How do you choose which island in Hawaii to visit?
If adventure and exploration are your spirit, head to the island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island.
It’s worth hiring a vehicle so you can explore the diverse landscapes that take you from the volcanoes to the ocean.
Don’t forget to keep the Pono Promise, a commitment by visitors to the island to respect the land, the sea and the forces of nature.
* The Grand Naniloa Hotel is the perfect home base for exploring Hawaii’s natural wonders
* This is what it’s like to snorkel with manta rays at night in Hawaii
* Travel Bites: The roadside taco bus where you dine alongside geckos and phenomenal views
Visit the most unique coffee plantation in the world
But first coffee.
Conditions on the Big Island’s Kona Coast are perfect for growing coffee beans, thanks to rich volcanic soil, sunny morning and afternoon clouds, and rain showers.
Kona Joe Coffee is perhaps the most unique coffee estate in the world, due to the patented trellis process, a method used by leading winemakers that no other coffee estate does. This includes training coffee trees to grow like vines along a trellis system to allow for perfectly even sun exposure and maximize flavor.
Take a tour of the plantation to learn about the growing, harvesting, and sorting processes before heading to the roasting machines inside. You’ll be guided on how to roast your own coffee beans, ready for you to bag, seal, label and take home.
Don’t forget to grab a shot of the good stuff for yourself and take in the spectacular sea views from the site.
See the night glow of a living volcano
There are few experiences quite as humbling as seeing red hot lava glowing in the dark under a starry night.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to the peaks of two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, creating this special UNESCO World Heritage Site where visitors can watch an ongoing eruption.
The peak of Kīlauea is considered by Hawaiians to be Wahi Kapu, a sacred land. You can see the lava flows from this eruption from several locations. You need sturdy hiking shoes for the long hike, a warm sweater because of the altitude and you have to be prepared for long queues at night. Beat the crowds by going early to see the volcano in the morning light instead.
Mauna Loa’s summit is currently closed due to increased volcanic activity but is not erupting. Visit nps.gov/havo for the latest information on where to enjoy the best views and any security risks or bans.
Parts of the Big Island have some of the highest rainfall in Hawaii; In fact, Hilo is considered the wettest city in the United States.
The resulting landscape is filled with dense tropical rainforests and roaring waterfalls. Named for the rainbows that form in the morning mist, Rainbow Falls is free to visit. Located on the outskirts of Hilo, they are the most accessible of them all.
‘Akaka Falls State Park is home to two waterfalls, the spectacular 400-foot (128 m) high ‘Akaka Falls and the cascading Kahuna Falls. Both are accessible via a short rainforest hike and a small park entrance fee. Umaumu Falls is a scenic, tiered waterfall on private land that you can also zip line across with Umauma Experience.
There are many other waterfalls on the island, but perhaps the most famous is the towering Hiilawe Falls in the Waipio Valley at 1,200 feet (365 m).
Snorkel with manta rays at night
Come face-to-face with feeding manta rays on a nighttime snorkeling tour from Kona. Go the eco-friendly route and paddle out in a traditional Hawaiian canoe with Anelakai Adventures, then plunge into the ocean at nightfall.
The manta rays are attracted to tiny plankton in the water, and you’ll witness the friendly giants circling in front of you, mouths wide open in a feeding frenzy.
Manta rays, called hahalua in Hawaiian, meaning “two breaths,” are considered sacred animals by many Hawaiians and Polynesians, representing wisdom, grace, and strength.
The manta rays will come close but never touch them as this could compromise the protective layer on their bodies that prevents bacteria and infection.
Get acquainted with ancient Hawaiian history
Enter Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park and see the preserved remains of an ancient Hawaiian settlement.
Spend a day wandering this peaceful coastal setting and its lava-covered landscape while learning about ancient life here. See the Honaunau (Royal Grounds), the Pu’uhonua (City of Refuge), the great wall that separated the two, and the Ki’i (wooden statues) guarding the Temple of Hale o Keawe, a mausoleum containing the sacred bones of deceased chiefs.
For centuries, the city of refuge was a safe haven for people who broke the Kapu Laws, the ancient Hawaiian code of conduct punishable by death. If they made it to the settlement, they could stay there safely.
Get there: Hawaiian Airlines flies direct to Honolulu from Auckland, with connecting flights to Hilo and Kona. hawaiianairlines.com
Carbon Footprint: Flying causes CO2 emissions. To reduce your impact, consider other ways of travel, combine your trips, and if you must fly, consider offsetting emissions.
Stay there: In Hilo, the Grand Naniloa Resort has ocean-view rooms starting at $268 per night. grandnaniloahilo.com. Stay in Kona at the Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa from $259 per night. outrigger.com
The author was received by the Hawaiian Tourism Authority.