Watch a dynamic spectacle: Take a journey to the Big Island’s most exclusive natural attraction, Kilauea Volcano, to get a look at active lava flowing onto the landscape and into the sea. This massive shield volcano on the southeastern side of Hawaii Island has displayed a 30-year continuous eruption from its eastern rift zone. Hawaii’s Fire Goddess Pele, the goddess of volcanoes, lives in a lava lake called Halema’uma’u within Kilauea’s summit caldera. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which includes the region that encircles the volcano’s summit caldera as well as the coastal span along its east rift, contains a varied terrain worth exploring by foot, bike, car, bus, or helicopter.
The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory web page features eruption updates, the weekly Volcano Watch newsletter, historical information, webcam images, maps, and more.
The National Park Service’s Hawaii Volcanoes National Park webste offers basic information on planning your visit such as maps, a list of campgrounds and lodging sites, current Park alerts, and an activities calendar.
View the Valley of the Kings. Tucked within the Hamakua District near the northern point of Hawaii Island, Waipio Valley is one of seven major valleys that hold important cultural and historical significance to the Hawaiian people. This treasure of astounding tropical beauty features a fertile valley nearly six miles deep protected by cliffs up to 2,000 feet high. The mile-long coastal stretch includes a stunning beach with black sand where Hawaiian green sea turtles are often seen. The vast valley terrain consists of forests interspersed with open grasslands, streams and taro farms. From a plateau off Lalakea Stream the mighty Hi’ilawe Falls pours down to the valley over 1,400 feet below. The Waipio River, bordered by rich tropical vegetation, flows through the valley out to the sea. To access the valley you will need a 4-wheel drive vehicle or tour-guide assistance, unless you are adventurous enough to hike the steep, narrow access road.
The Waipio Valley Lookout allows you to view a section of the coastal cliffs and vibrant landscape without having to venture down into the valley floor. Whether or not you decide to experience Waipio Valley, this popular detour on the way to Hilo should not be missed… if for no other reason than to capture a magnificent photo. From Highway 19 turn off on Highway 240 into Honokaa, then take the turnoff near the 42 mile marker and follow the road to the end. You will see signs directing you along the way.
Experience a Place of Worship. Puuhonua O Honaunau, located on Hawaii’s West Coast, is one of the top Big Island destinations for viewing ancient archeological structures and demonstrations of early Hawaiian life. This 182-acre National Historical Park preserves the sacred grounds to which Hawaiians who broke kapus (laws) would flee and receive a priest’s absolution. It also provided protection for non-combatants during war conflicts. Explore the park’s archeological stops including the beautifully reconstructed Hale o Keawe Heiau, protected by fierce wooden god images, where the bones of 23 alii were embedded. Outside the 10-foot-high Great Wall which encloses the heiau, or place of refuge, lie the residential grounds of some of Hawaii’s most prominent ruling chiefs.
Pu’ukohola Heiau was constructed as a place for war ceremonies by order of King Kamehameha I in 1790-1791. The preserved Pu’ukohola ruins sit on a hill overlooking the northwestern shoreline of South Kohala, one mile south of Kawaihae near the intersection of routes 270 and 19. It is an area of dry open fields with broad ocean and mountain views. A paved walkway and instructional signs lead you on a tour of the Hawaii National Historic Site. A visitor center has information and some rare photographs and displays. Continuing northward beyond the heiau are more cultural attractions and, in winter and spring, some whale watching spots. The Pu’ukohola Heiau Visitor Center is conveniently located near the Spencer Beach parking lot, and is open year-round.
Visit a Plant Museum. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is a 17-acre nature sanctuary featuring an enormous collection of living plants nurtured in volcanic soil. The display of over 2,000 plant species includes nearly 200 species of palms, an orchid garden and a lily pond. Walk along nature pathways with streams and waterfalls and, at the bottom of the garden, a coastal trail with striking views of Onomea Bay. You will see many fish and birds including a parrot aviary. This well-maintained botanical gem is an important study center for scientists and gardeners. Find it at 4 Mile Scenic Drive off Route 19 in Papa’ikou on the Hamakua Coast, 8.5 miles north of Hilo.