Best Things to Do on Hawaii’s Big Island with Your Family
Hawaii’s Big Island offers an abundance of things to see and do, so much so that planning a trip can be daunting. Having just returned, here are some sights and family activities on Hawaii’s Big Island to help you plan and make the most of your visit. They are particularly well-suited for families.
Volcanoes National Park
Visit one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Kilauea, part of Volcanoes National Park. This is a must-do for every family visiting the Big Island. Drive around the crater, take one of many hikes in this vast park area or view the steaming (and at times erupting!) crater from the Jagger Museum. For a particularly memorable experience, drive to the ocean via the picturesque and fascinating Chain of Craters road until you hit the end of the road (literally)… a spot where lava swallowed the road during the last big flow into the ocean. Before you go, it is a good idea to consult the Hawaii Volcano Observatory website for up to date information on current volcano activity and park conditions.
For an equally exhilarating experience, drive to the top of Mauna Kea to watch the sunset and stargaze from the visitor’s center through some of the world’s most powerful telescopes set up for visitors. At an elevation of 14,000 ft, it feels like you are practically touching the stars. Combined with an absence of light pollution, you get an almost surreal view of the night sky. You can plan the trip yourself (visit the Institute for Astronomy’s website) or experience a visit to Mauna Kea with one of the local companies offering tours.
Waterfalls and Rainforests
Discover the many spectacular waterfalls and rainforests the island has to offer. Our family particularly enjoyed visiting the majestic Akaka Falls, located just a short drive from Hilo and about a 2-hour drive from the Kona side. In order to reach the falls, you will take a short scenic hike through a lush rainforest, which makes the experience especially memorable. Don’t forget to bring an umbrella or a poncho as it often rains or mists in this area.
Punalu’u, the Black Sand Beach
Visit the picturesque Punalu’u, also known as the Black Sand Beach for a chance to spot the impressive honus (Hawaiian for turtles). The striking black sand is created by lava flowing into the ocean, which then explodes and cools. The beach is frequently visited by endangered Green Turtles, which you can find basking in the sun on the black sand. For the more adventurous types, there is a stand renting snorkeling equipment…put on a mask and fins for a chance to observe the magnificent and gracious animals in the water. However, be careful, as the surf can be rough and the currents very strong.
Papakolea, the Green Sand Beach
Another unforgettable experience is a visit of the nearby Papakolea, the Green Sand Beach, which gets its color from olivine (a mineral found in volcano cinder cone) and is one of only two green sand beaches in the world. However, it is much more difficult to get to this beach than the Black Sand Beach. Only accessible by foot and requiring a climb down cinder cone, this adventure is not suitable for families with smaller children.
Swimming With the Dolphins
While not the most authentic Hawaiian experience, swimming with the dolphins was another memorable activity on the island our children enjoyed. You can come face to face with these beautiful animals at Dolphin Quest, located at the magnificent Hilton Waikoloa Village resort. The company offers several different programs depending on age of the children and personal preferences.
Experience a Luau
Finally, a great way to experience the island and its culture is by going to a luau. Two particularly good ones are Legends of the Pacific, offered at Hilton Waikoloa Village or Island Breeze at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. Enjoy beautiful Hawaiian music, marvel at the graceful hula dancers, and sample authentic Hawaiian food. It is a great way to introduce your family to the local culture.
Last word of advice…
It’s good to have a plan, but be open to spontaneous experiences you will encounter while driving around the island. They are often most memorable and offer the best glimpse of “real” Hawaiian life. On our drive from Kona to Hilo, we saw a road-side sign for Donna’s Cookies, a small local business and decided to make a stop. They sell the best macadamia shortbread ever, and our children loved seeing the production and interacting with friendly staff. Similarly, on our drive south to the Black Sand beach, we stopped and wandered into a vast macadamia nut orchard, which stretched for miles along the road, to show our children where nuts come from (not from Mauna Loa cans…). We also spotted a Punalu’u Bake Shop, a local bakery with wonderful malasadas (famous island donuts of Portugese origin), which made for a delicious (and authentic!) afternoon snack.
Aloha and have fun exploring the island!
Know Before You Go
- Hawaii consists of eight main islands: Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Lanai, Molokai, Kahoolawe, and The Big Island.
- Hawaii has its own time zone (Hawaiian Standard Time). This time zone is 2 hours behind Pacific Standard Time. Hawaii also doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time!
- It is considered rude to refuse to wear a Lei if someone offers it.