Kaloko and Kainaliu.
Gathering of the Kings at the Fairmont Orchid
Visitors who have been to a few luaus in Hawaii before and who want to try something a little different should book the Gathering of the Kings at the Fairmont Orchid, located on the Kohala Coast. The event features a sprawling and tasty buffet, one that only the Fairmont could offer, and an exciting live evening of entertainment. The Gathering of the Kings provides a moving historical story about the Polynesians through interpretative dancing, storytelling, beautiful costumes and native music. This is a great evening affair for the whole family. Tickets are $109 per adult and $75 per child ages 5-12.
Horseback Riding at Parker Ranch
A visit to Parker Ranch, founded in 1847, combines historical stories and nature. Parker Ranch is located in Waimea between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes. With over 150,000 sprawling acres, this is a working ranch with real paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys). Parker Ranch is at an elevation of about 3,500 feet and the views are breathtaking and the climate is cooler than in the beach area. Cowboys of Hawaii offers rides on gentle horses and the staff is very knowledgeable. Most tours are two hours long and cost $79 per person.
Helicopter Tours by Blue Hawaiian
Blue Hawaiian offers many helicopter tours but one of the most encompassing is the two-hour Big Island Spectacular. Leaving from Waikoloa, the first leg of the tour covers the coastline of the island, heading south and then east. It's a great way to get the lay of the land and plan for later day trips like Black Sand Beach. The flight continues to Hilo and the lush tropical side of the island with breathtaking waterfalls. After short layover for restroom breaks and refreshments, the helicopter flies over Kilauea caldera’s lava flow. Heading back to Kona, it flies over the entry point of the lava into the ocean. Many of Blue Hawaiian’s pilots are retired military pilots and excellent at their job. They know the area and are happy to answer any questions. The Big Island Spectacular starts at $396 per person.
Exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Plan the whole day for this exciting trip to one of the world’s most active volcanoes. From Kona it takes about two hours to drive to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park entrance. Then plan at least three hours to hike and take in the spiritual, natural and historical aspects of this changing topography. Be sure to visit the Jaggar Museum and Chain of Craters Road. The Crater Rim drive tour leads to Thurston Lava Tube, a massive lava cave. From the road, it's a short one-third mile walk through the tree fern forest. Visitors who have four or five hours to explore the park should check out the petroglyphs; it’s a fairly easy two-mile walk but they should still bring water. Park entrance fees are $10 per vehicle and $5 per individual on foot.
Snorkeling and Diving with Giant Manta Rays
Kona Honu Divers takes visitors on an exciting evening adventure with pelagic creatures. This is a three-hour boat trip that offers snorkeling or, for certified divers, scuba diving. These gentle giants are people-friendly, and their curiosity and playfulness have them rubbing right up next to swimmers, providing a beautiful underwater ballet. Their seven- to 12-foot span is daunting at first until it becomes clear they're not man-eaters. This is a wonderful nature excursion that visitors will never forget. Prices begin at $85 per person.
Kona Brewing Company
Located in Kona, this casual brewing company and restaurant offers up fabulous beer and food. From a Castaway IPA to a Pipeline Porter, there's something for every beer lover. Their hand-spun pizzas include fresh basil and oregano and whole milk mozzarella cheese. Appetizers include mac nut pesto cheese bread with roasted garlic and provolone. Entrees include imu pork with roasted red onions and black sand porter barbecue sauce. For dessert, don't miss the Kilauea Lava Flow, a chocolate fudge brownie with macadamia nut and locally-made Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream. Complimentary brewery tours are available at 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily.
Punaluu Black Sand Beach
Located on the southeastern Kau coast, Black Sand Beach is home to endangered green sea turtles. The black sand was formed over thousands of years from the constant lava flows into the ocean. The sun bouncing off of the magical, reflective crystals sets the tone for a memorable encounter with the sea turtles. This is a great place to end a day with a picnic and even a little snorkeling. Touching the turtles is prohibited but photos are encouraged.
Akaka Falls State Park
Visitors looking for the quintessential lush and tropical Hawaiian experience on Hawaii Island need to hit Akaka Falls, a short drive north from the eclectic town of Hilo. Along the half-mile trail visitors see colorful wild orchids, ferns, and plenty of bamboo groves. Kahuna Falls is the first picturesque waterfall they see on the trail and it’s 100 feet fall. Continuing on the trail, Akaka Falls reveals herself thundering down a whopping 442 feet allowing for incredible photo shoots. Admission to the park is $5 per car or $1 per pedestrian.