Hawaii Big Island (credit: Randy Yagi)
Are you planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii? If so, you’ll be fortunate enough to be traveling to one of the most captivating places on Earth. Located in the southernmost portion of the Hawaiian archipelago, the Big Island is nearly double the size of all the other Hawaiian Islands combined, featuring almost every climatic zone in the world and a diverse collection of plants and wildlife. During your planning, it’s all but certain you’ll want to include some sightseeing excursions, whether it’s on your own or with an organized tour. To help you get started, here are five recommendations for five of the best excursions on the Big Island of Hawaii.
With options like a flight along the enchanting Kona Coast or a trip around two of the world’s most active volcanoes, a helicopter tour can be an extraordinary way to tour the Big Island. Most helicopter tour operators can be found in the two principal cities of Hilo on the East Coast and Kailua-Kona on the West Coast and trips last approximately 45-60 minutes. The most affordable way to make reservations is to book online, where prices start around $150. A sample helicopter tour may include views of lush tropical rainforests, cascading waterfalls and a unique chance for a bird’s eye view of Hawaii’s two active volcanoes, Mauna Loa, the world’s largest subaerial volcano, and Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Recommended helicopter tour operators with departures from the Hilo International Airport are Blue Hawaiian, Hawaii Volcanoes and Safari, with Paradise Helicopters offering trips from the Kona International Airport.
Like the Road to Hana on Maui, the Big Island has a few of its own scenic drives. While Maui’s road trip might be the Hawaiian Islands’ most famous excursion, some road trips on the Big Island are infinitely more unique. The ultimate road trip on the Big Island of Hawaii would be a drive around the entire island, covering more than 200 miles. However, it’s impractical for most visitors, and better alternatives would be shorter drives, such as traveling south from Kona on Highway 11 to the town of Captain Cook, or from Hilo to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park via Highway 11 then to the Chain of Craters road. Other recommendations are traveling north of Hilo via Highway 11 to the Hamakua Coast (the Old Mamalahoa Highway) and a trip north of Kailua-Kona via Highway 19 to Waimea.
Hiking In Volcanoes National Park
Whether it’s a very brief jaunt or an overnight journey through the backcountry, hiking in Volcanoes National Park features a wealth of hiking trails suitable for almost anyone. Encompassing nearly 324,000 acres, the Hawaiian national park offers more than 150 miles of trails through environments that include tropical rainforest, arid desert and even an alpine zone. The National Park Service provides comprehensive information of day hikes, including the challenging 11-mile Crater Rim Trail and Kilauea Iki Trail, in addition to backcountry hikes to places like the active Mauna Loa volcano and valuable hiking tips. While most trails are well-marked, hikers are advised to bring enough water to last the entire excursion and be mindful of changing weather patterns on the island. Alternatively, visitors can also explore Volcanoes National Park with a park ranger or with a guided tour group like Roberts Hawaii or Lavaland Hawaii.
Snorkeling On The Big Island
Like the rest of the Hawaiian Islands, the Big Island is world-renowned for its magical snorkeling spots, particularly along the Kona Coast on the west side. Seventy-five percent of the country’s coral can be found around the Hawaiian Island with a staggering 57 percent on the west side, including places like Honaunau, Mauna Kea Beach and Kealakekua Bay. Snorkelers have a chance to view the rich biodiversity of the coral reefs, which includes several species of fish unique to the Hawaiian Islands, graceful sea turtles and other fascinating marine life like manta rays, humpback whales and spinner dolphins. While this popular water activity can be easily enjoyed without an organized tour guide, it’s best to invest in a tour, especially for those with little or no experience with snorkeling and, more importantly, with swimming. Recommended snorkeling businesses on the Kona Coast include Sea Quest, Fair Wind and Big Island Divers.
One of the most popular family-friendly excursions on the Hawaiian Islands is a ride on board a commercial submarine. Only one submarine tour operator serves the entire state of Hawaii, but Atlantis Submarines has been entertaining visitors reliably for nearly 30 years. From Kailua-Kona on the West Coast, Atlantis submarines travel through a 25-acre natural coral reef amid its colorful marine life, sometimes at depths of up to 100 feet. Submarine tours typically last one hour, which includes a 15-minute shuttle boat ride to the submarines. Tickets may be purchased online or at the Atlantis Submarine ticket office near the Kailua-Kona Pier.
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com