The Big Island, Hawaii, is the largest island in the Hawaiian Islands archipelago that continues to grow a little every day due to the lava flow from Kilauea (Interesting Fact: Big Island has grown by 500 acres since 1983 from the Kilauea volcano!). It has diverse climates where visitors can experience snow, go to the beach, and get stuck in a downpour all in the same day. My extended family has been slowly migrating to the Big Island so we have been coming here more frequently in the past couple of years. When we visit, we usually only come for the weekend or holidays because of work but we are still able to visit most of the places we want to see in only a couple of days.
Because the Big Island is huge, public transportation is not an option if you want to do much exploring and have limited time. It is better to rent a car since it take a couple of hours to go from one side of the island to the other. There are also some places not easily accessible by public transportation. From our recent trips, some of our top cheap places to visit in the Big Island include the following:
- Mauna Kea: It’s a beautiful place to see any time of the year. The path leading to the observatory makes me think that I am on Mars and it’s a stunning sight at the summit during sunset because you’re literally above the clouds. This past New Year’s Day, my family and I went to Mauna Kea to see the snow. We almost cancelled our trip because the roads were closed in the morning due to heavy snowfall (Check their website for the winter weather forecast) but it opened later in the afternoon. The main reason for our trip there was so that my cousins and husband can bodyboard down some snow slopes.
I wanted to try it too but my mom and I had severe altitude sickness and could barely walk so we had to stay in the car. This is why it’s important to acclimate at the Visitor’s Information Station for at least 30 minutes (and use the bathrooms as there are none at the top!). Visiting Mauna Kea is free but the trip takes a couple of hours so you must ensure that you have a full tank of gas as there are no gas stations nearby. In addition, most car rental companies do not allow you to go off-roading (ex: Mauna Kea) so be sure to read your contract before renting. The road to the summit takes about 30 minutes and it is unpaved and slow-going. Thus, only 4-wheel drive vehicles are allowed. If you decide to catch the sunset, make sure to stop by the Visitor’s Information Station again on your way down. The center offers a free Stargazing Program on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 6pm-10pm. There are telescopes set at specific locations so you can view stars and planets and there are volunteers who can help explain what you see in the telescope.
- Carlsmith Beach Park: This place is quick drive from downtown Hilo. There are bathrooms, picnic areas, and a limited amount of parking in front of the beach. There are no sandy areas as there are a lot of rocks but it’s easy to find a flat and dry area for your things. This is my favorite place in the Big Island because of all the friendly turtles that hang out here. When we were here last December, we swam with about 7 turtles who claim this lagoon as their home. One turtle had a scar on his back because, according to a local who was near us at the beach, he used to have a satellite attached to its shell for researchers to track. It was later removed and the turtle was nicknamed “Radar”. The turtles are super friendly! They come very close and would sometimes touch visitors. While exploring the lagoon, I almost stepped on one turtle hidden sand underwater that looked at least 5 feet long! I love turtles so this was an amazing (and free!) experience for me. Because of my love of turtles, I was very protective of them when I saw visitors touching them. Remember that they are protected by federal and state laws but also it’s important to give them the general respect that they deserve while swimming in their homes.
- Waipio Valley: This majestic area is more than an hour’s drive from Hilo or Kona but it’s worth the trip. At the top is a free lookout for visitors take in the entire view of the valley in all its beauty. There are also historical information at the lookout along with restrooms, picnic tables, and limited parking. There is a path that leads down the valley but it’s a steep, bumpy, and unpaved path so it is vital to have a vehicle with 4-wheel drive. Similar to Mauna Kea, some rental companies do not allow their vehicles to go down to Waipio Valley so make sure to check your contract (you can also hike down here too!). At the bottom to the left is a waterfall and private property and to the right is a black sand beach with a river leading to the ocean. It is a free place for visitors to hangout or swim. The mouth of the river was a nice place to dip my feet into but I was hesitate about swimming in the ocean due to the large waves. Since there was heavy rain before we came, I was surprised to discover two more waterfalls at the beach which dropped into the ocean.
- Waialea Beach: Also known as 69 Beach wasn’t on my pre-researched list of places to go but we were able to visit it last December when we were in Kona. It has free showers, bathrooms, some picnic tables, and a decent amount of parking. It is a great place to go snorkeling or relaxing on the beach (there’s lots of shade!). The left side of the beach is pretty rocky and good for snorkeling while the right side has an area clear of any rocks and coral which is perfect for families with children. This is actually my favorite beach in Hawaii (and I don’t like to go to the beach! Haha!) because the water was just the right temperature for me, it was so clear that I wasn’t scared about what lurked underwater, and the water was so calm that I didn’t get seasick (Yes, I now get a bit seasick from swimming at the beach).
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is less than an hour from Hilo and about 2 hours from Kona. It is open for 24 hours a day including all holidays but the Kilauea Visitor Center and the Jaggar Museum have their own business hours. It costs $20 for one vehicle (so load up everyone in one car!) but they do offer free passes on certain days. The Jaggar Museum has an overlook where you can see Kilauea. The museum has some interesting information about the volcano including some crazy looking lava rocks. We have visited the park during the day but we actually enjoyed it at night where we can really see the light from the volcano.
Big Island is such an amazing place to visit. You can go to the beach, see waterfalls, visit a volcano, and go snowboarding all in the same day. Please just make sure to respect and take care of the environment when you visit. Do not take home any lava rocks or sand and do not touch or harm any wild animals. Throw your trash in a trash can or keep it with you until you can dispose of it in the proper place. I know it may seem like I’m nagging but, once you experience how beautiful this island is, it’s hard not to be protective of it so that future generations can enjoy what we enjoy now.