- Big Island,
- North America,
- United States
Hawaii's Big Island is home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and one of the world's most active volcanoes: Kilauea volcano. Visitors can hike through lava tubes and craters, or take helicopter tours. Hawaii is known as the birthplace of surfing and each island has gentle surf spots perfect for beginners. Oahu's famous Waikiki Beach is actually one of the best places in Hawaii to learn how to surf. Whale watching season in Hawaii is from November to May with its peak between January and April
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Waimea Canyon, Hawaii
A drive through Waimea Canyonnicknamed "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific"is an ideal way to start off the day: Morning offers the best views of the more-than-3,400-foot plunge, and it's also a good idea to avoid the heat of the afternoon. You can drive through and stop along the road to take in the magnificent views, or park your car and hike down any number of trails. Stop by the Kokee Natural History Museum to get a little background on the Kokee area, and pick up a map before you set out on foot (808-335-9975; www.kokee.org/natural-history-museum).
See + Do
Contemporary Museum, Hawaii
Tel: 808 526 1322
Hidden away in the tony suburb of Makiki, the Contemporary has an impressive collection of lesser-known works by modern-art masters. There are paintings by Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Robert Motherwell, and Richard Diebenkorn; sculpture by Deborah Butterfield; photography by William Wegman; and glasswork by Dale Chihuly. The café on the grounds is a lovely, serene place to lunch, and children are welcome to play among the outdoor installations in the garden.
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Snorkeling on the Big Island
There are many, many spots with incredible visibilityup to 100 feetalong the west side of the island (even right off the Mauna Lani and Mauna Kea resorts). There are also two incredible swimming and snorkeling spots on the southeast side. The first, Champagne Pond, is a calm ocean cove heated by the volcano. The water is also slightly effervescent, but that doesn't seem to bother the abundant fish and turtles. It's accessed from a dirt road off Highway 132 (heading toward Kapoho from Hilo); a four-wheel-drive vehicle is a must. At Kapoho "Wai Opae" Tide Pools, a collection of spring-fed brackish pools, beginners will feel safe and even the most jaded snorkelers will be impressed by the coral and fish. To reach it, drive to Kapoho at the end of Highway 132, then south on Highway 137 to Kapoho Kai Road.
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Hiking the Kalalau Trail, Hawaii
Na Pali Coast, Hawaii 96766
Since the only way to access the breathtaking Na Pali Coast is from its waters, which are choppy most of the year, the next best thing is seeing it on foot from high above the ocean. The Kalalau Trail affords you that option, but this hike is no walk in the park. The stunning vistas, the natural beauty of the local flora and fauna, and the opportunity to cross riverbeds (and get your feet wet and dirty) is well worth the sweat as you trek uphill. Bring plenty of water—the sun is strong on the bluffs—and a camera. Even the most jaded globetrotter will be unable to resist these postcard-worthy photo opportunities.
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Diving on the Big Island
The west side of the Big Islandone of the most popular dive destinations in the stateis nearly ideal for underwater exploration: The water is warm, calm, and clear, and there is little wind. Two long-established outfits among the dozen or so dive operators are Aloha Dive Company and Dive Makai Charters. Both have high safety standards, respect the ocean environment, and are straightforward about the day's conditions: Some days you have your pick of dive spots; on others, they'll decide which is the clearest and safest for you. Private day charters are available, as are night dives with manta rays. The latter is hardly an exclusive dealsome nights, it feels like every other diver on the island is out with youbut the manta rays are quite exquisite and very playful.
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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
, Hawaii 96718
Tel: 808 985 6000
Note: Due to an eruption that began on March 5, 2011, Chain of Craters Road, all east rift and coastal trails, and the Kulanaokuaiki Campground have been closed until further notice. See the National Park Service Web site for the latest info.
If you had to have one defining reason to go to the Big Island, the erupting Kilauea caldera would be it (lava-spewing Puu Oo crater went on a brief sabbatical in 2007, leaving Kilauea dry for the first time in more than 20 years, but the dry spell was short-lived). Nearly two million people visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park each year. Looking at the lines of cars parked on the Chain of Craters Road and people hiking in while carrying gifts, you'd think aliens had landed; most of these pilgrims bring water, cameras, and offerings to the volcano goddess, Pele (be mindful not to litter in the park). You can't get as close as you could in past years, but it's still so hot you may feel as if you're dinner walking on the grill. Get situated before sunset to see the molten lava fingers glowing red down the hillsides and flowing into the sea. Over half of the park is designated an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site and is great for hiking. Camping is allowed, and there's Volcano House, a very decent restaurant and hotel inside the grounds (Crater Rim Dr.; 808-967-7321; www.volcanohousehotel.com). Driving and hiking will get you close to the active flow, but only a helicopter can transport you directly over the crater for a look in. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters is the island's most established operation and absolutely worth the money. If you're prone to motion sickness, take precautions before boarding the aircraft for the 50-minute "Circle of Fire" and waterfall tour.
Next to the Kilauea Visitor Center, the Volcano Art Center gallery is run by a nonprofit organization and holds workshops, classes, special events, and local art exhibits (Crater Rim Dr.; Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Volcano; 866-967-7565; www.volcanoartcenter.org).
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Challenge at Manele, Hawaii
Lanai, Hawaii 96763
Tel: 808 565 2222
The Pacific Ocean is your water hazard on this dazzling Jack Nicklaus–designed golf course. Try not to be distracted as you work your way through: Like the Experience at Koele, the Challenge at Manele has a dramatic signature hole, its 12th, which overlooks a 150-foot cliff drop to Hulopoe Bay and the pounding surf below. Guests of the Hotel Lanai, Lodge at Koele, and Manele Bay receive a discount on greens fees.
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Big Island Beaches
Glorious white-sand beaches are not common on the Big Island, but Hapuna Beach is so perfect, it's unlikely you'll want to go anywhere else. Predictably crowded on weekends and holidays, it's at its best in the early morning, which is quiet and stunning. There's very little opportunity for shade, so plan accordingly (and bring your own snacks).
Black-sand Punaluu Beach, on the undeveloped Puna side of the island, is crowded with sunbathersof the reptilian kind. You'll find one of the largest concentrations of green sea turtles here, and very few groups of peoplethe swimming conditions aren't great. (Note: Getting within seven feet of the still-endangered species can result in a fine of up to $10,000.) Parking lot robberies have been an issue, so be sure to lock your car.
Kiholo Bay isn't so much a beach as a Blue Lagoonstyle paradisea cool, shallow, brackish inlet populated by turtles and tame fish. Look for a gravel road turnoff from Highway 19 on the Kona side of the island between mile markers 82 and 83. If you don't have a 4WD vehicle, drive (slowly) as far as you can toward the shore, park, and walk south the rest of the way. Don't be surprised if you're the only one hereit's quite a find.
You've seen white, golden, black, maybe even pinkbut a green-sand beach? Large deposits of a mineral called olivine have created this beautiful alien waterfront at Papakolea "Green Sands" Beach. Check ocean conditions before you make the trek (about a two-and-a-half-mile hike from the Kaulana boat launch parking lot near South Point, the southernmost point of the United States). If the surf is high and rough, not only will there be no exposed sand, but you'll be in danger of being swept out to sea.
The state recently paved the road to two, still relatively untouristed, local beaches: Kua Bay, on the Kohala Coast, north of the Four Seasons Resort and across from the veterans' cemetery, and "69 Beach" in Puako (the proper name of this spot is Waialea Beach, but the telephone pole that marks it is No. 69).
Many beaches on the Big Island lack public facilities so always bring your own supplies and be diligent about picking up after yourself: With the exception of Hapuna Beach, which is near a resort, the island's beaches are pristine and should stay that way.