The Big Island has the usual array of sub-tropical island activities. While the Kona side has a number of white sand beaches, the coastline on the Hilo side tends to be rocky. This is due to the relative age of the coastline.
Due to its altitude, latitude, and the lack of interference from city lights, Mauna Kea provides among the best sites on earth for telescopes. You may notice the strange orange and pink hues put out by street lights on the Big Island. They are sodium lights used to ensure that the views from Mauna Kea are unpolluted.
Stop at the Visitor Information Station of the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy. They set up several telescopes nightly for the public to enjoy. Volunteers provide programs daily at 6 pm, and will answer any questions you have as you look at the unbelievable number of visible stars. Remember to bring your jacket, as the elevation is over 9200 feet at the Visitor Center.
(Link to travel tip: Mauna Kea)
The beaches of the Big Island, especially on the Kona side, have been consistently voted amongst the best beaches in the world. Some (like Mauna Kea Beach) front hotel resorts, while others (like Makalawena) remained unencumbered by modern tourism. Hapuna Beach is reputed to be one of the best, consistent with the picture many outsiders have in their head of what a Hawaiian beach should be.
The island has one of the few green sand beaches in the world (see above), and several black sand beaches.
The Big Island has some fantastic snorkeling. Go to Kona Boys to get your gear and some guidance on the best places to jump in. The Kona side has most of the best snorkeling, but Puna also has some excellent sites. Go in the morning on the Kona side, and in the afternoon in Puna, for clear and calm conditions.
- Two Step at Pu'uhonua O Honaunau (Place of Refuge). Great for beginners and experts alike. Teeming with fish and turtles.
- Ho'okena Beach Park south of Honaunau is not as spectacular, but getting in and out of the water is incredibly easy: just walk. The enter at the left side of the beach for the best snorkeling. Go during the week, if you can (save the weekends for the locals).
- Kapoho Tide Pools on the southern Puna coast are not to be missed. This is some of the calmest snorkeling you will ever see, and the fish will come right up to you. The pools are spring-fed, and some are volcanically heated. There are no dive shops anywhere near here, so bring your gear with you (although a local may take pity on you and loan you theirs). Again, go during the week if you can. Marine scientists frequent this spot, and are usually happy to share their knowledge to make your visit to the tide pools more fulfilling.
- Captain Cook, Kealakekua Bay Considered to be the best snorkeling on the Big Island. Rent a kayak from Dexter across from Captain Cook's monument.
Hilo Surfboard Company: Is the Big Island's most ‘authentic’ surf shop. People travel all the way form Kona to check out boards as they REALLY DO have the largest selection of boards. And unless you want a Hilo Surfboard Company T Shirt or shirts from a couple ‘locals. Like Moku Nui or KRU, better go to the mall. This is a real core surf shop! Owner Scott Murray will be stoked to see you and talk story! 84 Ponahawai St. Hilo. 808.934.0925
Hiking and camping
There are also hiking and camping tours too. Very convenient since humping camping equipment on a plane is difficult.
- Waipi’o Valley - Awe-inspiring volcanic valleys and gorges filled with rain forest vegetation.
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park- Many long and scenic hiking trails through the tropical forests and along the craters. See other travel tips for more info for the National Park.
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