Ah, Hawaii. Even the word conjures images of magnificent beaches ringed by azure water on one side and verdant cliffs on the other. The island’s native Polynesian culture and traditions lend an exotic flavor not to be found anywhere else in the United States. I’ve found the top eight off-the-beaten-path adventures not to be missed on the Big Island. Hidden gems include lush rain forests, green and black sand beaches, a hidden waterfall and much more!
Hawaii is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world, but the Big Island is one of the lesser-visited. Of the eight major Hawaiian islands Oahu and Maui are the most popular, making it easy to overlook the largest island that is home to an astonishing array of topography and diversity–aptly called the Big Island.
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Top 8 Off The Beaten Path Hawaii Spots on the Big Island
With eleven different climate zones that create everything from lush rain forests to arid deserts and black sand beaches to snow-capped mountaintops, the Big Island is Hawaii’s playground. There are numerous beautiful places for a first time visitor to explore. Below are our favorite off-the-beaten-path places on Hawaii’s Big Island.
1. See an Active Volcano by Sea
The Big Island is home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Kilauea. Legend has it that Pele, the goddess of creation, was driven from island to island until she found sanctuary in Kilauea.
When she is displeased, lava eruptions flow freely, as they have been doing for the past one hundred years. The constant lava flow has added almost five hundred acres of new land, and the island is still growing every day.
Seeing an active volcano with lava visibly flowing from it is an experience not likely to be forgotten, and its best vantage point is from the sea, as day turns to night and the newest land in the world begins to glow with an inner fire. The lava flows from the caldera more than 3,700 feet to the coast, where it drops off into the ocean with enormous fury.
Just before twilight, spectators gather in the dozens and sometimes hundreds on a nearby cliff to watch Mother Nature’s show of epic proportions. But nothing gets you as up close and personal as a boat.
As the sun sets in a magnificent orange and pink glow, Captain “Lava Roy” Carvalho races passengers over the waves to where the lava meets the ocean in a hissing, steaming battle. As Captain Roy expertly navigates to within a hundred yards of shore, you have first-row seats to the explosive ballet as liquid lava falls meet the surging sea.
2. Camp Overnight in Volcano National Park
A visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park isn’t an off the beaten-path destination, but camping in the park isn’t! There are two drive-in campgrounds in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, Nāmakanipaio and Kulanaokuaiki.
The Namakanipaio campground is located in a eucalyptus forest at an elevation of about 4000 feet. There are three lodging options; you can rent one of 10 camper cabins, rent a tent and campsite, or bring your own tent and rent a campsite.
Kulanaokuaiki campground is located off Hilina Pali Road at an elevation of about 3,200 feet. This campground has nine walk-in campsites with picnic tables.
If roughing it isn’t your thing, you can also stay at the Volcano House hotel, where Mark Twain and Franklin Roosevelt were once guests.
You’ll want to plan for at least one full day at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. At a minimum, view the Kilauea crater from a prime overlook, as well as tour the adjacent Thomas A. Jaggar Museum.
There are also excellent hiking trails are throughout the park. The most unique hiking trail is the Thurston Lava Tube, an extinct lava tunnel once created by flow from Kilauea that you can walk through.
By car, The Chain of Craters Road is a forty-mile drive that takes about three hours round-trip and offers spectacular vistas of both the volcano and its surrounding rainforest.
3. Experience the Ocean’s Magical World of Mystery
The Big Island has a unique selection of beaches and one of the most diverse eco-systems in the world; filled with a wide range of sea life including green sea turtles, humpback whales, spinner dolphins, and giant manta rays. All kinds of water activities are popular in Hawaii, from surfing, kayaking, and sailing to diving and snorkeling.
Combining some of these into one multi-sport adventure is sure to result in an incredible day. A popular trip is to kayak the mile and a half across Kealakekua Bay to the Captain Cook Monument. The off the beaten path Hawaii activity is inaccessible by car. Plan to spend the day there snorkeling or diving.
With its calm sheltered water, extensive coral reef, and abundance of underwater life, Kealakekua Bay provides superior snorkeling and diving year-round. Spinner dolphins frequent Kealakekua Bay, and large sea turtles often lounge in the shallow waters offshore. One of the most amazing, almost mystical ocean encounters one can have anywhere is night diving or snorkeling with the giant manta rays.
The Travel Channel calls the Manta Ray experience one of the “Top 10 Things to Do in Your Lifetime.” Just off the Kona Coast, a community of rays feeds on plankton just offshore each night, drawn by the lights that spill out over the water from the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort.
The creatures are gentle and non-territorial, with no barbs or teeth, gliding silently through the waves as if flying with their wingspans of up to twelve feet. The phosphorescence of the plankton gives an eerie bluish-white glow to the graceful rays, with their whale-like mouths open wide to screen the plankton through.
4. Stargazing from the Snow-Capped Peak of Mauna Kea
While tropical beaches are immediately identifiable with Hawaii, it’s hard to imagine that just a short drive away is a snow-topped mountain. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano that, from its base at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, is higher than Mount Everest.
The summit of Mauna Kea hosts the world’s largest astronomical observatory, with a combined power sixty times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope. Free nightly stargazing programs are conducted at the observatory’s Visitor Station every night of the year, and several operators provide summit tours that take you past the observatory to the icy peak of this incredible tropical phenomenon.
5. Explore the charming arts and culture in the town of Holualoa
Days pass slowly in the artist’s retreat town of Holualoa, a hidden gem fifteen minutes up a winding mountain road from the main coastal highway on the Big Island. Steeped in natural beauty and tradition, this little mountainside coffee town blends artists and musicians with funky shops and eateries, making for a terrific day stroll.
The village’s numerous galleries showcase the works of local artists in a wide array of mediums. There are also several cool festivals and events throughout the year in Holualoa, including the Coffee & Art Stroll on the first Saturday of November, the Music and Light Festival on the first Saturday of December, and the Summer Farmfest and Ukulele Jam each June. This quaint village is a true Big Island hidden gem.
6. Visit A Green Sand Beach
Papakōlea Beach is a green sand beach located near South Point, in the Kaʻū district of the island of Hawaiʻi. It is one of only four green sand beaches in the world making it a very special place to visit on the Big Island. This is one of the most unique beaches you may ever visit. This secret beach could be one of the best things you see on your Big Island trip!
7. Visit Beach 69 Big Island to See Green Sea Turtles
Beach 69 is a beautiful white sand beach on the Big Island with amazing snorkeling. It has a natural shallow reef, making it the best place to see Hawaiian green sea turtles swimming in the water. You will find that snorkeling Beach 69 is more accessible and much less crowded than the popular spot of Hapuna Beach which is located just down the road.
8. Hawaii’s Hidden Waterfall: Hi’ilawe Falls
Hiilawe Waterfall is one of the tallest and most powerful waterfalls in Hawaii located and located in Waipio Valley. Hiilawe falls drop about 1,450 feet with the main drop of 1,201 feet. This is a local favorite and while tourists must walk to the falls, locals are able to use vehicles to get there.
What Off The Beaten Path Places on Hawaii’s Big Island have you visited? What secret hikes have you found on the Big Island? Share with us in the comments.
When to Visit the Big Island, Hawaii
Good times to Visit Hawaii – The Big Island. The best time to visit Hawaii’s Big Island in the aloha state is between September and November. That’s when the island’s generally reasonable room rates take the most significant plunge.
The busiest time on the island is around the Christmas holidays, New Year, and Independence Day in the U.S. Many families also visit the island during the summer months while their children are out of school. These busy months all mean increased demand and higher prices island-wide.
Best Times to Visit Hawaii – The Big Island
The best time to visit Hawaii’s Big Island is between April, May, September, September and November. That’s when the island’s generally reasonable room rates take the most significant plunge as the weather is gorgeous. If you’re planning to visit during the winter months, you will have the opportunity to see humpback whales that migrate every year from Alaska to mate, calve, and birth their young.
If you enjoyed this article about Five Off-The-Beaten-Path Places on Hawaii’s Big Island, you’ll also love Honolulu Luxury: Pohaku Massage and High Tea.
Big Island Thieves
Big Island Thieves is a great source of news and information for the Big Island. If you are planning a trip to the Big Island or a local who wants up to date information for the Big Island, we recommend this site.
Traveling To Hawaii Soon? Here are a few tips:
How to get there: The Big Island (officially named Hawaii) is the largest island of the Hawaiian islands. The only way to travel to Hawaii is by cruise ship or airplane. There are two airports on the big island; Kona International Airport (KOA) in Kona to the west, or Hilo International Airport (ITO) in Hilo to the east. Most visitors arrive in Kona. There is also the option of flying into Honolulu International Airport (HNL) on Oahu first and then taking a short, 35-40 minute flight to the island of Hawaii.
Where to stay: There are many places to stay in Hawaii. There is a wide range of hotels, from budget to luxury. For a luxury hotel that won’t break the bank, I recommend the Montage Kapalua Bay, which is currently the #1 hotel on Tripadvisor.
Hawaii Trip Essentials
6 Indispensable Items to Pack for a Hawaii Vacation
Bring a good quality mirrorless camera for getting those beautiful Hawaii beach landscape shots. I use the Sony Alpha a6000 .
Summers are hot in Hawaii, so make sure to bring Neutrogena Sunscreen, Broad Spectrum Spf 45
A great cross body travel bag. Cross body bags prevent theft and are much easier to access.
Don’t forget sunglasses for the beautiful sunny days. A.J. Morgan Unisex Sunglasses are a great choice and very affordable!
Water shoes are a great item to pack for any beach vacation. They take up little room when packing and great if you end up at a beach that is rocky or with very hot sand.
Day Trips from Oahu & Top Tours
I love to do a combination of exploring on my own as well as a few organized tours when I travel. I love to learn about the history and culture in a new location and tours with local experts is a great way to do this. I recommend Get Your Guide because you can cancel most bookings for free up to 24 hours before they start and their customer service is available 24/7 in multiple languages.
A few Top Tours in Oahu, Hawaii
Read More About Hawaii
- Honolulu Luxury: Pohaku Massage and High Tea
- A Volcano, Zip Lining, Waterfall and Luau: One Perfect Day in Maui
- The 52 Supernatural Places of Oahu