Hawaii's Big Island is the largest of the Hawaiian islands which, luckily for travelers, means plenty of things to do, free and otherwise. The Big Island has more than 100 beaches and over 266 miles of coastlines, along with numerous state parks (and one national park) and two volcanoes. Visitors to the Big Island will quickly discover that activities here range from deep sea fishing and ocean kayaking to hiking or star-gazing. And luckily, thanks to the island's natural beauty, many of the best activities are free. Here are 14 of our favorite free things to do on the Big Island.
'Akaka Falls State Park, located 13 miles north of Hilo above Honomu, has an easy and pleasant footpath loop that provides views of two beautiful waterfalls, the Kahuna and Akaka Falls. The hike is a .4-mile loop that's easy for most travelers, making 'Akaka one of the Big Island's most-visited spots.
Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company, located in Kawaihae, offers free tours and samples at its new factory store. The company grows, markets and processes 100-percent Big Island macadamia nuts and other delicacies. Today, more than 500 Hawaiian growers produce macadamia nuts and Hamakua is dedicated to working with local Hawaiian growers.
Ka Lae, the remote and windswept southernmost part of the island, is where Polynesians first arrived in Hawaii and settled as early as 750 A.D.. Now registered as a National Historic Landmark District under the name South Point Complex, it is a beautiful place to look out to sea and also happens to be the southernmost point of land in the United States.
Located at the end of Highway 130 in the Puna District, the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area affords a dazzling vantage point to see molten lava. Conditions change daily, but visitors to the safe viewing area have been awed by the fury of roaring steam and exploding lava gushing from the black lava plain into the roiling ocean, adding more and more land to the Big Island.
The site is open daily from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., but no cars are allowed into the parking area after 8 p.m. It's also worth checking U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory for Kilauea Volcano eruption updates before visiting.
Picnic at Kalopa State Recreation Area
Kalopa State Recreation Area is off Highway 19 at the end of Kalopa Road, southeast of Honoka'a. This beautiful and cool park, situated at 2,000 feet, has picnic areas, an easy nature hike in a native 'ohi'a forest, and additional trails in the adjoining forest reserve. It's also home to some of Hawaii's rarest plants, including loulu palms and native hibiscus.
Kohala Historical Sites State Monument, off Highway 270 near 'Upolu Airport, consists of two historic sites. Mo'okini Heiau, a National Historic Monument, is the most famous ancient sacrificial heiau (temple) in the state. The adjacent site is Kamehameha's Birth Place, a memorial to the 18th-century chief who united the islands under one rule.
Kona Historical Society makes traditional Portuguese bread every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 pm. Portuguese families in Hawaii traditionally baked their weekly supply of bread in large, wood-fired "fornos" (stone ovens). The Historical Society's oven is communal and can bake more than 30 loaves at one time. When the loaves come out of the oven (usually around 1 p.m.), they're offered for sale on a first-come, first-served basis.
Lapakahi State Historical Park is off of Highway 270, about 12 miles north of Kawaihae. It is the partially-restored remains of an ancient coastal settlement and fishing village and visitors can see home sites, burial sites, storage, and stone salt pans, which was then used to preserve fish. There is a one-mile self-guided walking tour where you may even be able catch a humpback whale sighting.
Lava Tree State Monument, off Pahoa-Pohoiki Road, is about three miles southeast of Pahoa. The site is a forest of "lava trees," formed by a lava flow that swept through the area and left behind lava molds of tree trunks and observed from a 3/4-mile walking trail. The site also has picnic tables, if you want to spend an afternoon there.
The Visitors' Information Station at Mauna Kea offers displays about the mountain's world-class astronomical observatories and every evening of the year, even on holidays, its volunteer astronomy buffs roll out telescopes for an outstanding—and free—stargazing program. It's situated at 9,200 feet, which should be plenty of altitude for most travelers, but more intrepid visitors can visit the summit at 14,000 feet.
Mokupāpapa Discovery Center showcases the marine life of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, perhaps Earth’s most remote and pristine ocean environment and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Scientific interpretation, a 2,500-gallon saltwater aquarium, and more await visitors.
Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens is a 12-acre rainforest zoo located south of Hilo on Mamaki Street. Namasté, its white Bengal tiger, gets fed daily at 3:30 p.m., and there's also a children's petting zoo on Saturdays from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. The zoo is known for its beautiful botanical gardens, which have more than 100 varieties of palm trees and other plants.
Puako Petroglyph Preserve, off Highway 19 and just north of the entrance to the Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast, offers a short hike that leads to more than 3,000 petroglyphs. The hike is only 1 1/2 miles, but there is very little shade and the lava can be hot, so it's best to start early.
Pu‘ukoholā National Historic Site is Hawai‘i’s largest heiau (temple) and was built under the order of Kamehameha I to appease the war god Ku. Once the hillside heiau was complete, Kamehameha sacrificed a rival and set sail to unify all the Hawaiian Islands under his rule. The founding of the Hawaiian Kingdom can be directly associated with this one sacred structure, which is located between the Kohala Coast resorts and Kawaihae off Highway 270.
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