5 of the Big Island's Best Kept Secrets in Hawaii
Go Beyond the Normal Tourist Attractions
The Island of Hawaii is more often called the “Big Island” to avoid confusion. It provides a little bit of what each of the Hawaiian isles boasts, making it a great pick if you only have time to visit one. The terrain is incredibly diverse and, as the largest island in the archipelago by far, there are 4,028 square miles to explore.
Discover everything from black sand beaches and magnificent waterfalls to powdery white sands and colorful flowers to tasty cuisine and so much more. If you’re looking for its best kept secrets, you’ll find them here in this Big Island Hawaii travel guide.
One of the World’s Only Green Sand Beaches
There’s a reason why Big Island is a great location for a beach Christmas vacation — there are so many lovely stretches of sand to choose from. And unique ones, at that.
At Papakolea Beach, you’ll find one of just three green sand beaches on the planet. The beach is made up of tiny olivine crystals that washed out of Pu’u Mahana, a 49,000-year-old cinder cone located near the waters of Mahana Bay. It’s those crystals that give the sand its impressive green hue.
Magma is rich in olivine, and it’s generally one of the first crystals to form as the lava cools. You may also hear it referred to as the “Hawaiian diamond.” The crystals are particularly dense which helps them to accumulate on the beach without being washed away.
As with many of the best things, Papakolea isn’t all that easy to get to but it makes for a great adventure. From either Kona or Hilo, it’s about a 2-hour drive to the the parking lot and trail head. From there, you’ll take a 2-mile trek with a rugged descent before reaching the emerald-colored sands.
These days, there are locals waiting with trucks who are willing to let visitors ride in the back down to the beach for a relatively small fee.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
The Volcano Winery
The only winery on the Big Island is the Volcano Winery. It’s the southernmost winery in the US and is located at an elevation of 4,000 feet on the slopes of an active volcano close to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It’s sandwiched between two volcanoes, the lava-covered landscape allowing the grape vines to really thrive and flourish.
Of course, running a successful Hawaiian vineyard comes with unique challenges, such as the ability to adapt techniques conducive to the climate, the higher costs to import supplies, and the difficulty finding workers who are experienced.
But the winemakers say the setting has inspired them to incorporate local ingredients that aren’t usually found in wine — such as pineapple, macadamia nuts and pineapple — into their wines, giving them a unique twist.
Photo Credit: K.C. Dermody
Sea Turtles and Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
The green sand beach isn’t the only uniquely colored stretch of sand on the shores of the Big Island. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is made up of striking jet black sands that are formed when the lava flows into the ocean nearby. The difference in temperature between the molten lava and the water results in the lava cooling into basalt so rapidly that it explodes.
Waves further pound it into fine grains that wash up here. But it’s not just the unique sand that makes this one of the best beaches on Big Island, it’s also the wildlife you’re likely to spot as this is where dozens of sea turtles come to lounge, snooze and soak up the sunshine.
Between the sea turtles, the jet black sand, brilliant blue waters and lush green coconut palms, the entire scene is jaw-droppingly surreal.