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 Kona 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: Rent a paddleboard from Kahalu’u Bay Surf & Sea 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, an absolutely massive opening that turns the night-sky red. Now, relax on the long, sleepy drive back to Kailua-Kona.

[This story appears in the January 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine]