Big Island – Randonner au lever soleil 6

United States : Guide to Big Island, Hawaii | Itineraries and must-sees

To the point From sandy beaches to majestic volcanic peaks, coffee plantations and lush flora, Big Island offers a complete experience for nature and adventure lovers. Of the Hawaiian archipelago, this is the island that most captivated and amazed me!

Whether you start out in the east (Hilo) or west (Kailua-Kona), you’ll need to plan a 7 to 10-day trip,which will allow you to be able to explore heavenly beaches, enjoy memorable hikes, discover and taste local coffee, and take in the exceptional natural attractions that make Big Island a truly magical destination!

Big Island, Hawaii - Getting there from Honolulu

Honolulu is often the entry point to the archipelago, so it was from there that I often flew to the neighboring islands. In my experience, on Hawaiian Airlines, the flight from Honolulu to Kona was as pleasant as it was quick. A pleasant experience, since on board, I was able to marvel at the spectacular panorama of the Hawaiian Islands from the sky. Quick, since the flight takes just forty minutes. What’s more, with a Nexus card (whose fees were paid by the CIBC Aeroplan® Visa* Card), I was able to get to the airport an hour before the flight’s departure because the pre-checked service is so efficient!

To fly from Canada to Hawaii with points, check out my complete travel guide:

Big Island, Hawaii - Car rental with Hertz and pick-up at Kona airport

Landing at Kona airport, thanks to my car rental arranged with Hertz and my Gold status obtained via my Platinum CardMD from American Express, my arrival on Big Island was remarkably smooth! My rental car was waiting for me, ready to go. The efficiency of the service enabled a rapid transition from the airport to the beaches, with only 30 minutes elapsing between landing and my feet in the sand, offering a comfortable start to my stay.

Big Island – Hertz
Big Island – Farniente 5

Big Island, Hawaii - Things to see and do

1. Farniente on golden sandy beaches

Manini’owali Beach boasts dazzling white sands and crystal-clear turquoise waters, just a few kilometers from the airport!

Waialea Beach (Beach 69) enchants with its peaceful ambience and coral reef home to a variety of colorful fish, offering snorkelers a memorable underwater adventure. A real favorite for me!

Hapuna Beach offers more vast stretches of golden sand exposed to the sun.

2. Hiking around active volcanoes

To the south of Big Island lies Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, offering an immersive dive into the volcanic world. You can explore various craters such as Kilauea Iki, where lava flows frozen in time create a breathtaking spectacle.

Hikes such as Devastation Trail offer stunning views of ancient and more recent lava fields and unique rock formations. If you’re less keen on hiking, the Crater Route offers a panoramic route through lunar landscapes from the comfort of your own car.

3. Snorkelling with green turtles

Reviews from a few Big Islanders led us to some hidden treasures for observing and even snorkeling with Hawai’i’s famous green turtles.

Māhukona Beach Park : a place that doesn’t look like much, but will surprise you with its magnificent coral reefs, close to a pier where locals go to camp and swim.

Richardson Ocean Park : near Hilo, renowned for its white sandy beaches, this park took us to the heart of a surprisingly rich marine life. Finally, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, with its black sand, was the first place we saw green turtles. What’s more, the lifeguards on hand are very generous and a goldmine of knowledge about this enigmatic animal.

4. A road trip on the north coast

A visit to the Big Island wouldn’t be complete without a day’s road-trip along the north coast to discover some impressive panoramas and the lungs of the island, the lush forest that is home to Akaka Falls. A good starting point is the viewpoint over Waipi’o Valley. The ocean views, whether by car or on foot, are breathtaking.

Take time to relax at the Waipi’o Fruit Shack, which serves the freshest fruit in the archipelago!

If you want to get off the beaten track, you can venture out into the countryside to Hawaiian Vanilla Company. The owners will be delighted to show you how they grow vanilla, from the pod to the by-products. The road further south, to Akaka Falls State Park, is probably one of the greenest, with an impressive density of trees and monsteras lining it. On site, a well-developed family hiking trail allows you to observe the diversity of the island’s flora. It’s simply magnificent!

5. Buddha's Cup coffee plantation

If you like sensory experiences, a stop at the Buddha’s Cup coffee plantations is a must. The guided tour, which lasts around an hour and a half, explains how coffee is grown and roasted. But the highlight of the experience is tasting the various coffees grown on site!

6. Eating tacos

Gill’s Lanai: best burgers on the island and the tacos are incredible

Located in a remote corner of the island, Gill’s Lanai offers an unforgettable roadside, cantina-style dining experience. Founder Gill succeeds in immersing visitors in the local culture, thanks to a lively atmosphere with live music and friendly service. But it’s the fresh fish tacos that steal the show! An explosion of flavours reflecting the freshness of local ingredients.

7. Hiking at sunrise

Probably one of the least crowded hikes on the archipelago, the Pololū Valley trail offers some of the most breathtaking sunrise views. It’s essentially a descent to the pebble beach. What might make this early-morning hike more accessible is to stay at the incredible Starseed Ranch: a natural site offering rustic hut accommodation in the heart of the most diverse fruit plantations; bookable on AirBnb.

8. Drive to the southernmost point of the USA

Exploring Papakōlea Green Sand Beach offers an extraordinary Big Island experience. To reach this hidden treasure, first drive to South Point Cliff, then take a path (rather poorly signposted, I grant you!) that leads to a parking lot from where you’ll be offered a shuttle service to the green-sand beach. I strongly advise you to take it; it’s worth the detour! The distinct color of the sand, tinged with green due to the presence of olivine, creates a totally unusual landscape!

9. Relax on one of the most secluded beaches

For travelers looking for secluded paradises, Kehena Black Sand Beach is a rare gem! Located along the south coast, this beach features unique black sand that contrasts magnificently with the crystal-clear waters of the ocean. Its remote location helps preserve a tranquil atmosphere, perfect for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the tourist trade. The breathtaking view of the infinite horizon, combined with the gigantic waves crashing against the rocks, creates a soothing ambience.

10. Learn more about local culture, past and present

In my opinion, it’s very important to be informed and educated about culture. That’s why a visit to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park is a must! This historic site offers a captivating dive into Hawaiian history and culture, providing information on traditional Hawaiian life. It really helps to understand the archipelago’s rich history.

Where to stay with points?

Given the expensive prices for staying at hotel chains such as Marriott, it pays to use points and free night certificates to stay on Big Island.

A fine example is certainly the use of a free night certificate (worth 35,000 points), earned with my Marriott Bonvoy® American Express®* Card, which I took to book a king bed, resort view room at the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. Everything is done to ensure that visitors have an extraordinary stay!

Finally, to take advantage of Big Island’s Hawaiian hospitality, AirBnb is an option that also proves less expensive, and offers equally rich experiences. Indeed, the aforementioned Starseed Ranch is an excellent option for travelers who want to immerse themselves in Hawaiian flora and fauna. Other experiences include staying directly in an ancient lava field or sleeping in an open-air bubble overlooking the starry sky.

Bottom Line

In short, a trip to Big Island offers a fantastic experience combining exceptional beaches, cultural discoveries and unique adventures. Meet turtles, taste exquisite coffees, explore lunar-like nooks and crannies and travel through lush flora; that’s Big Island. The island is thus rich in diversity of landscapes and experiences, offering an extraordinary journey to the heart of the Hawaiian archipelago.

For more photos and videos, visit my Instagram page @johnriverin.

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Jonathan has visited many countries, speaks three languages, and even on the phone you can hear the smile in his voice! He shares his travels made possible by credit card points and benefits.

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