Hawaii Island (also known as the Big Island) is a young adventurer’s paradise. Here, there are unique experiences that will enthrall every member of your family from viewing hot molten lava and traversing old lava fields to exploring gentle sea creatures and immersing in island culture.
1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Things have really been heating up at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with hoards of visitors flocking to see the eruption of Kilauea Volcano. The vent within Halema‘uma‘u crater is easily viewed from the overlook at the Jaggar Museum and, during the evening hours, kids will be treated to the “glow show” created by the lava lake. (The lava recently overflowed onto the crater floor and is visible for the first time in four decades from the visitor overlook.)
During the day, the park is a young explorer’s playground. Hike, bike, become a Junior Ranger, discover the largest petroglyph field in the Pacific, learn all about volcanoes at the Jaggar Museum and park visitor center or, go underground through a lava tube.
2. Botanical Gardens and Waterfalls
Kids will be inspired by Mother Nature’s finest creations — from the odd cannonball tree to the beautiful double buttercup blossom at the botanical gardens that abound on the Big Island. Nani Mau Gardens and Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens on the East side, and the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden on the West side, are perfect for children if you want to explore the Island’s unique flora without the worry of balancing the kids on difficult hiking paths. There are also several glorious waterfalls that are easily accessible for families including Rainbow Falls and Akaka Falls on the East side.
3. Seek Out Sea Life
Everyone knows the best free adventure in Hawaii is to spend the afternoon playing in the surf at one of the local beaches. Hapuna Beach’s expansive white sand is a favorite for families, but if you want something truly unique, visit one of the island’s black sand beaches like Punalu‘u Black Sand Beach on the southeastern Ka‘u coast, where the glistening onyx shores are a favorite sun bathing spot for Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. (Please do not touch these protected turtles or remove any sand from the beach).
At night, families can have an amazing snorkeling experience with gentle Manta rays who come out to feed on plankton once the sun goes down. (Recommended for kids five and older who are comfortable in the water). One company, Sea Paradise, leaves right from Keauhou Bay.
Or head over to the world’s only living and breeding gene bank of sea horses and sea dragons, Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm in Kona, for an educational and interactive tour where you get to feed seahorses and even let one wrap its tail around your finger! (For kids four and older.)
4. Land Adventures
There’s plenty to do on land as well. The Big Island is an experience of extremes — from the sea to the snow-capped mountain, you will find it all here. Make the trek up to Mauna Kea (but be aware that children under 16 aren’t allowed up to the top of the mountain.) Youngsters can still explore the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station at 9,200 feet, and participate in free stargazing programs.
5. The Luau
They may be a little kitschy, but if you come to Hawaii, you must take the kids to a luau. Here, you can sample traditional Hawaiian foods, listen to Hawaiian music, and marvel at graceful dancers who display both traditional and contemporary forms of hula — the method by which the ancient Hawaiians told the stories and perpetuated the traditions of the people. “Island Breeze” at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel and Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Luau are good ones to try.