9 Big Island Destinations Worth the Drive

Renting a car is a perfect way to see the diverse collection of landscapes—this is, after all, the Big Island. You’ll experience some beautiful vistas and picnic spots along the way.

The trees look as if they have plotted a slow attack to take over the road. Vines hang down trying to slyly block my way and hinder my vision. The road isn’t straight nor does it have any defined shoulders or boundaries. The asphalt is laid around each tree trunk making the road look like a frayed ribbon blowing in the wind. The drive around the Puna region of the Big Island is what Sunday drives are made of; curves, views, and solitude all requiring you to slow down and enjoy each minute ticking away in the day. Take a drive on the secluded coastal roads (Highway 137 and Pohaiki Road). The views are phenomenal and you will hardly see another person or car. You can pull over, walk out on the rocky coast, and sit taking it all in with no one around.
The ire of Mount Kilauea reforges the world before visitors’ eyes. Nicknamed “the World’s Only Drive-In Volcano,” it’s produced serious lava every day since 1983 with no signs of stopping. Pele—the fire goddess who lives here, according to Hawaiian lore—is on a roll. Occasionally the lava flows spill into the sea, releasing stunning plumes of steam. Don’t miss the petroglyphs, lava tube, lush rain forest, and more than 150 miles of trail, including the four-mile Kilauea Iki loop. The drive here from Kona or Kohala can take two and a half hours, a bit of a long day, so consider reserving accommodations in the town of Volcano. You’ll have plenty of time to explore this otherworldly landscape, and even see the lava glowing in the dark!
‘Akaka Falls, Hawaii 96720, USA
I call this the “postcard shot.” Akaka Falls resides in the appropriately named Akaka Falls State Park, which is just a short car ride from the town of Hilo on the Big Island. Park the car for a small fee (based on the number of passengers and type of vehicle, which is inexpensive no matter what) and you are on your way to this view. The loop trail is a touch shy of half a mile, and while there is a mild grade to it, and some stairs, it’s entirely paved and very easy to manage. The entire visit at a leisurely pace takes about 40 minutes. Along the way you’ll be greeted by lush tropical foliage, and the sounds of wildlife, as you approach your very own postcard shot.
Kapoho Tide Pools, Hawaii 96778, USA
The Kapoho Tide Pools are a distinct and different seaside phenomena. The pools stretch nearly a mile down the beach and reach into the sea. The pools are spring fed with fresh water and filled by the rising tide. The interesting geography of the area allows for fascinating photos. It’s a great place to search for sea life under the water and in the rocks.
47-4841 Old Mamalahoa Hwy &, Dahana Ranch Rd, Waimea, HI 96743, USA
Become a Paniolo (Hawaiian Cowboy) for a day and do an actual cattle drive while on the Big Island of Hawaii. Even though it was a rainy, moody day, it was the perfect unique experience to have in Hawaii. Hawaii is much more than beaches! More information about my experience at Dahana Ranch: http://www.ottsworld.com/blogs/cattle-herding-in-hawaii/ Dahana Ranch P.O. Box 1293 • Kamuela, HI 96743 • toll free: (888) 399-0057 • p (808) 885-0057 • f (808) 885-7833 • dahana@hawaiiantel.net
South Point on the Big Island is the most southern point in the United States. The cliffs were ancient mooring places for canoes belonging to the first settlers on the Big Island. Fishermen still use this place to cast their lines, and adventurous locals dive into the turbulent but clear waters below (not recommended for tourists who are not aware of ocean currents, as the undertow is usually quite strong and has swept many lives away in the turquoise clear waters). Several miles up the beach (toward the Hilo side of the Island) is the Green Sand Beach colored by olivine that formed as part of the volcanic eruptions long ago. It is worth hiking to (or paying for a local to drive you in their 4x4). Green Sand Beach is one of only four green beaches in the world.
Ninole Loop Rd, Naalehu, HI 96772, USA
Punaluu Beach attracts visitors and locals to its black sandy volcanic shore. The beach is out of the way (between Volcanoes National Park and South Point), but worth a stop. Punaluu is not overly crowded, but the green sea turtles and uncommon black sand attract a number of tourists off the Mamalahoa Highway. Tables and restrooms are available, making this a fantastic spot to take a picnic for an afternoon.
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Journeys: Africa + Middle East
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