Back in January 2019, I invited myself on a trip with my friend Chandler to visit his cousin and her boyfriend who were living in Hilo for a few months. The only other islands I’d been to at this point were Oahu and Molokai, so I was very excited to check out another island! This blog post is pretty long (sorry!), but we fit SO many (16ish) activities into only 3.5 days!
TIP: You will definitely need a Jeep or a vehicle with 4WD that can handle off-roading, especially to get to the Green Sand Beach, Waipio Valley, and Makalawena Beach.
My TOP recommendations for your trip to the Big Island:
- Southern Most Point of the USA (Do the Jump!) – 4WD Recommended
- Waipio Valley – 4WD REQUIRED
- Punalulu’u Black Sand Beach
- Papakolea Beach (Green Sand Beach) – 4WD REQUIRED!
- ‘Akaka Falls
- Makalawena Beach – Snorkeling / Secluded White Sand Beach (4WD Required)
- Rainbow Falls
Day 1 – Quick Exploration/Culture
Arrival – we flew into Kona even though they were living in Hilo (mostly an accident on my part because I didn’t know where they were living)…but we still got some activities in on Day 1. Flying into Kona is crazy because you fly right over the lava fields!
Kona Joe Coffee– We started off the trip at Kona Joe Coffee plantation! It is located on the hillside with sweeping views of the Kona coast and deepest blue ocean I’d ever seen. The address is: 79-7346 Mamalohoa Highway, Kealakekua, HI 96750. They have tours available and are open 8am-5pm. We did not take a tour because we came at an off time, but we were able to walk around, taste the samples and enjoy the incredible views from the patio.
Lava Tube Cave in Kalaoa– On our way to the beach, we stopped on the side of the road to check out the lava tube cave. We walked around on the lava rock until we reached the giant craters and took a quick walk through the cave. However, when I looked it up recently, it said that the area is now blocked off, so take caution if it’s even possible to visit anymore.
Manini’owali Beach (Kua Bay) / Kekaha Kai (Kona Coast) State Park– If you’re looking for a beautiful white sand beach and the clearest blue water, this is it! It’s located at 723990 Mamaloha Hwy, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740 and can easily be found on Google Maps. Luckily we got a front row parking spot and had a short walk to the incredible beach. The water was pretty calm, but had waves further out that reminded me of being in a wave pool – especially because there weren’t many rocks or reef to stub a toe on. I definitely recommend spending a few hours at this beach! It was also whale season so we saw multiple whales breaching in the distance from the beach – how awesome!?
We headed over to Hilo for the evening and ate dinner at Sakura Sushi and Grill. If you’re in Hilo, I definitely recommend this restaurant if you like sushi! We didn’t get one, but they have these elaborate sushi boats (~$65) if you’re in for a lot of sushi or in for a celebration!
Day 2 – Volcanoes/Beaches!
We didn’t start the morning off too early, but we were in for a long day of activities and experiences a lot of “must-do’s”.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park– Around 9:30am we drove South from Hilo and made our way up to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We stopped at the Kulauea Lodge and Restaurant to check it out and walk through the gift shop. We drove a bit more and made it to the Steaming Bluff Overlook and the Crater Rim Trail. Walking around was cool because you walk past multiple steam vents and instantly fog up your sunglasses. Of course we had to stop by the Hawaii Volcanoes sign on the way out of the park!
Punalulu’u Black Sand Beach– I had never seen black sand before, so this was one of the things I was most excited for! We made it to the black sand beach around 11:30am and walked around for a bit, but didn’t stay long because we had so many things to do this day. The sand was so hot! You basically had to keep your shoes on or walk in the water. The contrast of the green palm trees and the black sand was beautiful and we watched the turtles as they swam and chilled on the beach. (Click here to read about the Black Sand Beach in Maui).
South Point Jump– Thankfully Chandler’s cousin knew where we were supposed to go because it’s a little tricky on Google Maps, but you will definitely need a Jeep or off-road vehicle for this adventure! The actual area where everyone jumps/takes pictures is called “Kalae” on Google Maps. Basically, you will just follow South Point Road until it ends! I’ll be honest, I was super nervous to jump, but I couldn’t not jump… It’s about a 40-foot drop, but the water is so deep and clear there is nothing to worry about. There was also another hole to jump through, which we did, that spits you out down below to explore some caves. The scariest part was the climb back up the rickety ladders, but they held just fine. It was such an incredible experience and I’m thankful I decided to take the leap!
Papakolea Beach (Green Sand Beach)– Jeep/Off-Road Vehicle REQUIRED! GREEN SAND! How cool! I thought the black sand was awesome, but green sand was next level. Apparently, the green sand beach gets its name/color from the green olivine crystals that come from the cinder cone next to the beach, formed during an eruption 49,000 years ago. It was EXTREMELY windy when we visited the beach, like painfully windy. The only way to avoid the wind was to spend time in the warm water (which I did a lot of). It is a steep/slippery walk down to the beach so be sure to watch your step and try to wear sandals with straps. The cove was a next level wave pool and we spent a few hours playing in the waves and snorkeling – although it wasn’t very clear due to the waves and wind. If you don’t have a Jeep, you are able to hike out to the Green Sand Beach, but it’s 5.5 miles round trip – yikes! (Check out Maui’s Red Sand Beach Here!)
Shaka Restaurant– The Most Southern Bar in the USA. We stopped here for dinner before our drive back to Hilo. It had a relaxing mom & pop vibe and saying you’ve been to the southernmost bar in the US was pretty cool.
Day 3 – Waterfalls!
Rainbow Falls– The great thing about a few of the iconic waterfalls on the Big Island is that you can drive right to all of them! Rainbow falls is located in Hilo and is roughly 80ft high. We didn’t see any rainbows while we were there, but it was very beautiful!
Pe’epe’e Boiling Pots on the Wailuku River – We made our way up to the boiling pots, another quick stop off the road. Instead of staying at the viewing point, we climbed beyond to get a closer look at the “boiling pots” and better views of the many small waterfalls. Just be sure to wear suitable shoes for the hike over the rocks!
What’s Shakin Smoothie in Pepeekeo– What an adorable smoothie shack and fruit stand on our trip from the Boiling Pots to ‘Akaka Falls! We spent 30 minutes here enjoying the smoothies, playing with the local dog, walking through the banana trees and enjoying the sunshine!
‘Akaka Falls– This waterfall required a bit more of a walk, but the entire area was paved and had stairs with railings for safety. There is also a viewing point for Kahuna Falls, but it’s a little difficult to see. ‘Akaka falls however cannot be missed! The falls are 422 feet high and was absolutely spectacular! Since we were there around lunch time, it was very busy and multiple tour buses arrived the same time we did, but it was still worth it!
Waipio Valley– Jeep/4WD Required! Hawaii amazes me, and everything I’d seen and experienced on the Big Island so far was incredible…but the view of the Waipio Valley was absolutely breathtaking. We had the Jeep so we drove that into the valley which I definitely recommend rather than the 3 mile round trip trek down and up an insanely steep hill. We spent about two hours exploring the black sand beach, the cliffs, the waterfalls, the culture and the wild horses! (Ps. I would love to visit the Hi’ilawe Falls someday, but the route is through private property).
Mauna Kea Observatory– It just so happened that we were visiting the Big Island on the weekend/night of the 2019 Total Lunar Eclipse (Blood Moon). This might have been one of the coolest (literally and figuratively) experiences I’ve ever had. We made our way up Mauna Kea in the dark with the Jeep lights completely off (they practically closed the mountain due to the observatories capturing the Blood Moon and the insane stars). Even though it was freezing, we had ½ of the roof off, heat blasting and my body half way out the vehicle astounded at how clear the sky was and how bright the stars were (since there was hardly a moon). Just incredible – and lucky!
Day 4 – Last Beach Day!
Ken’s House of Pancakes– Delicious. We started the day off with some Sumo Breakfast! I mostly wanted to go because it’s super famous and the Rock likes to eat there, but it was very good and had a great Hawaiian atmosphere! Also, it’s open 24/7!
Makalawena Beach / Kekaha Kai (Kona Coast) State Park– If you’re looking for a secluded white sand beach that is perfect for snorkeling, Makalawena Beach is it! It is kind of tricky to get to and 4WD is definitely required/recommended. We saw a few cars turn around because they kept bottoming out with the rocky roads and potholes. From the Queen Ka’ahumanu Hwy you’ll turn off between mile markers 90 and 91 – you will see a sign for Kekaha Kai State Park! You’ll drive about 1.6 miles over the rough terrain and see the trail through the lava fields off to the right. Make sure you have suitable shoes, water and sunblock as it is quite the trek through the lava fields. We passed through the shorter of the lava fields and stopped shortly at Mahai’ula Beach where we watched a sea lion and sat under the palm trees. Eventually we ventured on the 1-mile trek through the lava field in the blazing sun until we arrived at Makalawena Beach. It was certainly worth the effort as we enjoyed the pristine beach practically to ourselves. We brought snorkel gear and spent a few hours snorkeling and relaxing on the beach before our flight home in the evening. (An image of how to get to the beach is down below!)
We left the Big Island as the sun was setting and I couldn’t have been more thankful for the incredible adventure and experience! Looking back at this trip I cannot believe how many activities we fit into only 4-days, but it is definitely do-able! I am so thankful for Chandler and his family for letting us stay at their home and being our tour-guides for a few days!
Check out my 3-day trip to Maui Here!
What to Pack for 4 Days on Hawaii’s Big Island:
- 1-2 Bathing suits
- 2 pairs of shorts
- 1 pair of jeans
- 2 sun-dresses
- 2 tank-tops
- 1 t-shirt
- 1 pair yoga pants/leggings
- 1 light sweater
- 1 heavier jacket (for Mauna Kea/Volcanoes/rainy weather)
- Go-pro/camera with selfie stick/tripod and floating handle
- Snorkel Gear
- Sandals with straps (Teva’s or Chacos)
- Tennis shoes if you plan on doing more intense hikes
- Sunblock (Reef Friendly!)
- Reusable Water Bottle
- Ziplock bags for sand
3 thoughts on “4 Days on Hawaii’s Big Island!”