Discover the 12 Most Unforgettable Experiences on Hawai'i Big Island

Hawai’i Big Island is one of the most captivating and unique destinations in the world, drawing people from all over the globe to experience...

Hawai’i Big Island is one of the most captivating and unique destinations in the world, drawing people from all over the globe to experience its unparalleled beauty. As the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, it is also home to 8 out of 13 world's climate zones, making it a microcosm of the planet itself. From tropical rainforests to arid deserts and snow-capped peaks, the island offers an astonishing variety of natural landscapes that are sure to enchant any visitor. With its warm, welcoming culture, delicious cuisine, and endless opportunities for adventure, Hawai'i Big Island is the ultimate vacation destination for anyone seeking indelible memories that will last a lifetime. In this article, I will share my 12 most memorable experiences on Hawai'i Big Island that I visited in 2020.  
1. Exploring the tropical rainforest and cascading waterfalls in Hilo.
The area around Hilo is renowned for its tropical climate and abundant rainfall, which has given rise to a diverse range of plant and animal life. Hiking through the rainforest and discovering hidden (and not-so-hidden) waterfalls is an unforgettable experience that offers a glimpse into the natural beauty of Hawai'i. 
Hilo is home to several well-known waterfalls, including Rainbow Falls and Akaka Falls, both of which I had the privilege to visit. 
Rainbow Falls, named for the rainbows that form in the mist, is easily accessible and offers stunning views of the waterfall cascading over a lava rock wall into a beautiful pool below. 
The area near Rainbow Falls in Hilo is home to one of the largest and most impressive trees in Hawai'i. Known as the banyan tree, it is estimated to be over 100 years old and covers an area of more than 200 feet. The tree's massive trunk and branches provide ample shade for visitors, making it a popular spot for picnics and relaxation. 
Akaka Falls, on the other hand, is a bit more remote and requires a short hike through a lush rainforest to reach. The waterfall is one of the tallest on the island, plunging over 400 feet into a gorge below. Both waterfalls are not only beautiful but also provide important habitat for many species of plants and animals. 
Whether you're a nature lover, photographer, or just looking for a memorable experience in Hawai'i, a visit to Rainbow Falls and Akaka Falls is not to be missed.

2. Surfing and boogie boarding at Hapuna Beach.
Contrary to popular belief, not all of Hawai'i's beaches have white sand. While some of Hawai'i's most famous beaches, such as Hapuna Beach, feature pristine white sand, many other beaches in Hawai'i have different coloured sand, including black, green, and even red. In fact, white sand beaches are relatively rare in Hawai'i, as the sand is mostly made up of crushed coral, lava rock, and other mineral deposits.
Hapuna Beach is located on the west coast of the Big Island of Hawai'i and is considered one of the best beaches in Hawai'i. This popular beach is known for its crystal-clear waters, soft white sand, and gentle waves. The beach stretches over half a mile long and is surrounded by a lush green landscape, providing a picturesque backdrop for beachgoers.
One of the main reasons Hapuna Beach is so popular for surfers and boogie boarding is thanks to its consistent waves. The beach is situated on the western coast of the island, which is exposed to the trade winds and Pacific swells, resulting in ideal wave conditions. These waves are typically gentle and easy to ride, making it a perfect spot for beginners and those looking for a more laid-back surfing or boogie-boarding experience.
Have I already mentioned that the ride from Waimea to Hapuna Beach is incredibly beautiful?

3. Hiking to Pololu Valley Lookout.
Pololu Valley is a stunning and remote valley located on the northern coast of the Big Island of Hawai'i. Hiking in Pololu Valley is a popular activity for visitors who want to explore the valley's natural beauty, cultural history, and diverse wildlife. The hike down to the valley floor is approximately 0.6 miles long and is steep and rocky, so it is important to wear sturdy hiking shoes and bring plenty of water.
Once you reach the valley floor, there are several trails to explore that offer different experiences, including hikes to secluded black sand beaches, waterfalls, and lush tropical forests. Visitors can also learn about the valley's rich cultural history by visiting ancient Hawaiian fishponds, agricultural terraces, and petroglyphs. The valley is home to a variety of native birds, sea turtles, and humpback whales during the winter months, making it a great spot for wildlife watching.
Hiking in Pololu Valley is a challenging but rewarding experience that offers a glimpse into the natural beauty and cultural heritage of Hawai'i. It is important to note that the hike back up to the lookout can be difficult, especially in hot weather, so it is recommended to start early in the morning and take frequent breaks. 
Visitors can also see the neighbouring island of Maui in the distance, which adds to the stunning natural beauty of the area. Overall, hiking in Pololu Valley is a must-do activity for nature lovers and adventurers on the Big Island of Hawai'i.

4. Wandering through a foodie's paradise, a fruit market in Hilo.
The fruit market in downtown Hilo is a popular destination for foodies and visitors who want to experience the local culture. 
All of the fruits sold at the market are locally produced, and many of the vendors are small-scale farmers who take pride in the quality and freshness of their products. Visitors can sample exotic fruits like passionfruit, dragonfruit or even durian, or stick with classic favourites like pineapple and mango.
Speaking of durian. I had never tasted it before and saw it as a chance to give it a try. After selecting a fruit, I requested a vendor to cut it for me. However, a woman refused to do so unless I paid $20. She said many of you, tourists, smell it and then leave without paying. It's pretty hard to describe a durian's taste. It's often explained as sweet and creamy, with a distinctive aroma that some people love and others find overpowering. I actually enjoyed it, although my children still don't believe I liked it.
In addition to fresh produce, the fruit market in Hilo also features a cafe that serves up some of the best-shaved ice, Açaí bowls and pokes on the island. 

5. Taking a safari-style expedition at Papakolea Green Sand Beach.
Papakolea Green Sand Beach is a stunning natural wonder that is both remote and unique. The beach gets its name from the unusual green sand that is formed by the erosion of olivine crystals in the volcanic rocks that make up the shoreline. 
The contrast of the vibrant green sand against the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean is truly a sight to behold, and visitors often describe the beach as otherworldly and surreal.
Despite its beauty, Papakolea Green Sand Beach is relatively isolated, requiring a 2.5-mile hike along the rugged coastline to reach. Be prepared to return covered in orange dust from head to toe, a result of the iron oxide in the volcanic rocks. However, for those who make the trek, the beach offers a sense of tranquillity and serenity that is hard to find elsewhere. Visitors can swim in the clear waters, relax on the sandy shore, and soak up the sun without the crowds and noise of more popular beaches.
There is another option to reach Papakolea Green Sand Beach. For a reasonable price, you can take a safari-style jeep ride to and from the beach. 

6. Witness Volcanic Fireworks at Hawai'i Volcanos National Park.
If you're looking for an unforgettable adventure that will leave you in awe of the power of nature, look no further than Hawai'i Volcanos National Park. From the glowing lava flows to the breathtaking vistas, this park offers a unique and thrilling experience that you won't find anywhere else. So pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready for an adventure that you'll be talking about for years to come!
The park is a geological wonderland, with rugged lava fields, steaming vents, and active volcanoes that never fail to captivate visitors. Witnessing the fiery spectacle of a volcano eruption at Hawai'i Volcanos National Park is like having a front-row seat to the coolest fireworks show on the planet!
If you're lucky enough, you might actually watch the incredible sight of molten lava pouring out of the earth and into the sea. Since 2020, there have been several eruptions at Hawai'i Volcanos National Park, so who knows, maybe luck will be on my side the next time I visit!
In addition to its volcanic activity, the park also boasts an array of hiking trails that wind through lush rainforests and provide stunning views of the coastline. Whether you're an experienced hiker or just looking for a leisurely stroll, there is a trail for everyone at Hawai'i Volcanos National Park. Be sure to keep an eye out for native wildlife, such as the endangered Hawaiian goose or the nene, which can often be spotted along the trails.

7. Driving to Mauna Kea summit
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano located on the Big Island of Hawai'i. The height of Mauna Kea is 4,207.3 meters (13,803 feet) above sea level. This makes it the highest point in the state of Hawai'i. However, if measured from its base on the ocean floor, Mauna Kea is actually taller than Mount Everest, with a total height of approximately 10,203 meters (33,474 feet).
Driving to the summit of Mauna Kea is a breathtaking experience that offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Although signs strongly recommend that only 4-wheel drive vehicles be used (mine was a front-wheel drive SUV), I decided to give it a try and was rewarded with some of the most incredible views I have ever seen. 
The journey to the summit is challenging, with a winding road and steep inclines, but the panoramic views of the island are well worth the effort. Mauna Loa, another huge (and active) volcano on the island which happens to be the largest volcano on Earth in terms of volume, can be seen from there.
After reaching the summit, I decided to take a walk to explore the area. However, I quickly realized that the high altitude was affecting me more than I anticipated. I began to experience shortness of breath and a sense of lightheadedness, which made it difficult to walk. After realizing that I was in danger of blacking out due to the shortage of oxygen, I quickly made the decision to drive down while I still could.
While driving to the summit of Mauna Kea offers incredible views and a unique experience, it is important to be aware of the risks associated with high altitude. It is highly recommended to acclimate to the altitude before attempting to explore the summit on foot. 

8. Laupāhoehoe Point: Where Tragedy and Beauty Meet. 
Laupāhoehoe Point is a place of captivating beauty and tragic history on the northeastern coast of the Big Island of Hawai'i. The area's rugged coastline and lush greenery make it a perfect spot to watch for waves. 
The location has numerous remnants of World War II defence objects, making it a popular destination for history enthusiasts.
However, the area has a sombre history, as it was hit hard by a massive tsunami in 1946 that claimed over 20 lives. The disaster has left a lasting impact on the community and serves as a reminder of the power of nature. The Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo is dedicated to educating the public about the science and history of tsunamis, as well as honouring the victims and survivors of past tsunamis in the Pacific region.
Despite the tragic history, Laupāhoehoe Point remains a popular tourist attraction, offering visitors a unique blend of natural beauty and historical significance. Whether you are a surfer, a history buff, or just seeking a peaceful spot to relax and take in the beauty of Hawai'i, Laupāhoehoe Point is an excellent choice. 
The point is an ideal stop for visitors travelling between Hilo and Waimea Valley, as it offers breathtaking views and is a short drive from the popular Waipio Valley lookout. 

9. Visiting the hallowed grounds of Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau. 
Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau, also known as the Place of Refuge, is a sacred site located on the western coast of the Big Island of Hawai'i. It was once a sanctuary for those who had violated the ancient laws of Hawai'i and faced punishment, including death. 
Today, visitors can explore the site and learn about Hawaiian culture and history. The park features several reconstructed buildings, including a temple, that provide a glimpse into ancient Hawaiian life.
After visiting Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau, visitors can also enjoy snorkelling at nearby Kealakekua Bay. This beautiful bay is known for its crystal-clear waters, colourful coral reefs, and abundant marine life. Snorkelers can spot a variety of fish, including tropical fish, eels, sea turtles, and even dolphins if lucky. The water is warm and inviting, making it the perfect place to relax and enjoy the beauty of the ocean.

10. Going on a coffee tour in Kona.
The Kona Coffee Belt, a narrow strip of land along the slopes of the Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes, provides the ideal conditions for growing high-quality coffee, including fertile volcanic soil, sunny mornings, and rainy afternoons. As a result, Kona coffee has become renowned for its rich, complex flavour and aroma.
I decided to take a free coffee tour at Greenwell Farms. It's a family-owned coffee farm that offers an authentic coffee tour experience and takes visitors on a journey through the history and culture of coffee in Hawai'i. 
During the tour, guests can explore the coffee farm, learn about the various types of coffee trees, and see the production process from seed to cup. The farm also provides a glimpse into the history of coffee in Hawai'i and the techniques used to grow and harvest coffee beans.
To be called Kona coffee, only 10% of the coffee in the blend must be from the Kona district on the Big Island of Hawai'i. The remaining 90% can be sourced from other regions or countries. According to our tour guide, that's exactly what you would buy in big grocery stores in Hawai'i. So you think you buy Hawaiian coffee, but most of it will likely be from Brazil. But, honestly, since I'm not a big coffee drinker, I don't taste any difference between a $40 bag of coffee from a farm like this and a $10 bag from Costco. 
Much of Kona is characterized by a lush coastline and a stark arid desert landscape, where rainfall is scarce and temperatures can soar. 

11. Chasing lava fields in Puna. 
Puna is an area on the Big Island of Hawai'i that has experienced significant volcanic activity over the years, resulting in vast fields of solidified lava that cover much of the region. One of the most notable events occurred in 2018 when the Kilauea Volcano erupted, spewing lava and ash into the air and sending rivers of molten rock flowing through the landscape.
As a result of the eruption, over 700 houses in Puna were destroyed by the slow-moving lava flows, leaving behind a trail of devastation and despair. Many residents were forced to evacuate their homes and flee to safety, leaving behind their possessions and memories.
Despite the destruction caused by the eruption, there is still a sense of awe and fascination that surrounds the lava fields of Puna. Visitors from around the world come to witness the otherworldly landscape, taking in the towering pillars of hardened rock and the stark contrast of black against the blue sky.
One of the most striking features of the lava fields in Puna is how the molten rock has transformed the surrounding environment. Entire highways have been engulfed by creeping lava flows, leaving behind a bizarre and surreal landscape of twisted metal and charred asphalt. As a photographer, I was particularly looking forward to capturing an image of an apocalyptically-looking end of a highway, where the lava had brought the road to a molten and fiery end.

12. Encountering Honu: The Majestic Green Turtles of Punaluʻu Beach. 
Punaluʻu Beach is a stunning black sand beach located on the southeastern coast of the Big Island of Hawai'i, renowned for its crystal-clear waters and abundance of marine life. One of the most fascinating creatures that can be found at Punaluʻu Beach is the green turtle, also known as the honu in Hawaiian.
These majestic creatures can often be seen basking in the sun on the beach, their distinctive green shells and long flippers making them easy to spot. Green turtles are known for their calm and gentle demeanour, and visitors to Punaluʻu Beach are often able to get quite close to them without causing any disturbance.
Despite their gentle nature, it's important to remember that green turtles are a protected species, and it is against the law to touch or harass them in any way. Visitors to Punaluʻu Beach are urged to observe these magnificent creatures from a safe distance and to ensure that they do not leave behind any trash or other debris that could harm the turtles or their fragile ecosystem.
For many visitors to Punaluʻu Beach, the chance to see green turtles in their natural habitat is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. These incredible creatures are a testament to the beauty and diversity of the natural world and a reminder of the importance of protecting our planet's delicate ecosystems.

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