Hawaii (Big Island) in one week -
Where to go and what to see
What to see and what to do within one week Hawaii? Well, the best thing is to focus on activities you really want to do and select the island accordingly. Each island is different from another and depending on your style of travel one week is not enough to cover several islands. After doing our research we decided for the Big Island of Hawaii (as the name tells it’s also the biggest one) because it’s the most diverse one.
In this blog post, I want to give you some inspiration on what to see and do on the Big Island within one week. It’s my personal experience that one week is the perfect amount of time to experience all different climate zones without risking the relaxation factor of a holiday.
You will definitely need a car to explore the island. We came across some busses but actually, there is no other way than taking a car to get to your accommodations and the scenic sights. When renting a car take in mind that not all roads will be paved and that there will be some very steep hills. If you want to visit the summit of the volcano, you will need a 4×4 for sure.
Hawaii is REALLY expensive when it comes to accommodations. You will find hotels for USD 600 a night which are not even that special. Besides hotels, there are a few other options you can take in mind when you want to experience a more authentic Hawaii on a more reasonable budget: There are a couple of Airbnb’s on the island (we rented 4 different ones and have been truly amazed by each one of them). Moreover, you will realize that many locals will offer their guest rooms (some of them with a Master bathroom) at a reasonable price.
I am vegetarian and was a bit worried about my food for the week as Hawaii cuisine offers a lot of fish. However, I was amazed to find out that a healthy eating lifestyle is also common in Hawaii and there where some new vegan coffee shops and restaurants. Also, there was always a funny mix of restaurants to select from. Besides the two bigger cities Kona and Hilo, all other cities are quite small. Often we had the choice between a couple of options like 1 Italian restaurant, 1 Asian cuisine, and 1 Hawaiian cuisine. Take in mind that everything closes VERY early. Most of the time everything was closed by 8.30pm!
I am not really sure whether there is a bad travel time for Hawaii (Big Island). During our week we experienced rain, sunshine, cold and warm weather. However, that was more influenced by the area we went to than anything else. April is right before the main season. This means, it is not crowded yet and prices are not as high as mid-summer. On the other side, there might have been a bit more rain than usual.
Basically, you need outfits for every kind of weather. We constantly changed our outfit throughout the day changing from bathing suite to shorts to long pants and rain jacket. In the morning we never knew what kind of weather to expect so we normally packed a couple of options which was a really useful thing to do!
Itinerary for one week Big Island
Even though it’s the biggest island it’s still small enough to circle it within one week without sitting in the car all day or becoming stressed. Here is a potential itinerary plan based on our experience with all the stops I would recommend.
The West: Kona and around
Most international flights are heading into Kona so that might be a good starting point.
Kona itself is very vivid and the most touristy place you will find on the whole island. There are some great snorkeling spots and I can definitely recommend the Magic Sands Beach for sunset. Just magical. Many guides will like to sell you tours to the volcano. If you have a car I would recommend you to save that money and do it yourself.
A bit more further south you will pass by the Pu’uhonou O Honaunau Historical Park. It is totally worth a stop to learn a bit more about the culture and to enjoy this great scenic spot at the beach.
The South: volcano national park
I recommend to circle the island contra-clock-wise and turn south. When you drive further south towards the Volcano National Park there are a few nice stops on the way. One short detour which will totally be worth your time is driving to the most southern point of the United States: The South Point (Ka Lae). The landscape on the way is so green and vast – it’s unbelievably beautiful and at the end of the road you will have a nice view over the cliffs.
While you can take your time to get to the National Volcano National Park I would recommend you to stay there at least for a night. There is just so much to discover. You also pay the entrance once and can access as often as you like. We accessed the Park on three consecutive days and due to changing weather nature it looked completely different each time. We have been lucky enough to see lava and it’s a phenomenal nature spectacular. You can always check the website of the National Park for some updates on where to see lava and which areas are closed due to health risks. My personal highlights have been the Crater Rim Drive where you can stop by car to see the landscape changing and the hike the Kilauea Iki Trail. Here some pictures so that you can see the beauty yourself. Another personal highlight for me was our magical Airbnb apartment in the middle of nature. There are no words to describe how it feels to wake up and be surrounded by this gorgeous trees and see the light coming in through the perfectly planned windows. This is exactly why I prefer AirBnB to hotel chains.
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The east: Hilo and around
Further to the East, you will come across Puna. Not far away there is a really pretty road going along the beach (Road 137). This is definitely a worthwhile detour to take. We had some of the best stops on this short highway and had the perfect Beach spot all for ourselves.
On your way north, you will pass by Hilo which is rustier than Kona and quite big. We enjoyed some good meals here but quickly made our way up back to nature. Not far away, a bit north of Hilo, you will come across the Akaka Falls. They are really beautiful! The only downside for me was that you don’t really have to earn this view with a massive hike but will rech the falls within a short walk. Do you also sometimes prefer to own such a view and then have it all by yourself instead of having paved ways and other tourists?
Not far away there is one of the best botanical gardens I have ever been to. The founding story is really inspiring and I have huge respect for the effort it took to place a botanical garden in this beautiful landscape. Such a diversity – you won’t know where to look at.
The North: Beautiful valleys
When you make your way up to the north you have to decide which roads to take. You can either drive along the coastline or take the mountain road. I would recommend you to do both 🙂 They are too different to compare and in our case we had enough time to take a different road each day. In any case, you should take a break in Honoka’a. This is just such a beautiful town (how many times have I written the word beautiful so far?!) Honoka’a is pretty small but has a few nice shops and a very old cinema which shows two different movies a week.
From Honoka’a it’s just a short drive to the Waipi’o Valley. Here you can have a nice hike or even drive down the Valley by car (which is really annoying the locals and then again there is this point of earning the view)
In the very north of the island, I can recommend the small town Hawi. Similar to Honoka’a you will find some smaller shops and one of the best coffee shops ever, the Kohala Coffee Mill. From Hawi, it is again a short drive to the 2nd but maybe even more beautiful (& less touristy) Polulu Valley. This hike down is really worth the sweat! From Hawi down you can take the scenic Mountain Road (Highway 250). You will pass endless meadows with countless cows and the landscape is nicely unfolding itself in front of you.
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The Centre: Mauna Kea
In the middle of the island, you will come across one real highlight: Mauna Kea. This is the highest mountain in Hawaii and all year round you will come across snow which is a crazy change to the lush rainforest down at the coast. Mauna Kea is really high and in no time you will be up to almost 14,000ft (above 4,000m). The road itself is an adventure but with 4×4 no problem at all. At the top, you will find many different telescopes which look very strange and cinematic in this surrounding. We did a short hike to a lake which and it was interesting to feel the height with every step. Welcome to your older self.
Above Kona, there are a couple of nice beaches. One really nice one is the Hapuna Beach. It was already a little bit crowded and I don’t want to know what it is like during summer time but the sand is so soft under your feet and the water is crystal clear. Definitely worth the trip.
I hope you gained some nice insights about Hawaii and some inspiration for your next trip. It’s definitely very unique to experience all this in such a small place. The Big Island is truly magical.
Would love to read about your experience and travel plans in the comments below! Have you been to one of the islands? Would the Big Island match your travel preferences?
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