Even for the well-travelled, Hawaii Island, colloquially known as “the Big Island,” seems otherworldly — sun and rain (the Kona coast is notably brighter than wet Hilo on the island’s east side); sand (dreamy white beaches and wild black ones, too); roads that snake through rainforests hugging steep ravines; miles of barren volcanic rock; wide-open valleys overlooking the Pacific. The Big Island is just that… big — about 4,050 square miles.
And when Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupted this May, its lava flow affected an area of about 9.5 square miles and ceased entirely by September. Only a small part of Hawaii was affected, but the fallout for the local tourism industry was felt across all the islands. Formed by volcanic eruptions, it’s that rugged origin that makes Hawaii the awe-inspiring natural wonder we see today. Now that the ash has long since cleared and Kilauea sleeps once again, we wanted to share our guide and top picks for rediscovering this Hawaiian gem.
Kona Brewing Co.
When in Hawaii, it’s best to drink Hawaiian beer. You’ll find it at Kona Brewing Co., where you can tour the brewery and taste popular bottles like Big Wave Golden Ale. Pizza at the indoor/outdoor brewpub is a must, too. Some Saturdays, there’s an open-air market outside the brewery; on Sundays, there’s live music.
Healthy eaters will want to stop by this second-floor smoothie and acai shop in town. Basik has some of the best bowls on the island.
Beach Tree Bar at the Four Seasons Hualalai
Head to the Four Seasons Hualalai for drinks or dinner in a breezy, beach house setting. Dine in the sand or under the vaulted ceilings of Beach Tree Bar’s elegant dining room, complete with ocean views.
Red Water Café
In the small, elevated village of Waimea, cozy Red Water Café relies on local farms to provide ingredients — garden tomatoes, feta, line-caught ahi — for its American and Japanese fare.
49 Black Sand Beach
Volcanic rock lends the tint to the black sand enjoyed by sunbathing turtles at the small and secluded 49 Black Sand Beach. For snorkellers, underwater views of corals and fish delight.
Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area
Hapuna Beach has everything that makes Hawaiian beaches so dreamy: white sand, lava caves, water clear enough to snorkel in, views of Maui in the distance. The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort will open near the beach at the end of the month.
ATV the Waipio Valley
To see the wonder of the Waipio Valley, cruise the Kohala coastline in ATVs. ATV Outfitters Hawaii offers journeys that bring you through an old eucalyptus rainforest down to the picturesque Keawaeli Bay where waves crash below you and a tropical waterfall is just a short hike away.
Night Snorkel with Manta Rays
Stroll Ali’i Drive in the afternoon and you’ll find companies touting this underwater nighttime adventure. For the adventurous, cruising along the surface of the water looking down offers up views of the wild creatures somersaulting and gliding beneath.
Take a Road Trip
Toward Hilo, the island’s most famous waterfall, Akaka Falls, pulls crowds to stare at water dropping 442 feet from the ground. Follow the path to hike the short distance down for a closer view and wait around for a rainbow. Not far away, the Hilo Farmers Market — where you’ll find local coffee, native tropical fruits like guava, pineapple, passion fruit, and more — is worth a walk-through.