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9 Non-Touristy Things To Do on the Big Island of Hawaii

Skip the usual hot spots and check-out these beaches, hikes, activities and dining recommendations, according to a local
Big Island of Hawaii things to do including the Pololu Valley Hike featuring a view from the cliffs at sunset
Courtesy of Go Hawaii

The Big Island of Hawaii is shrouded in a deep mystique and whispers a quiet foreboding to all who enter her sacred land. Boasting pristine tree-lined beaches, active volcanoes, lush rainforests, black lava fields as far as the eye can see, and an unmistakable “If You Know, You Know” factor, the captivating southernmost point of the Hawaiian archipelago is worth the trip off the beaten path

Fiercely protective of the mostly untouched interior, locals like myself and transplants alike (Matthew McConaghey is often spotted around town in Waimea) are often hesitant to share favorite hidden gems. Respect for the ‘aina (land) is a central tenet of Hawaiian culture and Western tourists tend to take advantage of the island’s expansive beauty and sheer remoteness. The old adage “Leave it better than you found it” is forgotten, along with trash and common decency. 

So, before diving into a list of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii, here are a few tips to ensure you’re visiting responsibly: 

People surfing in the waves on the big island of Hawaii
Courtesy of Go Hawaii

Tips for Visiting Hawaii

  • Pick up your trash and “take only photos, leave only footprints”
  • Respect the locals, their land, and their rules 
  • Don’t drive like you’re in the city, most highways are 55 MPH
  • Wear reef-safe sunscreen only and don’t wear any sunscreen at all in fresh water bodies of water
  • Do not take anything natural off the island (shells, stones, coral, dried flowers, etc.) especially lava rocks—Pele’s Curse is very real 

Now that the ground rules are out of the way, these under-the-radar activities will have you seriously considering whether you could break your lease and work remotely. 

Big Island of Hawaii things to do including the Eagles Nest (Wai’ale Falls) featuring a kid picking up rocks infront of the waterfall
Courtesy of The Outdoor Project

Eagles Nest (Wai’ale Falls)

This swimmable, easily accessible roadside waterfall is located right outside of Hilo. It is free, which means the trails aren’t maintained, so it’s a little treacherous getting down to the waterfall to swim. Doable, and worth it, but you’ve been warned.

Big Island of Hawaii things to do including the Pololu Valley Hike featuring the coastline and cliffs
Courtesy of South Kohala Management

Pololu Valley Hike

This breathtaking 1.5-mile roundtrip hike drops you into a river valley complete with a sprawling black sand beach and wild cows. Be sure not to venture up the hill beyond the river mouth, as these are sacred burial grounds of the native Hawaiians who once inhabited the valley. Also note that this is not a swimming beach, rough currents and jellyfish are a regular occurrence. Make a stop at Rainbow Cafe in Kapaau on the way out for an authentic Hawaiian/Chinese plate lunch.

Big Island of Hawaii things to do including Reed’s Bay Beach Park commonly referred to as the “Ice Ponds”
Courtesy of Big Island

Reed’s Bay Beach Park aka “Ice Ponds”

Swimmable, crystal clear, and, you guessed it, ice cold—these freshwater ponds in Hilo are perfect for a picnic and swim. The closer you get to the ocean, the warmer the water gets. Nene geese and sea turtles frequent the beach park, but please do not attempt to touch or get close to them. 

Big Island of Hawaii things to do including farmers markets like the Waimea Town Market featured
Courtesy of Waimea Town Market

Big Island Farmers Markets

Produce grown on the Big Island is unmatched in flavor and variety, thanks to the ultra-rich volcanic soil and generous rainfall. You can find tropical fruits, eggs, honey, huge leafy vegetables and the like at one of the many farmers markets on any given day across the island. Hilo Waterfront Market (everyday), Waimea Market (Pukalani Stables Wednesdays and Saturdays), and Volcano Village Market (Sundays) are some of the best markets in terms of variety and accessibility. 

The Roots Skatepark in Kapaau featuring a skateboarder dropping into a bowl on the Big Island of Hawaii
Courtesy of Roots Skatepark

Big Island Skateparks

Love to skate? Bring your board and take an island-wide tour of the many skateparks the island has to offer. From Roots Skatepark in Kapaau to Shaka Paka in Hilo, and the legendary Kailua-Kona Skatepark, the Big Island has a booming skate community and the facilities to match. Fun fact: Roots Skatepark is completely community-funded and operated. 

The Kaloko Cloud Forest in the big island of Hawaii featuring a dense, green forest
Courtesy of Hawai’i Land Trust

Kaloko Cloud Forest

High above Konatown on the dormant volcano of Hualalai lays the lush Honuaʻula Forest Reserve. The scenic seven-mile drive takes you to the trailhead where miles of forest is yours for exploring on foot or mountain bike. Be aware of weather as it changes rapidly and what once began as a pleasant, sunny afternoon can become a thick, dark fog or heavy downpour in what feels like a matter of moments. 

Things to do on the big island of Hawaii including the Kiholo Bay nature reserve
Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy

Kiholo Bay

This brackish water bay is accessible with a short oceanfront hike. The milky turquoise water is the result of freshwater mixing with salt water and known for its bountiful sea turtle population. If you follow this hike, you will also see a black sand beach, abandoned beach shanty, and the bay itself, which is actually an ancient fishing pond used by native Hawaiians. Petroglyphs dot the lava rocks surrounding the bay, so be on the lookout.

Things to do on the big island of Hawaii including Honaunau Bay featuring historical landmarks and snorkeling
Courtesy of Britannica

Honaunau Bay 

Walk the ancient city and historical landmarks of the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park first, then cool off at Two Steps and do some snorkeling. The reef is one of the best on the island, and in the deeper waters you can often see dolphins. There is a sandy area for children, but no facilities other than a Porta-Potty. 

Things to do on the big island of Hawaii including the Honomu Goat Dairy featuring a baby goat
Courtesy of Honomu Goat Dairy

Honomu Goat Dairy

Check out the Honomu Goat Dairy where you can frolic with baby goats and buy some handmade goat cheese, milk, fudge, caramels, soap, or lip balm. It’s free to enter, and right off the side of the road on the way to Akaka Falls (which you should also visit!)

By Allie Adams

Allie Adams is a freelance music and cannabis journalist and photographer. Born and raised in San Diego, Allie loves going to local shows and taking her kids to the beach.

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