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.
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.
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.
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.
Easily one of the Big Island's most popular beaches, Kahalu'u offers parking, equipment rental stalls, a covered pavilion, and a snack bar. A reef far offshore prevents the waters from getting too rough, making a terrific snorkeling opportunity. Have care, though: the beach tends to get crowded early since thousands of locals and tourists flock here to take advantage of the calm turquoise waters. The amount of fish you'll see here on any given day is amazing, to be frank. If you use the fish food we suggest you'll most likely have a swarm of fish around you. Kahalu'u is situated between Kailua-Kona and Kealakekua.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.