My name is Emma and welcome to my guide on the best things to do in Big Island, Hawaii. I’m from the south of France, on the east coast near Marseille. I recently moved to San Francisco to work as an Au Pair for two years – living with a family and taking care of their kids. I came to America because I wanted to learn English, discover a new culture and travel a lot!
Hawaii was a trip I took with my host family, so I was working there while taking care of the kids (a 4 year old and 6 year old). We stayed in Big Island for two months. Even though Big Island is not that big, there is still so much to do. Each day was filled with new discoveries. I spent my days in a swimming suit and flip flops, looking for nice beaches, views and waterfalls! It was a great experience, not only for myself but for my host family as well.
Why Big Island, Hawaii is so Special
This island is volcanic with beautiful beaches and a lush landscape bursting with valleys, waterfalls and trees. I was super excited to see all of these different landscapes. I was also looking forward to relaxing in some warm, sunny weather and swimming in crystal-clear water to find sea turtles. There are many beautiful sea creatures that call Big Island home.
After spending two months here, I can say that my favorite place was Captain Cook Monument with its snorkeling. The water here is clear and shallow. I saw so many beautiful types of fish. To arrive at the monument, you need to walk for 45 minutes on a trail which gets hard on the way back because there is no shade. I went there four times while staying on Big Island and managed to snap some great photos with my GoPro.
Best Things To Do in Big Island, Hawaii
Big Island is known as “Hawaii’s Island of Adventure” and it’s easy to see why when you arrive. The island offers visitors so many incredible experiences, from epic helicopter rides to hiking through active volcanoes! Big Island is also famous for its cultural attractions which will add another dimension to your trip. Below are my top recommendations for Big Island.
1. Take a Helicopter Ride over Big Island
We had the good fortune of being able to do this activity and it was epic! We flew above the volcanoes and one of them was active – so we saw lava flowing which was incredible. Our tour also took us to a huge waterfall, through some lush valleys and gave us a birds eye view of the entire island.
2. See Manta Rays on a Boat Tour
A little boat brought us to a spot to see the manta rays at night. We were in the water floating on the surface and the rays were attracted by the lights. They came to us to eat some plankton. It was a beautiful and impressive show. I highly recommend this experience if you love manta rays!
3. Go Snorkeling at Captain Cook Monument
A decent hike and an amazing spot to snorkel for the afternoon! Captain Cook Monument was my favorite place in Big Island with its amazing fish and shallow water. Not only are the fish wonderful but there are some healthy coral around the area too. The best thing is that Captain Cook Monument is on the north shore of Kealakekua Bay and is inaccessible by car, meaning these waters don’t attract massive crowds like other places.
4. Hike through the Spectacular Pololu Valley
Pololu Valley is lush and blossoming. It’s situated on a beautiful side of the island, even though it rains here a lot (part of what makes it so lush). There are a few different trails you can choose from which all lead to beaches along the coast. The views are great on the Pololu Trail and Awini Trail.
5. Skydive at Big Island for an Exhilarating Experience
I had my first skydiving experience on Big Island, so I can’t really compare it to other places around the world. However, it was thrilling! The instructors were super relaxed (we jumped barefoot) and they made me feel safe. We even got to see whales as we skydived down which was surreal.
6. Explore Akaka Falls State Park
Akaka Falls State Park is an impressive place. The park is a decent size and is surrounded by jungle. I enjoyed walking around the falls through the lush rainforest filled with orchids and ferns. There are two falls to see and each of them can be accessed by walking a short trail. The names of these waterfalls are Kahuna Falls (100 feet) and Akaka Falls (440 feet).
7. Visit Green Sand Beach (Papakolea Beach)
The beach here can get really windy and it’s an hour’s walk to get there but I believe it’s worth it! There are only two green sand beaches in the United States – so Papakolea Beach is very unique. The big rocks around the beach are beautiful too. The beach itself is located in a 50,000 year old cinder cone which has green crystal olivines that give the beach its color and name.
8. Discover Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the most extraordinary national parks in the world. It was amazing to fly above the volcanoes on a helicopter tour and to also visit the park at night to see volcanoes up close. Seeing the red lava flowing at night was a dream come true!
Need to Know Before you Go
You need to hire a car to really explore the whole island. The west coast is sunnier than the east coast where it rains a lot more. There are better times of year to come too. It’s better to avoid the rainy season (November to March) even though it didn’t disturb us when we stayed for two months.
When booking your accommodation in Big Island, I would definitely recommend staying near Kona which is on the drier side of the island. There are plenty of shops, restaurants and activities to do here. A quick google search will provide you with many great hotels, airbnbs, resorts, etc.
Unfortunately on my two month stay, I didn’t get the chance to meet many local Hawaiians. The only ones I met were workers at the resort but they were all so nice. They always brought us fresh fruit and vegetables. My impression was that the locals are relaxed and friendly people. For your visit, I would recommend trying to meet more locals outside of your hotel.
The food on Big Island was one thing that I was slightly disappointed with. But don’t forget – I’m French so I have high expectations about food! Most of the restaurants have the same menu and a lot of them offered Mexican food like tortillas (which I was not expecting). However, I did eat some nice poke bowls and acai bowls, and the cocktails were excellent!
All in all, I had a wonderful two months on Big Island with my host family. I loved every minute of my experience. From the first time I saw a sea turtle to the days spent sunbathing on the beach, it was just an adorable and peaceful trip. If you come to Hawaii make sure you spend a good few days on Big Island and don’t underestimate how beautiful this island is.