12 Unique Things to Do on the Big Island

by Paul Joseph  |  Published January 11, 2017

Lined with long white-sand beaches, picture perfect bays, verdant rain forests, waterfalls and exotic flowers and birds, the Big Island Hawaii must have caught mother nature on a good day. The island, the largest in the United States’ Hawaiian archipelago, is simply stunning and a major draw for visitors from across the globe.

A shot of a Big Island sunset (Photo: Daniel Wedeking via Flickr)

But there’s more to the Big Island than natural beauty. It is also a highly functioning place full of interesting landmarks and small but vibrant local trade outlets, most of which are more than happy to open their doors to curious tourists. We’ve compiled 12 of the most unique things to see and do here.

1. W M Keck Observatory

There’s no shortage of terrestrial delights to enjoy here, but the Big Island is also home to a highly distinguished Observatory where astronomers from around the world come to peer out far, far beyond the palm trees and wide seas overlooking Hawaii. The W.M. Keck Observatory boasts the world’s largest and most scientifically productive optical and infared telescopes and with so few city lights polluting the night skies, the view through these industrial scale contraptions is simply sensational. Individual summit visits are not permitted, but if you’re on the Big Island as part of an organised group tour with an educational slant, it’s worth visiting the Observatory Headquarters in Waimea and you and your group are likely to be granted a look around.

W M Keck Observatory

Giant telescopes at the W M Keck Observatory in Waimea, M-F, 10a-2p (Photo: Andrew Richard Hara Photography)

2. Kona Coffee Living History Farm

The Big Island district of Kona is intrinsically linked with the coffee trade and this long-standing relationship is celebrated at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm. Visitors can come and explore this fascinating 5.5 acre working coffee and macadamia nut farm through its Hands On History program featuring a variety of activities focused on cultural traditions and practices that have been vital to Kona’s coffee industry down the years. There’s artefact exhibitions, coffee bean harvesting demonstrations, animal husbandry, gardening, lauhala weaving and even Japanese calligraphy – a nod to the large number of Japanese immigrants who came to work in Hawaii’s coffee trade during the early to mid-19th century.

Kona Coffee Living History Farm

Young visitors gathered at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm (Photo: Kona Historical Society)

3. Kona Henna Studio

What better souvenir from your Big Island adventure than a temporary Henna tattoo to show off to your friends back home? At Kona Henna Studio in historic downtown Kailua Kona, they are masters of the art, using only the finest natural ingredients to embellish your body with striking art-work. The studio has thousands of designs to choose from, so you’re guaranteed to find something that suits your tastes, and the tattoos are guaranteed to last up to four weeks, depending on the body part. Walk-ins and appointments are both available.

Kona Henna Studio

A man’s arm is decorated with a distinctive Henna design created by the Kona Henna Studio (Photo: Kona Henna Studio)

4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Offering a fascinating insight into the world of active volcanism and biological diversity, this is one of the Big Island’s best natural attractions. The park can be visited by car in just a few hours or explored in greater depth over several days. There’s incredible hiking trails, taking in both desert landscapes and lush tropical rain forest, and more intrepid visitors can even reach the summit of Kīlauea volcano via Crater Rim Drive, a gruelling 11-mile stretch of road.

5. Pacific Tsunami Museum

Dedicated to the history of the 1946 Pacific tsunami and the 1960 Chilean tsunami which devastated much of the east coast of the Big Island, this museum is well worth a look around – especially if your visit coincides with one of the island’s occasional bad weather days. For a companion activity, the museum also helps co-ordinate self-guided walking and driving tours of sites hit hardest by the tsunamis.

Pacific Tsunami Museum

An exterior shot of the Pacific Tsunami Museum (Photo: Pacific Tsunami Museum)

6. Coconut Island

Sitting just offshore from the island’s Lili’uokalani Gardens sits Mokuola, known popularly today as Coconut Island. This area is home to the Big Island’s most popular beach, offering swimming, a tower to jump from into the ocean, picnic tables, a grassy area, and excellent sea turtle watching opportunities. Regular community events and barbecues are also held here, so be sure to check the local schedule if you’re in town.

7. Rainbow Falls

Known locally as Waianuenue, Rainbow Falls boasts an awe-inspiring 80-foot drop and is renowned for the stunning rainbows that form amid the surrounding mist. It’s highly accessible to visitors and a popular excursion point, so to avoid the crowds, head there for early morning or late afternoon. And be sure to take a camera.

Rainbow Falls

A scenic view of Rainbow Falls on Big Island (Photo: Brad Pedersen via Flickr)

8. Island Gourmet Markets

Sometimes, even in Hawaii, the weather lets you down and you need “something for a rainy day”. Located in the Queens’ MarketPlace within the beautiful grounds of the Waikoloa Resort, this is without question the Big Island’s premier shopping destination and the ideal solution for when the elements descend. Whether its apparel, beach needs, cosmetics, gifts or souvenirs you’re after, you’ll find everything you need here.

9. Humpy’s Big Island Alehouse

Of all the Big Island’s myriad of nightspots, you won’t find a better atmosphere than at Humpy’s Alehouse, nestled on the Aliii drive strip and overlooking the ocean. This buzzing bar & grill serves up delicious American-style grub, seafood, dozens of draft brews and also puts on nightly live music. A great spot for a raucous night out with friends.

10. Lyman House Memorial Museum

The Big Island’s oldest surviving wood-framed building, this quaint colonial-style house was originally built in 1838, but since the 1930s it has served as a fascinating natural history museum. Open to the public, it holds extensive displays on Hawaiian culture and is renowned for its collection of shells and minerals, including a rare specimen of orlymanite.

Sky 28

The outside of Lyman House Memorial Museum on the Big Island (Photo: Mark Gobel via Flickr)

11. Kona Brewing Company

This traditional, independent microbrewery has become something of a tourist hot-spot, giving visitors the chance to sample local brews and enjoy an informal tour of the building. Perpetually busy, there’s outdoor seating and live music to keep you entertained. Food is also in ample supply, including some of the best pizza to be found anywhere on the island.

12. On the Rocks

Once you step into Huggo’s on the Rocks, you know you’re here to stay. A consistent favourite among locals and visitors seeking to “chillax”, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy delicious food and tropical drinks while immersed in the ambiance of the Pacific Ocean. For anyone coming to the Big Island, this is a must-try destination for a memorable oceanfront dining experience.