The attraction of the Big Island of Hawaii is the diversity of travel and recreational opportunities on essentially the largest mountain in the world. If you measure from the sea floor to the top of Mauna Kea, it will reach 33,500 ft. (10,200 m), taller than Mt. Everest.
Your choice in going to this spectacular island is to stay primarily at one resort and bask in that special glow and culture, or become the road warrior and make the car rental company try to figure out how you put on all those miles in just ten days.
When you land, you see sand, rock, vegetation, two primary volcanic mountains and everything in between. This is the kind of place you need to spend ten days, especially if you want to stay at one resort, and gallivant to all the interesting sites and wonders. The things to do can be recreation, nature, dining, and culture. The exact mix is all up to you, and to a certain degree, your travel trail determines which items are in proximity to one another. Proximity a relative term here.
For example, if you want just to circumvent the island by car, count on 8-11 hours. Step one; download map, print, start putting notes in the spots so you can plan excursions. Plan those trips carefully, and bundle two or three stops/attractions in one excursion. The ideal mix is a beach day, excursion day, and golf day with beach, repeat.
Part of the plan at making the Big Island an encompassing trip is to find the right resort/hotel for your blend. Moreover, there is no shortage of options here as there are mega resorts where you can stay on the property for the entire time and others that offer a springboard to the activities, but a tranquil refueling and rest oasis.
The largest resort on the Island, comprising 65 acres, is the Hilton Waikoloa. This area is known as the Kohala coast and has earned a reputation for excellent beaches, water activities, and cooling breezes. Decked with an Asian/Oriental theme, the property is so large it has its boats and trains to get around. Pools abound, and while it is big, you can go there even as a single or couple, and feel some privacy if you carve out your little enclave on the beach or at the pool. Because of the size, it is likely a large corporate group will be there in some fashion, but you are likely not to notice.
An extremely friendly place for kids and families, with their dolphin experience and extensive children’s programs. The secluded spa is in the lower level of one of the main buildings, adjacent to fitness facilities, so while one sweats off the poi, the other can have wrinkles fade with a Hawaiian touch. The Kamuela Provision Company, their signature bar and restaurant offer to dine right up to the ocean with a large variety of steak and seafood options. The sunset view from this one spot is worth the trek to the Big Island.
Off property, but just a short hop away is the Lava Lava Beach Club on A-bay. Open air dining and bar, and nifty island fish dishes and entertainment most nights. A wide assortment of drinks, great Pu pus and island fish creations abound. If in doubt, get the LLBC’s Macadamia Nut Fresh Catch with Waimea strawberry-habanero salsa, grilled heirloom tomato, herb jasmine rice. You think it is bar food, but far above any restaurant on the mainland.
Convenient to the Hilton is the Waikoloa Kings & Beach Courses. The Kings’ course travels through ancient trails in the black lava. Akin to playing golf on the moon with ample vegetation on each hole makes this visually stunning. The Beach Course is colorful with its vast swaths of emerald-green fairways boldly marked by that nasty black lava. Gardens of tropical flowers and bordered by numerous lakes and the Pacific Ocean.
A little bit further north, the Mauna Lani Hotel & Bungalows is a classic style Hawaiian hotel. About 23 miles north of the Kona International Airport, this resort spans 30 oceanfront acres and three miles of magnificent shoreline. The resort includes Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, Mauna Lani Spa and the Francis H. I’i Brown Golf Courses.
Each room is adorned with dark wood accents, art, and most importantly, a lanai that faces outward. What is great about this property is the size – not too big, not too small. If you want to get lost in a corner, you can. Want to hang 10 with new friends at the bar, an option as well. Everything is close, the pool, the restaurants, the beach and the kids club. Flip flop walkable for sure.
The spa features a “Lava Watsu”, a form of bodywork in the water where the participant is passive, and the therapist gently moves them through warm water. The graceful and flowing movements are a combination of massage and meditation, which relaxes the body and takes the mind to another place.
Dining ranges from the Bay Terrace to the signature oceanfront Canoe House where you get Hawaiian plantation-style cuisine with an ocean view. Activities include water sports, catamaran sails, scuba, snorkeling, fitness and cultural activities. If golf is in the plans, the Mauna Lani North & South Courses offer everything you could want and used to be home to the Senior Skins. Lava rock, perfect conditions, ocean views and a sense of golf aaa hh hh on every hole.
On the same property area, the Fairmont Orchid is a luxury oasis. The best option is the Gold Floor. You have your own personal assistant, a special breakfast each morning and snacks in the p.m. Imagine a hotel within a hotel. The Fairmont Orchid aims to turn moments into memories by anticipating guest needs. The Vulcan mind meld meets hospitality.
No second ukulele dining here, you have ample options. The top of the chart is Brown’s Beach House, an AAA Four Diamond award-winning oceanfront restaurant serving Hawaii Island-inspired fresh seafood and produce. If you have to get a sushi fix, then it is Norio’s Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar. A little more casual and right next to the pool and ocean is the Hale Kai Restaurant for lunch and dinner.
Pools circle the area like secret coves, so each pool feels a little secluded. The Spa Without Walls features secluded and lush outdoor treatment areas with water features. Go local with Hui Holokai Beach Ambassadors providing daily Hawaiian cultural activities and water sports including outrigger canoe rides, net throwing, stargazing, historic hikes, and Hawaiian lore.
Tommy Bahama is most known for their clothing, but their restaurant in the Mauna Lani shops is button down good food. The floor above the clothing shop features windows everywhere, an intimate bar and outside dining where sunsets fade into the trees and ocean. The food? Signature cocktails include the cucumber smash, with interesting food twists such as cauliflower & chive mashed potatoes, sashimi tacos and the enduring pleaser, coconut shrimp.
Under the Bodhi Tree is the place to go in the Mauna Lani shops if you want to go vegetarian. You can eat something delicious and feel good about it. Started by Chef Stephen Rouelle, a former chef at the Orchid, this is his personal journey about food and health. A veggie Ruben or a homemade veggie burger will leave you satisfied. It will not moo or oink, but it is tasty nonetheless!
Merriman’s is the restaurant that at least in Hawaii defined farm to table. Peter Merriman’s vision over 25 years ago is still going strong in his place up the hill in Waimea. As one of the rainiest spots on earth, Waimea grows an amazing array of produce that makes its’ way to your plate. Creative salads, fish and beef entrees that have been going strong for over two decades.
About 15 minutes from Waimea, are the Mauna Kea and Hapuna golf courses. These courses are connected to the Mauna Kea and Hapuna Prince hotels but do offer non-guest rates.
The Hapuna Golf Course is an 18-hole championship golf course nestled in the dramatic natural contours of the land from the shoreline to 700 feet above sea level. Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay envisioned a links-style course offering spectacular views of the Kohala Coast and the Pacific Ocean, and it delivers.
The most spectacular course on the Big Island is the Mauna Kea Golf Course. Made famous by hole #3, a 267-yard par 3 over the water into a cliff side mist and breeze, Mauna Kea offers stunning golf beauty with every hole and direction change. Think you are the big kahuna? Well, how about a slope of 144 and a 76.6 rating? Beauty meets ultimate challenge on this golf course.
As you go over the saddle in the Volcano, or around the Island, you will come to Hilo on the east side, home of Moon & Turtle. Now here is Asian cuisine worth driving for! Moreover, make a reservation. The menu for lunch or dinner sports five appetizer choices combined with five entrée choices. Fewer choices mean they can hone in excellence in both preparation and presentation.
Sig Zane is a Hawaiian shirt company like no other. Some the resorts use his designs as he weaves culture into modern wear-ability. Each shirt is a story of some part of Hawaiian life for that particular area of the island.
While on the Hilo side, get to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens. It has been called a museum of living plants. The Garden’s 2,000 species, representing more than 125 families and 750 genera, are found in this one-of-a-kind garden. As you walk the 40-acre valley, you discover it is really one big greenhouse that has incredible soil and little wind. You experience a tropical rainforest complete with waterfalls, streams and ocean views.
Learn how the weather and atmosphere are measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory/NOAA. Yes, it is a drive up a harrowing road, and tours have to be arranged, but if you want to go where they measure climate change from all over the world, this is the place. They monitor everything including methane, CO2, carbon monoxide and ozone.
Volcano National Park, 45 minutes south of Hilo is where you get hot to trot, at least from the lava. You can see the actual caldera, and get close enough to get a whiff of creation before your eyes. The park is huge, over 330,000 acres and the home of Kilauea volcano, one of the most active volcanoes on earth. Hike, see petroglyphs and take a tour on your own, or with one of the park rangers.
Just a short drive from the national park is the Volcano Winery. This is not the only winery on the Big Island, but it is unique. Their diverse productions include the Volcano Red and the Macadamia Nut Honey wines. Yeah, it is not Sonoma, but it does have a volcano, and that soil has some unique properties that make these wines very different.
As you circle back around through Kona, Ultimate Burger has the focus on food, good food. Everything on the menu is local with the exception of the potatoes. Besides the interesting burger combinations, they make their black bean patty for their burgers. Add grilled pineapple and jalapenos for some zest, with a wash down of house made lemonade. It is fresh, tasty and great for lunch on the go to your next attraction.
The Fishhopper is the place in Kona if you want a large variety of seafood cooked to perfection with a view of the ocean at sunset. Moreover, don’t think it is just for lunch or dinner, they do breakfast with seafood options. The incredible happy hour with the three punch mai tai is the starting point combined with their award winning Ahi Poke pu pu. Entrées are creatively tasty as exemplified by the local Monchong and creamy risotto. Desert is above expectations, and it gets its’ menu with creations made in-house such as the sweet potato haupia pie.
Another park with a historical and cultural connection is Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. Pu’uhonua means “place of refuge.” This is the area where Hawaiians that broke a kapu or law went to avoid punishment, as well as defeated warriors during times of battle. Their bad is now your good as the park features archeological sites including temple platforms and royal fishponds to the “Hale o Keawe”, a Hawaiian temple that has been restored. One of the few parks where you can learn about Hawaiian customs and history, then go snorkeling. The prime water entrance is only 175 feet from the park entrance!
For golf clubs, a smart way to get them there is Ship Sticks. They will pick them up; have them delivered to your accommodations before you arrive, guaranteed. It is a long flight and accounting for golf clubs into your transportation after a six or seven-hour flight is not that much fun.
Canopy Airport Parking provides the best valet service out of DIA. Pull up, drive in, and the environmentally friendly facility comes to life with a bustling staff that tends to the luggage and whisks you to your plane of choice. When you return, the car is waiting and warm for the trip home. Moreover, with their free day/anniversary offer, another reason to use this great service.