From Ocean Splendour to Volcanic Mountain Tops:

Say Yes to the Island of Hawai`i

By Jennifer Hartley

They say the first island you visit in Hawai`i is the one you fall in love with, but it is hard to imagine loving any of them more than the largest: the Island of Hawai`i. This paradise has eight of the world’s 13 ecosystems and with only two main highways, including one that circumnavigates the island, you can see much of its exquisite beauty, which should be the focus of a trip to this amazing place.

Sunset in Kailua-Kona is so inspiring it is a quasi-religious experience.


The precipitation that drenches the rainiest city in the U.S.A. and the east coast creates a lush landscape with massive, rain forest valleys, draping banyan and enormous bamboo trees, exotic flowers and ferns. Locals call downpours Hawaiian snow.

This is waterfalls territory. Rainbow Falls cascade down while the Akaka Falls State Park astounds with its stunning, dense jungle. It appears in Avatar for good reason. Nearby, (to be honest everything is relatively close on the Island) the Pepe’ekeo Scenic Drive is worth the six-kilometre detour for its variety of waterfalls and vegetation.


Marvel at breathtaking vistas along the northeast Hāmākua Coast (the Pololū Valley and Waipiʻo Valley lookouts are mind-blowing) while heading north and around to the Kohala Coast.

If you must hit a beach, Kohala is the place. One of the best is the beautiful soft, sandy expanse at Hapuna Beach State Park. Even reluctant swimmers can’t resist.

Heavy rains or “Hawaiian snow” feed Rainbow Falls in Hilo.

In the Centre  

An avid astronomer? Mauna Kea, one of world’s tallest mountains, is a dormant volcano. It’s also home to 13 international telescopes, perched on its snowy summit at 13,796 feet.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

It is massive. Here are three highlights:

  • The still-steaming mouth of the Kīlauea caldera (the location of the 2018 eruption). There is a path to follow.
  • Crater Rim Drive: Walk through the Thurston Lava Tube, a 500-year-old cave and on the nearby hardened lava lake, Kīlauea Iki.
  • The Chain of Craters Road: Drive past lava rivers (now rock) that paint the terrain down to the ocean into stunning black cliffs. It’s an otherworldly landscape.

Continue south to Punalu`u Black Sand Beach, where the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles on the shore steal the scene. Nearby Whittington State Park is far more dramatic with its rugged shoreline.

Further south is the Papakōlea Green Sand Beach. The 10-kilometre return walk (wear appropriate hiking footwear and bring water) takes you oceanside and along tall Mars-like red sand dunes. Electrifying.

Striking, tropical beauty in the Waipi`o Valley on the Hāmākua Coast.


The historic Kailua Village is party central with all-day happy hours, live bands and great restaurants to watch stunning sunsets. Papa Kona Restaurant and On the Rocks are two of the best for sunset watching.

Punalu`u Black Sand Beach is home to Hawaiian sea turtles.


The Makai tower at the massive Hilton Waikoloa Village resort delivers, with whale watching from your balcony.

In the historic Keauhou Bay, the waves that constantly bash against the volcanic rock at the Outrigger Kona Resort & Spa make it a mesmerizing location. It’s 30 minutes from Kona airport.

Vibrant, exotic flowers are everywhere, including the Paleaku Gardens Peace Sanctuary in Captain Cook.

Fuel Up Suggestions

Go local with open-air markets, food trucks and stalls that are everywhere, selling coconuts, pineapples, macadamia nuts and other Island produce, fresh, melt-in-your-mouth seafood and baked goods. Adorable coffee shacks sell famous Kona coffee.

Kona Joe is a peaceful, open-air coffee stop on a mountain slope. And Hilo’s Hawaiian Style Café’s banana macadamia nut pancakes and Portuguese sausages with pineapple are worth every calorie. The Punalu`u Bakery, the most southern bakery in the U.S., also satisfies.

In fact, everything about the Island of Hawai`i is magical and will prompt you to book your next trip before you even leave.