With oh so many shades of blue, Hawaiian surf is hard to resist. So it’s not surprising that when folks start planning how they will spend their time on Hawaii Island, beach time is one of the first things that comes to mind. But there’s more to Hawaii then its sun-drenched coast. A treasure chest of gurgling volcanoes, rushing waterfalls and historic sites, the Big Island is home to four National Parks and countless state and county parks. Whether you’re a serious hiker or more of a wandering walker, Hawaii’s parks are waiting to wow you.
Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park
This seaside setting served as a place of refuge or a safe haven for a variety of Hawaiian people. During times of war, enemies agreed blood could not be shed on the grounds of Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau, so both young and old sought safety here. In early Hawaiian times, kapu or law breakers able to make it to the grounds before being captured, were forgiven of their crimes. Take time to sit in on a Park Ranger talk. It will help you understand why the park is much more than just a pretty place to the Hawaiian people. The walk throughout the royal grounds is just half a mile.
Kona Coffee & Craters
If you’re not quite sure you’re ready to hike Hawaii on your own, Hawaii Forest and Trail offers one-of-a-kind guided adventures throughout the Big Island. The Kona Coffee & Craters tour takes hikers beyond a series of locked gates to the slopes of the Hualalai volcano to peer into gigantic craters and climb through a lava tube. Weather can change from sunny and warm to foggy and soaking in minutes, so be prepared. Any extra gear can easily be left in the van. A post-hike caffeine boost is waiting at Mountain Thunder, the highest elevation coffee plantation in Kona.
Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve
Hawaiians didn’t have a written language, but using sharpened rock they carved pictures or petroglyphs into lava rock. No one knows for sure what the carvings mean, but as you follow the Malama Trail in the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve, use your imagination and the possibilities take shape. Considered one of the most extensive petroglyph fields in Hawaii, the main section of the preserve contains more than three thousand petroglyphs. Walk the trail, but be careful where you step, as some petroglyphs are close to the path. The hike is short, just 1.4 miles roundtrip, but it gets hot quickly, so bring water. Good shoes are a must – the trail is home to kiawe thorns that can go straight through flip flops.
‘Akaka Falls State Park
A gentle, paved loop trail through a blooming rainforest rewards outdoor lovers with views of two waterfalls at ‘Akaka Falls State Park. Follow the signs and your first flowing glimpse will be of 100-foot Kahūnā Falls. But it’s the 442-foot Akaka Falls that gets most of the attention. Less than a half-mile in length, you can seen both in under an hour.
Waiānuenue Falls, aka Rainbow Falls
It’s hard to count Waiānuenue Falls as a hike, since you’ll most likely see the water before you can climb out of your car, but it’s hard to pass up a waterfall so close to Downtown Hilo. The viewing platform is just off the parking lot, but you can raise your heart rate by climbing the steps to the top of the falls.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
There are a number of hikes that vary in distance and intensity at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, but don’t leave the Visitor Center without checking easy and nearby Sulphur Banks or Ha’akulamanu, off your list. A paved trail and boardwalk navigates you through the Sulphur Banks and Steam Vents in just 1.4 miles roundtrip. Thurston Lava Tube or Nāhuku, is an easy 15 to 20 minute paved loop walk that guides hikers down into a 500-year-old lava tube. The path is well lit, so you can leave your flashlight at home, but don’t forget your camera. Located close to the end of the Chain of Craters Road, the 1.4 mile Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs trail leads to a boardwalk surrounded petroglyph field. Be sure to visit the park after sunset for the nighttime “Glow Show” at the Jaggar Museum & Overlook. The lava fume cloud comes from an active vent located in the Halema’uma’u Crater.
Where to stay on Big Island, Hawaii
Photographs: Hawaii Tourism, Dana Rebmann