The largest of the Hawaiian islands is the Island of Hawai’i. Hawai’i Island is full of tropical wetlands, rainforests, matte black sand at Punaluu Beach, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, some of the best surf, and even snowy tips on Maunakea.
Among the diverse landscapes are some of the best wildlife, especially within the reefs of the bays and deep in the ocean. This beautiful island has so much to offer when it comes to learning about sustainability, wildlife, plant life, and nature.
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Checking into the Royal Kona Resort
75-5852 Ali‘i Dr, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
At Royal Kona Resort, the beachy rooms have a terrace overlooking ocean views with floor-to-ceiling windows to let the natural light beam in. On the property, the hotel has the perfect bar to watch the sunset on the water while sipping mai tais topped with an umbrella. Guests can take a yoga class on hotel grounds while listening to the crashing waves or attend a luau, watching the fire dancers. Don’s Mai Tai Bar & Restaurant is a perfect place to grab some quick grub at the end of the evening, whether you want a sushi roll or just nachos topped with pork, it’s a great option and right on the property.
Kailua Village Farmers Market
75-5767 Ali‘i Dr, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
The Kona farmers market is small, with just a few vendors, some selling fruit and others selling souvenirs. I bought a ton of fresh lychee and ate them by the water. Nearby, I grab a coffee at Kona Coffee & Tea and sit on the water’s edge watching the crabs in the tide pools while enjoying your coffee and fruit in the morning.
Tour the Island with Kailani Tours Hawai’i Deluxe Volcano Experience
If you’re looking to explore the depths of the island with a group, check out the Kailani Tours Hawai‘i Deluxe Volcano Experience. The tour guide and owner, Chris Paterson, is incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to showing guests the best the island has to offer, explaining different aspects of the culture and scenery. The group leaves in a comfortable van and first heads to Kona Joe’s Coffee, a coffee farm where guests see the process of how it’s made and get to try some of the coffee themselves. Afterward, the group will head to Punaluu Beach where you can view the matte black volcanic sand and the sea turtles chilling on the beach.
After visiting the black sand beach, the group heads over to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park during the day to check out the steam vents and experience the heat that comes from the volcano, as well as see the steam and volcanoes during the day. After a sit-down, three-course dinner as a group at Kilauea Lodge, where you can try some of the freshest fish that was swimming that morning on special, guests will head back for a night hike through Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Following a mile hike down a gravel path, the sky lights up red and in the distance visitors see lit-up lava pools in the darkness of night, watching them bubble and pop. It’s truly a sight to see.
There’s no shortage of beautiful places to snorkel here, but Kahalu‘u Bay on the west coast is easily one of the best spots. Cindi Punihaole, Kahalu‘u Bay Education Center Project Director, and Dr. Christine Zalewski, Dear Ocean President, were both an absolute pleasure to speak with about their conservation efforts. Not only do the groups work to protect the bay and the animals and plant life, but they’re also actively trying to educate the community about how to observe the incredible marine life and ecosystem without disturbing its growth, advising on scientific safety for both the visitors and the ocean life.
Learn more about their efforts at the Kahalu‘u Bay Education Center. Guests can bring their own snorkel and observe some incredible animal life within the warm bay waters, where I saw moray eels and a wide variety of colorful fish.
Explore Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
State Hwy 160, Honaunau, HI 96726
In Southern Kona along Honaunau Bay, explore one of the most historic places on the island. Within this national park, visitors can learn about Hawaiian culture and take in the surroundings.
Anelakai Adventures Manta Ray Night Snorkel
78-7138 Kaleiopapa Street Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
Anelakai Adventures is a paddle-powered boat without motors, where guests can paddle out a short distance from the shore to swim with manta rays at night. With the conservation efforts on the island, an eco-friendly boat is a huge plus. Plus, if there are some members of your group that are hesitant about getting into the water with the manta rays, the boat is small and close to the water, making it easy to view them clearly from your seat, unlike some of the other larger boats. Once the boat reaches the area (about a 10-minute paddle from shore), guests will enter the water, hanging onto a bar while the blue lights attract the plankton making them visible to the manta rays.
Sea Quest Hawaii Captain Cook Exclusive
78-7106 Kamehameha III Road Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
For another incredible snorkeling adventure, sign up for a tour with Sea Quest. Riding out, we were so grateful to see a ton of dolphins surrounding our boat. Guests will have the opportunity to snorkel Kealakekua Bay, viewing schools of colorful fish. On the way to and from the snorkeling destination, the captain will point out various landscapes and points of interest, including Pele, the Goddess of Fire and Volcanoes. It’s said that Pele created the Hawaiian Islands and it’s truly incredible to see how an actual outline of a woman was formed within the volcanic rock.
Other Dining Options To Keep In Mind
Enjoy Breakfast in Holualoa
Grab a coffee in Holualoa and explore the village. Drive through the island to explore some waterfalls like Rainbow falls and Pe’epe’e Falls. This might seem unusual, but check out some Japanese delicacies if you pass a 7-Eleven. Admittedly, this isn’t something I thought I’d suggest, but they have a bunch of sushi kits, a wide range of musubi, and steam buns to go. There are even some unique finds like Gejang (raw marinated blue crab) at their local grocery store, Foodland, too.
Umekes Fish Market Bar & Grill
74-5599 Pawai Pl, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
Stop in for some poke bowls at this authentic Hawaiian restaurant, serving the freshest seafood and salads, along with plenty of toppings. The bowls and entrees come with white or brown rice sprinkled with furikake. They have delicious options like the Hottie with spicy aioli with Hawaiian salt and onions, the Hawaiian with a flavorful dry rub of inamona, limu kohu Hawaiian salt onions and spicy red pepper flakes, or the Sweetie with furikake, onions and Hawaiian salt with sweet soy glaze. Pair this with some sides like Mac Salad with celery, potato, carrots, mayo, Hawaiian salt, and pepper or the seaweed salad.
Kat’s Kau Kau
Right across from Magic Sands Beach Park (Ali’i Drive, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740) is a Hawaiian shaved ice truck serving the classic Hawaiian treat. Perfect on a hot day after the beach, don’t forget to add lychee cream to it.
After spending time exploring Hawai’i Island, take a flight over to the island of Oahu. The island is big on surfing, being the start of modern big wave surfing and full of history. Learn about the Hawaiian monarchy and their part in WWII, while soaking up the sun, swimming with wildlife, and eating traditional dishes.
Checking into the Turtle Bay Resort
57-091 Kamehameha Hwy, Kahuku, HI 96731
The Turtle Bay Resort is designed beautifully with an open concept that lets natural light flood in while the friendly staff greets guests with a fresh flower lei upon check-in. If guests are fans of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the movie was actually filmed right at Turtle Bay Resort. The views are amazing and the rooms are modern and comfortable.
The hotel has beautiful infinity pools, private beach access, an incredible bar overlooking the ocean, places to lounge and listen to the waves, and attentive staff. In addition to luxury amenities, guests have the opportunity to book activities right at the resort, like horseback riding. This is truly a top-tier hotel when it comes to accommodations in Oahu.
Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort
2169 Kalia Rd, Honolulu, HI 96815
The night before leaving the island, consider spending the evening in the big city of Honolulu. Not only are there still beaches and amazing restaurants, but it’ll put guests back near the airport (Turtle Bay is about an hour away). Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort has beautiful rooms, especially the suites, with balconies and a wrap-around terrace overlooking the gorgeous beach view. There are pools along with private beach access with a busy city on the other side. Parking is a little difficult in Honolulu, so there is a chance guests may have to park in a parking garage about a 10-minute walk from the hotel. Valet is first come first serve. Guests can always drop their luggage at the bellhop stand.
Wild Side Specialty Tours
85-371 Farrington Hwy, Waianae, HI 96792 (808) 306.7273
Wild Side Specialty Tours is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. The tour is essentially a water safari, where guests never really know what they’ll encounter along the way. The Captain judged if the group could safely and ethically interact with the animals or just observe from above depending on the situation. When he gave the group the go, we would gently get in the water, with dolphins (from a distance) where we could hear them speaking to each other through echolocation using high and low pitches to identify what’s around them. That was so incredible and special to hear and see.
We were able to snorkel the coral reefs where we saw a sea turtle swimming slowly. At times, guests can experience chance encounters with whale sharks, whales, groups of turtles, rays, and more depending on the location and the day. sometimes they explore different locations than we did. It just depends on what the captain thinks is best for that day, and every experience can be different. The staff was super friendly and helpful, making the experience that much better.
One Ocean Diving
66-105 Haleiwa Beach Road, Haleiwa, HI 96712
If travelers are looking for a thrilling activity, explore the deep with One Ocean Diving in Oahu. One Ocean Diving is top-tier when it comes to ethical dives, with the safety of the sharks and guests always taking priority. They teach safety techniques like how to redirect a shark if it approaches you, how to maintain eye contact with the animals and why that’s important, and what to do so that you and sharks remain safe. Our group observed Galapagos and Blacktip sharks, but on any given day you can see a variety of different sharks. Just a few days prior to our group dive, they saw huge tiger sharks. It all depends on the day and the season, especially when dealing with wild animals in their natural habitat. You never know who might show up.
Malama Hawaii Experience at Kualoa Ranch
49-139 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe, HI 96744
With Hawaii being an island, sustainability is huge and taking care of the natural landscapes is extremely important. During the Malama Hawaii experience, visitors will be educated about what it takes to care for the Upland, the importance of Kalo, in addition to helpful medicinal plants that are grown in the area. Guests will have the opportunity to assist with whatever they need that day, whether it be cleaning, planting, picking fruits or vegetables like taro (kalo), and more. It’s an incredible way to be immersed in the culture of the island and learn about sustainability efforts.
Guided UTV Adventure at Kualoa Ranch
49-560 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe, HI 96744
Right on Kualoa Ranch, where countless movies have been filmed, guests can go on a two-hour UTV ride around the valleys, discovering different movie sites from films like Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, George of the Jungle, King Kong, and so much. As a huge Jurassic Park fan, you can actually run through the park where the stampede of Gallimimus dinosaurs ran during the first movie.
1525 Bernice St, Honolulu, HI 96817
Local residents couldn’t recommend the Bishop Museum enough. The Bishop Museum holds many artifacts, heirlooms, and cultural information about the island. Visitors can learn a lot about Polynesian cultures while exploring the objects and taking in the rich history of the island.
64-1550 Kamehameha Hwy, Wahiawa, HI 96786
What started as a simple fruit stand in the 50s transformed into the Dole Plantation where fruit fans can tour the property via the Pineapple Express Train Tour, the Pineapple Garden Maze, and the Plantation Garden Tour. Guests can explore the Dole Plantation before grabbing one of their famous dole whip desserts loaded with pineapple chunks or a meal in the cafe.
Be on the lookout for fresh roadside fruits. There are plenty of locals cracking open coconuts for thirsty hikers and beachgoers. The best part is that they’ll cut it open for you after you drink the coconut water, so you can eat the coconut meat. There was also plenty of fresh and sweet mango, too, with a tajin shaker. It’s a great treat on a hot day.
Waiahole Poi Factory
48-140 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe, HI 96744
The perfect place for Hawaii comfort food is the Waiahole Poi Factory for the Kanaka Nui platter, aka…a little of everything. On the platter is Laulau (tara leaves wrapped around shaved pork, fish, and coconut cream), smoky salty Kalua Pig, Chicken Long Rice (a ginger, vermicelli noodle, chicken thigh, and green onion comfort soup), Luau (made with beef or squid, cooked down taro leaves, and coconut milk), Poi (a mashed, silky past made from fermented taro root), Lomi Salmon (onion, tomato, salt, salmon), and Haupia (a coconut milk, jelly square). This is an incredible way to taste a wonderful variety of dishes.
At Turtle Bay Resort, guests can sign up for the Paniolo Pa’ina Dinner Experience. Although it’s not technically a traditional luau, it’s very similar. Guests can enjoy music, cocktails, dancing, and shows in addition to lei-making lessons and an incredible buffet filled with local foods like a full-roasted pig with crispy skin. The food was phenomenal and the fire dancers were so impressive and fun, the entire experience made for an incredible evening.
North Shore Shave Ice and Shrimp Truck
59-694 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712
In this small little area across from the beach, visitors can stop and relax at the picnic tables, grab food or shop at local pop-up shops all in one lot. The garlic peel-and-eat shrimp with a side of salad and rice is a great go-to dinner and super flavorful from the North Shore Shrimp Truck. In the same truck, they also have amazing shaved ice to end your meal with.
The Pig and the Lady
83 N King St, Honolulu, HI 96817
The Pig and the Lady is the perfect place to visit for modernized Vietnamese dishes like Octopus Ala Plancha with braised mung beans, spices, charred scallions, inamona, marinated cucumber, and micro herbs and Charcoal Grilled Pork with lentils stewed with a salty ham hock, toasted rice and chanh muoi salsa verde, and sprinkled with a little lemon zest. They have a variety of delicious noodle dishes, as well, like Pho 75 Dac Biet made with their signature spiced beef bone broth, fresh rice noodles, Meyer lemon, rare steak, stewed brisket, oxtail, aromatic herbs, and fresh ginger fermented chili.
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