So Much More Than Volcanoes on the Big Island

There is so much more to do than see volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawai’i. We got lots of recommendations for places to go and things to do from our loyal readers, which we appreciate. In order to do most, if not all of the recommended activities, we wound up spending hours and hours in the car and in the water.

The Big Island is Really Big

The island of Hawaii is roughly the size of Connecticut and twice the combined size of Maui, Oahu, Kauai, and Lanai. Since there are no freeways, speed limits can make the journeys quite long. Circumnavigating Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes takes about 4 hours, not allowing for malasada stops.

Even so, only 200k people live on the island of Hawaii, versus 3.5 million in Connecticut. That makes for a lot of open space. There are vast tracts of farmland, forest, and lava flows.

Cattle is King

There are a number of cattle ranches on The Big Island, but the Parker Ranch in Waimea dwarfs them all. The ranch was once 250,000 acres but it is now a svelt 130,000 acres. King Kamehameha got the first head of cattle as a gift in 1793 and he ensured they thrived. These days, most of the cattle are sent to the mainland for fattening and slaughter because there is no processing plant in the Hawaiian islands. You can find local beef if you try.

Cowboys in Hawaii are called Paniolo and are not much different than their mainland counterparts. Their name is derived from the first two Mexican cowboys to arrive in the 1800s. Paniolo is from the Hawaiian version of the word “español”.

Manta! Manta! Manta!

We participated in the night Manta Dive in Kona, and it is easily one of my Top 5 dives ever. Basically, after dark, you go down about 30 feet and sit around a ring of stones. Lights placed in the middle of the ring draw plankton and the plankton draw large numbers of huge manta rays. The rays swoop around with wide-open mouths, gathering their supper.  We didn’t take a video, but here is a link to one. Amazing!

For those untrained in the ways of Scuba, you can enjoy the show via a snorkel boat and hang on to a surfboard with lights pointing down. In total, 17 different rays came the night we were there. Some were as big as 16 feet wide. The guides know them all by their distinctive belly marks.

For divers, they provide a light which you can place by your head, pointing up. This draws the rays to swoop inches above your head. Our group went last, which meant a poor position at first. But we stayed after everyone else left, so we wound up having a private show. Truly great.

More Makai (Ocean) Action

Captain Cook (discoverer of the islands) was killed near Kona on his 3rd voyage of discovery. The location is not easy to get to, but the snorkeling is decent there, so we decided to take a catamaran tour to visit. The operator was very good, but the snorkeling was just OK. After a similar experience in Maui, we have decided that the snorkel tours are probably not worth their cost or the possible long, choppy boat ride.

There are several nice beaches north of Kona with easy public access, Hapuna Beach and ʻAnaehoʻomalu Beach. We didn’t stay long at these because there was no shade to speak of (I am UV challenged). They were quite nice and we did enjoy walking on them for a while.

Towards the Mauka (mountain) Side

We visited Hala Tree Organic Coffee Farm south of Kona. It is a small farm that had been neglected for years and was taken over by a French couple who have brought it back. I’m not really a Javaphile, but I was able to begin to appreciate the nuances of different coffees in this tour/tasting. The place is charming, the tour is free, and the bonus avocados they let us gather off of the ground were very good!

We toured Hilo on our 2nd trip to Volcanoes NP. There are a number of beautiful waterfalls nearby including Akaka Falls. Hilo gets 130 inches of rain each year, so it was no surprise it was raining that day. The rain made for some pretty active waterfalls, including at the aptly named Boiling Pots.


We’ve been eating a lot of fish while in Hawaii, because, well, it’s good here. The fish may be listed by different names, so I have created a cheat sheet to follow. A new fish to me was Butterfish, aka Waloo/Walu or Escolar. I learned another name was poopfish! It seems it frequently doesn’t agree with people’s GI tract, sometimes for the worse. Given the abundance of other good options, we’ve chosen to let other diners enjoy it (or not).


It doesn’t happen often that we return to the same restaurant but we actually went to Kenichi three times. First, it was very close by, second, it was really delicious food and drinks. Add a good Happy Hour to seal the deal. Diana loved their Black Miso Cod.

Lava Lava Beach Club

A friend recommended Lava Lava Beach Club in Waikoloa. It can be difficult to get a reservation, so we went for drinks and pupus midday. The setting is beautiful and the vibe relaxed.

Kona has a pretty active dining scene. There are lots of decent places to try and there was a fair amount of live music to set the mood.

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1 comment

  1. This is the island we always travel to and love it!!! The Marriott on the island has a great Luau!! Do the self drive beach tour, it’s amazing ?

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