Four Stops on Big Island Hawaii

Four Stops on Big Island Hawaii

Hawaii Island, or Big Island, is the largest of Hawaii’s island chain. That means there is a lot to see and do on Big Island. We’ll tell you four stops to make on Big Island. We’ll also give you some ideas of places to stay. And we’ll let you know the auto tour app we use on all of our Big Island travels.

Mauna Kea Visitors Information Center

Mauana Kea Visitors Information Center
a look from Mauna Kea Visitors Information Center at 9200 ft above sea level.

Mauna Kea is the largest volcanic mountain you see towering above all else on Hawaii Island. The dormant volcano peak is at 13,803 feet above sea level (4207.3 meters).

But much of the mountain lies underwater. If this underwater section is included, Mauna Kea is the world’s largest mountain.

Getting to the visitors information center is no small feat itself. The center is at 9200 ft elevation. You get to the center driving a steep inclined road. The decent requires vehicles be put in lowest gears.

The information center is the starting point for an ascent to the mountain peak. Before a journey to the summit, one must stop at the visitors center to acclimate to the altitude change. Summiting the mountain is not recommended for children under 13 or people in poor health.

We were not interested in reaching the peak (we were in a rental car which are not allowed to the summit).

But we wanted to stop at the information center and get a great view of the mountain.

A Stargazing Mecca

Mauna Kea Telescope
A telescope at the information center.

We learned a little about astronomy, telescopes, and stargazing while at the visitor information center. Why? Since Hawaii is the most remote location on the planet, it is far removed from electric light pollution. So countries around the world vie to locate telescopes on Mauna Kea.

It is a stargazing Mecca.

But that does create a lot of tension with generational Hawaiians, who consider this a sacred site. Recent attempts to build larger telescopes upon the mountain have brought fierce debate between those who want to build and those who want to keep the peak sacrosanct.

A Gift Shop Too

And the kids enjoyed stopping at the gift shop for memorabilia.

We enjoyed getting a view of the snow-capped peak of Mauna Kea and her sister summit Mauna Loa (an active volcano which is the largest mountain by mass on earth).

After out visit, we were stopped at a roadside checkpoint. Here, staff can determine if you have spent enough time acclimating at the center (because altitude sickness is no joke) or can guarantee your car is in proper low gear for the mountain descent. Even in lowest gear, we needed to break frequently. You don’t want to burn up your engine or your brakes while going down the mountain.

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park

Kaloko Turtle
A turtle sculpture near the Kaloko-Honokohau Visitors Center

You learn how the Hawaiian people survived and worked the land at Kaloko-Honohohau.

Each Hawaiian island is divided into a number of districts called ahupua’a. These districts generally ran from the mountains in the interior of the islands to the ocean. Each of the ahupua’a provided the things needed (water, food, and other resrouces) to sustain people.

At Kaloko-Honohohau, you can see how ancient Hawaiians used the land to survive.

The best part of the site is its proximity to Kona Airport. It is a five minute drive from the airport, making it an easy stop on landing or before boarding a flight off the island.

We made a brief stop before catching a flight home. Because of this, we did not spend enough time at the site, and would like to return for a lengthy visit on future trip.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Thurston Lava Tubes
Inside the Thurston Lava Tubes at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Whether the volcanoes are spewing molten lava, or simply venting steam, Hawaii Volcanoes is a must visit Big Island destination.

The national park site is arguably the Big Island’s number one attraction.

Of course, the visitors swarm to the park when lava is flowing. However, even when lava rests under the surface (as it did during our visit) there is still much to see and do at the park.

A stop to the Kilauea Caldera¬† allows you to see the massive crater at one of the world’s most active volcanoes. You likely will see steam pouring from the cracks in the caldera.

At the Thurston Lava Tubes, you can walk through the tunnels where molten lava once traveled. A drive along the Chain of Craters Road offers views of other volcanic craters, petroglyphs, and the Holei Sea Arch.

There are plenty of hiking trails and so many opportunities to see flora, fauna, and wildlife endemic to this remote part of the globe.

Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

Pu'ukohola Heiau Hawaii
The Heiau rises from the land on Hawaii’s Big Island

This was an unexpected gem during our visit to Big Island. Our journey to Pu’ukohola Heiau was a last minute decision. It was, however, a most memorable stop during our Big Island trip.

The Heiau is Hawaii’s largest temple, built by Kamehameha I before he became king of the Hawaiian Islands.

It is a fascinating structure to behold, with an even more fascinating history. The tales of Kamehameha and his rival cousin’s battles for power over Big Island are almost too fantastical to be true. It proves that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

You can learn more about the Heiau with our in-depth guide to Pu’ukohola.

Getting Around Big Island with the Shaka App

You don’t need to pay for a circle island tour if you download the Shaka Guide App.

Shaka Guide has a number of Big Island audio tours. The tours use GPS location markers to play the tour from your phone.

We used the app as we drove from our resort at Waikoloa to Hilo. During our drive, we learned about history of the island, Hawaiian folklore, attraction hot spots, and so much more.

We also listened to the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park guide during our visit throughout the park.

The guides helpfully direct you to parking spots and must-see sites.

And the best part, you don’t need to follow all the directives on the tour. If there’s a spot you want to skip, simply drive past the spot and your tour pick up audio at the next check point.

Where to Stay

There are of course many places to stay during your Big Island visit. The most centralized resort area, however, is in Waikoloa, a 45-minute drive north of the Kona Airport.

We stayed at the Hilton Village at Waikoloa. The Hilton property is a ginormous complex with trains and boats to taxi you from resort accommodations and rooms. We, of course, had to take the boat to our room one time during our brief stay.

The resort is steps from the ocean, providing stunning sunset views.

Our Take

Our family spent a short two days on the Big Island. That is not enough time to see and do all we wanted to do. We did need to prioritize. The priority for this trip was to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The other stops during the trip were not planned, but left us with great memories.

Having the Shaka app greatly enriched our quick trip and left us wanting more. Until next time…

You Might Also Enjoy:

Explore Hawaii’s other islands with our Guides to Kauai and Oahu.

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