The island of Hawaii, or the Big Island, as it is also known, really is big. A week here is just enough time to get a taste for the diverse natural beauty. I’ve listed six of my favourite experiences but there are loads more great places to see. I hope to have more time to explore the Hilo side of the island on another visit.
Night snorkel with manta ray
Snorkelling at night isn’t something I would normally rush to do. But I am so glad I put aside my shark phobia to hang out with manta ray. We went out with Neptune Charlie’s, punching out of Kailua Bay in a heavy swell and anchoring just before sunset at a spot
favoured by manta ray. There, we slipped into the water with our snorkel gear and clung to a modified paddle board, fitted with torches. It was dark and rough, but we were rewarded by visits from four manta ray, that swam in the torchlight, providing us with an amazing view of these graceful creatures and an unforgettable experience. The Kona Coast is apparently the only place that manta ray are regularly attracted by the light as they chase plankton. Amazing!
Visit Mauna Kea at sunset
Watching the sun set from anywhere on the Big Island is pretty amazing, but the view from Mauna Kea volcano is really something special. The visitor centre is above the clouds and provides for a stunning spectacle as the sun disappears, but beware: the drive back to the Kona Coast (where most of the resorts are) is pretty hairy at night. It was foggy and pelting with rain when we passed through the saddle road between the volcanoes. Not much fun in the dark!
Kilauea Iki Crater walk
There are loads of great hikes in the Volcanoes National Park. The visitor centre has all the details on where to find lava action and a good summary of the sites not to miss. The top places right now are the steam vents, lava tube and the Jagger Museum (for viewing the most active part of the crater). The walk at Kilauea Iki Crater is a great addition to those sites. It descends through tropical rainforest onto the volcanic crater floor. The contrasts are incredible and well worth the hour-long diversion.
Kayak on Kealakekua Bay
Captain Cook – the first European to visit the Hawaiian Islands met a nasty end at Kealakekua Bay in 1779. A monument on the north side of the bay commemorates the great British navigator. There are no roads to the monument but the site can be visited by foot or by water. We rented
kayaks from the bottom of Napoopoo Road for the half-hour paddle across the bay to the monument. Boats can’t land on the site, but take snorkelling gear as the bay is clear and full of fish. Just beautiful. Stop on the highway just north of the bay for a burger at Annie’s. So good!
Visit the fishponds at Mauna Lani
You wouldn’t cross oceans to visit a few mullet, but these traditional fishponds, fed by the sea are a tranquil oasis. If you are lucky enough to be staying in the Mauna Lani area, a morning run around the ponds is a wonderful way to start the day. The mullet in the ponds are very acrobatic and most active in the early morning and late afternoon. Keep your toes out, as the occasional moral eel and barracuda find their way in from the sea.
Drive through the Kohala Mountains to the Waipio Valley Lookout
The Kohala Mountains are a stark contrast to the lava fields of the Kona Cost. Much of this northern corner of the Big Island is pastoral land – green rolling hills and ranches. The drive from the Kona Coast to the stunning Waipio Valley lookout takes you through the town of Waimea. Stop here for a monstrous pulled pork sandwich at The Fish and The Hog. The unspoilt Waipio Valley, which can be accessed only by 4WD, was closed due to a dengue fever outbreak when we visited, but the view from the lookout is worth the drive. Return to Kona via the quaint town of Hawi (the tail end of the Hawaii Ironman) in the far north, and look out for whales as you descend to the coast.