Exploring Hawaii, The Big Island: Our Top 6 Things To Do

Big Island: Top Activities

When David made his third trip back to the Big Island, he wanted an itinerary that was activity intensive. His previous trips were almost entirely made up of hotel site inspections, so it was time for him to see what there was to experience around the Island. Is the volcano worth the trip? What are the logistics of traveling in this part of the world? He returned to the office with many notes to share! Here are his favorite things to see and do on the Big Island:

Volcanoes National Park:

What’s there to do at Volcanoes NP?

  • Sit in the lounge of Volcano House with a drink and watch the smoldering crater of the volcano.
  • Have dinner at The Rim, the restaurant at Volcano House, which is excellent. Reserve your table early to get a seat by the window.
  • Take the walking tours to see the steam vents and sulfur banks.
  • Visit the Jaggar Museum after dark when you get a close-up view of the erupting crater.
  • Drive the Chain of Craters road down to the sea. Stop to visit the Thurston Lava Tube and any other points of interest, and visit the Holei Sea Arch. Note that you must enter the parking area before 9 p.m. From there, it’s a four mile hike (each direction) to the “firehose flow” where the lava drops into the sea.

Where to stay? Accommodations in the area of the National Park are frankly three-star. Nothing wrong with them, but don’t expect luxury accommodations. The top choice is Volcano House as it’s the only lodge inside the park. A small lodge, it has only 33 rooms and always books up, so be sure to book three-to-six months in advance. Choose a Volcano View room; You’ll have a view of the glowing crater like the photo above all night long! Do NOT choose the Deluxe Volcano Crater View room. While these supposedly offer the upgrade of an outdoor patio from which you can sit and see the volcano, the patio is just a concrete pad, and the view is much better from second floor rooms. Rooms here are small, 260 square feet, but appropriate for what you pay.

Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant is another option, outside the park but a very short drive away, perhaps 5 minutes. Prices are quite reasonable, and its restaurant is excellent.

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Par

If you drive around the southern part of the Big Island from Hilo to Kona, you’ll come across this small national park. It’s well worth the visit. There are interesting wooden carvings like the one in the above photograph. Free guided talks and tours are included with the $5 admission per car. You’ll learn about how this spot served as a “sanctuary” for Hawaiians who violated one of the sacred laws (such as catching a fish from a royal pond).

Pololu Valley Lookout

This is a very worthwhile attraction — and completely free. Be sure to wear adequate shoes or sandals, and be prepared for a steep hike down (and then back up) a forest path down to a black sand beach 330 feet below. David only walked about halfway down, and that was enough to be treated with a spectacular view of the valley and coast. Arrive early, as the small parking area fills up.


Kona is a small town with a few sights of interest to history buffs. Mokuaikaua Church is the first Christian church in Hawaii with Sunday services at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. It’s an historical building, and the church historian offers a brief historical presentation after the 11 a.m. service. You’ll learn something about the history of Christian missionaries to Hawaii and the establishment of the church.

Hulihe’e Palace is literally across the street from the church. We passed on the $10 admission ticket but walked around and saw the building from the outside.

Kona Inn Restaurant is a recommended lunch spot. We ate at a table overlooking the sea. The poke was very good, and I’m told their Mud Pie is great. However, we resisted the temptation and the calories… Parking is difficult to find in this area of Kona.

Lapakahi State Historical Park

Free admission, easy parking, and you get to take a short walk around the archeological artifacts — ruins of an ancient Hawaiian fishing village by the sea. I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit here, but if you’re on your way to or from the Pololu Valley Lookout hike, the park is worth dropping in.

Statue of Kamehameha I

This statue of Hawaii’s first king, who united the islands into one kingdom, stands in front of the community center in the small town of Kapaau. It’s on the way to and from Pololu Valley lookout, so you may as well stop, take a look, and grab some lunch. We ate at Kings View Cafe right across the street with a simple if overpriced menu of burgers, salads, and ice cream.

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