I'm going to Maui for my cousin's wedding and I'm still debating whether I should go visit the other islands while I'm at it, particularly the Big Island. What are some must-do activities and things to see there? I'm very very tempted and just want to know what's out there. Thanks!
The Big Island is awesome. Kealakekua Bay Park is beautiful. You used to be able to rent kayaks and kayak across the bay to the marine reserve at the Captain Cook monument. the locals rent them out, but its kind of hush hush because they don't have permits. Fun way to go see the spot where Captain Cook met his fate. Other options to get to the marine reserve are by boat tour or a pretty decent hike down.
Waipio Valley is reputed to be one of the most beautiful valley's in Hawaii. The big island's tallest waterfall is at the back of Waipio. You can drive to the lookout (and down if you have a 4WD), but if you want to go down, probably want to do a tour (4WD or horeseback). The road is very steep. There's also ATV tours along the rim which sound cool (www.ridetherim.com)
Rainbow Falls State Park doesn't have the most spectacular falls, but it's beautiful and very easy to get to if you're in Hilo.
Mauna Kea Beach is probably the best beach on the island and it just has a old school feel that puts you at ease.
If you like hiking, Two Step is some of the best snorkeling on the island. Nice to combine with a trip to the Pu'uhonua O Honaunau Park Place of Refuge, but worth it by itself. Hang a right on the small road right before you get into the state park/place of refuge parking lot. You can park along the road or pay to park in a small lot. you can't miss it, you'll see lots of people and cars. Various areas to snorkel... I like going out across the bay (can see dolphin here at the right time of day. keep your ears peeled), then coming back along the shore, but probably the most reliable is to get in the water, swim left past the opening to the small harbor area (where you can see turtles) and work your way over and around the lava canyons towards the point of the place of refuge. there can be surf and surge in this area, but if you're an experienced snorkeler, you can get great fish out in this area. Bring food and water if you plan on staying a while.
Pololu Valley Lookout is an easy drive from the Mauna Kea. One of the more beautiful views on the Big Island. Take highway 270 until it ends. There is a small car park where you can take in the view. If you want some exercise, there is a good hike down the valley to the black sand beach at the bottom. The drive out there is interesting... you go through a couple of small Hawaiian towns (Hawi is an interesting place with art galleries, etc.). If you do this, on the way back from the lookout, instead of taking the 270 back along the coast, when you enter Hawi, make a left on either the Kohala Mountain Road or Highway 250 (they merge a couple of mile from the turnoff from the road through town), and take that to Waimea (then you can take the 19 right down from Waimea to the Mauna Kea). This is a great little drive... you drive through rolling hills and ranches with views out to the Pacific and Maui. We stumbled across this route and loved it. Totally different than the drive along the coast.
For food, The restaurant Manago Hotel is famous, plate lunch style. Right on the ocean side of the road in Captain Cook. I'd probably opt for Teshimas (down the road towards Kona), but if you're hankering for a pork chop, this is a good, inexpensive option. Very blue collar Hawaiian. Also known as a good budget option hotel if you want to stay in the Captain Cook area for any reason. The CanoeHouseat the Mauni Lani hotel is also a good spot.
If you need a place to stay, Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa is my random recommendation for an inexpensive place to stay around Kona. This is a very old hotel that Sheraton did a big renovation on, went through bankruptcy, etc. It has no beach, but is perched on some dynamic black lava shoreline south of the main part of town. The pool is very good, the staff was very friendly when I was there. Rooms are so-so (but many have great views). What I really like about this place is the Manta Ray bar. At night, you can have a drink and watch giant Manta Rays swim below the cliffs (that they illuminate with lights and give a presentation on many nights). Not the nicest hotel, by any means, but has a lot to offer for the price (especially if you feel like hanging at the pool). Worth going by even for the Manta Rays at night. Also, the famous Manta Ray dives leave right next door, so if you want to do the dive, may make sense to stay here a night so you don't have to drive the 45 minutes to your hotel up on the Kohala coast.
Another nice hotel is the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Make sure to have a Frederico at the beach bar. Named after Fred Allen.
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