For me, travel is about experiences and connecting with people. When I make a connection with people in a destination, then it will turn into one of those magical places that will be on my ‘favorite’ list for years to come. That is what the Big Island of Hawaii was for me. I made many connections while I was there that will keep me going back to revisit friends, and find new adventures.
I had eight days on the island, a car, and a passion to explore the diversity of the Big Island of Hawaii. For anyone who is looking for a Hawaiian vacation that is ‘not the normal beach vacation’ then here’s my itinerary to something different.
My Big Island Itinerary
Hilo and Around
It’s a great place to start on the Big Island, but be warned, it’s not the sunny Hawaii you may be dreaming of; it receives 75 to 125 inches of rain a year and it will rain pretty much every day at some point. However it keeps Hilo looking fresh, green, and cool. Rent a car and use Hilo as a home base for a few days. You can fly directly into the Hilo Airport. From Hilo you can visit Volcanoes National Park in a short 40 min. drive, see Akaka Falls, or do a day drive to Puna.
Volcanoes National Park – You can drive the Chain of Craters Road yourself and stop anywhere you’d like to see the stunning landscapes, or you can take a complete tour of the park and see the glowing caldera at night with Hawaii Forest and Trail’s Twilight Volcano Tour.
From your home base in Hilo, don’t miss the beautiful winding roads of the Puna region. If you are looking for beauty and seclusion then you’ve found it on Hwy 137. Pack picnic lunch and go eat on the secluded shore line and watch the waves crash against the jagged coast.
Why you shouldn’t go to Saba Island in the Caribbean
Akaka Falls – The biggest waterfall you can easily view on the Big Island is Akaka Falls and it a very short drive from Hilo. As you drive there you may ever get to see the summit of Mauna Kea if it’s a clear day!
Time to bid goodbye to the rain and head for the pastureland of Waimea.
Waimea and Around
Now you can use Waimea as a home base to explore the rolling hills and deep cut valleys of Waipi’o Valley. A great base in Waimea is the Aloha Vacation Cottages where you will have everything you ever needed for a delightful stay.
On your way to from Hilo to Waimea be sure to stop near Honokaa and add a little sweetness to your day at the Volcano Island Honey Farm. Pick up some rare organic silk honey, learn about the amazing lives of bee colonies, and meet Richard – a very unique bee keeper.
Get an early start to the morning and do a little work on vacation; yes that’s right work. Be sure to try your hand at being a Hawaiian cowboy (Paniolo) and herd cattle at the Dahana Ranch. This is the only place on the island that allows you to participate in an actual cattle drive and it’s absolutely worth it. It was the highlight of my trip on the Big Island.
Now since you’ve worked up an appetite, make a lunch stop at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company and pick up some delicious souvenirs to take home with you while learning all about how to cultivate vanilla orchids.
Take a day to discover some hidden beaches on the Kohala Coast from your base in Waimea. Stay for sunset and catch some great photo ops.
Kailua Kona and Around
Head down to your final location for the week to the pleasant beach town of Kailua Kona and use it as your last base to explore. Kona Hula Girl provides a great location to be near the famous Kona Brewery and the shops, restaurants, and beaches. (plus they will give you a discount if you mention Ottsworld!)
Lay on the beach and enjoy poke and watch sea turtles dive in the morning and then drive to Mauna Kea Summit to watch the spectacular sunset from the tallest mountain in the world. Or try to book an star gazing tour from Kailua Kona and have them take you to the peak, view the massive telescopes, and see star formations from a beautiful vantage point.
Finally, I suggest you end your time on the Big Island with a special treat that will bring the whole week long experience on the Big Island together; a helicopter ride! It’s a great way to see the ‘big picture’ of the Big Island from above This is your chance to see the lava flow from an amazing vantage point!
You can turn in your rental car at the Kona airport and fly out back to mainland having experienced the diversity of the Big Island.
What other non-beach experiences do you recommend for the Big Island?
By fotoeins | Henry January 26, 2012 - 2:43 pm
I can’t wait to write a post or two about the drives out to Waipio and to South Point, both of which I did with a good friend just this past weekend (21/22 January). Thanks for the great tips and summary, Sherry!
By Jill August 14, 2012 - 3:47 pm
South Point is a great destination that’s not exactly beach related. You can cliff jump there!
Also, in Puna district, you have to visit the warm ponds…natural pools warmed by the volcano..talk about healing and relaxation!
Visiting the different farmer’s markets all around the island on various days of the week make it all worthwhile too. Nothing like fresh produce, living Hawaiian music and kava kava!
Visit Punalu’u bakery just past Southpoint (the southernmost point in the United States). They have amazing sweet breads!
Also, in lower Puna, head up to Papaya Farms Road by four corners (ask a local). You will walk through the most amazing mango tree preserve on the island.
By Charu October 12, 2012 - 10:07 am
Great tips, thank you Sherry! I cannot wait to plan my itinerary.
By Kate April 25, 2013 - 8:50 am
I’m just forwarding this to my travel partner who is trying to convince me to do a sidetrip to the big island when we’re in Hawaii next month. Nice to have an overview!
By Jay Cohen December 13, 2014 - 4:47 pm
Just discovered your awesome site! I am in the corporate world in NYC and am a passionate amateur photographer.
One other place on the Big Island that should not be missed is the Pololu Valley – amazing views.
I look forward to following your journeys!
By Sherry December 13, 2014 - 5:54 pm
Happy you found me! And if you are a photographer – then next time you go to Kauai – check out Kauai Adventure Photography – they are awesome – I did a tour with them last year and loved it!
By Matt September 8, 2016 - 3:37 pm
Nice write up here! Curious to know what you think of our Big Island itinerary that covers 1-9 days of vacationing goodness: https://lookintohawaii.com/hawaii/48494/big-island-itinerary-intro-information-big-island-hi