Thanks to the topography of Hawaii’s Big Island, there is no shortage of free outdoor activities. Though it’s the least populous of the Hawaiian Islands, the Big Island’s geographical contrasts let visitors explore forests petrified in lava one minute and breathtaking seaside views the next. Whether you’re a nature lover or a history buff, the Big Island of Hawaii is ideal for any traveler looking for entertaining or educational day trips.
Lava Tree State Park is located in the island’s southeast region of Puna and was formed in 1790. The Kilauea volcano erupted and spewed forth pahoehoe lava, which paves over the earth like tar and shapes itself around rocks and trees, leaving behind unusual sculptures. The park’s 17.1 acres are open 24 hours a day; there are no fountains, so visitors need to come equipped with bottled water. There are also picnic tables throughout the park for those that want to pack a picnic lunch! Entrance is free and there are public restrooms.
Other natural wonders include Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls. Akaka Falls State Park is approximately 11 miles north of Hilo. Its jewel is Akaka Falls, a picturesque waterfall that is 442 feet high. To reach the waterfall, hike 0.4 miles uphill on paths bordered by birds of paradise, wild orchids, bamboo, and torch ginger. Also along the way is the 100-foot Kahuna Falls. There is a gorge at the bottom of the falls where a fenced-off area is ideal for picture taking.
The entrance fee is $5 for non-residents and children 5 and under are free. Locals are also free with a valid State of Hawaii identification card.
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While Punalu’u Beach Park is known for its silky black sands, it is also famous for its population of Hawaiian green sea turtles. The turtles, now endangered, are important in Hawaiian mythology.
Hapuna Beach is another popular Big Island beach. It has a kid-friendly shallow area and is famous for waves that are ideal for body surfing and snorkeling.
Be sure to respect the local population and environment by cleaning up after yourself!
Spanning 233 acres, the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve is home to what the ancient Hawaiians called ki’i pohaku, or stone etchings. Triangular bodies are a main characteristic of these etchings, a style unique to Hawaiians. Out of the 3,000 designs, archeologists have discerned images of dancers, paddlers, turtles, and family units. Hawaii’s Big Island is home to the largest number of petroglyphs in the state.
Visitors should also consider a self-guided tour of Lapakahi State Historical Park. This is where Polynesian settlers first arrived 1,600 years ago from the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. A thousand years later, Tahitian explorers followed and established a fishing community. The park lets visitors experience life as it was 600 years ago. There are long huts with thatched roofs known as canoe halau, burial sites, and areas where tourists can see where games such as konane, an early form of checkers, or ulu makia, otherwise known as dice rolling were played.
Big Island Culinary Delights
The privately owned Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company lets nut lovers take self-guided factory tours. Tours can be taken every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and include free samples of the company’s seven signature nut flavors. In addition to the nuts, sample items include popcorn and peanut brittle.
Coffee lovers can indulge in free tours at such coffee factories as the Ueshima Coffee Company and the Holualoa Kona Coffee Company. In addition to watching the process of harvesting and roasting coffee beans, tourists also learn about Hawaii’s coffee history and its importance to the state’s economy.
Other Big Island of Hawaii Day Trips Ideas
Akaka Falls State Park
Consider adding a few waterfalls to your list for Big Island of Hawaii day trips! Akaka Falls drops an amazing 442 feet and its smaller companion, Kahuna Falls, drops 100 feet. The pathway to the falls is where rainbow mists meet flora spectacular in an abundance of vibrant colors. The olfactory senses will surely be tantalized by the aroma of the beautiful blooms scenting the mist of atomized droplets. Be prepared to get wet as intermittent showers are part of this adventure.
The falls are located at the end of Akaka Falls Road/Highway 220, eleven miles north of Hilo and 3.6 miles southwest of Homomu. Entry is $5 per person with children 3 and under free.
Hulihee Palace was the summer home of Hawaiian Royalty. Located in historic Kailua-Kona Village the palace museum offers a historic look at the monarchy of the Big Island. The palace is known for its distinctive architecture, which features large lanais (covered porches), coral rock walls, and a second-story veranda. The building is now a museum and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The museum is operated by the Daughters of Hawaii. Located at 75-5718 Ali’i Drive the Palace is open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM.
Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park (Place of Refuge)
This is not an ordinary National Park; it is an authentic ancient Hawaiian village. Puuhonua o Honaunau, also known as Place of Refuge, is a historic site located on the western coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, near the town of Honaunau. The site was once a place of sanctuary and safety for ancient Hawaiians who had broken a kapu, or sacred law.
This self-guided cultural tour, which takes you back in time to ancient Hawaii, is truly a remarkable, and educational experience. The park is located off Highway 160, Honaunau, West Kona Coast. It is open daily from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM with a $20.00 (per car, up to 8 people) entrance fee.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Visiting a volcano should also be on your list of Big Island of Hawaii day trips. The Big Island is home to the Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes. Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983. Mauna Loa rises 13,677 feet from the sea floor. Impressive views of the Kilauea crater are visible from the Lodge and Lodge Restaurant.
Bike riding, hiking, and camping are just a few of the amenities in the park. Be sure to check with the visitor’s bureau and the ranger’s station before venturing into the park as it can be dangerous. Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire, is said to reside in the main Kilauea crater. Be sure to follow the rules of Hawaiian legend.
Remember to respect the land and don’t take souvenirs of lava rock from the volcano.
Parker Ranch is over 160 years old and covers a massive 150,000 miles. It can truly claim bragging rights to being one of the oldest working ranches in the United States. The Paniolo, Hawaiian cowboys, are from the lineage of Mexican vaqueros contracted by John Palmer Parker to train the local men and work the ranch. Tours of the acreage are available on horseback or by ATV. The ranch is located in Waimea on the north Kohala coast.
Each of these destinations, grouped with a picnic, can be a great day trip. Destinations leading to Hilo, on the east side of the Big Island, are full-day excursions.