The Big Island version of the Valley of the Kings, Waipi'o has long maintained a special place in the hearts of locals. Steeped in legend, the deep, narrow valley stretches some 5-plus miles, flanked on either side by towering rock walls. The valley floor is a lush tapestry of tropical flora, and guava, red banana, and taro hide a multitude of natural treasures, like tranquil freshwater streams and waterfalls. Tourists are discouraged from taking cars into the valley. A good alternative, though, is Waipi'o Valley Shuttle (808-775-7121), which offers narrated, 4-wheel drive tours. Visitors not wanting to take the 90-minute trip can experience the valley's beauty from the overlook.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Waipi'o Valley is a beautiful, lush valley with vast waterfalls, a black sand beach, and a rich history.
Local Expert tip: Only four-wheel drive vehicles can make it down into the valley.
A long crescent shaped beach with fine white sand, and semi private coves between trees reaching to the water, 69 Beach is a sort of off-the-beaten-path but still popular beach in Kona. It's come a long way over the years, and now has an official (yet still dirt) parking area, cold water showers, and bathrooms. Yet it's still more secluded than other nearby beaches such as Hapuna State Beach Park. Although it's one long beach, there's different coves nestled in between trees that reach into the ocean. Children love to explore the water laden branches. Head down Highway 19 and keep going past Hapuna. You'll see the parking area on your right.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: As one of the more out of the way beaches in the area, 69 Beach offers privacy amongst the fine white sand and sun.
Local Expert tip: Bring food and water, it's quite a drive to any stores.
Make it to the end of scenic Highway 270 and experience the majesty of the Big Island's dramatic Kohala coastline. High above waves that crash onto jagged rocks are several lookout areas that offer sweeping vistas of verdant cliffs and sliver-like waterfalls cascading over them. Folks wanting a touch of adventure can make the strenuous hike down to the black-sand beach at the base of the cliffs. Have care, though: the waters are not good for swimming, and no lifeguards are on duty. This is also a good place for history buffs as it was home to many kings who played significant roles in Hawaii's history.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Pololu is one of the most beautiful, as well as historically significant places on the island.
Local Expert tip: Adventurous types can take the steep trail down into the valley.
One of the Big Island's top beaches, A-Bay is known for metallic, yellow-hued sands that earn it the nickname "Gold Coast." The bay's crystal blue waters are ideal for snorkeling, scuba, kayaking, surfing, and wind surfing. Several popular resort hotels are within easy walking distance of the beach, so you can rest assured that it will always be peppered with a myriad of bathing beauties. During the winter, whales make an annual pass by Anaeho'omalu Bay, so make sure you bring a telescoping lens for your camera. Sea-turtles at play in the bay can also be seen so don't forget the underwater camera.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Known locally as A Bay, this gorgeous beach offers all types of beach fun and activities in an often calm bay.
Local Expert tip: Rent a stand up paddle board at one of the nearby outfitters.
This state park, hidden away in a dense forested area just northwest of Hilo along the gorgeous Hamakua Coast, features two of the Big Island's most majestic scenes: Kahuna Falls and 'Akaka Falls. The former, easily the smaller of the two, cascades over a tree-lined cliff into the canopy below. Meanwhile, the latter tumbles more than 440 feet into a lush gorge, creating a spectacular scene that's been photographed countless times over the years. The trail leading to the waterfalls is moderately strenuous, and the entire walk takes less than an hour. It's idea to drop by the fall on your way to or from Hilo, otherwise it's sort of out of the way if you're in Kona.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Akaka Falls is really two gorgeous falls in one, and is a lovely sight during the long drive between Hilo and Kona.
Local Expert tip: Explore the trail down to the falls, but with caution.
Yes, trees covered in lava. Well, there aren't trees left in the lava, the lava gathered around them in the shape of the trees and the trees burned away, leaving hollow vertical lava tubes standing all over the park. The trail is just over a half mile longs and waves its way through the flat ground park. There are bathrooms, and it's just a couple of miles towards the coast outside of Pahoa. The lava covered the trees in the 1970s. This is a good quick stop while heading down to explore the winding Puna Coast drive along the ocean.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Lava Tree State Park is a unique place, and an ideal location for a picnic and low impact nature walk.
Local Expert tip: Have a picnic here.
Hapuna Beach, nestled between Kawaihae and Puako, is known for being one of the cleanest, most family-friendly beaches on the Big Island. Its smooth, white sands extend far out into the surf, so wading in the shallows is easy on your feet. During summer months, the beach is at its widest and stays crowded from sunup to sunset; in contrast, winter months bring unfriendly waters with deadly riptides. (Combined with the fact that lifeguards don't work the beach during this season, swimming is unwise.) Beach facilities include camping areas, picnic tables, men's and women's showers, a snack bar, and a pavilion.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: As one of the island largest and most picturesque beaches, Hapuna is a favorite for locals and visitors alike.
Local Expert tip: Spend a full beach day at Hapuna with lunch and ocean toys.
Nestled along the Puna Coast is perhaps the best swimming area on this side of the island, the Champagne Pond. A quite huge natural pond with a natural rock bottom, a rocky beach area on one side and backed by rock walls in the back, the pond is a blend of fresh ocean water and quite warm fresh water. Heated naturally by geothermal heat (there's lots of lava activity nearby) the ponds are always completely calm and a perfect place for swimming and snorkeling. Outside of the pond is the open ocean, and please remember not to go in there. There are two ways to get into the pond, which is located right in front of a private community/neighborhood accessed by road only through a locked gate called Beach Lots. So unless you're staying in a vacation in the neighborhood, you'll have to access the pond by the lighthouse road.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Puna is lacking in fine sand and beaches, and the Champagne Pond is by far the best swimming spot in the area.
Local Expert tip: You don't need an official 4X4, but don't take a car. Instead, take a slightly higher vehicle like a Jeep, Rav4, etc.
Just a short drive outside of downtown Hilo, the Wailuku River penetrates dense tropical undergrowth and cascades more than 80 feet into a picturesque gorge. The emerald green pool at the base of the falls used to be a popular swimming hole, especially with daredevils who wanted to explore the cave behind the falls; however, that's now against the law. Instead, visitors must make their way down the slick, stone walkway to the overlook, from which they have a terrific vantage point of this magnificent scene. Move around the property to different view points and you'll most likely be treated to rainbows in the mist of the falls.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: As easily accessible as it is beautiful, Rainbow Falls is a not to miss sight in Hilo.
Local Expert tip: Move around to see a rainbow in the mist.
As one of the busiest locations in the park, the Jaggar Museum is a hot spot with intriguing displays to view. The museum is all about volcanology with displays of equipment used by scientists in the past to study the volcano, working seismographs, and an exhibit of clothing and gear from scientists who got a bit too close to lava. There is also a gift shop with books, videos, cds, maps, and other special items for sale. The Museum has large windows which affords a sheltered view of the caldera and main crater, Halema`uma`u, when weather is inclement. The overlook outside the building offers an incredible view of the volcano with interpretive displays about Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes. The US Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is adjoining the Jaggar Museum, but is not open to the public.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Resting along the rim of a still steaming volcano crater, Jaggar Museum shares the complete history of the volcano.
Local Expert tip: Walk around the outside of the museum for less crowded, but equally beautiful views of the crater.