The Big Island was always our top destination in Hawaii. We were going for adventure and that’s exactly what we found! There are so many exciting things to do on The Big Island, Hawaii with kids.
I was surprised to read that many people visit The Big Island on a day trip only! Wow! That’s crazy! We had 11 days and this gave us the time to explore and also have some down time.
There are loads of things to do on the Big Island with kids and if you are searching for things to do on the Big Island, you won’t be short on options.
I am hoping this post will give you a good overview to knowing what activities are possible on the Big Island with kids.
What you can find in this post
- 1 Our itinerary
- 2 Hiring a car on The Big Island
- 3 Kona
- 4 Things to do in and around Kona
- 5 South West Coast of The Big Island
- 6 Volcano National Park
- 7 Hilo
- 8 Things to do in and around Hilo
- 8.1 Hilo Zoo
- 8.2 Helicopter Flight
- 8.3 Zip-Lining
- 8.4 Kaumana Caves State Park
- 8.5 Hawaii Botanical Garden
- 8.6 Carlsmith Beach Park
- 8.7 Heading along the Hamakua Coastal Drive –
- 8.8 Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitors Centre
- 8.9 Pe-epe-e Falls and Boiling Pots
- 8.10 Rainbow Falls
- 8.11 Old Mamalahoa Highway
- 8.12 What’s Shakin’ Cafe
- 8.13 Akaka Falls
- 9 Waipio Valley
- 10 Mauna Kea
- 11 To finish
The Big Island for me was all about volcanoes and incredible adventures; but you can also find plenty of amazing places to chill out and relax if you would prefer. If you are looking for the best travel experience in Hawaii then I think The Big Island is one of the best places to find this! The Big Island features so many possible activities from lava, caves, beaches and turtles.
Here is our basic Big Island Hawaii itinerary and what we got up to. There is so much to see and do and it all depends on how much time you have and how active you would like to be. There are plenty of fun things to do on The Big Island.
We started in Kona for 4 nights, headed to Volcano Village for 3 nights and finished in Hilo for 3 nights.
I’ll take you through where we stayed and the activities we did together as a family plus other tips and hints. Given the Volcano National Park was closed we had to modify our itinerary slightly but I am still going to mention the activities we had planned as once everything is operational you should be able to enjoy many of these activities.
Hiring a car on The Big Island
There are many different ways to explore and drive around The Big Island. The way you go probably comes down to personal preference.
We decided that we would fly into Kona on the Western side of the island and fly out of Hilo on the Eastern side of the island. There are many car hire options and all that we saw had the option of a different pick-up and drop-off locations.
By doing so meant that we could maximise our exploring days without having to travel across the island at the end of our trip.
It does look to be possible to make your way around The Big Island using public transport but with all the different places we wanted to visit this wasn’t an option for us.
We found driving into Kona for dinner and trying to find a park a bit of a pain but all other places on the island it wasn’t a problem.
We spent 4 nights in Kona in an Air B&B property. Kona is a funny one for accommodation. There isn’t a lack of accommodation for families but it is all quite spread out. We were able to walk to a little café for shakes and toasted sandwiches but it was a little far to walk into town. One thing we LOVE on holidays is to be able to walk, especially heading out for meals. For the best place to see the various hotel and resort style accommodation options available we like to start with Booking.com. Most people have used Air B&B these days, but, if you haven’t, it really is a great way to travel with kids so you can spread out and not be squashed into a resort/hotel style room.
We managed to pack lots into these first few days. We spent the first afternoon in the pool (trying to keep ourselves awake after the huge commute from Melbourne) and the kids first tried out their Ninja Masks.
Things to do in and around Kona
Kahalu’u Beach Park
15 minutes south of Kona is a little gem of a snorkelling spot, Kahalu’u Beach Park. A busy little site with a snorkel hire shop and volunteers on site to answer any questions about the turtles (and other marine life). We didn’t see any turtles swimming but we did see 2 up in the shallows on the rocks. Very cool. Little did we know at this point that we would see so many turtles over the next couple of weeks!
Kua Beach, which is said by some to the be best beach on the island, is around 15 minutes north of Kona. It had white sand so I think that was the main attraction. It was gorgeous but quite wavy. This is where we had our first (and possibly the best) shave ice.
Magic Sands Beach
We drove past Magic Sands Beach a couple of times and it was quite busy. But the thing I couldn’t get over was how incredibly TINY it was!!! There is lots of accommodation around this area, walking distance to Magic Sands Beach.
Old Kona Airport
We spent a couple of hours here at the beach along side the Old Kona Airport (a State Recreation Area). The beach is scattered with rock pools and lava rock. We visited here as The Lonely Planet mentions a little keiki (child) sandy bottomed pool when the tide is right. It was a cloudy day so I don’t think we saw it in all it’s glory!
The lava tubes close to Kona Airport were not mentioned in any guidebook, nor did I come across them in my research planning. The lava tubes are around mile marker 90-91, between Kona Airport and Kona. We were driving and noticed loads of cars parked with people exploring. It was far too dangerous to slam on the brakes let alone try and across the highway. It is apparently becoming a danger issue. I’d highly recommend only stopping if you are heading north out of Kona; it is too dangerous to stop and cross the road and the lava tubes are on the inland side of the road.
I was a little nervous walking through the lava tubes with no information available but we had good hour or so exploring. The sun wasn’t out but it was still really hot.
A morning snorkelling tour with Fair Wind Cruises
Before leaving we had booked a morning tour Fair Wind Cruises. This was a fantastic morning out to explore the site where our own Captain Cook was murdered. The snorkelling wasn’t as awesome as I was expecting but it is known as one of the best places on the island. Read more about our morning here.
Night Manta Snorkel with Jacks Diving Locker
A night snorkel with the Manta Rays was high on my list of things to do on The Big Island. I wasn’t sure how we would make it work with the kids as many of the companies I first contacted had minimum ages. Jacks Diving Locker were extremely accommodating with the kids and I am 100% glad that we persisted and took the kids on this adventure.
Places to eat in and around Kona
There is no shortage of food options in and around Kona. We only had 4 nights so only sampled a small selection –
Da Poke Shack – we missed out on visiting here. Bummer, as I really needed another version of poke to try! It gets great reviews.
Basik Acai – tiny upstairs kitchen serving acai bowls and smoothies.
Scandinavian Shave Ice – it was pumping here but we actually enjoyed our shave ice from the food truck at Kua Beach more.
KTA Superstore – Supermarket with large selection.
Island Naturals Market and Deli – I went gar gar in this store with all the healthy products on offer. I wish we had something like this close to me here in Melbourne.
Kona Brewing Company – was our port of call for an early dinner on our first day. We arrived at 4pm to find long ques. We were so jet lagged that we couldn’t hang around. There is a branch on O’ahu so we visited on our last night in Hawaii!
Kona Canoe Club – we missed happy hour by a few minutes but we enjoyed dinner sitting outside close to the water. I am sure we could feel the earthquakes here, I’m undecided if we were still wobbly from the Fair Wind boat or not!
Huggo’s on the Beach – the closest bar/restaurant to the water. Unfortunately we didn’t make it here for a drink, but meant to be great.
South West Coast of The Big Island
Donkey Balls Chocolate Factory
We made a quick stop here to pick up some chocolate for my birthday. Funny name!!! Hawaiian macadamia nuts coated in chocolate in all sorts of flavours from dark, white, blue, orange. We were hoping for some free samples before we purchased (as per the advertising) but there was none on offer – cue sad faces everywhere!!!
Pu’uhonua 0 Honaunau National Historical Park
Also known as ‘The Place of Refuge” looks like a really interesting and culturally significant site on the Kona side of Hawai‘i. We didn’t have enough time to stop. It costs $5 per car entry.
We knew that we were going to be pushed for time to actually stop and snorkel at this favourite locals hangout. We pulled in for a quick picnic lunch and it was absolutely packed, even on a Tuesday. Our advice, would be to go early but check the weather and wave conditions as it can be dangerous if the waves are big. It is named ‘Two Step’ as there are two steps to get down into the water.
Kula Kai Caverns
Stumbled across Kula Kai Caverns in my research when it became clear that the Volcanoes National Park wasn’t going to be open for our visit. Emmanual (and Gary) are certainly passionate guides offering top notch tours on their private land. To gain access you have to enter through into a gated community then look for the yurt with the thatched roof.
We started with a quick history lesson inside the yurt where we (well Ross and I at least) learned a few things about Hawaii, volcanoes, lava and new islands forming. We then moved onto our tour underground and inside the cave. There was only one tour that was suitable for Olive which was the most simple, for adults and older children you can continue further into the tubes on the ‘crawl’ tour. Highly recommend as something different to the main touristy lava tube options.
Punalu’u Bake Shop
Highly recommend a stop here at the Punalu’u Bake Shop for afternoon tea. We arrived around 3:30pm to find massive discounts on the malasada’s and they were the best we had. We went back to buy more to take away. Ross was even prepared to drive back the next day for more!!
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Another must do on The Big Island is a stop at Punalu’u Black Sand beach. The sand is so incredibly black which was enough of a reason in itself to visit but the other amazing reason is that this is where green sea turtles bask and feed!
When we visited, rocks had been placed a safe distance from the turtles and everyone was keeping away. There was also a life guard on duty keeping an eye on things. I can imagine that without the rocks and lifeguard some people would have been getting far too close.
Papakolea Beach, Green Sand Beach
We had to make a call once on the island as to whether we had a spare day for this hike. As it turns out, unfortunately we didn’t. I think it would have been amazing to see but it would have been a big effort with the kids. The hike is 8.5km return along an exposed track with no shade at all. It’s also meant to be quite windy. Depending on what you read and who you talk to there might be locals who will give you a lift back.
Volcano National Park
The Volcano National Park was closed due to the volcanic activity whilst we were there. We still had 3 nights here and the village was safe to stay (even though we had earthquakes every half an hour!). We used this time to spend extra time on the Hilo side of the island but I am including here what was on our itinerary if we were able to explore the National Park.
We found a lovely house to stay in through Hawai’i Volcano Vacations but of course you could use Booking.com or Air B&B. It was expensive compared to other locations on the Island but I wasn’t scrimping as this is where we were staying for my birthday! To be honest, accommodation options are limited so take some time in advance to investigate and book.
I would also recommend self catering here as there are only limited options for eating out.
Kilauea Visitor Centre and Museum
Steam vents and sulphur banks walk
Kilauea Iki Trail
Thurston Lava Tube
Other walks in the Volcano NP
We had a quick stop here (because, wine!!!!). They offer tasting for a small fee. They also had tea tasting which the kids tried.
Accommodation in Hilo
Once again, there are plenty of options on where to stay in Hilo. We stayed in an Air B&B property. This was our one disappointing accommodation for the trip. It was stifling hot without proper air conditioning, and the kids room was in the centre of the apartment with no window or proper screen. It was in the centre of town though and we could walk everywhere.
There are hostels, houses and hotels available as per any city. You won’t find the same level of luxury on the Hilo side compared to Kona and Waikoloa Village.
Where to eat in Hilo
Hilo Bay Cafe – Slightly more fine dining option over looking the bay. Perfect place to celebrate my birthday
Suisan Fish Market – The only place for proper Poke bowls! The serves are massive. Really massive! Just go, line up, and pretend you know what you are ordering!!! I just listened to the person in front of me!!!
Conscious Culture Cafe – a great hippy cafe in town with Kombucha on tap!
Farmers Market – for picnic supplies and local goodies.
Things to do in and around Hilo
Hilo is a fantastic base for the Eastern side of the Island and you’ll find plenty of things to do in Hilo. This is the lush, tropical, and rainy side of the island – yes, we had a little rain. You will spend your time here on scenic drives, visiting waterfalls, stargazing, lava viewing, hiking, exploring caves and swimming.
Kaumana Caves State Park
The Kaumana Caves State Park was another highlight of our time on The Big Island. It was just something I stumbled across in my research and wasn’t mentioned in the Lonely Planet.
Take head torches as it’s dark, pitch black! There is a short climb down the ladder into the cave. You can explore both left and right. The right hand side was quite tight and you couldn’t go far. The left hand side was terrific and we explored for a long way. Don’t do as we did and pop out the top and try and find your way back – this is actually private land. You’ll need to go back through the cave to the entrance.
I think an hour or so should be plenty of time to explore. Just don’t try and head straight out to dinner like us as you’ll most likely be a little wet and muddy (there were lots of drips and the ground in places was quite wet).
It’s a short drive from Hilo township. See below.
Hawaii Botanical Garden
Carlsmith Beach Park
Wondering where to see sea turtles in Hawaii? Or the best place to swim with turtles in Hawaii? We think that Carlsmith Beach Park should be added to your Big Island itinerary.
One of the best places to swim with sea turtles in Hawaii’s Big Island is at Carlsmith Beach Park, Hilo. This is a gorgeous spot which was pretty busy the day we visited, I think with more locals rather than tourists. There is not much ‘beach’ as such, it is surrounded by lava rock which you step down into the water. Its a good idea to keep your shoes on as the lava can be really sharp.
The lava rock and the reef which surrounds the beach make the water quite calm and easy to have a paddle around in. You could feel the difference in the water temperature moving around.
Check out our video below when this beauty appeared out of nowhere and swam right past us. To be honest, this beach has lots of turtles and I think they are quite used to humans but there were people who were swimming with them and poking selfie sticks right in their faces. Please do not do this. Respect the environment and the animals. It surprises me that people still think this is acceptable behaviour. I did share a photo on social media of how close people were getting. Check it out or let me know if you would like to see it or more.
Heading along the Hamakua Coastal Drive –
Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitors Centre
Factory/farm tour and samples available. I was keen to visit here but we ran out of time.
Pe-epe-e Falls and Boiling Pots
The falls and boiling pots (rapids) are a short walk from the car park to viewing point.
Another short walk from the car park. If the weather is playing nicely you’ll see a rainbow in the falls (we didn’t!).
Old Mamalahoa Highway
What’s Shakin’ Cafe
The Waipio Valley can be accessed from either the Hilo or Kona sides of the island (see map below). We drove up from Hilo on a day trip. We took our time on the way up visiting the places above. On the return it took approx 1.5-2 hours to drive back through to Hilo with a couple of stops.
There is a terrific lookout out of the valley and you don’t need to walk far to experience this. You are able to visit the valley floor but you are not allowed to drive hire cars down. You’ll understand why when you see the road! It is steep, very steep!
We took a tour. To be honest it wasn’t all that exciting but the other option was to walk down and back up. This would have been a stretch even for our good little walkers.
Mauna Kea is in the middle of The Big Island and can be accessed from either Hilo or Kona. Unfortunately, even though we had this on our list of things to do, the weather too cloudy to bother heading up the mountain.
We would not have been able to get to the top as the kids were too young (for the altitude) but you are able to star gaze from the Visitor Information Centre (weather dependent).
On our original work in progress itinerary, I also had a visit to the top of the island up past Kona to Hawi. But, we had to cut something and this was one of the things that didn’t make it.
There are also some fun looking resorts in Waikoloa Village which is north of Kona. If you are looking for a resort area to chill for a couple of days then this place would tick the boxes.
So, there you have it. So many amazing things to keep you and your family busy on The Big Island. I think you can see now how it is not possible to visit this island on a day trip (or even 3 days for that matter!). Make sure you give yourself plenty of time. I think 3 nights in each Kona, Volcano and Hilo is a good starting point.
You will definitely find outdoor adventure wherever you are on the Big Island and find plenty of things to do with kids on The Big Island. What are you waiting for? We hope that you will be visiting Hawaii soon and hope this helps you to plan the very best holiday to Hawaii and The Big Island for you and your family. We have a ridiculous amount of photos, I wish I could share hundreds on this blog. Please let me know if you would like to see more!
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