7 Epic Must-Do Outdoor Activities on Hawaii’s Big Island
A trip to Hawaii ought to be equal parts poke bowls and adventure. And there’s no better island to maximize adventure than the Big Island. From where to hike, to where to swim with dolphins, to the best spot for stargazing, we’ve got you covered on what you must do on the Big Island. It’s time to go Big Island or go home.
by Reid Flynn
“Another boring day in Hawaii,” said no one ever. We crunched the numbers and it is quite literally impossible to have a day without adventure in Hawaii—and that’s especially true on the Big Island. Here are some other statistics you may find interesting: the Big Island makes up 63% of Hawaii’s landmass, but only 13% of the population. Do the math and that means this giant, beautiful island is almost entirely composed of untouched, pristine nature.
Of course, it can be daunting to know where to start and how to hit all of the unique activities on a first time trip to Hawaii’s Big Island. That’s where we come in. We’ve got you covered on all of the outdoor activities to do on the Big Island. And to keep your internet surfing to a minimum, and your IRL surfing to a maximum, we’ve compiled all of our best Big Island, Hawaii activity recs here. Pick out a papaya and check these out before you go.
Snorkel with dolphins
I hope you waited an hour after eating that papaya before reading this. No? Oh well, that’s okay, but we’re starting this list with a splash. If you’re doing a Big Island trip, you’ve got to get in the water and explore the incredible protected ecosystems.
Red Hill Sanctuary or Kealakekua Marine Preserve are our picks for the best snorkeling around the Big Island. The über-clear waters make it extremely easy to pick out any number of the 600+ species of marine life that live there, but only one of them make us say “OMG, dolphins!” We’re talking, of course, about dolphins. Hop in the warm waters with spinners and spotteds and live out your childhood fantasies of swimming with these friendly fellas.
Drink the freshest coffee
Time for a pick-me-up after all that swimming. The Big Island is world-famous for Kona coffee. Grown in the volcanic soil in the Kona region, bean lovers everywhere covet this special brew. Everyone from coffee snobs to Mark Twain have craved the unique taste.
Genuine Kona coffee is the subject of many scandals—time and again, coffee roasters have tried to claim that they sell the real deal, only later revealed to be frauds. Take a tour of a coffee farm and see how much care (and a little bit of cloud coverage) goes into every tasty sip. Cap things off with a tasting that will give those brain cells that have turned off for vacation a little aloha.
Hang out with volcanoes
Speaking of volcanoes, I don’t want you to panic, but the entire island you’re on is a series of giant lava-spewers. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe. But if you want to get to know these magnificent natural wonders, nowhere is their presence more obvious than Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
A large part of the park—and of the Big Island for that matter—is built on Mauna Loa, the largest above-water volcano in the world. Get off the beaten path and walk the Crater’s Rim Trail, full of rainforest views and lava vent overlooks. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. They say she still lives in the Kilauea volcano.
Zipline by the Pacific Ocean
If the very mention of lava has you headed for higher ground, there is perhaps no more suitable place to be than a zip line. Or rather, a zip line with killer views of the Pacific Ocean and cloud forests of the Big Island.
Simply one of the most exhilarating things you can do in Hawaii: top out at 65 mph shooting from cable to cable above the trees and waterfalls of the Big Island. You’ll never want to come down. But if you don’t come down then who will eat this delicious, refreshing shave ice we got you? Mmm. Thought so.
Stargaze at Mauna Kea
Alright folks, let’s keep things stunning, adventurous, and off the beaten path. How about a stargazing excursion on the highest mountain in the world? Nope, you’re not going to Mt. Everest, you’re staying right here on the Big Island. Mauna Kea, if measured from its largely underwater base, is almost 4,000 feet higher than Everest!
No oxygen tanks and crampons required here, just come as you are, and if it’s nighttime, come prepared for the best stargazing of your life. Far from the light pollution of any city, the constellations and galaxies seen from the summit of Mauna Kea will knock your flower lei clear off. You can see why this place is sacred to native Hawaiians.
Have a beach day
There are two kinds of beach days you can have on the Big Island. The kind that makes you say “woah” and the kind that makes you say “ahh.” The former is best had at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. It’s rocky, it’s not made for swimming, but it is insanely cool. Don’t take our word for it, talk to one of the many sea turtles that call this place home.
A more typical, “ahh” beach day of tanning, splashing, and life-is-good-ing can be found nearly anywhere in Kona. Some of our favorites include Magic Sands, Kua Bay, and Kekaha Kai. Put the adrenaline aside and make a chill day of it. You deserve it.
You’ve heard the TLC song, yes, don’t go chasing waterfalls. But have you considered ignoring that advice and doing the exact opposite? You should. Especially if you go chasing Waianuenue Falls, aka Rainbow Falls. This 80-foot plunge is a magnificent feature of the Big Island, and taking a trip out to Hilo to see it is a must-do activity for any visitor to Hawaii.
Break out the ukulele, because after you see this bad boy, you’ll know exactly what’s over the rainbow—and if you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s even more of a jam-packed trip of outdoor adventures on Hawaii’s Big Island.
Now you know what a first-time visitor needs to do on the Big Island. Next step? Planning that trip, making sure the logistics work out, ensuring that you can fit everything into one go. Well, hey, it just so happens that we have a trip to Hawaii’s Big Island that fits every single one of these activities into the trip. We take care of everything, you just worry about picking out the perfect bathing suit.
Written by Reid Flynn
Reid is a copywriter at EF Ultimate Break. He loves cheese, playing guitar, and speaking loudly about indie rock to anyone who will listen. His favorite place in the world is Amsterdam.