From Volcanoes to Cuisine: 8 Days on Hawaii's Big Island

Big Island | Itinerary

Hawaii Island, often simply referred to as "Big Island," is a distinctive part of Hawaiian tourism. Big Island may not attract the largest number of tourists, but it is the authentic heart of Hawaii. Big Island holds the historical legacy of the ancient Hawaii Kingdom, which had its political center right here.

If you want to truly experience Big Island, it's usually recommended to plan for a week or more. Why is that? Because Big Island is the largest among the Hawaiian Islands, covering an area of over 10,000 square kilometers. Compared to other parts of the Hawaiian archipelago, exploring every corner of Big Island takes more time and dedication.

I believe the best way to tour the island is to drive around the island, 2-4 days on the west side, 2 days in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, 1-3 days on the east side, and half a day or so on the south side and north side of the island. Our final itinerary is an 8D7N road trip around the island:

  • Day 1-3: Explore Kona and Surrounding Attractions. After our snorkeling each day, we venture to nearby attractions. We stayed in Kona for the first 3 nights.
  • Day 4-5: Depart from Kona and head south, making stops at southwestern attractions along the way, and spending the next 2 days in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We stayed two nights at a nice B&B nearby the entrance of the Volcanoes National Park, Hale 'Ohu.
  • Day 6: Drive to the eastern side of Hilo and stay for one night. Explore Wailuku River State Park on the western side of Hilo, then drive to Mauna Kea in the central part of the island to watch the sunset. Spend the night in Hilo.
  • Day 7: Depart from Hilo and visit Akaka Falls State Park. Then, drive along the northern attractions of the island before returning to the western side. Stay at Waikoloa Village area's Hilton Grand Vacations Club Kings' Land Waikoloa.
  • Day 8: Explore the nearby attractions around Waikoloa Village, enjoy snorkeling, and stroll through the resort area.

If you plan to spend just one or two days, I recommend to primarily focus on visiting the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. If you have enough time, consider staying one night in Hilo, which would allow you to explore the area in the morning.

Big Island | Lodging

The majority of visitors to the Big Island choose to stay in Kona. There are several reasons for this: firstly, the southwestern part of the island has the most attractions, and secondly, Kona tends to offer more budget-friendly accommodation options compared to the northwest side in Waikoloa. Kona provides a wide range of lodging choices. If you prefer a luxurious hotel experience, you can opt to stay in Waikoloa on the northwest side. Some people even spend an entire week within the upscale resorts in this area. However, if you plan to explore the entire island or visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, it is generally recommended to spend at least two days on the eastern coast of the Big Island. Hilo accomodations are typically the most budget-friendly on the island, and it's a place many people appreciate. From a transportation perspective, if you intend to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, staying within the park itself is the most time-efficient option, as it minimizes commute times. This way, you can allocate half a day to a day for Hilo.

Booking hotels on the Big Island of Hawaii can be a challenging aspect to plan when organizing the trip. Optimizing your location to minimize travel time while still finding a reasonably priced place can be tricky.

Our experience with the hotels you've stayed at during your trip is compiled in the article below:

Big Island | Attractions

Looking at the map, the Big Island can indeed be divided into several distinct regions: Kona on the west side, Kohala Coast on the northwest side, Hilo on the east side, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the southeast side, Waimea/Upcountry on the north side, and the central Mauna Kea area.

Each of these regions offers unique landscapes and features, making the Big Island a diverse and captivating destination to explore.


The western coast of the Big Island, centered around Kona, is known for its abundance of shops and hotels, including stores like Costco and Target, making it one of the most convenient regions on the island. People who enjoy beaches and snorkeling often spend several days in Kona. The Kona area is also rich in historical significance, with many ancient Hawaiian kingdom relics and sites.

Kona is an excellent destination for snorkeling enthusiasts. You can bring your own gear or join local snorkeling tours. We opted for snorkeling every morning at nearby beaches and also participated in local snorkeling tours for the access to snorkeling spots that are challenging to reach on our own. During the boat rides, there are explanations about the various points of interest, and if you're lucky, you might even spot whales or dolphins. After snorkeling, the boat usually provides beverages and snacks. We chose to participate in Snorkeling trips with Captain Zodiac. This excursion involved riding in a Navy SEAL-style inflatable boat, which made the journey quite thrilling. On the way, we had the exciting opportunity to see the historic landmarks of Kona Old Town from the ocean. We also joined the tour Night Dive Itinerary and were able to observe the fascinating manta rays.

There are so many great Kona attractions. We documented more information in the post below:

Kohala Coast | Waikoloa Village

The Kohala Coast is also located on the dry western half of the Big Island. It receives minimal rainfall and boasts beautiful beaches and is perfect for snorkeling. Hapuna Beach State Park is home to the largest white sand beach on the Big Island and holds a rich history of Hawaiian culture. What sets this area apart from Kona is its proximity to the upscale resorts, Waikoloa Village, which is a mere twenty-minute drive north from Kona Airport. Many visitors come here to indulge in luxurious resort experiences. These resorts are not only massive but also incredibly opulent, and you can easily spend an entire day exploring Waikoloa Village. In this article, we will introduce some of the highlights of this region.


The eastern coast of the Big Island centers around Hilo, which is the second-largest city on the island. Hilo is known for its affordability and higher rainfall compared to the Kona side on the west. It's quite different in terms of scenery. Due to its proximity to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the presence of an airport, it also attracts many island-hopping day trip tourists.

Hilo offers a diverse culinary scene and is a must-visit destination for food enthusiasts. In terms of attractions, aside from the town of Hilo itself, there are nearby attractions such as Wailuku River State Park and Akaka Falls State Park. Here are some highlights of Hilo and its surrounding areas:

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park  is an absolute must-visit attraction on the Big Island. It is the largest volcano national park in the world, and its centerpiece, Kilauea, is an active volcano. In the 20th century alone, Kilauea erupted 45 times, and it continues to exhibit active volcanic activity, with occasional lava flows. Witnessing lava at Hawaii's volcanoes is one of the most popular activities on the Big Island.

More details for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:

Worth-stopping road trip destinations

Mauna Kea

The central volcano on the Big Island is called Mauna Kea. At the summit of Mauna Kea, there is an observatory. The Mauna Kea Observatory is a must-visit for astronomy enthusiasts because it is the first observatory built on a high mountain and the largest astronomical observatory in the world. Being situated on an island, at a high elevation, with stable weather conditions and minimal light pollution, Mauna Kea provides an excellent location for astronomical observations. If you're interested in stargazing at the summit, there are two important things to keep in mind:

  1. The road to the top of the mountain requires a four-wheel drive vehicle, so special care must be taken when renting a car.
  2. Due to the high altitude of the summit, it's necessary to stop and acclimate for about an hour at the mid-level visitor center before heading to the summit to prevent altitude sickness.

While many tourists are drawn to the observatories, but not as many are aware of the beautiful sunset spot on the hills across from the visitor center. Local residents on the Big Island highly recommend this spot for sunset viewing. It's a great way to enjoy a different perspective of Mauna Kea and its stunning surroundings.

Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park

If you're planning to drive around the island and are looking for places to stop along the way, Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park on the north coast, located on the Hamakua coastline, is a beautiful option. The name "Laupahoehoe" means "leaf of lava" in Hawaiian, describing how it was once a small peninsula formed by lava. The coastal views here are breathtaking, and it's a relatively peaceful and quiet spot with fewer tourists, making it a serene place to enjoy the scenic beauty of the Big Island.

Although it's called a Beach Park, Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park isn't suitable for swimming or snorkeling due to strong winds and rough waves. The vast green area was once a village with a population of two thousand people. There used to be a school on this large grassy field. However, in 1946, a tsunami struck, destroying the village. Today, the area is used as a leisure park. You can still find a monument here that commemorates the tragic event and the students who were swept away by the tsunami.

Waipio lookout

Waipio Lookout is a well-known viewpoint offering a stunning view of Waipio Valley, which is surrounded by mountains on the north coast. Even on a rainy day, the ocean views remain quite beautiful from this vantage point. Waipio Valley holds significant historical importance as it was once the residence of King Kamehameha during his youth, earning it the nickname "The Valley of the Kings."

Driving South Shore | Punalu'u Black Sand State Park

Punalu'u Black Sand State Park is actually quite famous, the beach here is different from other places, it is a black sand beach. Besides the special color, there are also a lot of sea turtles here, many people like to come here for snorkeling and turtle watching. If you are going to Volcanoes National Park from Kona, there are many tourists on the way.

South Point

South Point, located at the southernmost tip of the Big Island, offers stunning ocean views. As you get closer to South Point, the road becomes more challenging to navigate. Once you reach the end, it's a good idea to park your vehicle and explore the area on foot. Along the way, you can also spot historical markers like the Kingdom of Hawaii stone monument, which highlights remnants of the ancient Hawaiian kingdom. It's a unique and picturesque spot to visit on the Big Island.

Big Island | Dining

Don't miss out on the local cuisine when you visit the Big Island. We spent a week indulging in delicious dishes from all over the island and developed a newfound love for Hawaiian cuisine. In terms of food, our favorite place this time was Hilo. If you're a food enthusiast and have enough time, consider extending your stay in Hilo. For more detailed insights into the culinary delights, please refer to the following article:

Further reading

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