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Things To See on the Big Island

Paradise born of fire

The Big Attractions

Hawaii’s Big Island showcases numerous sites that highlight a visitor’s journey through the rich cultural traditions and fascinating history of the island itself, and Hawaii in general. From the site of Captain Cook’s demise to the birthplace of King Kamehameha, there are many monuments, museums and fascinating places to visit. In our blog posts we highlight great activities and places to explore on the island of Hawaii.

Parker Ranch
Big Island is the home to Parker Ranch, the largest contiguous ranch in the United States. Located near the town of Kamuela, the ranch extends over approximately 480,000 acres of land. The ranch is home of the world-famous Paniolo, which is Hawaiian for cowboy. The ranch also offers great rodeos, cultural activities, fine restaurants, and is home to the island’s newest hospital.

Thomas A. Jaggar Museum, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
In addition to a spectacular view of Kilauea caldera, visitors can see displays of different types of lava, videos of eruptions, seismographs, and some illustrated Hawaiian legends, especially those relating to Pele, the goddess of the volcano. The mural art in the Jaggar museum was done by wonderful local artist Herb Kane. Located on Chain of Craters Road.

Onizuka Center for International Astronomy
Boasting the world's biggest telescope, and the most scientific observatories in one place anywhere else in the world, Mauna Kea was recently chosen as the site for what will become the world's largest telescope - a mega-feat of engineering that will cost $1.2 billion, create as many as 440 construction and other jobs and seals the Big Island summit's standing as the premier spot on the planet to study the mysteries of space. The new telescope - known as the Thirty Meter Telescope - is set to be completed in 2018. The TMT will be able to see 13 billion light years away - a distance so great and far back in time that researchers predict they'll be able to watch the first stars and galaxies in the universe forming.

The Mauna Keea Observatory complex

Kona & The West Coast

Kona has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment and history. Experience the 1880’s in the H.N. Greenwell Store Museum where the shopkeeper will help you “gather your supplies” for your trip up Kona mauka. Read this blog for more information and ideas.

Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center, Kona International Airport
The space center is an educational facility dedicated to the memory of astronaut Ellison Onizuka who was born and raised on the Big Island, and who tragically perished in the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster of 1986. This is an interactive museum where visitors can learn about the forces of gravity, manned space flight programs and more. On display are a moon rock, an astronaut suit, and models of spacecraft.

Hulihee Palace, Kailua-Kona
The Palace served as a hub for Kailua-Kona when Governor John Adams Kuakini had it built in 1838. Among the many things to see inside is a fascinating collection of local artifacts (which includes some from the reign of Kamehameha the Great), and some beautiful koa furniture. Outside on the lawn, near the royal fishpond, hula lessons can sometimes be observed.

Kona Historical Society Museum, Captain Cook
The museum is the actual historic Greenwell family store, a stone-and-coral mortar building erected in 1875 to serve as a general merchandising store, post office and meeting place. On exhibit are ranching and coffee farming artifacts, as well as photographs. A book and gift shop showcasing locally made crafts is also part of the museum.

Kona Coffee Living History Farm, Captain Cook
Also run by the Kona Historical Society, and built by Japanese immigrants in 1925, the coffee farm (also known as Uchida Coffee Farm), is a working farm in the middle of a coffee plantation. Guides are dressed in clothes from the early 20th century, and they show visitors the original farmhouse, the Japanese (furo) bath house, the coffee processing mill and drying platforms, and offer presentations on the immigrant farmworker experience.

Kona coffe cherries ripening on the plantation

Place of Refuge
Officially called Pu'uhonua o Honaunau in Hawaiian, the Place of Refuge, a National Park is probably the most visited site in Kailua. This place held special significance for Hawaiians. In the ‘old days’, if someone broke a law (kapu), it was not uncommon to receive a death sentence for the violation! However, there was a way out for the guilty party. If one could paddle a canoe fast enough to reach the place of refuge, then all sins would be forgiven, and the individual could return to village life.

Hapuna Beach State Park
This broad white sand beach with a view of Maui, and perhaps the best beach on the island in terms of both ease of access and soft, white sand.

Known as the heartbeat of Hawaii hula is not just a dance —it's a way of life!

Hilo & The East Coast

Located on the windward (east) side of the island, Hilo is the oldest city in the Hawaiian archipelago and the county seat of the County of Hawaii. A scenic drive around Hilo along the rugged Hamakua coastline is considered one of the most interesting routes to explore. East of the downtown core, the port of Hilo is safeguarded by a seawall stretching about three miles, and providing a picturesque view of the surrounding area. The town overlooks Hilo Bay, situated upon two shield volcanoes. Hilo is home to the University of Hawaii, which offers an exquisite oceanic program. Read this blog for more information and ideas.

Pacific Tsunami Museum, Hilo
Tidal waves are fascinating and often deadly, and Hawaii has had her share of experience with them. In addition to scientific information pertaining to these dramatic natural events, the museum (whose aim is to educate the public about these phenomena) stores recorded first-hand testimony from survivors, serving as a memorial to those who lost their lives in Hawaiian tsunamis.

Laupahoehoe Train Museum, Laupahoehoe
In the heyday of sugar plantations on the Big Island, the railway was the primary means of transporting crops. The Hamakua portion of the railway was the most expensive section of railway in the United States at the time. The museum is housed in the old Laupahoehoe Railway Station, and showcases photos and memorabilia.

Lyman House Memorial Museum, Hilo
The museum offers insight into what life in Hawaii was like during the missionary era. Visitors can tour an actual 1839 missionary home, and browse thru the photo and library archives, which provide an in-depth history of the establishment of the sugar industry, Hawaiian royalty, the immigrant experience and much more. On display you will also find a collection of artifacts of Hawaiian, and other major island ethnic groups.

The East Hawaii Cultural Center
The EHCC is a cultural center in Hilo that hosts regular art exhibits, workshops and classes. Administered by the East Hawaii Cultural Council, an umbrella group of local arts organizations, the Center is housed in a historic former police station facing Kalakaua Park.

The "Hilo Walk of Fame"
This tree-lined street is famous for the banyan trees planted by celebrities such as Richard Nixon, Polly Mooney, and George Herman "Babe" Ruth. These trees withstood several tsunamis that have devastated the town. The drive circles the Waiakea Peninsula near the Hilo International Airport.

South Point

Ka Lae (to locals known better as "South Point") is the southernmost point in the US. A constant 27 knots wind that blows east to west makes the ocean around South Point very treacherous.

Papakolea Beach
Also known as Mahana Beach, Papakolea is a famous green sand beach located at South Point in the District of Ka'u. The only other green sand beach in the United States is in Guam. Papakolea beach gets its distinctive coloring from olivine crystals found in a nearby cinder cone. Two of the tallest mountains in the Pacific – the Mauna Kea and the Mauna Loa - dominate the center of the island.

Other Attractions

Panaʻewa Rainforest Zoo is a small 12-acre (4.9 ha) zoo, the only one in the United States located in a rainforest. The Zoo has more than 60 species of animals on display, and the grounds feature more than 40 different species of plants, flowers, and trees. The most popular attraction is a male white Bengal Tiger named Namaste.

Each year, with festivities beginning on Easter, the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo draws the finest performing Hula Halau (hula troupes) from around the world, attracting large crowds to celebrate Hawaiian culture. The event is called the "Olympics of Hula" and embiodies an all-encompassing way of life - a poetic sharing of both story, spirit and a creative ever-transformative art during which the mana - spiritual power grows. Hula is the language of the heart, therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people.

The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden (17 acres) is a nonprofit botanical garden and nature preserve located off Route 19 at 27-717 Old Māmalahoa Highway. The garden is in a scenic valley opening out to Onomea Bay, and features streams, waterfalls and a boardwalk along the ocean. Today the garden contains over 2,000 plant species, representing more than 125 families and 750 genera, with good collections of palms (nearly 200 species), heliconias (more than 80 species), and bromeliads (more than 80 species). Some of the Garden's mango and coconut palm trees are over 100 years old.

Mauna Loa has produced enough lava to pave a highway 1.2 million miles long!

Some Like It Hot

Hawaii is a tropical paradise as famous for its volcanoes as it is for its breathtaking beaches, vegetation and virtually endless list of attractions. And when a volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island spills lava into the ocean, creating a rare and spectacular fusion of steam and waves, you can be sure you’re witnessing the greatest show on earth!

Not surprisingly, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the most visited natural site in the state, welcoming well over a million visitors last year. The park is home to the world’s largest active volcano, the Mauna Loa, surpassed not in size, but in level of activity by the Kilauea, which is the world’s most active volcano, and has been erupting continuously from its Pu'u O'o vent since 1983.

Visitors to the park are treated to the opportunity of seeing the result of 70 million years of fiery volcano activity, thousands of miles of ocean migration, and the ever-changing landscape of over 300,000 acres of land.

Hawaii Volcano Adventure

On this exciting full-day Kilauea volcano adventure with Polynesian Adventure Tours, scour fields of lava in search of volcanic activity, from steaming vents to rivers of magma and gaping craters. Trek through the Thurston Lava Tube, you’ll also make trips to Rainbow Falls.

Bike & Hike to Active Lava Flows

Why Hike when you can Bike then Hike to Active Lava in half the time with a Certified Guide? Join Bike Volcano on an incredible guided bicycle adventure to the current Active Lava Surface Flows. Our Certified Interpretive guides will lead you to the active surface flows.

Dynamic Tour Hawaii

Discover Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and other attractions on a full-day tour from Waikoloa, Hapuna, Kailua-Kona or Keauhou. Your guide shares highlights including Rainbow Falls, and Banyan Drive, and you'll get views of the two active volcanoes: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.

The Big Island is Hawaii's largest Island at 4038 square miles —twice the size of all the other Hawaiian Islands combined!

The park is open 24 hours a day year-round, including ALL holidays. The Kīlauea Visitor Center is located on Crater Rim Drive off Highway 11, between the 28th and 29th mile markers south of Hilo, and is open daily from 7:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Jaggar Museum, featuring an overlook considered the best (and closest) place for observing a volcanic eruption is also open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Other vantage points at the summit of Kīlauea that provide views of Halema'uma'u Crater are also open to visitors.

Ranger-led programs available at the visitor’s center are designed to enrich your knowledge of park resources and Hawaiian culture. These free programs may be short presentations in the visitor center auditorium, or a map presentation at the relief map located outside the visitor center on the lanai. The schedule for the programs is posted on the Ranger Activities bulletin board in the Kilauea Visitor Center each morning at 9:00 a.m.

Walks beginning at the Visitor Center, and ending with a spectacular view of Kilauea's caldera may be wheelchair accessible. Longer hikes are available for visitors looking to see lava trees, Hawaiian petroglyphs, lava tubes, or traverse craters.

Mauna Loa has produced enough lava to pave a highway 1.2 million miles long!

Hiking Mauna Loa

At certain times, surface flowing lava is accessible from the end of ‘Chain of Craters’ road. When this happens, if you plan to hike out to it, you should be prepared for an extremely arduous, challenging hike that should only be attempted by individuals who are extremely fit.

Reaching surface flowing lava involves a roughly 10 mile round-trip from the end of the ‘Chain of Craters’ road, with an estimated time to complete of at least 5.5 hours. Hiking across lava fields requires not only stamina, but also continuous awareness and concentration. The lava is uneven, jagged and very sharp. All skin should be covered. Carefully read critical information on the National Park Services website before you attempt a hike on the lava fields.

Be Careful Around Lava!

Lava entering the ocean builds lava deltas. The lava delta and adjacent areas, both inland and out to sea, are some of the most hazardous areas on the flow field. Frequent delta/bench collapses give little warning, can produce hot rock falls inland, in the adjacent ocean, and can produce large local waves. The steam plume produced by lava entering the ocean contains fine lava fragments, and an assortment of acid droplets that can be harmful to your health. The rapidly changing conditions near the ocean entry have been responsible for many injuries and a few deaths.

Kīlauea and its Halemaʻumaʻu caldera were traditionally considered the sacred home of the volcano goddess Pele. Native Hawaiians visited the crater to offer gifts to the goddess.

The Kilauea volcano became a tourist attraction in the 1840s, and local businessmen Benjamin Pitman and George Lycurgus ran a series of hotels at the rim.

As ongoing eruptions covered over 16,000 acres of lowland and rainforest, research indicates that approx. 98% of Kilauea’s surface is topped with lava flows less than 10,000 years old.

The ongoing flow of lava has added more than 560 acres to the Big Island, and it continues to grow! The volume of erupted lava adds up to more than two billion cubic yards, which amounts to enough new rock to pave a two-lane highway that is 1.2 million miles long!

Mauna Loa has an elevation of 13,680 feet and a 70-mile long, 30-mile wide shield-shaped dome, and encompasses 10,000 cubic miles.

About 1,900 volcanoes on earth are considered active - meaning they show some level of activity and are likely to explode again. Many volcanoes are dormant, while others are considered extinct.

Volcanoes tend to exist along the edges between tectonic plates, massive rock slabs that make up earth's surface.

About 90 percent of all volcanoes exist within the Ring of Fire along the edges of the Pacific Ocean.

When lava from an eruption reaches the ocean, it cools, darkens and hardens into a lava delta, creating ‘new land’ amidst an outpouring of steam. The lava delta is unstable and can collapse without warning.

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Important Contacts:

Boundless Hawaii, LLC
75-5865 Walua Road Suite F1
Kailua Kona, HI 96740

Toll Free: 877-782-5662
Local: 808-334-0548
Fax: 808-334-0545

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