How to Spend Three Days On the Island of Hawaii

Go belly-to-belly with manta rays and peek into the earth’s molten core on the “Big Island.”

Photo by Dennis Frates/Alamy

Formed from five volcanoes (four of which are active), Hawaii’s Big Island is a place of tropical beauty, cultural riches and geological wonders. The Island of
Hawaii—the Big Island’s formal name—is the youngest and largest island in the state, as well as the birthplace of Kamehameha the Great, the revered ruler who united the Hawaiian Islands in 1810. Make your base in the historic seaside town of Kailua-Kona, once home to Hawaii’s kings and queens, and start exploring.

Day 1

Morning: Breakfast on a steamy bowl of saimin, an Asian-influenced noodle soup, at Teshima’s Restaurant in Kealakekua. After your meal, drive 20 minutes to Hawaii Forest & Trail headquarters to board the Kohala Waterfalls Adventure tour vehicle for an all-day excursion. Your guide will take you 80 kilometres north through scenery dotted with black lava rock.

Afternoon: On the tour, take an interpretive two-kilometre hike through the Kohala Forest Reserve, a lush rainforest on the slopes of a million-year-old volcano. Cross bridges over old sugarcane irrigation channels, rest in shady guava groves, see kukui trees (the Hawaiian state tree) and swim amid a waterfall. Picnic on sandwiches, guava juice and taro chips with a view of soaring sea cliffs.

Evening: Back in Kailua-Kona, enjoy dinner with an ocean view at Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai in the Keauhou Shopping Center. Chef Sam Choy helped define Hawaiian cuisine—try his Trio of Wild Hawaiian Fish.

Kohala Forest Reserve, photo by James Osmond/Alamy

Day 2

Morning: Start the day with brunch at Daylight Mind Coffee Company, where co-owner Shawn Steiman literally holds a PhD in Coffee Science. Opt for the loco moco, a classic Hawaiian dish of eggs, meat, rice and gravy. Next, rent a paddleboard from Kahalu’u Bay Surf & Sea, a 10-minute drive away, and hit the water to look for yellow tang and sea turtles.

Afternoon: Drive 50 minutes north (pause for pineapple fritters at Holy Donuts on Ali’i Drive) to Pu’ukoholã Heiau, a National Historic Site with one of the largest restored temples in Hawaii. The structure was constructed by hand from lava rocks under the direction of Kamehameha the Great.

Evening: Grab a poke bowl—a Hawaiian-Japanese dish of rice, seaweed and fish—from Da Poke Shack on Ali’i Drive and eat it on the beach. When the sun goes down, drive 10 minutes south to Sea Quest Rafting & Snorkeling Adventures for the Night Manta Experience, where you’ll watch these gentle giants slide and barrel roll through the water.

The Jaggar Museum & Overlook, photo by NPS/J. Wei

Day 3

Morning: Order the Hawaiian waffles with lilikoi (passion fruit) syrup at Kalikala Cuisine on Ali’i Drive—the shaded outdoor restaurant sits right under a massive, 150-year-old Moreton Bay fig tree. Following breakfast, board the KapohoKine Adventures van for the Evening Volcano Explorer tour. It’s not close to evening yet, but the tour will last until then—you have a long, fascinating day ahead.

Afternoon: It’s a two-hour drive to Mount Kilauea (Big Island’s most active volcano) and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but the tour takes its time getting there. Stop for sandwiches and samples at a Kona coffee farm, visit a black sand beach, tour a lava tube and warm up at volcanic steam vents as your park-ranger guide shares stories of the volcanic events that make this island extraordinary.

Evening: The tour continues on to Volcano Winery for a tasting and a meal—the Volcano Blush pairs well with your barbecue dinner. The Jaggar Museum & Overlook is near the winery; here, you’ll learn volcano lore and science, and view the erupting Halema’uma’u Crater, a 520-foot-wide opening that turns the night-sky red. Now, relax on the long, sleepy drive back to Kailua-Kona.

Big Island Festivals

Get into the aloha spirit with these celebrations of Hawaiian food and culture

Kona Brewers Festival, March 10

Craft beer, island cuisine and great music attract thousands of people to Kailua-Kona each March. Best of all, the event raises funds for organizations that help Hawaii’s youth and support environmental conservation.

Merrie Monarch Festival, April 1 to 7

An annual Hilo tradition since 1963, this festival gathers Hawaii’s best hula dancers for a three-day competition and week-long cultural celebration that includes art exhibits, craft fairs, demonstrations and a parade.

Getting there: WestJet flies to Kona daily from Vancouver.

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