Big Island, Hawai’i

There is a good reason the Island of Hawaii is often referred to as The Big Island: it is really big. With a land mass of over 4,000 square miles, it not only is the largest island in Hawaii but it is bigger than all other seven islands combined. We will start this quick tour at the northern part of the windward coast (east) and then visit the leeward side (west).

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1 Waipi’o Valley Lookout near Honokaa, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

This gorgeous scene is along the Hāmākua Coast on the northeastern part of the Big Island of Hawaii. It is a short distance from the village of Honoka’a. From the Waipi’o Valley Lookout, you enjoy a beautiful vista 2,000 feet below. This once was the home of Hawaiian kings such as Kamehameha I. This sacred area is called “The Valley of the Kings.” Thousands of residents once enjoyed this lush, fertile area with its waterfalls until a major tsunami struck in 1946. Now less than 100 inhabitants remain. If you want a closer look, there is a one-mile road down to the black sand shore. It claims to have the steepest grade in the United States.

48 Kukuihaele Rd, Honokaa, HI 96727
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2 Laupāhoehoe Point on Hāmākua Coast, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

Laupāhoehoe Point is one of many gorgeous vistas of the Pacific Ocean you will enjoy while Highway 19 hugs the Hāmākua Coast. This rocky finger, which in Hawaiian means “leaf of lava,” once was a dock for a sugar mill that was located here in the late 19th century. But the thriving community changed forever when a tsunami struck in 1946. Many students and teachers were killed in the school that was located just off camera to the left. A monument to the 24 victims is located on this spot.

36 Lauphoehoe Point Rd, Laupahoehoe, HI 96764
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3 ‘Akaka Falls State Park near Honomu, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

The Kolekole Stream plunges 422 feet into a deep gorge in this spectacular waterfall. It is the centerpiece of an easy walking trail around ‘Akaka Falls State Park near Honomu, Island of Hawaii along the Hamakua Coast. The path also loops through a lush rainforest that features enormous ferns, huge bamboo and banyan trees plus the smaller Kahūnā Falls.

ʻAkaka Falls State Park, Akaka Falls Road & State Hwy 220, Honomu, HI 96728
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4 Onomea Bay on Hāmākua Coast, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

While motoring along the Hāmākua Coast on the Big Island, make sure you take a four mile detour onto the Onomea Bay Scenic Drive. This winding road offers some spectacular views of Onomea Bay. It also brings you to a waterfall and the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden. They are all well worth a side trip.

27-604 Alakahi Pl, Papaikou, HI 96781
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5 Backwater along Onomea Trail on Hāmākua Coast, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

At the end of the Old Onomea Road, which is a short distance off of the Hawaii Belt Road, is a 600 foot walking trail that was apparently forged by donkeys when this area was a sugar mill in the early 19th century. During this easy hike through lush vegetation you will be rewarded with several scenes like this one of a backwater at the edge of Onomea Bay. If you look closely, you can see that the pool is full of fish that get trapped here during low tide.

27-604 Alakahi Pl, Papaikou, HI 96781
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6 Taro Plants in Forest on Hāmākua Coast, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

The Big Island of Hawaii is blessed with tropical forests along the Hāmākua Coast that will delight any tourist or botanist. Among the plants you’ll see are these enormous taro plants. The heart-shaped, veiny leaves of the kalo are cooked and served in local cuisine like spinach. But before you pick it, beware that the similar looking Elephant Ear plant is prickly and will irritate your mouth.

27-604 Alakahi Pl, Papaikou, HI 96781
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7 Rainbow Falls in Hilo, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

Locals in Hilo refer to this as the Waiānuenue Falls which means rainbow water because early on sunny mornings it creates a mist of glorious colors at the base of its 80 foot drop into a lava crater. This close up shows its 100 foot diameter before it plunges over the cliff. More commonly called Rainbow Falls, it is located in the Wailuku River State Park. Admission is free.

47 Rainbow Dr, Hilo, HI 96720
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8 Peepee Falls in Hilo, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

Most visitors to the Wailuku River State Park come to see and photograph the Rainbow Falls but it is worth the hike upstream to see this view of Pe’epe’e Falls (in the upper left corner) as it dumps into the Wailuku River. Perhaps the park’s best feature is their 16 acres of tropical foliage that is incredibly lush and green.

1766 Wailuku Dr, Hilo, HI 96720
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9 Boiling Pots in Hilo, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

Two neighboring volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, have taken turns sending hot, molten lava across the Island of Hawaii. At the Boiling Pots, the Wailuku River bubbles, churns and cascades over basalt lava beds, through ancient tubes and into layers of pools in a flurry of constant motion. They can be seen at the Wailuku River State Park near Hilo, Hawaii.

1766 Wailuku Dr, Hilo, HI 96720
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10 Wailuku River in Hilo, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

Hawaii’s longest river, the Wailuku, flows for 28 miles on the Big Island before emptying into the Pacific Ocean at Hilo Bay. As beautiful as it is, please be careful because there is a reason its name means “water of destruction.” After heavy rains, its current becomes treacherous and it has been responsible for countless injuries and deaths.

1766 Wailuku Dr, Hilo, HI 96720
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Yellow Hibiscus Flower in Hilo, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

This beautiful yellow hibiscus is native to Hawaii and was adopted as the state’s official flower in 1988. In its natural habitat, the pua aloalo grows on a tall shrub but is rarely seen and it is listed as endangered. Interestingly, each island has its own designated flower. On the Big Island, it is the red ohia.

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11 King Kamehameha Statue in Hilo, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

If you like this statue of King Kamehameha, who founded the kingdom of Hawaii, you have six chances to see it. The original was cast by Thomas Gould in 1883 but was lost during a shipwreck so a replacement was made and erected in front of the Ali’iōlani Hale in Honolulu. The first statue was later recovered and stands in Kohala, David Kalākaua’s birthplace. This replica is near downtown Hilo. The 14 foot statue was created by R. Sandrin in 1963. Other reproductions are at Hawaii’s state capitol, a resort on Maui and in Las Vegas.

200 Piopio St, Hilo, HI 96720
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12 Kona Coast on Leeward Side of Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

The Kona District coastline on the west side of the Big Island stretches for about 60 miles. Its name means leeward which is the dry side of the island. It is lined with numerous parks, beaches and bays plus delightful towns, historical sites and plenty of hotels and resorts. In fact, this seems like the perfect spot to sip a cup of famous Kona coffee while watching the gentle surf splash against the shore.

84 Honaunau Beach Rd, Captain Cook, HI 96704
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13 Single Palm Tree on Kona Coast, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

Few images conjure up the dream of total relaxation like a tall palm tree along the coast of aquamarine water on a bright, sunny afternoon. Best of all, there is no one else here so you can enjoy your fantasy in total isolation. The only sounds are the surf, the swaying leaves and an occasional seabird. So turn off your cell phone and relax.

84 Honaunau Beach Rd, Captain Cook, HI 96704
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14 Kamakahonu Beach in Kailua-Kona, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

As cruise ship passengers disembark onto the Big Island at the Kailua Pier, their first view is often the Kamakahonu Beach. This means “Eye of the Turtle.” Its calm waters have earned it the nickname “Children’s Beach.” Besides being beautiful, it is also historical. This is where King Kamehameha died in 1819. Nine years earlier, Kamehameha the Great became the first monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii. On the other side of this finger of land is Kailua Bay.

Kailua Pier, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
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15 Row of Outrigger Canoes in Kailua-Kona, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

Racing outrigger canoes is a popular water activity on the Big Island and is the state sport of Hawaii. Each year, several regattas are sponsored by local clubs in Kailua-Kona in addition to major races across the islands. There are six paddlers in the boats called OC6 but you’ll often see single-person canoes as well. Long distance races can stretch up to 20 miles or farther.

Kailua Pier, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
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16 Lovers’ Initials Carved on Banyan Tree in Kailua-Kona, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

Young romantic couples are so excited to express their unrelenting love that they often carve their initials inside hearts like these on a banyan tree in Kailua-Kona. But these trees grow by wrapping their prop roots around a host tree and strangling it… hardly a romantic image. Banyans can live 200 years or longer. The oldest in Hawaii was planted on Maui in 1873.

Kailua Pier, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
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17 Honokohau Harbor in Kailua-Kona, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

Honokohau Harbor is your launching point in Kailua-Kona if you want to charter a boat for deep-sea fishing, or the chance to see humpback whales and spinner dolphins, or want to go snorkeling, or maybe you prefer taking a leisurely cruise along the Kona Coast. The choice is yours. It is also a favorite marina for the locals to moor their watercraft of every size. But on a gorgeous day like this, why aren’t more of these boats out enjoying Honokohau Bay and the warm sunshine?

74-429 Kealakehe Pkwy, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
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18 Hulihe’e Palace in Kailua-Kona, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

The Hulihe’e Palace was built in 1837 by the governor of the Island of Hawaii. It was passed on through generations and became the frequent guest house for vacationing royalty such as King Kamehameha III. When King Kalākaua purchased it, he and Queen Kapi’olani called it Hikulani Hale which translates to House of the Seventh Ruler. Since 1927, it has been a museum managed by the Daughters of Hawai’i.

75-5718 Alii Dr, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
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19 Mokuaikaua Church in Kailua-Kona, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

In 1820, a group of New England Christian missionaries landed at present-day Kailua-Kona and established a congregation. After building two other churches that quickly needed to be replaced, they constructed this lava and coral stone structure with a white steeple. The Mokuaikaua Church was dedicated in 1837, making it the oldest church in the state of Hawaii. It is located in the Historic Kailua Village.

75-5713 Alii Dr, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
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20 Birds of Paradise Mural by Obregon in Kailua-Kona, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

In 2004, Michelle Obregon designed this mural in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, called Birds of Paradise. This detail shows two Java Sparrows, an Alala crow and a flock of Nene Geese. This breed of goose is endemic to Hawaii and is the state bird. Eight other Hawaiian birds are beautifully illustrated in this mural but not shown in the photo. It is located on the side of the Hale Halawai Park building on Alii Drive. Ms. Obregon is a graphic arts teacher at Konawaeana High School.

75-5760 Alii Dr Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
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21 Waterfront Row’s Captain Jack Carving in Kailua-Kona, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

In front of the Crazy Shirts store on Waterfront Row in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii is this smiling carving of Captain Jack. A plaque nearby tells the story of how he was shipwrecked and rescued by the local merchants. He now basks in the Hawaiian sun on a park bench just below the lookout tower deck while welcoming guests with a hearty “Ahoy Mates!”

75-5774 Ali'i Dr, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
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22 Humpback Whale Mural in Kailua-Kona, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

This mostly black and white mural by Dennis Westerlund highlights some of the history of the Big Island, including a humpback whale swimming below sailing ships while the Loihi volcano prepares to erupt below the Pacific Ocean. It was painted in 2012 along Palani Road on the wall of Big Island Harley-Davidson.

74-5622 Palani Rd Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
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23 Close-up of Guitar in Kailua-Kona, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

Music has always been important to Hawaiians, especially during religious and dance ceremonies. Their most famous folk music is played for the hula dance and their iconic instrument is the ukulele which means “jumping flea.” Apparently guitars were introduced in Hawaii by Mexican cowboys around 1832. So buy one like this at a local store in Kailua-Kona and practice a fingerpicking style invented on the islands called slack-key.

75-5729 Ali'i Dr C-110, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
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24 Sailfish Mural in Kailua-Kona, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

This sailfish shown swimming in the ocean is a detail of a huge piece of outdoor art that was painted on a wall along Kuakini Highway in Kailua-Kona. It was created by nine students as part of the Youth Mural Project led by Jeremiah Nathan and Gerald Lucena. It was sponsored by the Donkey Mill Art Center. This is a charitable organization in Hōlualoa. They provide art education to children and adults.

74-5622 Palani Rd Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
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25 Great Wall and Temple at Pu’uhonua Park near Hōnaunau, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

The Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau is a 180 acre, national park on the leeward coast of the Big Island. It once was the royal grounds for Hawaiian chiefs. Behind the coconut palm trees is the Great Wall which protected the royal compound. It is 10 feet tall and 17 feet thick and was built around 1550 without the use of mortar. In the foreground is Keone’ele Cove.

84 Honaunau Beach Rd, Captain Cook, HI 96704
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26 Row of Ki’i Carvings at Pu’uhonua Park near Hōnaunau, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

A row of ki’i wooden carvings once guarded the mausoleum of the royal chiefs who were called ali’i. It was believed that the gaping mouth and menacing appearance of these spiritual figures frightened away the evil spirits. Today, these reproductions stand in front of the temple named Hale o Keawe at the Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park.

84 Honaunau Beach Rd, Captain Cook, HI 96704
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27 Reflection Pond at Pu’uhonua Park near Hōnaunau, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

These palm trees are reflecting in one of two large ponds that are in the center of the Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park. They used to hold fish that would be caught and served to the royal chiefs who lived here nearly five hundred years ago. Interestingly, one of the ponds is saltwater while the other is fresh water. And as you can see, some of the fish’s ancestors are still swimming here.

84 Honaunau Beach Rd, Captain Cook, HI 96704
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28 Row Palm Trees at Pu’uhonua Park near Hōnaunau, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

For centuries, the pu’uhonua was holy ground where no blood could be shed so it became a sanctuary for those seeking refuge from war, from enemies, or from death for breaking a sacred law called kapu. This practice ended in 1819 when time-honored religious practices were abolished. This grove of coconut trees along this white sandy beach was planted about one hundred years later. They offer refuge from the hot sun to tourists who are visiting the Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park.

84 Honaunau Beach Rd, Captain Cook, HI 96704
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29 Two Step Beach Next to Pu’uhonua Park near Hōnaunau in Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

As inviting as the Pacific Ocean shoreline is at the Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park, there is no swimming allowed. However, a very short distance away is Two Step Beach. It is always rated highly by snorkelers who enjoy seeing colorful coral and fish and there is always a good chance you’ll spot some green sea turtles and spinner dolphins swimming in Hōnaunau Bay.

84 Honaunau Beach Rd, Captain Cook, HI 96704
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