Itineraries: One Week on Hawaii Island

By Karen Rose
kapoho big island hawaii island

Kapoho Tidepools. Photo: Bob Lindsdell.

There’s a reason we call the Island of Hawaiʻi the Big Island. It’s big! If you’re lucky enough to have a full week in this beautiful and diverse tropical paradise, there’s a few things you won’t want to miss. With picturesque beaches, rainforests, waterfalls and majestic lava flows, there are plenty of memories to be made during one week on Hawaii Island.

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Day 1: Take a Deep Breath and Relax

hawaii island big island

Alii Drive, Kailua Kona from sea. Photo: Prayitno.

You’ve made it to Hawaiʻi! Security lines, checked luggage and airplane food is now behind you. Ahead of you is the expansive Pacific Ocean and glorious adventures. Spend your first day in Kona relaxing on the beach, playing in the waves and leaving the worries of real life back home where they belong. Take a stroll along Aliʻi Drive and check out Huliheʻe Palace and Mokuaikaua Church, built in 1837. If you prefer to dive right into adventure, check out one of the many snorkel tours that take you to Kealakekua Bay. On your first evening, nothing gets you into the Hawaiian spirit like a Polynesian lūʻau.

Day 2: South Kona, Coffee and History

hawaii island big island

Coffee plants in Captain Cook, Kona. Photo: ih.

Rise and shine for a relaxing breakfast at one of the many oceanfront establishments on Aliʻi Drive. Try some banana pancakes and Kona Coffee, or some loco moco, a local favorite. After breakfast head to South Kona for a tour of Kona Coffee Living History Farm. This award-winning, historic farm shares the story of Kona coffee during the early 20th century through costumed interpreters who ‘talk story’ and demonstrate what life was like in the past. After your history lesson and coffee tasting, head down to Two Step, a local snorkeling spot located near the entrance to Puʻuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, also known as the city of refuge. In the evening, check out one of the many Manta Ray night snorkel tours and get up close and personal with these majestic, gentle creatures.

Day 3: Hawi, Waimea and Pololu Valley Lookout

hawaii island big island

Waimea, also known as Kamuela, Hawaii Island. Photo: Len Yokoyama.

From Kona, drive north on Hwy 19 to the lovely town of Waimea, also called Kamuela. Known for its Hawaiian cowboys (paniolo), this quaint town is famous for its bright green rolling hills, misty afternoons and working cattle ranches. Visit the Parker Ranch Museum before taking the scenic winding Kohala Mountain Road to Hawi, a lovely artist colony with galleries and shops perfect for an afternoon stroll. Stop for comfort food at the homey Bamboo Restaurant then continue north until you reach the end of the road at the jaw-dropping Pololū Valley Lookout. It’s a short but steep hike down to the valley and black sand beach. For dinner, head back to Waimea for dinner at one of the locally renowned restaurants such as Merriman’s or Redwater Cafe.

Day 4: The Hamakua Coast

hawaii island big island

Hiilawe Waterfall, Waipio Valley, Hamakua. Photo: Les Williams.

Head out Highway 19 onto the Hāmākua Coast and view the gorgeous Waipiʻo Valley. Located at the end of the Hāmākua Heritage Corridor drive, you can take a guided tour or horseback ride into the hidden valley or just enjoy the view from the outlook. Continue on to the historic town of Honokaʻa and stroll through the galleries and shops. For a sweet treat stop for a hot malasada at Tex Drive-In. Don’t eat too many malasadas, because the Hawaiian Vanilla Company is just a short distance away in the hidden town of Paauilo. Here you’ll be treated to a scrumptious lunch in which everything is infused with vanilla – even the iced tea and lemonade. After lunch you’ll receive a tour of the vanilla farm and learn all about how vanilla is grown and produced. After lunch, keep driving toward Hilo and explore ʻAkaka State Park, where you’ll experience two of Hawaiʻi’s most famous waterfalls.

Day 5: Hilo Town

Peaceful Hilo Bay with a snow-capped Mauna Kea in the background. Photo courtesy of Keoni Dibelka.

Peaceful Hilo Bay with a snow-capped Mauna Kea in the background. Photo courtesy of Keoni Dibelka.

Start your day at Hilo’s most famous diner, Ken’s Pancake House before heading downtown to stroll the quaint boutiques and visit the Tsunami Museum. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, check out the Farmers Market for some interesting local treats, bento boxes or fresh fruit. Afterward, go for a swim at Richardson’s Beach and relax on the sand with nice views of Hilo Bay. For some of the best stargazing in the world, drive up Saddle Road to Mauna Kea. The visitor center offers free stargazing programs just after sunset. If you want to visit the summit, you’ll need to join a tour company or have a 4WD vehicle. It gets cold, so bring a jacket!

Day 6: Volcanos and Lava, Oh My!

hawaii island big island lava

Lava at sunset. Photo: member Daniel B.

Wake up early and drive down to Kalapana for a rare glimpse of new land being created. By early, we mean rise and shine when there are still a few hours of darkness left. Lava is best viewed at night! Currently, the lava is flowing into the ocean (March 2017) and creating a new black sand beach. You won’t be alone, as many locals are venturing out to see this exciting occurrence. You can hike in (about 8 miles round trip) or rent bicycles. Take the day to enjoy the Puna District of the Big Island. Soak in the volcanically heated pools of Ahalanui or snorkel at the tide pools in Kapoho. Check out the little town of Pāhoa and have dinner at Kaleo’s Bar and Grill. For local lodging, try Volcano Village for a peaceful night’s sleep in the middle of the rainforest.

Day 7: A Hui Hou Hawaii

hawaii island big island

Treasure from the ocean. Photo: Steve Jurvetson.

Enjoy your last day in Paradise with a good book and a tropical cocktail – you deserve it! Tomorrow you’ll be back in the rat race, day-dreaming about your perfect Hawaiian vacation and planning your return.

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