The Big Island of Hawaii got its name for a reason. It is the biggest of all the Hawaiian islands and is divided into regions. Equity Residences has homes in two regions of the Big Island of Hawaii. Equity Villa Fund has a home in Kona and the Equity Platinum Fund has just added a new house on the Mauna Lani Resort in South Kohala.
Driving between these regions may take hours. Going from the Mauna Lani Resort in Kohala to the Volcano National Park located in Hilo can easily take 2 or 3 hours, depending on the route you choose to follow.
There are many things to see and do in this tropical paradise, and some planning is required to see and enjoy the best places the Big Island has to offer. We have asked a local expert for recommendations to help our investors and guests to plan their visits.
Lindsay Lincoln, our Concierge for the Mauna Lani Resort home, has prepared a list of the best places to see on the Big Island of Hawaii. As a resident of the Big Island for 12 years and a Four Seasons veteran, Lindsey is a local expert on the best points of interest.
The guide below is organized by region, so your planning just got much easier. Read on to find out what landmarks to visit, where to buy the best coffee, sample local chocolate, and even taste unique wine grown on volcanic soil on the Big Island.
The district of Kohala includes the Resort-centered coastal South Kohala and the lush small town feel of North Kohala.
Ancient Fish Ponds, South Kohala – Located at the Mauna Lani Resort, the ancient Hawaiian fishponds at Kalahuipua’a have been restored and maintained where you can take a leisurely walk around the ponds to see how the native Hawaiians used aquaculture and worked with nature to sustain themselves. Also on the property are interesting trails through the lava fields to discover ancient Petroglyphs.
King’s Shops and Queen’s Marketplace, South Kohala in Waikoloa Beach Resort Area – Two outdoor shopping malls located across the street from one another offering an array of delights from high-end boutiques to one of kind galleries and restaurants to sundry stores. Open daily from 10:00am-9:00pm.
Kohala Mountain Road, North Kohala- Enjoy the pastoral views and cool breezes of the Kohala Mountains. This drive is a local favorite for sending visiting family and friends. If you’re traveling to Hawi or Pololu be sure to take this route either to or from. The road winds through a lush and varying landscape and provides dramatic views of the Kohala coastline. Also watch for cows, horses, sheep and even llamas along the way!
Lapakahi State Historical Park, North Kohala – Visiting Lapakahi State Historical Park is like traveling back in time to an ancient fishing village. It’s easy to imagine island life 600 years ago as you take a self-guided walking tour through this restored park. Situated on the Kohala coast, you can often see Haleakala on the island of Maui, spot whales from December to March and seldom hear anything but the wind and the waves. Open daily, 8:00am-4:00pm
Pololu Lookout & Kamehameha Rock, North Kohala – Rain and wind have eroded away the northeastern part of the island, creating the dramatic Pololu Valley and distant islets. Experienced hikers might venture down the trail to the black sand beach, but take note: it can get knee-high muddy and due to varying currents it is not recommended to swim out in the bay. In route between mile markers 25 and 26, watch for Kamehameha Rock on the east-side of the road. This rock was carried out of Pololu Valley by Kamehameha I.
Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, North Kohala – A respected prophet told King Kamehameha I that if he built a large Heiau (temple) to his family war god Kukailimoku, he would conquer the islands. The result is an impressive rock structure that was dedicated in 1791 with human sacrifices. It remains standing today after the fulfilling of the prophecy over 200 years ago. Open daily, 8:00am- 4:45pm.
Waimea Farmers Markets, North Kohala – Located at 2,600 ft above sea level, Waimea is known for its rolling pastoral hills, cooler climate, and misty rain. Here, local farmers, bakers, curators, and artisans gather at bi-weekly farmer’s markets.
The district of Kona stretches for about 60 miles along the western side of Hawai’i Island’s lava coast and includes several diverse small towns. Within this expansive area lies many historical Hawaiian landmarks.
Ahuena Heiau – This sacred heiau (temple), is the place from which King Kamehameha I ruled his united Hawaiian nation and was his personal heiau. It is located on the north end of Ali’i Drive in Kailua-Kona on the grounds of the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. Although this location does not feature tours it can be seen from the Kailua-Kona Pier.
Alii Gardens Marketplace- A wonderful collection of locally made items and wears makes this outdoor marketplace a great stop for gifts. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10:00am-5: 00 pm with ample parking.
Captain Cook Monument- Best visited via snorkel boat or kayak tour, but viewable at a distance by car from the south portion of Kealakekua Bay. This monument marks the location that Captain Cook, the first documented European to arrive in Hawai’i, both landed and later perished. Fronting this monument is the marine life conservation district of Kealakekua Bay which makes this location a popular snorkeling destination.
Holualoa Village – Drive up the slope of Hualalai to the cool, quiet town of Holualoa and you can see a little bit of old Hawaii. Park your car and stroll through the shops and galleries featuring unique and impressive work from local artisans and craftspeople. Stop by Paul’s Place store or the local café for some refreshment, aloha, and a taste of island life. You’ll find most galleries open Tuesday-Saturday.
Kona Brewing Company – Hawaii Island’s Micro Brewery carries all of Kona Brewing Company’s ales and lagers including several specialty beers and pub exclusives and is a full-service restaurant for lunch and dinner. Reservations for brewery tours are highly recommended and can be booked online. Tours are $10, last 1 hour and include 4 4oz beer samples for those 21+.
Kona Coffee Country – Holualoa area and South Kona- Visit a coffee farm for a tour and a tasting. You’ll learn about the fascinating and labor-intensive process involved in creating that world famous cup of Kona Coffee. Farms are generally available from 9:00am-3: 00 pm daily and each farm has a unique narrative to tell.
Oceanrider Seahorse Farm– This eco-centered farm offers tours Monday through Friday at 12:00 and 2:00 pm where guests can learn about their efforts to repopulate seahorses and sea dragons and even hold a live seahorse. Advanced reservations are strongly encouraged at least 24 hours in advance via phone (808) 329-6840 or internet.
Original Hawaiian Chocolate Farm– This working cacao farm is located in the Keauhou area of Kona and is the first to grow, hand-pick, sun-dry and process only Hawaiian grown cocoa beans, non-blended to assure purity and quality. It features farm and factory tours weekly on Wednesday mornings at 9:00 am and Friday mornings at 9:00 am and 11:00 am. These $15 tours (children under 12 complimentary) are a one-hour walking tour and includes a chocolate sampling. Advanced reservations are required via their website.
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park, South Kona- This Hawaiian village preservation site lies on the coast in South Kona and is also known as the place of refuge. The ancient Hawaiian people operated on a system called Kapu where sacred laws once were broken were punishable by death. Your only chance of survival was to reach this place of refuge. This National Park has many walking trails and features an audio tour by dialing (808) 217-9279.
Located on the northeastern side of the island along route 19 just north of Hilo. This area is known for its lush tropical rainforests, waterfalls, and vistas.
Akaka Falls State Park – Akaka Falls, measuring at 442’, is the main feature of the 65 acre Akaka Falls State Park. It is located at the end of an enchanting but occasionally strenuous 0.4-mile loop through the rainforest. Also in the park is Kahuna Falls. Picnic tables and restrooms are available.
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens – These gardens feature over 2,000 tropical plants from around the world in its 40-acre valley that acts as a natural greenhouse. See waterfalls, ocean views, and pass meandering streams as you explore on the nature trails. Open 9:00am-5:00pm, admission fees apply.
Hawaiian Vanilla Company, Pauuilo – This is the first commercial Vanilla farm in the USA and their goal is to provide the best vanilla and vanilla products in the world. Farm tours, Tea, and luncheons are offered and can only be reserved in advance online fees apply.
Hilo has a tropical rainforest climate and receives substantial rainfall throughout the year. It is the largest city on the island situated on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa of which a large part of it overlooks Hilo Bay. Hilo is also the gateway to the Volcano National Park.
Akatsuka Orchid Gardens – This is Hawaii’s largest cymbidium orchid farm. You’ll see orchids in an array of shapes, sizes, and colors on display and for sale. Many plants are already inspected and ready to board the plane or to be shipped to the mainland. Store hours are open daily, 8:30am-5: 00 pm or behind the scenes greenhouse tours are available by booking ahead of time online.
Big Island Candies- A local and visitor favorite, this company features their signature dipped shortbread cookies, chocolates, baked treats, and gift boxes at their store handmade from only the finest and freshest ingredients. Open daily for a treat or gift 8:30am-5: 00 pm.
Imiloa Astronomy Center– “Where astronomy meets Hawaiian Culture”. This center features exhibits, native gardens, and a planetarium. The Imiloa Astronomy center has a calendar full of interesting events to enjoy. Open Tuesday-Sunday 9:00am-5: 00 pm, reservations are encouraged for scheduled events by calling 808-969-9703.
Liliuokalani Park and Banyan Drive – This lovely Japanese garden park was built over 100 years ago and sits elegantly on the edge of Hilo Bay. Walk along the footpaths, past the lanterns, and over the bridges to Coconut Island and get a different perspective of Hilo. An authentic Japanese Tea House is featured in the garden. The stately Banyan trees adoring and shading Banyan Drive were planted about 50 years ago by visiting celebrities.
Mauna Kea Visitor’s Center – At the 9,200 ft level of Mauna Kea the Visitor’s center is open daily from 9:00am-10: 00 pm. The center provides health and safety information, education about Mauna Kea and complimentary stargazing on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. This is also the last stop on the road before it becomes unpaved and only accessible via 4wd. We recommend dressing for cold weather as temperatures can reach near freezing.
Nani Mau Gardens– Nani Mau Gardens has evolved into a treasure of the Islands with 20 acres of many-splendored tropical flowers and trees, pools and waterfalls, and sun-dappled paths.
Rainbow Falls – Rainbow Falls is a visual treat any time of day but particularly impressive early in the morning. The falls are part of the Wailuku River State Park which includes several falls and pools called the Boiling Pots which were formed from the river’s flow over ancient lava beds. Take in the view just a few steps from the parking lot or a rough trail follows the river.
Volcano National Park– This is the home of Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on the earth which has been erupting since 1983. Along with scenic roadways the park has over 150 miles of marked hiking trails, a museum, petroglyphs, and a walk through a lava tube. While considering visiting, please keep in mind dangers of volcanic gases/fumes for those who have respiratory or heart problems, youth, and pregnant women. At 103 miles from the Resort, this destination is usually an all-day event. The park is open 24 hours although the Visitor’s Center and Museum have business hours. Entrance fees apply.
Volcano Winery – Home of tropical Hawaiian wines such as half grape-half tropical fruit wines called tropical fruit blends and tropical honey wines (no grapes!) their location is near the Volcano National Park. The winery is open daily 10:00am-5: 30 pm in their laid-back atmosphere for tastings.
Lindsay can help Equity Residences investors and guests who stay at the Mauna Lani Resort residence arrange the best activities on the Big Island, such as helicopter tours and Manta Ray night snorkeling. Read our Concierge recommendations for the Big Island and start exploring!
We asked our investors what places they like to visit when traveling to the Big Island.
One of our investors described Under The Bodhi Tree as an “amazing vegan cafe 5 minutes away” from the Equity Residences Mauna Lani Resort home.
Another investor favorite is Sweet Potato Kitchen And Bakery located in Hawi. Go there to enjoy mouthwatering breakfast and lunch made with freshest organic ingredients.
To learn about amazing manta rays, dive or snorkel with Big Island Divers.
Afterward, go to Lava Lava Beach Club to tell the weather and to and sip a margarita while sitting on the beach.