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 Outdoor Activities because: The hike down to Pololu Valley leads to a beautiful black sand beach and river.
Jade's expert tip: Adventurous types can take the steep trail down into the valley.
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 Outdoor Activities because: Waipi'o Valley is home to a number of amazing hikes and wild horses.
Jade's expert tip: You can only take a four wheel drive down into the valley.
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 Outdoor Activities because: Hapuna is a perfect beach for long walks, body surfing and barbecuing.
Jade's expert tip: Spend a full beach day at Hapuna with lunch and ocean toys.
Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo is a beautiful and tranquil 34-acre Japanese garden. The ornamental gardens are named for Queen Liliuokalani, a Hawaiian monarch and it is dedicated to the many Japanese immigrants living in Hilo. The garden was created in the early 1900s and is said to be the largest Edo style garden outside of Japan. The garden is planned around the Waihonu Pond with bridges, pagodas, and stone lanterns lining walking paths. Bamboo, trees, flowering bushes and acres of green grass make up the park. In addition to many benches and places to sit, a traditional Japanese tea house stands in the middle of the park. Restrooms are on site, and the park is located across the street from the ocean. Local fish and jog here.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The park is a lovely place to cast a fishing pole, watch the sunset, toss a ball around, or have a picnic.
Jade's expert tip: Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy it at the park.
Towering over the Big Island at over 13,000 feet elevation is the summit of Mauna Kea, the largest mountain in the world. As the island's most prominent volcano, it is home to spectacular panoramic views, multiple observatories occupied by different countries, snow in the winter months, and a visitors center at 9,000 feet elevation. Adventuring to the summit is one of the most amazing things to do on the island, especially at sunset or sunrise. The trek required a four wheel drive vehicle, but that's because of the incline rather than pot homes or large rocks. The barren terrain changes as you weave up the mountain, and the views change as you move. Small children aren't allowed up here because of altitude sickness, and adults should acclimate at the visitors center and bring plenty of water up. However, sunset on a volcano is one of the best experiences on the island and should not be missed.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Perhaps the most exciting adventure on the island, the drive up to the summit is gorgeous and exciting.
Jade's expert tip: Make sure to take a four wheel drive and acclimate to the altitude at the visitors center.
Encompassing 520 square miles, this national park is one of the most photographed locales in the Hawaiian chain. For more than 70 million years, volcanic heat and pressure from inside the earth have molded the dramatic landscape, which includes Thurston Lava Tube, still-active Halemaumau Crater, and the highly active Pu'u O'o vent, which has been spewing lava since 1983. Visitors are able to drive the park's 66 miles of roadways, which wind in and out of dense tropical rain forest, but are encouraged to stay on guard since volcanic activity is commonplace and conditions change often. There is also the option to explore the more than 155 miles of marked trails on foot. The Kilauea Visitor Center sits just inside the park's main entrance. The park was designated a World Heritage site in 1987.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Outdoors lovers can go on hikes in the park, view a steaming crater, and find secluded places for picnics.
Jade's expert tip: Dedicate a full day to the park.
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 Outdoor Activities because: A day spent at the Champagne Pond includes fun things like snorkeling, swimming, and an adventure over a lava field.
Jade's 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.
Mahukona Beach Park is a highly unique and intriguing place. Contrary to its name, there's actually no beach. It's a cement laden park along the water that blends naturally beauty and history. The underwater world here is one of the best places on the island to snorkel. Not only because of it's rampant, colorful fish population, but due to underwater archaeological finds. A sort of underwater museum boasts remnants from the plantation and railroad days. Bring snorkel gear and look for the ladder into the water at the north end of the beach. Backing the beach is the near intact structure of the Hawaiian Railroad Company which functioned here for years. Explore the ruins, but be careful. There are shaded picnic areas here but other than that there are no facilities here so bring water. On Highway 270 look for the access between mile markers 14 and 15.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Mahukona Beach Park is one of the best places on the island for snorkeling.
Jade's expert tip: Bring lunch because the nearest town is far away.
Also known as Papakolea Beach, Green Sand Beach is a magical cove far off the beaten path in South Point. Located between Kau and Kailua-Kona, the beach is accessible only by four wheel drive, yet it's an easy drive out. The beach's sand is made up of olivine, a green semiprecious stone created in volcano eruptions. It has a green tinge and varies in brightness, but is not solid green. There are no facilities here, and swimming can be dangerous depending on wave size so use caution. However, it's a beautiful and unique place to visit so don't forget the camera. Use the trail down the hill to access the beach. Turn off of Highway 11 on to South Point Road between mile markers 69 and 70. Drive to the end of the road where it turns to dirt, and you'll likely see cars parked there. Take a four wheel drive in or walk, but walking takes a while. The
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Venturing to Green Sand beach includes a full day of four wheel driving, hiking and swimming.
Jade's expert tip: Bring food and water, there's not stores around for miles and miles.
Honoli'i is a true Big Island Beach, meaning that it makes the best out of a lot of rocks and a little big of sand. But, Honoli'i is truly beautiful and provides a great experience. The beach is down a rather long flight of steps that weaves down the cliff. This is mainly a surfing beach, but the river flowing into the ocean, and small beach and picnic areas make it a fun stop for anyone. When the waves are small, the best area to swim is at the river mouth where children have fun playing in the cold water and looking for beach glass. Cold showers, lifeguards and restrooms provide basic amenities. A couple miles north of Hilo, turn off of Highway 19 onto Nahala Street, then left onto Kahoa. After a few seconds you'll see cars parked on the side of the road overlooking the beach.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Honoli'i is a great spot for ocean activities like surfing, body boarding and picnics.
Jade's expert tip: Swimming is best at the northern end of the beach at the mouth of the river.