Because of the distances involved, a week is barely enough time to see the entire Big Island; it’s best to plan for 2 weeks—or even better, a return visit. Here's how to see the highlights, changing hotels as you go.
Day 1: Arrive & Amble Through Kailua-Kona ★★★
Since most flights arrive at lunchtime or later, check into your Kona Coast lodgings and go for a stroll through historic Kailua-Kona by Hulihee Palace and Mokuaikaua Church. Wear sandals so you can dip your feet in one of the pocket coves, such as Kamakahonu Bay, within sight of Kamehameha’s historic compound, and enjoy a sunset dinner at an oceanview restaurant. Don’t unpack—you’ll be on the road early the next day.
Day 2: A Morning Sail & Afternoon Drive ★★★
The day starts with a morning snorkel tour (plus breakfast and lunch) aboard the Fair Wind II, sailing to the historic preserve of Kealakekua Bay. After returning to Keauhou Bay, head south to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, by way of Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park and the Kau Coffee Mill, for a pick-me-up, and swing by Punaluu Beach Park for a black-sand photo op, possibly with basking turtles. Check into lodgings in Volcano Village or Volcano House (p. ###), where you may dine by the glow of fiery Kilauea.
Day 3: Explore an Active Volcano ★★★
Stop at the national park’s Kilauea Visitor Center to learn about current lava flows (if any) and the day’s free ranger-led walks. Take Crater Rim Road past Halemaumau Crater to see Nahuku, aka the Thurston Lava Tube, and Devastation Trail, before driving down Chain of Craters Road, leading to a vast petroglyph field and the 2003 lava flow that smothered the roadway; more lava began flowing in 2016. After sunset, visit the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum (open till 7:30pm) and its observation deck (open 24 hours) for another look at Pele’s power.
Day 4: Tour Old Hawaii ★★★
It’s just a 45-minute drive from Volcano to Hilo, so after breakfast go to Imiloa: Astronomy Center of Hawaii, opening at 9am. Then explore Banyan Drive, Liliuokalani Gardens, and one of Hilo’s small but intriguing museums, such as the free Mokupapapa Discovery Center. Stroll through Nani Mau Gardens or the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden before driving along the pastoral Hamakua Coast, stopping at breathtaking Akaka Falls and the similarly stunning Waipio Valley Lookout. Dine on farm-fresh cuisine in Waimea before checking into a Kohala Coast hotel.
Day 5: Explore the Historic Kohala Coast ★★★
Start by visiting Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site, the massive temple Kamehameha built to the war god, Ku; it also looks impressive on an intimate cruise with Kohala Sail & Sea. Continue north on Hwy. 270 to Lapakahi State Historical Park to see the outlines of a 14th-century Hawaiian village, and have lunch in Hawi or Kapaau; the latter is home of the original King Kamehameha Statue. The final northbound stop is the picturesque Pololu Valley Lookout. Heading south in the late afternoon, make the short hike to the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve. To learn more Hawaiian lore, book one of Kohala’s evening luaus.
Day 6: Sand, Sea & Stars ★★★
You’ve earned a morning at the beach, and the Big Island’s prettiest beaches are on the Kohala Coast: Anaehoomalu Bay (A-Bay), Hapuna, and Kaunaoa (see “Beaches”). Skip the scuba, though, because in the afternoon you’re heading up 13,796-foot Mauna Kea, revered by astronomers. Let an expert with four-wheel-drive, cold-weather gear, and telescopes for stargazing take you there; Mauna Kea Summit Adventures or Hawaii Forest & Trail are recommended tour guides.
Day 7: Spa, Beach, or Coffee Time ★★★
On your last full day, visit one of North Kona’s gorgeous beaches hidden behind lava fields, such as Kekaha Kai State Park or the tranquil cove at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park in the morning. In the afternoon, relax with a spa treatment at the Fairmont Orchid’s Spa Without Walls, or tour a Kona coffee farm and bring home gourmet beans as souvenirs.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.