Updated July 23, 2020.
Islands are typically small enough to drive around in less than a day. That’s why Steve and I like them for anniversary trips–there’s only so far you can go, so it’s an inherently relaxing place to be. Not so for Hawaii’s Big Island! This trip took a little more planning because there is just more to do, see, and explore.
We split the driving up into three days, including two nights in Hilo, and we did our best to hit the highlights as well as some off-the-beaten-path places. We made our plan, but were we able to stick to it? Did we overbook ourselves? Find out below, and maybe this will help you in your Big Island planning endeavors!
Monday, May 1
- Ka Lae (South Point)
- Hike to the Green Sand Beach
- Drive the Mamalahoa Highway
- Volcanoes National Park
- Spend the night in Hilo
We did it! We were pooped by the end of the day, but we did everything we wanted and then some. Since we were still jet lagged and woke up around 3:00am, we took the time to get ourselves re-orgnized, look at our directions again, and eat leftovers from supper the night before. We knew we had a big hike coming up, and we needed to be fueled! By then it was 5:00am, so we stopped by the hotel coffee shop, checked out, and headed south. All noted times are driving times between sites.
First Leg: Kona to South Point, 1 hour 45 minutes
Thought Florida was home to the USA’s southernmost point? Think again! Here it is, and it’s on the Big Island of Hawaii! We found our Jeep’s 4 wheel drive to be helpful in getting to just the right spot, but you can park and walk if you’re not sure.
More here: What to Know Before You Visit the Big Island
Second Leg: Ka Lae (South Point) to Green Sand Beach, 5 minutes
I didn’t realize the two were so close! You can’t see the Green Sand Beach from South Point (I was kind of hoping we could!), but the parking area for the Green Sand Beach is only a mile away, or about a 5 minute drive on a rough road. Again, 4 wheel drive was helpful, but use your own judgement! We were there on a rainy day, so it might be a little easier on a dry day.
Third Leg: Green Sand Beach to Punalu’u Bakery and Visitor Center, 30 minutes
We had two people recommend this bakery to us, and it worked out well for us to get lunch here! It’s also a visitor center with a gift shop, and it’s right off the scenic main road, Mamalahoa Highway, so it was on our way to the next stop.
More here: What to Eat on Hawaii’s Big Island
Fourth Leg: Punalu’u Bakery to Volcanoes National Park, 45 minutes
I’ll admit it, that 6-mile hike plus the driving really took it out of us, and we had been up since 3:00am after all! We had planned to do some more hiking at Volcanoes National Park, but luckily the top sites are drivable within the park, and we even got to see surface lava erupting near the Jagger Museum–that doesn’t happen every day, and it could stop at any time! We got lucky, though!
More here: The Ultimate Hawaii Big Island Bucket List
If I could do it again, I would have had a spend another day in Hilo so we could do more hiking and biking around the park, but we were satisfied with what we saw–and how much we learned!–in three and a half hours here! We walked though a jungle-like setting and through a massive lava tube, saw the steam vents, and more!
Fifth and Final Leg: Volcanoes National Park to Hilo, 45 minutes
Hilo is too cute! We were fairly exhausted when we arrived, but we found a place nearby for dinner and enjoyed the amazing view from our room!
We spent Tuesday (our third anniversary!) in Hilo. Find out more about the Highlights of Hilo in an upcoming blog post! Back to the road trip!
Read next: The Top 10 Highlights of Hilo
Wednesday, May 3
- Waipi’o Valley
- Original King Kamehameha I Statue
- Mookini Heiau
- King Kamehameha I Birthplace
- Lapakahi State Historic Park
- Pu’ukohola National Historic Site
- Kiholo Bay
- Kikaua Point Park
OK, so this was a little bit ambitious. We missed a couple of things, but we also saw a few more things than we expected!
First Leg: Hilo to Akaka Falls, 30 minutes
I thought we’d be able to fit in Akaka Falls on Tuesday, but we decided to stay closer into Hilo for the rest of the day after our lava boat tour. Lucky for us, it was mostly on the way to the Waipi’o Valley! I wish, however, that we had known you can visit any time of day from sunrise to sunset, not just the posted hours of 8:30am-6:00pm. We probably would have gotten an earlier start if we’d known!
We did end up getting there a bit earlier than the official open hours, though, so we had it all to ourselves! Another thing I wish I’d known: the early morning sun casts a shadow over the falls. Oh well! Still beautiful.
Keep reading: 7 Steps to Plan Your Big Island Trip
Second Leg: Waipi’o Valley, 1 hour
We took our pictures and enjoyed having the place to ourselves for a while, then we were off to find breakfast and the Waipi’o Valley! There are a few little towns on the way, so take your pick of places along the way. We did not have good luck at a place called Tina Rae’s in Honokaa, but we wish we’d tried Gramma’s Kitchen just across the street!
You will want something to eat either before or after the Waipi’o Valley if you’re planning to hike it. You will also need water! But if your primary goal is to simply bask in its beauty at the Waipi’o Valley Lookout, you will not be disappointed!
More here: Hawaii’s Best Adventures
Third Leg: Waipi’o Valley to original King Kamehameha I Statue, 1 hour 15 minutes
This statue is the original, and for a time, it was lost at sea! When it was found again, the Hawaiians decided to put it in Kapaau, near his birthplace. The drive there was windy and steep, but the views are stunning! Be sure to stop at one of the lookout points to take in the view. There are also a few restaurants and shops nearby, so stop in an support the locals!
Read next: Hawaii’s Big Island Royalty
Fourth Leg: Kamehameha Statue to Mo’okini Heiau and Kamehameha Birthplace, 15 minutes
We actually missed this one and had to go back! I saw the sign for the Upolu Airport, but I had forgotten that was supposed to be our turn-off. So please remember to turn at the airport! It should only take 15 minutes, but because we missed it, it took us longer. Whoops! The road dead-ends at the airport, and you can either park there or try out your 4 wheel drive on the road to the left. We rode it out as far as we could, then we came to a huge rut full of water and decided to walk from there. Learn more about that in my Hiking Hawaii post coming soon! Plan about two hours to hike in, look around at both sites, and hike back out. Lather up the sunscreen, bring water, and pack a protein bar or other snack!
Read on: Hawaii for History Lovers
Fifth Leg: Mo’okini Heiau and Birthplace to Lapakahi State Historic Park, 15 minutes
Just down the road, we stopped at the Lapakahi State Historic Park. The name means “Hill of the Whale,” and this is an ancient Hawaiian fishing village! The residents fished and did some whaling here, and you can still see whales during the late fall to early spring months. It was fascinating to walk around, and the attendant in the little building at the parking lot was happy to answer questions and give us a valuable overview of the site. Wear your sunscreen!
Sixth Leg: Lapakahi State Historic Park to Kona, 1 hour
Yep, we skipped everything else on the list! (Pu’ukohola National Historic Site, Hualalai, Kiholo Bay, Kikaua Point Park) By this time, the sun and driving had taken its toll, and we knew we could come back to see the other sites in the next couple of days if we wanted to. I’ll let you know, though, it actually took us close to 2.5 hours to get back to Kona, since we took what we thought would be a short detour to a bathroom, but it ended up adding extra time!
We also stopped for a couple of sandwiches at the place where we ended up finding a bathroom, so that took some extra time, too. Lesson learned: stay on track, and only stop for food or a bathroom if you can see your destination!
Are you ready for your own Big Island road trip? For more trip planning information, see my Pacific Islands Page!
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