Trek the Big Island of Hawaii on Your Next Family Vacation

Hawaii’s Big Island sometimes gets the short shrift where tourists are concerned, yet its landscape is more diverse than most other islands in the Hawaiian chain, and its sheer size (more than double all the other islands, combined) means you won’t run out of places to see.

It’s believed that the Big Island was the first of the chain to be discovered by Polynesian explorers 1,500 years ago, and is still where much of Hawaii’s ancient legends and culture reside. Also, still active here is the volcano goddess, who has kept Mount Kilauea in Volcanoes National Park erupting for the last 30 years.

Getting There

Passengers can fly directly to Kona International Airport, on the west coast of the island, from the mainland via Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle on Hawaiian, American, Delta, or United Airlines. However, the vast majority of flights into Kona are from Honolulu or Kahului via Hawaiian Airlines, so don’t fret if you can’t find a direct flight. It’s fairly normal.

On the east side of the island, Hilo International Airport is a smaller landing strip, with almost exclusive flights from Honolulu and Kahului. United Airlines’ direct flight from Los Angeles is the only flight into Hilo from the mainland.

Kailua-Kona, the island’s small main town, is easily accessible from the airport via on-site rental cars or taxi. Kailua-Kona, seven miles away, is accessible by the Hele-On Bus Service. There is no public service at the airport in Hilo, but taxis and cars are available.

Ancient Island

Enjoy island life in royal style. King Kamehameha I, the ruler who united the Hawaiian Islands in 1810, once lived and ruled from Hawaii Island (Hilo is still the state capital) and you can visit some of his stomping grounds in Kailua-Kona, the historic retreat village for royal Hawaiians.

Tour Hulihee Palace, a Victorian vacation home for many royals, if you’re into koa furniture and island artifacts. If historical interior design is wasted on your kids, just come to the courtyard for free Sunday concerts every month and hula ‘til your heart’s content.

In the great outdoors, you can see ancient Hawaiian civilization at its finest at Kaloko-Honokohau National Park, where petroglyphs and man-made fish ponds give insight into traditional life. But the highlight here is really the hiking along white sand beaches and black lava coastline.

Send your naughty kids to Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, further south along the Kona coast. When ancient Hawaiians broke sacred law, the punishment was death– unless they made it to a “Pu'uhonua,” a sacred refuge made for a ceremony of absolution. Show your kids the statues of fierce Hawaiian gods and the temple on this site to instill fear and trembling and prepare them for absolution, the Hawaiian way.

Animals, Ocean and Beaches Galore

Everyone knows that in Hawaii, the ocean is where it’s at. And there’s plenty of ocean to be found, with the most popular spots on the west side huddled near Kailua-Kona. If you want to relax and spread out, head north up the coast to Kua Bay (also called Manini’owali Beach) for fantastic swimming in clear blue water, or 25 miles further on, to secluded but beautiful Mauna Kea Beach (access is through the hotel of the same name).

Closer to Kona, dive in at Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm, an aquarium of sorts that breeds and raises endangered seahorses and other marine life. Weekday tours allow kids to get up-close-and-personal with these magical little creatures while also learning a thing or two about oceanic conservation.

For another sustainable and educational sea life adventure, Kahalu’u Bay Education Center, right on Kahalu’u Beach, rents snorkeling equipment with an orientation class to guide you across coral reefs and sea turtle habitats safely. Its purpose is to promote safe, eco-friendly tourism that keeps the islands and their marine habitats pristine.

On the Hilo side, Moku Ola, or Coconut Island, makes a great bay of protected tide pools to splash with younger kids. It’s accessible via a footbridge at Liliuokalani Gardens.

Missing the jungle mammals and petting zoo favorites that take the place of the family dog while you’re away? Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens, a natural tropical atmosphere, is home to 80 species of animals, and tons of plants too.

Family vs. the Volcano

Although you’re having fun, none of these are the reasons you came to the Big Island. Your family came here to see Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, home to Kilauea volcano, which has been busily spitting up lava for the past 30 years. The only active volcano on the islands, this is where things get interesting.

Hike to the summit of Kilauea during less-active times, or watch the bubbling gas from Jaggar Museum when it’s more active. Day hikes can take your family across black lava craters, along rainforest trails, or along the coastal petroglyph fields. This is the once-in-a-lifetime Hawaii.

Island Living

For a budget-friendly option, spread out in a condo with multiple bedrooms, a full kitchen, and private patio at Kona Magic Sands Resort, a dated but sizeable beachfront property with a pool and barbeque. It doesn’t have much in the way of resort amenities, but for the size and privacy, the price is right. 

For a Big Island resort still in your budget, stay at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, a great Marriott property with one- and two-bed guestrooms and an on-site Lu’au, complete with Polynesian performances and food. The family-friendly resort offers cribs and rollaway beds on request and all rooms have free Wi-Fi.

Outside the room, the ocean-facing pool, fitness center, tennis courts, and planned recreational activities for families will keep you going strong. The hotel offers an airport shuttle, and car rentals are available on-site for your convenience.

Go all out in luxury Hawaiian vacation style at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, a Disneyland of sorts with several pools and cabanas (including a kids pool), spa, tennis court, and beach access. The Polynesian atmosphere is evident throughout, although it has a fresh, modern touch. Spacious rooms have separate living and sleeping spaces, and cribs and rollaways are available upon request. There is also a kids’ club and supervised activities if you need some time to yourself. 

Planning on visiting Hawaii soon? Where will you be staying, and what spots will your family be hitting up? Share with us!

Tags : travel   Hawaii   

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