Must-See Attractions on Hawaii’s Big Island

The state of Hawai’i has announced its reopening to tourism for the month of August. As of the time of this writing, the number of active Covid-19 cases in the state of Hawaii is below 1,000. Inter-island travel is once again possible without quarantine time. Trans-Pacific travelers will have to follow some extra steps in order to visit the magnificent island.

Be informed of the state of Hawaii Covid-19 guidelines.

5 Must-See Attractions on Hawaii’s Big Island

Listed below are the must-see attractions on Hawaii’s Big Island. Let us know if there are any other sites we should add to our list!

Lava State

Mauna Kea and Observatories

Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in the world when measured from the ocean floor, reaches more than 13,000 feet above sea level. There isn’t much light pollution here because the island is sparsely populated and the slopes of Mauna Kea are mostly ranch land. This makes Mauna Kea one of the world’s prime locations to study stars and galaxies.

Mauna Kea

The long Saddle Road winds between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. At first, high grasses surround the road, and then vegetation becomes sporadic as the elevation rises. Only a few green spots grace the black lava here and there. The environment is truly inhospitable, even to the hardiest of plants. The air is thin here and the temperatures are low. Even during the summer, snow covers the summit of this enormous dormant volcano. 

The majestic landscape isn’t the only reason to come here. A dozen white and silver structures, anchored on the rough lava, dot the summit and reflect the sunshine. In this desolate environment, the telescopes look both alien and at home. 

Mauna Loa

Pro Travel Tip: Wear sturdy shoes and warm clothes. 4×4 necessary to reach the summit.

Discover Ancient Hawaiian culture

Hawaiʻi has a rich native culture. Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau is a magnificent sight, with a historical background. It used to be a sanctuary, where one was safe from justice. A visit here helps understand and imagine traditional life on Hawaiʻi. 

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau

A reconstructed hale o keawe (temple), surrounded by traditional wooden statues, oversees the fishing ponds and the cove. A massive lava wall separates the royal grounds from the rest of the site. Coconut trees grace the area, and soft white sand and hard black lava offer a sharp contrast for the eye. The scenery is both simple and imposing.

hale o keawe

Pro Travel Tip: Many ancient Hawaiian sites are often easily reached after a short hike. Typical landmarks include heiaus (temples) and pictograms carved on boulders. Wear sturdy shoes. 

Snorkeling Kahalu’u Beach Park

Because it is still growing and being transformed all the time, Hawaiʻi isn’t surrounded by beaches of fine sand like the other islands. In many places, the lava rocks plunge directly into the ocean. Most of the white sand beaches are located north and south of Kona. There are many public beaches near the big resorts. To experience black sand, try Punaluʻu and Pololū.

Kahalu'u Beach

Because Kahaluʻu beach is sheltered from the big ocean waves, the water is calm and it is easy to snorkel here. There are various types of colorful fish living in the shallow water, but the main attraction is the sea turtles. They come here to swim and play, to eat the plentiful seaweed and to rest on the beach. Swimming with turtles is an incredible experience. 

Pro Travel Tip: Swim as quietly as possible; when not threatened, wildlife will come to you. Make sure to bring a waterproof disposable camera to capture the sights.

Green sand Beach (Papakōlea)

Near South Point, the southernmost tip in the United States is one of the natural wonders of Hawaiʻi: a green sand beach. Papakōlea is located in an ancient cinder cone, hence the olivine crystals that washed out here, mixed with black lava and white shell fragments. There are so many olivine pebbles that the beach looks really green. This makes the 2.5 miles hike to the beach worth the effort.

Despite the wild beauty of the scenery, the site is inhospitable and appears menacing when the weather is windy and cloudy. Off-shore, currents are extremely strong and waves crash violently into the dark sea line. Vegetation is minimal and the trail is surrounded by pasturelands, with no tree in sight. 


Pro Travel Tip: Go early in the morning to avoid crowds and heat, and make sure to bring water and sunscreen. 

Lava Boat Tour

Kalapana Lava Boat

This outing is one of the most exhilarating adventures I have ever done. Kalapana Lava Boat Tours takes tourists to see the lava flow into the Pacific Ocean. During the sunset tour, the bright orange magma creates a sharp contrast with the black lava and the darkening skyline. The spectacle is positively grandiose.

The steam rising from the ocean, at the multiple points of magma entry, is visible from afar. The hissing and whistling sounds are overwhelming. Watching the planet at work is humbling, the volcano is growing and extending its reach farther and farther into the ocean. On the Big Island, the landscape is always changing a little as craters collapse after earthquakes. This is a must-see attraction for the thrill-seekers in your life.

magma entry

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is also a must. Walking on the dry lava beds, and seeing the destruction caused by past eruptions is both unsettling and fascinating. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the formation of Hawaiʻi and its geology. The ranger tours are especially fascinating; look and register for them at the Visitor Center.

Each island has its specificities; each is worth a visit. However, the Big Island is unique in many ways. Its landscapes are extremely diverse. On the same day, one can enjoy the snowy top of Mauna Kea, the fury of an active volcano, and the lush tropical forest at Lava Tree State Monument. Beaches of white, black even green sand await visitors. A few days on the Big Island will provide a small introduction to ancient Hawaiian culture and history, and to its fascinating natural marvels.  So there you have it the must-see attractions on Hawaii’s Big Island!


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