If You Only Have Three Days on the Big Island

With only three days on Hawaii’s Big Island, take a spin around the island’s coastline. Spend your first day basking in the Kona resort lifestyle. On your second day, enjoy a morning at the local shops and market in Hilo and then head to Volcano Village for an evening over Kilauea’s glowing crater. Complete the Big Island loop on day three by driving to South Point before heading north to Kailua-Kona through Kona coffee country.

The most colorful of all the state fishes also has the most spectacular name: Hawaii’s Humuhumunukunukuapuaa. While the name is unusual, the Humuhumu (for short) is fairly easy to spot at any good snorkeling beach in the Hawaiian Islands. The one pictured was spotted in the protected Keauhou Bay on the Big Island where the water is clear and fish abound. It is also a great place to spot green sea turtles munching on algae in the shallow pools near the shore.
HI-11, Naalehu, HI 96772, USA
For travelers who find themselves driving on the southern end of the Big Island, a stop at the Punaluu Bake Shop should be required. The shop is clean, has an outdoor picnic area, and has a case full of tremendously delicious bakery items. Malasadas are a Hawaiian favorite food and perfect for breakfast, but the bakery also sells sandwiches, ice cream, and some local souvenirs and kitchen items.
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.
Chain of Craters Rd, Pāhoa, HI 96778, USA
There are several hidden treasures among the volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii. The one that I found most fascinating was a short (0.7 mile) hike from the Chain of Craters road to the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs. I was most fascinated that this land has been lava coated—and recoated—for ages and yet these petroglyphs still managed to escape centuries of fresh molten lava. I also thought this image, etched in the rock, was the likeness of a couple and imagined some ancient Hawaiian man carefully carving out the images and comically telling his wife: “I lava you a lot.”
82-6199 Mamalahoa Hwy, Captain Cook, HI 96704, USA
For coffee connoisseurs the Kona Coffee Living History Farm illustrates the finer points of historical coffee making. The homestead operates with interpreters who illustrate the life of the Japanese immigrants who started coffee and macadamia nut farming in the 1900s. The Farm is open for tours and 100% Kona coffee is available in their shop for purchase.
16-701 Macadamia Road, Hilo, HI 96720, USA
Living in Hawaii, I find it’s not hard to appreciate macadamia nuts. After moving to the Islands, I did not waste any time determining my favorite kind of chocolate-covered mac, Mauna Loa. As with many other companies, mac nut orchards dot the Big Island, which has a great growing environment for the unusual nuts. The Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Company operates a visitors’ center on the Big Island along with their orchards and processing plant. A tour of the area includes a farm to final product education and, of course, free samples for your enjoyment. I always keep several boxes on hand to give to my house guests to welcome them to Hawaii, but mac nuts are also a great gift for tourists to bring back home.
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!
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