7 Day Big Island Itinerary: Planning the Perfect Road Trip (+ Map!)

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Are you heading to Hawaiʻi and are looking for the perfect Big Island itinerary? We have you covered!

This is a guide about how to spend up to 7 days on the Big Island, including suggestions and flexibility for an even longer trip!

Are you planning your trip to the Big Island last minute?

If you’re traveling to the Big Island last minute, you want to ensure you have lodging/tours ahead of time! Below are some of our top picks on Hawaiʻi!

Renting a Car on the Big Island:

  1. Click here for the cheapest rates at Hilo Airport (Airport code: ITO)
  2. Click here for the cheapest rates at Kona Airport (Airport code: KOA)

Best Tours and Activities on the Big Island:

  1. Manta Ray Night Snorkeling Tour from Kona (likely to sell out!)
  2. Morning (or Afternoon) Kealakekua Snorkel Tour
  3. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park + Kona Coffee Farm (a top pick!)
  4. Hawaii Big Island Helicopter Flight from Kona

Best Hotels in Kona:

  1. Holualoa Inn (located nearby in beautiful Holualoa)
  2. Aston Kona By The Sea (oceanfront property!)
  3. Kona Magic Honu Room (affordable option for 2 travelers)
  4. Hale Honu – Spectacular Oceanfront Home (has a hot tub and wading pool!)

Best Hotels in Hilo:

  1. Shaka Shak Garden Inn
  2. The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls (has a private waterfall!)
  3. The Big Island Hostel
  4. Arnott’s Lodge & Hiking Adventures

On the Big Island, you will be able to check out 10 of the world’s 14 climate zones, view stunning geological sites such as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and indulge in a true island adventure!

In short, with all the many things to do on the Big Island, it would be a shame to spend less than 7 days here!

But, we understand that time is of the essence and we give options if you only have 5 days on the Big Island.

7 day Big Island itinerary
7 day Big Island itinerary

If you are trying to build 7 day Big Island itinerary, you have come to the right place. Check out our top picks for the ultimate Big Island road trip!

How to Use this Big Island Itinerary

The way we have set up this Big Island itinerary is by turning it into the ultimate road trip. Granted, you can visit the Big Island without a car… but trust me, it is a challenge. 

As a result, this guide is broken down into a 7 day Big Island itinerary where we plan out the Hawaiʻi road trip as though you have a car. Many days are adjustable, meaning you can use this itinerary even if you only have 5 days on the Big Island!

If you have only 4 days on the Big Island, however, we recommend moving up Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to day 2 and adjusting accordingly.

If you have 5 days on the Big Island, we recommend condensing Hilo and Kona into a plan where you cut out some of the activities and sights you are less interested in.

Rainbow Falls is a must on a Big Island itinerary!
Rainbow Falls is a must on a Big Island itinerary!

If you use this itinerary to plan your flights in we assume you will fly into Hilo International Airport (ITO). From there, pick up your rental car and enjoy the sights and sounds around the Big Island. 

You can start this itinerary on Day 5 if you fly into the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA) and adjust the days accordingly.

The seven day Big Island itinerary takes you on a 300+ mile journey around the island, where you will find the most beautiful waterfalls, green valleys, black sand beaches, lava, and fascinating sea life.

If you have any questions, please let us know in the comments or by sending us a message. Thanks!

7 Days on the Big Island – Map

To add this map to your Google Maps account, click the ‘Star’ icon next to the map name. You can then view it on your cell phone or computer by heading to your Google Maps account, click the menu and add it to ‘Your Places’.

Big Island Road Trip Itinerary (at a Glance)

Here is a quick and broken-down look at this Big Island itinerary:

  • Days 1 and 2: Hilo, Pahoa Town, and Waterfalls
  • Day 3: Waipi’o Valley 
  • Day 4: Waimea
  • Day 5: Kailua-Kona, Snorkeling, Coffee, and Luau
  • Day 6: Pahala, Cliff Diving, and green or black sand beach (or both!)
  • Day 7: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park 

Best Time to Visit the Big Island of Hawaii

Even though the Big Island of Hawaii has reasonably steady temperatures throughout the year, between 79 and 83 degrees, and during most months less than half an inch of rain, the best time to visit is September, October, and November.

During the beginning of shoulder season, the air and water temperatures are at their highest, and hotel and lodging rates are at their lowest.

During these months, you also have smaller crowds due to families not traveling during the school year.  

However, if you are looking for a beach vacation during the winter holidays, you may pay more for your airline ticket and hotel room, but the temperature will be perfect.

Best things to do on a Big Island road trip
A Big Island road trip is perfect any time of the year!

From December through March, surfers will find the best waves of the year during these months. If you want to spend days watching the whales migrate, then plan your vacation between January and the beginning of April.

The Big Island also has several festivals you may want to plan your trip around! Some of the most popular ones are:

How to Get to and Around the Big Island of Hawaii

With not one but two airports, it is easy to get to the Big Island. Many flights into Kona and Hilo come directly from the mainland, and Hawaiian Airlines has multiple flights daily from the various Hawaiian Islands if you are island hopping.

Choose between Air Canada, Alaska, American, Delta, United, Southwest, or WestJet Airlines to get you to the Aloha State. Once you have arrived, pick up a rental car to get the most out of your week on the Big Island. 

Rental car agencies are located at both airports and near cruise ports. This will allow you to see all the magnificent sites around the 4,000-square-mile island.

Driving around the Big Island
Driving around the Big Island

Gas on the island is cheapest at Costco, so while you are in Kailua-Kona, stop by and fill up. However, if you do not have a car, there is the Hele-In Bus that can get you around the island. 

Unfortunately, rides are long, connections are minimal, and most buses only run in the early morning and late afternoon.

The Big Island has taxi, Lyft, and Uber services for those looking for a ride from the airport to the hotel for a week of sun and sand.

Renting a Car on the Big Island

The best way to get around Hawaiʻi, hands down, is by renting a car. I have rented with many car rental companies over the years during my trips to the Big Island.

One major recommendation that we give is to rent your car as far in advance as possible. Rental cars are limited in Hawaii and each island can only carry so many to lend out to travelers. 

>> Click here to check Big Island rental car rates

Where to Stay on the Big Island

While in Hilo, choose between staying at the luxurious Grand Naniloa Hotel, the mid-range SCP Hilo Hotel, or the Hilo Bay Oceanfront Bed and Breakfast.

Our choices for lodging around Kawaihae are the 5-Star Fairmont Orchid and Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, or if you have a tighter budget, head to the Ocean Tower Hilton or camp at Hapuna Beach.

The Royal Kona Resort is the top spot on our lodging list in Kailua-Kona, but if you want something a bit different or are on a budget, head to the Aeolian Ranch.

When visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, stay at the luxurious Kilauea Lodge or in one of the Volcano House’s rooms, cabins, or campsites within the park boundaries.

Day 1: Get to Know Hilo (& Nearby!)

  • Richardson Ocean Park
  • Coconut Island
  • Rainbow Falls & Wailuku River State Park
  • Boiling Pots
  • Pe’epe’e Falls
  • Wai’ale Falls 
  • Kaumana Caves

Visit Richardson Ocean Park

Richardson Ocean Park, located just down the road from the Hilo airport, is a great place to picnic after that long flight from the mainland. It is also one of the best things to do in Hilo!

Here you will find a fantastic mixture of sand. Look closely, and you will find a black sand beach with flecks of green olivine crystals sand. The tide pools are a great place to investigate.

With lifeguards available from 7 AM to 7 PM, it is also a safe place for children to swim. The beach also has restrooms, a picnic area, and showers.

Check Out Coconut Island

While in Hilo, head to the eastern shores and take the footbridge at Banyan across Hilo Bay to Moku Ola or Coconut Island for a bit of relaxing in the grassy area or swimming.

Here you will have stunning views, picnic tables, restrooms, a tower to jump off into the water, and a walkway around the island.

Coconut Island on the Big Island
Coconut Island on the Big Island

The inlets around the island feature sandy bottoms that are protected from strong waves and plenty of tide pools.

Coconut Island is a favorite spot for photographers to take pictures of Hilo Bay, Hilo, and the snowcapped Mauna Kea.

QUICK TIP: The easiest way to find the bridge is to add 77 Keliipio Place, Hilo into your GPS!

Visit Rainbow Falls at Wailuku River State Park

You will find the Wailuku River State Park along the northwest side of Hilo and it is one of the most famous Big Island state parks to visit.

Rainbow Falls is the park’s popular destination. Here you will find the elegant 80-foot cascade of water coming over a lava cave known as Rainbow Falls.

The falls are easily accessible from the viewing area near the parking lot or near the brink of Rainbow Falls if you travel up the trail through the fig vines and banyan trees.

Rainbow Falls is one of the top things to see on the Big Island and can be very busy in the early morning when the sun perfectly hits the waterfall and creates a rainbow in the mist, hence its name.

Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls can be a small trickle or a mighty rush of water, depending on the rain they have had recently. But, it is one of the most photographed waterfalls on the Big Island, without a doubt!

When we were there, they had just had two hurricanes pass through, and the amount of water rushing down was amazing.

Stop by the Boiling Pots and Pe’epe’e Falls

Continue up Waianuenue Avenue another 1½ miles to find another one of Hawaii’s beautiful spots!

Along the Wailuku River, you will discover the Boiling Pots and Pe’epe’e Falls, correctly pronounced Peh-eh Peh-eh Falls, in the distance.

View the terraced pools and water rushing down the eroded lava gorge along the paved walkway.

From the roadside viewing point, you can see the Hawaiian falls in the distance or by taking the ½-mile trail that includes scrambling to get to the falls.

Marvel at Wai’ale Falls 

The roadside Wai’ale Falls is 1.2-miles past the Boiling Pots and Pe’epe’e Falls. Here you will find a two-tiered waterfall that is both natural and manmade.

The heavy water flow at Waiʻale Falls first comes down the upper natural falls before plunging over the dam-like falls.

If you are more adventurous and want to take a short walk, take the somewhat obscured 0.3-mile dirt trail that leads to the brink of the falls and beautiful panoramic views.

For those looking for an uncrowded swimming hole or a place to cliff jump, Wai’ale Falls is the place for you. If you want to get in the water, check the weather since the river frequently floods and becomes unsafe.

Stroll Around Kaumana Caves State Park

Near Hilo, you can explore a short distance of the 25-mile-long lava tube created by the 1881 Mauna Loa eruption.

As you climb down the ladder into the tube through a collapsed skylight, turn your flashlight on and explore the part of the tube that is not under private property.

Kaumana Caves
Kaumana Caves

Around the Kaumana Caves State Park tube entrance, you will find a rainforest environment with draping ferns and philodendrons. 

Take note of the weather due to the lava, tubes can quickly flood. Entering the tubes and exploring the immediate area is free of charge.

Day 2: Hanging in and around Hilo

  • Ken’s House of Pancakes
  • Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory
  • Pahoa Town 
  • Lava Tree State Park
  • Fissure 8 or Wicked 8 Lava Hike and E-Bike Tour

Have Breakfast at Ken’s House of Pancakes

When looking for a landmark eatery where locals come to hang out, stop at Ken’s House of Pancakes, where they have been serving award-winning breakfasts with an aloha and a smile since 1971.

From 1997 through 2017, Ken’s was named Best Breakfast and was inducted into the Hawaii Restaurant Association Hall of Fame in 2018.

Today you can enjoy over 12 egg dishes, 20 types of omelets, banana, coconut, and macadamia nut pancakes or waffles.

Be sure to smother your pancakes or waffles in their delicious guava, coconut, or passion fruit syrups.

If you still have room, try a piece of Ken’s macadamia nut pie or hot pineapple upside-down cake. The restaurant is open daily from 6:00 AM until 9:00 PM.

Address: 1730 Kamehameha Ave, Hilo, HI 96720

Stop by the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory

Travel through the macadamia nut orchard to the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory and Visitor Center. Before heading into the visitor center, follow the walkway and stairs to the building on the right.

Here you can peek in the windows to the production floor as workers add flavorings to the nuts and package them for sale.

Mauna Loa macadamia nut farm - Elmar Langle - Shutterstock
Mauna Loa macadamia nut farm – Elmar Langle – Shutterstock

Then head across the parking lot to the visitor center, where you can sample different flavors of the nuts, and then choose your favorite products to purchase and take back home with you.

Before you leave, head to the ice cream parlor, where you can get a scoop of macadamia nut or strawberry guava dairy-free ice cream.

Address: 16-701 Macadamia Road, Keaau, HI 96749

Visit the Town of Pāhoa 

Pāhoa is an interesting town that you may want to spend a bit of time exploring as it is one of the most famous small towns in Hawaii.

Many storefronts are colorful and feature western-style and vintage-type stores and plenty of delicious local restaurants.

If you get into town before noon, stop in for brunch with chef/owner Stephen Yundt at Pele’s Kitchen for a farm-to-table breakfast or a cup of organic Puna coffee.  

You can enjoy an all-natural, organic lunch at Island Naturals deli or pick up some local chocolate, macadamia nuts, or honey. They also have a store in both Hilo and Kailua-Kona.

Are you passing through in the middle of the afternoon? Stop by Tin Shack Bakery for a sweet treat of paleo brownies, carrot pie, and vegan cookies to tide you over until dinner.

They also serve sandwiches and salads for lunch and pancakes, eggs, and bagel sandwiches for breakfast. Enjoy live music from 6:00 – 8:00 PM on the second Saturday of the month.

If you are in Pāhoa for dinner, grab a seat at the Kaleo’s Bar & Grill. Guest rave about their delicious Hawaiian Kalua pork wontons, Coconut crusted Mahi Mahi served with sweet & spicy lilikoi sauce, the Coconut Seafood Curry, or the boneless Kal Bi Ribs. You definitely will not be disappointed with the delicious food or the stellar service. 

Kaleoʻs - Joanna K Drakos - Shutterstock
Kaleoʻs – Joanna K Drakos – Shutterstock

Dessert is just as tasty, and you won’t want to pass up the lilikoi cheesecake made from passionfruit. The Honolulu Magazine has awarded Kaleo’s Bar and Grill the Hale Aina Award eight times between 2011 and 2019.

Before continuing to Lava Tree State Monument, stop at the Pahoa Lava Zone Museum.

Inside you will learn more about the local history and the 2018 Lerz Eruption that changed this area forever. There are also artifacts and exhibits from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s Jagger Museum.

See the Lava Tree State Monument

Just outside of Pāhoa, you will find Lava Tree State Monument. The park offers visitors a chance to stretch their legs along the 0.7-mile trail that loops the 17-acre park and a variety of lava tree molds. 

When the lava flowed through this area in 1790, it was a forest of trees, and the lava enveloped the trees, which caused the trees to die and slowly burn as the lava cooled around them. 

Lava Tree State Monument
Lava Tree State Monument

Today the easy trail leads you past the hardened casts of lava formed around the trees. If you look closely, you will find the tree’s bark imprinted inside the hollow lava tube.

Besides, the lava trees explore how the land is slowly becoming alive with orchids, ferns, and a variety of other plant life throughout the park.

Address: HI-132, Pāhoa, HI 96778

Take a Fissure 8 Tour from a Recent Eruption

Two of the newer tours on the island take you into the Fissure 8 area, where the lava flowed through this neighborhood just south of Pāhoa in 2018.  

On the Fissure 8 Tour, you will learn firsthand from two landowners what it was like to watch 2,000° F lava flow through your beloved neighborhood.

The company will take you on a 2-4 hour tour where you will see their once beautiful garden-filled yard, six fissures, a neighbor’s yard where you can still see belongings partially covered in lava, and the Fissure 8 canyon of the lava flow field.  

>> Click here to check tour rates and availability

Day 3: Off to the Waipi’o Valley and Waimea

  • Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens
  • Akaka Falls State Park
  • Hawaiian Vanilla Company
  • Waipi’o Valley Artworks
  • Waipi’o Valley Lookout

Peruse the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Gardens

The 40-acre Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Gardens is a beautiful botanical garden with more than 2,000 unique plants.

Besides all the amazing plant life, you will find several waterfalls, gorgeous ocean views, and a lovely mile-long trail at the famous Big Island botanical garden.

Plan on spending at least 1½ hours exploring the park’s flora and fauna, and enjoy the beautiful 120′ Onomea Waterfall and the 10′ Boulder Creek Falls.

Onomea Waterfall
Onomea Waterfall

The gardens are open daily from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM with adult rates of $25, military with valid ID $20, and children 6-16 $12. They do also offer discounts with Hawaii ID.

Address: 27-717 Mamalahoa Hwy, Papaikou, HI 96781

Akaka Falls State Park 

A visit to Akaka Falls State Park means a 0.4-mile stroll through the bamboo groves, wild orchids, and tropical forests. It also means an upfront view of the magnificent 442-foot-plunging Akaka Falls from a mere 800 feet and a glimpse at the 100′ Kahuna Falls.

The paved walking trail is easily accessible but does have an elevation change of 75′ and stairs.

If you would rather walk downhill, take the loop clockwise. To get to Akaka Falls without stairs, stroll along the path to your left. If you want to beat the crowds, visit in the morning between 9:00 and 11:00 before the rush of tour buses.

The park does have both an entrance and parking fee via a kiosk, or call 1-888-767-9037 to prepay your parking and entrance fee. 

Akaka Falls State Park
Akaka Falls State Park

Parking costs $10 for non-residents. There is on-street parking outside the gate and a minute’s walk for free. Admission to the park is $5 per person and free for HI residents and children younger than four.

Akaka Falls State Park is open daily from 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM. At 5:00, all guests must be out of the parking lot when the gates close.

Address: 75 Akaka Falls Rd, Honomu, HI 96728

Check Out the Hawaiian Vanilla Company

Do you ever wonder how that fragrant brown liquid vanilla extract comes to be? Just an hour north of Hilo, you can learn all there is to know about making vanilla extract at the family-owned Hawaiian Vanilla Company.

Each day, Monday through Saturday, they offer a one-hour tour of the factory and farm.

The $35 tour includes a welcome vanilla beverage and some vanilla ice cream. If you like coffee, save your ice cream to complement your cup of coffee.

If you are interested in a vanilla-themed lunch, reserve their $75 for adults/ $50 for children 4 – 12 Luncheon and Farm Tour, which occurs Monday – Friday at 12:30 and lasts for two hours.

If you don’t have time or your timing is off for a tour, their gallery and gift shop is open from 10:00 AM until 2:00 PM Monday through Saturday. It is the perfect spot to pick up a Hawaii souvenir or gift.

March and April are the best time to visit the vanilla farm since all the vanilla orchids are in bloom.

Address: 43-2007 Paauilo Mauka Rd, Paauilo, HI 96776

Visit the Waipi’o Valley Artworks

A half-mile before Highway 240 N ends at the Waipi’o Valley Overlook, you will find Waipi`o Valley Artworks, a small art gallery – gift shop – café that features a wide variety of local artwork, including furniture, handblown glass, jewelry, and Koa heirloom bowls.

The items are all unique and beautiful.

GOOD TO KNOW: If or when the Waipi’o Valley Tours begin running again, this is where you catch the tour van.

Address: 48-5416 Kukuihaele Rd, Honokaa, HI 96727

Go to the Waipi’o Valley Lookout

At the end of Route 240 or Honokaa-Waipio Road, you will find one of the most popular sites to photograph on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Stroll down the path to the cliff’s edge to the lookout area.

Waipi'o Valley Lookout
Waipi’o Valley Lookout

Here at the Waipi’o Valley Lookout, you can gaze across the fertile valley one mile across and five miles deep, all surrounded by 2,000-foot-tall cliffs along the Hamakua Coastline.

From the lookout, you can see the one-mile-long Waipi’o Black Sand Beach, and if it has been rainy, the Kaluahine Falls cascade over the cliff into the Pacific Ocean.

The valley is home to about 100 residents who are mostly taro farmers. Unfortunately, at this time, the Waipi’o Valley is closed to all visitors due to dangerous road conditions.

Address: 48-5546 Waipio Valley Rd, Waimea, HI 96743

Day 4: Explore Waimea a Bit More

  • Kauna’oa Beach
  • Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area 
  • Pololu Valley Lookout

Relax at Kaunaoa Beach

Kaunaoa Beach is a must if you are visiting the west coast of the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. The Travel Channel has recognized the half-mile-long white sand beach as one of the World’s All-Time Best Beaches (and definitely one of Hawaiiʻs best!).

After finding a parking spot, walk down the paved path for about 5-10 minutes for a day of sun and sand. The Big Island beach is family-friendly, with calm, crystal-clear water and a coral reef perfect for snorkeling.

Kaunaoa Beach
Kaunaoa Beach (Mauna Kea)

The sandy-bottomed turquoise water beach is shallow and often less than 10 feet deep. The Mauna Kea Beach Resort offers boogie board, snorkel equipment rentals, and a restaurant and beach bar to keep you hydrated and fed throughout the day.

If time allows, extend your stay into the evening and swim with the manta rays and plankton under the floodlights.

INSIDER TIP: The one downside of this public beach is that it sits within the Mauna Kea Beach Resort property and can only be accessed by guests and those who can get one of the coveted 30 spots for non-guests.

These spots are $21 and are usually taken by 8:30 AM, so arrive early if you are not staying at the resort.

You can valet park if all the spots are taken. It is a bit more expensive, but if you buy something, even a drink in the restaurant or gift shop, they will validate your ticket for a reduced cost.

Your other option would be to come back later in the afternoon when folks head home.

Visit the Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area 

If you are not an early riser or missed a spot at the Mauna Kea Beach Resort, head just a few miles south on Route 19 to the Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area.

Here you will find the island’s largest white sandy beach and the one that Leatherman named the best U.S. beach in 2021.

Spend your day bodyboarding, snorkeling, swimming, and sunbathing at this beach with lifeguards. Snorkeling is best in the morning along the southern portion of the half-mile-long beach when the water is calm.

Hapuna Beach
Hapuna Beach

From December through April, you can also watch for the spouts of migrating whales.

If you are not a HI resident, the parking fee is  $10 and $5 per person (over the age of 3) to visit the park.

Address: Old Puako Rd, Waimea, HI 96743

Check Out the Pololu Valley Lookout

Head to the end of Highway 270 and take in the inspiring view of the Pololu Valley and its verdant cliffs along the northeastern coastline.

You can either spend a few minutes admiring the scenery or put on your hiking boots and take the short, steep hike down the ʻĀwini trail into the valley and black sand beach.

Pololu Valley Lookout
Pololu Valley Lookout

The 6/10-mile route to the valley floor takes about 25 minutes, but a bit longer on the way back up the 13% grade and 420′ elevation change. The lookout is a prime spot to watch migrating humpback whales throughout the winter.

GOOD TO KNOW: There are no bathrooms or water in the valley or at the lookout.

Address: 52-5100 Akoni Pule Hwy, Kapaau, HI 96755

Day 5: Get to Know Kailua-Kona

  • Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation
  • Captain Cook Monument 
  • Choose between attending the Royal Kona Resort Luau or going on a Manta Ray Night Snorkel 

Discover the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation

Whether you are an avid coffee drinker or not, visiting the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation is a great experience and one of the best things to do in Kona!

The Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation team offers a free 20-minute tour that begins every half hour from 9:30 AM until 3:30 PM. Along the tour, you will see coffee trees and the fruit, and learn how the fruit is milled, then dried to produce green coffee. 

Then the tour continues as you venture into the roasting room and finally conclude with sampling some of their 100% Kona coffee roasts.

Mountain Thunder Coffee
Mountain Thunder Coffee

The gift shop, open from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, is the perfect spot to pick up coffee for you and your family back home. 

Be sure to pick up some of their most popular Private Reserve coffee that is said to be very smooth and a terrific blend of aroma, flavor, and acidity.

INSIDER TIP: Since the organic coffee plantation sits at 3,200 feet in elevation, the perfect height for coffee growing, you may want to bring a light jacket or sweater.

Address: 73-1942 Ha’o St, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

Visit the Captain Cook Monument

The Captain Cook Monument is located at the site where the well-known (and disliked) seafarer Cook and his crew met their violent death as they attempted to take the king against his will.

Once you are at Kealakekua Bay and the tide is low, you may find a rectangular plaque marking the spot where Captain Cook supposedly fell to his death.

The Captain Cook obelisk is at the edge of the water.

Captain Cook Monument
Captain Cook Monument

To visit the 27-foot-tall Captain Cook Monument along the Kona Coast, you must either hike 4.25 miles along a rocky, uneven trail, take a boat tour, or kayak to Kealakekua Bay.

By Hiking: The trailhead begins about 500′ down Highway 160 or Nāpō’opo’o Road at telephone pole #4.

Walk down the old four-wheel-drive road passing eight numbered signs for 1½ miles until the trail goes south towards the shore.

Then continue on the path until you reach Kealakekua Bay.

By Boat and Snorkeling Tour: Several companies offer snorkeling tours to Kealakekua Bay, where you can snorkel and learn about the historic site (while seeing some of the vibrant underwater life of the area! Click here to check rates and availability.

If you want to kayak on your own to reach the monument, you must apply for a Ka’awaloa Vessel Landing Permit to tie up at the dock and explore the area. There are also some scuba diving tours in the area.

Royal Kona Resort Luau

Along the shores of the Kailua Bay, take part in Royal Kona Resort’s interactive Voyagers of the Pacific Lū‘au.

Throughout the three-hour show, receive a shell lei greeting, enjoy complimentary drinks, a delicious Hawaiian luau buffet dinner, and watch one of the best luaus on the Big Island.  

During the Hawaiian musical and ocean journey of the ancient Polynesians, you will have the opportunity to see dancers, singers, and drummers beat out the music of the South Pacific islands before the show culminates with the most dangerous, the Samoan fire knife dance.

The Voyagers of the Pacific is presented each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 5:00 – 8:00 PM.

Address: 75-5852 Ali‘i Dr, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

Do a Manta Ray Night Snorkel

Take a night snorkel trip to watch the manta rays! Let Captains Dan and Bill take you on one of the most memorable things you will do on the Big Island.  

As you leave the Honokohau Harbor, you will enjoy a smooth boat ride as you enjoy the scenery, watch for spinner dolphins and other marine life, and take in a beautiful Hawaiian sunset.

However, once the sun goes down, the fun begins. Hold on to the float framework as you lay in the water and watch for the mantas.

Manta Ray Night Snorkel
Manta Ray Night Snorkel

They will glide in and eat the plankton that the boat lights attract. Still, take the trip if you are not comfortable in the water or with a snorkel mask. You can see the manta rays from the boat.

According to the Travel Channel, the Manta Ray Night Snorkel is one of the top ten things to do in your lifetime.

During the summer, check-in is at 4:15, and you will return between 8 and 8:30, while during the winter, the times are 30 minutes earlier.

>> Click here to check tour rates and availability

Day 6: Discover Naalehu (& Beyond)

  • Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
  • South Point Park and Cliff Jump
  • Papakōlea Green Sand Beach or Punaluu Beach Park
  • Punalu’u Bake Shop

Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

Begin your day with an early morning stop to explore the ancient Hawaiian culture at the Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park in South Kona at Honaunau Bay.

The 180 acres of sacred historical land was the last refuge for defected warriors and Hawaiians who broke ancient laws against the gods, including the Kapu.

Stroll along the 1871 and Coastal Trails for two miles to see many of the main sights, including the 12-foot high and 18-foot-thick Great Wall, the Royal Grounds, Kii wooden images of gods, the guard of the Hale o Keawe Heiau, and a temple with bones of 23 chiefs.

 Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

Continue past the Royal Grounds to see Keoneele Cove, Keoua Stone, High Chief Keoua’s favorite resting place, fishponds, and a heiau, one of the park’s oldest structures.

Also, check out the times of Park Ranger talks at the Visitors Center.

Entrance fees are $20 for a non-commercial vehicle of up to 8 passengers, $15 for motorcycles, and $10 for an individual. Your entrance pass is valid for seven days.

For a quick snorkel, drive to the other side of Keoneele Cove to Two-Step. Walk across the lava and down the two lava steps to quickly get in the water.

Address: State Hwy 160, Hōnaunau, HI 96726

Go Cliff Jumping at South Point

After driving 50 minutes south on HI-11, make the right turn onto South Point Road and continue going through the ranch lands and macadamia nut groves, past the windmills that produce electricity for 10,000 island homes.

Then drive through the Mauna Loa lava flow until you reach the parking lot beside the Pacific Ocean.

After parking, walk over to the jump platform and ladder. Here you can have the thrill of jumping into the water 40’ below, and the ladder below the platform makes getting out of the water easy. Welcome to the South Point Cliff Jumping spot!

South Point Cliff Jump
South Point Cliff Jump

Before you head to your next spot, take time to walk around this National Historic Landmark.

Heiau fishing shrines, other Hawaiian ruins, and cultural relics are scattered across the area. The rock walls are part of sacred sites and should not be sat upon or touched.

Continue exploring to the left of the famous cliff jumping spot past the metal light beacon. It is here near the coast where you will want to stand to be at the actual southernmost tip of the United States. 

GOOD TO KNOW: Only jump if the water is calm. The waters below the jump are not safe for swimming and hanging out!

The Halawa Current can be dangerous as you can be swept out to sea along the rugged coastline.

Whether you go to South Point to jump, watch others jump, or just to stand at the southernmost tip of the U.S., it is a worthwhile destination stop.

See the Green Sand at Papakōlea Beach

If you have four or five hours to spare, then a 5-mile round trip hike (1 hour each way) out to the green sand of Papakōlea Beach is a definite must for your itinerary.

Papakōlea Beach is one of only four green sand beaches in the world and the only one in the United States.

To get to Papakōlea Beach:

  • Take the South Point Road and then the left road instead of the right that heads to the South Point Cliff Jump.
  • You will find the parking area at the end of the road.
  • After parking, put on your walking shoes and carry whatever you need for the beach down the paved road toward the ocean.
  • Once you reach the Kaulana Bay boat launch, turn east and walk along the dirt road. 
  • You will see Papakōlea Beach after walking about two miles. On the northwest side of the crater, you will find the path and metal stairs that will take you to the beach.

The green crystals that make up the beach are mixed with lava, coral, and shells. Some of the areas look greener than others. Pick up a handful and look at the individual grains.

After inspection, return it to the beach since removing any sand from the beach is unlawful.

Papakōlea Green Sand Beach 
Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

Once at the beach, there are no facilities, lifeguards, drinking water, or shade. It is possible to swim in the waters, but not recommended due to the strong surf.

Whatever you bring in, be sure to take out. 

Quick Notes for visiting: 

  • You can not drive to the beach, and anyone who does is breaking the law.  
  • Parking in the Papakōlea Beach lot is free. Anyone trying to get you to pay to park is trying to scam you.
  • The trip to Papakōlea Beach is considered a backcountry trip. 
  • You do not need a permit, but you should let the Department of Hawaiian Homelands know you will be on their property.

See the Black Sand at Punalu`u Beach Park

If you do not want to make the long trek to Papakōlea Beach for green sand, just down the road a bit is the beautiful black sand Punaluʻu Beach Park which is easily accessible. 

A row of shady coconut trees lines the gorgeous black sand of Punaluʻu Beach.

You will also find the Hawaiian Green Turtles feeding off the algae amongst the rocks or sunning themselves on the right side of the beach.

The Endangered Species Act protects the turtles, so stay at least 10 feet from them, do not feed them, and give them a path between the land and the water.

Place your towel or chairs under the coconut trees when you get to the beach. The bit of shade gives you a slight reprieve from the hot black sand. When ready to head to the water, leave on your water shoes.

Punaluu Beach
Punaluu Beach

The black sand gets VERY hot, and there are lots of rocks in the water that makes walking in bare feet uncomfortable. The boat ramp on the left side of the beach is the most accessible place to enter the water, but be careful of possible strong currents.

The waters of Punaluʻu Bay are also a great spot to snorkel with the turtles, but again give them room and do not try to touch them.

You may notice that in some spots, the water feels colder than in other places because freshwater springs flow into the bay, drifting on top of the denser salt water until it mixes in.

The beach park has lifeguards daily from 8:30 AM until 5:00 PM. 

There is also a picnic area, bathrooms, and outdoor showers at the back of the beach. If you are looking for a campground to spend the night at, why not just stay at the beach.

There are restrooms, outdoor showers, and drinking water available to campers.

Grab a Sweet Treat at the Punalu’u Bake Shop

When you need a cup of joe, a sweet treat, lunch, or an ice cream cone, stop at the Punalu’u Bake Shop.

Even though the line might be long, their ice cream is creamy, and the lilikoi malasadas and other pastries are delicious. On the premises, there are picnic tables and a garden or head to the beach for a picnic.

Address: HI-11, Naalehu, HI 96772

Day 7: Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

A trip to the Big Island of Hawaii would not be complete without spending a day exploring the biological, geological, and cultural landscapes within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The park is home to Mauna Loa and Kīlauea, two of the world’s most active volcanoes.

To explore even a small portion of the 523-square-mile Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, just slightly smaller than the whole island of Oahu, you will want to have at least a full day to explore.

Begin your visit at the Kilauea Visitor Center, where you can check the current eruption information, schedule of ranger-led activities, a 25-minute film, and hiking information.

Then walk along the Crater Rim Trail past the Steaming Bluff, steam vents, Sulphur Banks, and the Kilauea Overlook.

The lava lake within the Halema’uma’u Crater is quite impressive and amazing to see the orange glow at night from the Volcano House, Kilauea Overlook, and Old Crater Rim Drive.

Fiery Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii
Fiery Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii

Then get back in your car and drive to the Kīlauea Iki Overlook, where you can take a 3.3-mile hike that travels through a rainforest and descends 400 feet into the crater, where you will walk upon solidified lava before reaching the Thurston Lava Tubes.

The 0.4-mile walk through the tubes is an easy stroll. From 8:00 AM until 8:00 PM, the tubes are lit.

Once you complete the hike, continue driving down Chain of Craters Road, where you can hike the Devastation Trail and see the Pu’uloa Petroglyphs and Hōlei Sea Arch.

A park pass is $30 for private vehicles, a motorcycle pass is $25, and a pedestrian pass is $15. All passes are valid for seven days.

We hope that you found this 7 day Big Island itinerary useful for planning your trip. No matter whether you have only 5 days on the Big Island (or even up to 10 days on the Big Island!), you will be able to easily keep yourself occupied and satisfied!

Let me know if you have any questions about a road trip on the Big Island or places you think should be added to this itinerary. Thanks!

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