8 highlights on the Big Island of Hawaii

The Big Island of Hawaii from the sea floor to the top of Mauna Kea is 33,500 feet. That is one big volcano. More surprising is the diversity of things to do on the Big Island as it has almost every climate zone on the planet in over 4,000 square miles of land mass.


Beaches are essential experiences on the Big Island, and Puako is one of those state park beaches that offer sitting, swimming, snorkeling and wave watching in a semi-protected cove. Like other beaches on the Big Island, there is a high use by residents on weekends, so avoid that time if possible.


Coffee is a big crop on the island, and while farm tours are interesting, you do not get to do much sampling. The Kona Coffee & Tea Company fixed that by opening a store where you can try the various coffee blends in assorted drinks before you buy. Moreover, the bonus is it is a great gathering and relaxation point to plan and plot your next stop. Malia Bolton, the undisputed Queen of Kona Coffee, has won numerous awards for the different blends.

The volcano

The volcano is what most people want to experience, yet your up-close-and-personal options are limited. Seeing the lava by boat is a 45-minute, one-way ride, and you might not see it. Moreover, the gases from the eruption and water combination can be deadly. The best bet is to take Blue Hawaiian Helicopters from Hilo in their Circle of Fire tour where you fly over the hot spots, including the lava hitting the ocean, active calderas and some pretty nifty waterfalls all in one hour. The bonus is you see the actual size of Hawaii.


The Big Island is on the edge of the zone to grow cacao, the bean that gets to be chocolate. The rich volcanic soil has the same effect on a unique taste that it does with coffee. The first bean-to-bar operation on the Big Island is the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory. See how it’s grown, fermented and made into chocolate. Tours are conducted, as well as the sampling, by Bob & Pam Cooper, proprietors.

A bakery with a difference

As you circle the island, and that is a magnificent idea to take a drive or two, there are zones where the land rises abruptly to form beautiful and gorgeous ocean combinations. On the south end of the Big Island is the Punalu’u Bake Shop, with the distinction of the being the southernmost bakery in the U.S. Live entertainment most days, and a rich selection of Hawaiian and Portuguese treats to keep you fueled as you head towards the volcano and Hilo.


On the northeastern portion is Hawi, the bicycle turnaround for the Ironman series. The town contains some historic shops and restaurants, not the least of which is Mother’s Antiques & Fine Cigars, the only purveyor of cigars grown and rolled in Hawaii. At the end of the road out of town, is the majestic setting of the Pololu Valley, towering cliffs that rise out of the ocean and split into fertile valleys.

Hawaiian prints

On the Big Island, culture and history intertwine as a part of everyday life. In clothing, the personification of this concept is Sig Zane. In his Hilo showroom and design center, he creates Hawaiian prints that have a special connection to the land and culture. Zane’s clothing is a traditional and ohana (family) message brought to life in the pattern and colors.

Hawaii Botanical Tropical Garden

A simple way to see all the lush vegetation is to get it in one place, and that is the Hawaii Botanical Tropical Garden just outside of Hilo. On the 40-acre site are over 2,049 species of plants displayed in rain forest, waterfall and ocean environments. They feature both self and guided tours of the amazing foliage.

Comments (8)

  1. Shea Grimm says:

    Puako is a very narrow, rocky beach where almost no one goes. Were you maybe thinking of Hapuna or Waialea?

  2. Neil Wolkodoff says:

    Actually, there is a Puako portion that is a park, with the sandy beach shown. Not well known, but exists just the same. There is a rocky portion a ways away, but this one has sittable sand and snorkeling as shown.

  3. Francois says:

    I’d love discovering Hawaii, but it’s so far for a European.. Let’s say this is why it’s a dreamful location for a luxury travel!

  4. Doug says:

    You are both correct in that there is a sandy beach with good snorkeling and it’s called Waialea or 69 Beach just before Hapuna in Puako.

  5. David says:

    Great post, thanks! Hawaii is always somewhere I’ve wanted to go but never got round to researching in great detail. I’ve saved this so you’ve saved me some work! The tropical garden looks fantastic and something I’ve not heard too much about before

  6. Laura says:

    Oh wow that is incredibly high. I’d love to visit that coffee and tea place, I think I’d have to try at least half of the blends! Visiting the volcano seems pretty dangerous, I think I would go for the helicopter experience myself, I bet you could get some great photos, and seeing the waterfalls from above would be so fantastic

  7. Matt says:

    Aloha! Wow 69! That was a long time ago for me. Before most of the houses went up, when it was all quiet.
    86 to 90. A wonderful time!
    Aloha nui loa!

  8. Matt, it was a different time then, that is for sure. Whether it has the same magic depends upon where you go now and remember versus then. Great comment!

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