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5 Day Big Island Itinerary – 15 Best Things To Do On The Big Island, Hawaii

Swim with manta rays, visit a Hawaiian black sand beach and hike over lava fields on this amazing 5-day Big Island itinerary.

If you’re considering a trip to the Big Island in Hawaii, you’re in the right place! I have such happy memories of my travels on this exotic paradise. It’s a place where tropical birds sweep through the skies, big waves lap black sandy bays and lava spews through volcanic landscapes. It’s ideal for adventurous types who get bored easily!

Hawaii’s Big Island combines the luxurious feel of Maui with the wild and rugged adventures of Kauai. I mean, where else in the world can you visit a black sand beach, a fiery volcano and an 80-foot waterfall all in one day?!

Sunset on the Big Island, Hawaii
There are plenty of opportunities for beautiful sunsets on this 5 day Big Island itinerary!

In this guide, I’m going to share my ultimate 5-day Big Island Itinerary. Let’s face it, with just 5 days, you’ll want to make every second count! From national parks to pretty beaches, I’ll give you a quick overview of all the most popular activities and places to visit on the Big Island.

Resort on the Big Island, Hawaii
There are some stunning beach resorts on the Big Island in Hawaii

The Ultimate 5-day Big Island Itinerary

Check out the Volcanoes at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

One of the best things to do on the Big Island is to visit Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. This was a huge highlight of my time in Hawaii! It’s such an amazing place!

Looking out at Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii
Looking out at Kilauea Volcano was a highlight of my time on the Big Island in Hawaii

This massive park located southwest of Hilo is home to some of the world’s most active volcanoes. From scenic drives to backcountry hiking and camping, there’s plenty to do and see. You can even plan your holiday in time to view an actual eruption! Seeing nature’s power up close is something I’ll never forget.

Checking out the lava fields on the Big Island, Hawaii
I loved exploring the epic lava fields on the Big Island in Hawaii

Learn About Hawaiian Culture at Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park

If you’re looking to immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture, there is no better place than Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park. This 180-acre national park was once the home of royal grounds and a safe haven for those that broke the Kapu laws. I’d recommend taking a self-guided tour here to really explore all the cultural sites! 

Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park
Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park is an important place to visit on the Big Island in Hawaii

Visit the Unique Black Sand Beaches 

Want to try something new and exciting on your Hawaiian adventure? Then try visiting some of the Big Island’s famous black sandy beaches!

Black sand beach in Hawaii
You simply have to visit some black sand beaches on the Big Island in Hawaii

These beaches are formed from volcanic materials and lava fragments that give the sand its black hue. Some of the most popular black sand beaches on the Big Island include Punaluu Beach, Pohoiki Beach and Kaimu Beach.

Be amazed by the waterfalls at Akaka Falls State Park

If you’re planning to spend 5 days on the Big Island, don’t miss out on the wild and rugged Akaka Falls State Park! Where else can you explore two beautiful Hawaiian waterfalls on one short hike?

Akaka Falls State Park, Big Island, Hawaii
Visiting Akaka Falls State Park is one of the top things to do on the Big Island

On this half mile hike, you’ll be able to spot both the 100-foot Kahuna Falls and arguably the most famous waterfall in Hawaii, the towering Akaka Falls. It’s not to be missed!

Take a Stroll through the Thurston Lava Tube

This is a great option if you have a sense of adventure! Visiting Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube) gives you the chance to hike through a 500-year-old lava tube. It’s hard to believe that a river of lava over 1000°C / 2000°F once flowed here!

Exploring the inside of a lava tube in Hawaii
Exploring the inside of a lava tube in Hawaii is something I’ll never forget

On this 1.5-mile, round-trip hike, you’ll also get to walk through a lush rainforest and see a variety of local Hawaiian wildlife and flora. Just be sure to bring a torch so you can see the way!

Thurston Lava Tube
Visiting Thurston Lava Tube is a must on your 5-day Big Island itinerary

Go swimming with Manta Rays

If you’re a water baby, swimming with manta rays may well be the highlight of your Big Island holiday! The Manta Ray Night Snorkel Tour allows you to discover the majestic manta rays off the Kona Coast. It’s an amazing and unforgettable experience that gets you up close and personal with Hawaii’s beautiful oceans and wildlife!

Manta rays
You can swim with manta rays in the wild on holiday in the Big Island

Take a Tour of Kona Brewing Company

The Kona Brewing Company is one of the most sustainable breweries in the world. This small, family-owned brewery offers an amazing collection of local island craft beers.

Kona Brewing Company
Kona Brewing Company is one of the best places to visit on the Big Island

For craft beer connoisseurs, I’d recommend booking a brewery tour. You’ll enjoy an in-depth look at the brewing process and a delicious tasting session at the end of the tour. These tours are really popular, so be sure to book in advance!

Take Time to Smell the Flowers at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

One of the most relaxing and romantic things to do on the Big Island is to visit the botanical gardens. Here you can stroll along a stunning, one mile trail lined with thousands of rare and endangered plants and flora. It’s truly a magical place filled with pretty stone paths and bridges, bubbling streams and several waterfalls.

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
Lots of lush scenes at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Hike to the Pololū Valley Lookout

Are you looking for the best views on the Big Island? You simply have to visit the Pololū Valley Lookout.

You’ll find this trek on the northeastern coastline where the island’s black lava landscapes give way to lush, green pastures. While you can drive to the end of highway 270 to reach the outlook, you’ll be missing out on all the beautiful sights along the way!

Pololū Valley Lookout
Pololū Valley Lookout is a great addition to any 5-day Big Island itinerary

Enjoy a Tasty Meal at the Kohala Coffee Mill

Located in historic Hawi, the Kohala Coffee Mill is a cosy cafe that serves up world-class coffee, delicious meals and tasty desserts. It’s the perfect place for everything from juicy burgers and sandwiches to coffees, fresh lemonade and homemade ice cream. On top of the fantastic home-style food, this hidden gem hosts local musicians all year round too! It’s such a lovely spot – don’t miss it.

Lava on the Big Island, Hawaii
There are some amazing sights on the Big Island, including lava spewing into the ocean!

Take a Tour of Historic Kona

Home to shops, restaurants and a vibrant nightlife, Kona is the capital of the Big Island! It’s filled with a rich history and many historic sites including the Huliheʻe Palace, the former Hawaiian royal palace.

Kona in Hawaii
Kona in Hawaii has lots of history

If you’re spending 5 days on The Big Island, consider travelling to the Kona coast too. There you can check out the historic site that marks the spot where Captain James Cook first set foot on the island in 1778!

Visit the Captain Cook Monument

While you can visit the historic spot where Captain Cook first landed in Hawaii, you can also visit the location where he met his untimely end. The Captain Cook Monument is a 27-foot obelisk that marks the spot where Captain Cook and some members of his crew perished. The monument is quite difficult to reach so you’ll either need to travel by boat or go on a 2.5-hour hike. 

Go Swimming at Rainbow Falls 

One of the most adventurous things to do on the Big Island is to go swimming at Rainbow Falls. This broad waterfall is located right within Hilo town making it easy to visit.

While Rainbow Falls itself is not officially safe for swimming, people do swim in the pools (at their own risk!) in the river above Rainbow Falls, but only when the river is calm and the weather is dry. Be careful!

Rainbow Falls in Hawaii
Rainbow Falls in Hawaii

Visit the Dormant Volcano Mauna Kea

If you’re spending 5 days on The Big Island, be sure to visit Mauna Kea. This is a dormant volcano that last erupted around 4,000 years ago. It’s also home to the world’s largest observatory.

Mauna Kea, Big Island, Hawaii
Mauna Kea is one of the top places to visit on the Big Island, Hawaii

On the weekends, the Visitor Information Centre offers fun and informative guided tours to the volcano’s summit. It’s also one of the best places in the world for stargazing and has its own observatory. When I visited, I saw some of the brightest stars I’ve ever seen!

Stargazing on Mauna Kea, Hawaii
The stargazing on Mauna Kea is absolutely amazing

Take a Lovely Drive Down South Point Road

This winding road is really fun to drive and filled with beautiful sights along the way. The road ends at South Point with its unique green sand beaches.

South Point Hawaii
South Point is a beautiful place to visit in Hawaii

The sand there gets an interesting green shade from mineral olivine which erodes from the nearby Mauna Loa volcano. If you’re feeling bold, the giant, 50-foot cliffs that look out over the Pacific Ocean are popular for cliff jumping! I’m not sure I’d ever be brave enough for that!

8 Practical Tips For Visiting The Big Island in Hawaii

  1. Rent a Car: The Big Island is… well, big! To explore all it has to offer, renting a car is highly recommended. There’s a lot of ground to cover, from the lush rainforests to the volcanic landscapes, so having your own wheels is a must.
  2. Pack for Diverse Weather: The island’s various microclimates mean you can experience different weather in one day. Pack a range of clothing, including light and breathable attire for the beaches and hiking, as well as layers for cooler elevations or rainy days.
  3. Plan Ahead for Volcanoes National Park: If you’re interested in visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, check the park’s website for current conditions and closures. The volcanic activity can affect accessibility, so it’s essential to stay informed.
  4. Respect the ‘Aina (Land): Hawaiians have a deep connection to their land. Be respectful of the environment and culture. Stay on designated paths, don’t touch or remove anything from the lava fields, and follow the “Leave No Trace” principles.
  5. Snorkel and Dive Responsibly: The Big Island offers incredible snorkeling and diving opportunities. Respect the marine life and coral reefs by not touching or disturbing them. Use reef-safe sunscreen to protect the delicate ecosystems.
  6. Explore the Local Food Scene: Try the local cuisine! From traditional Hawaiian dishes like poke and plate lunches to fresh tropical fruits, the Big Island has a vibrant food scene. Don’t miss out on the farmers’ markets either.
  7. Watch for Wildlife: Keep an eye out for wildlife, especially while driving. The island is home to various animals, including the endangered nene goose. Drive cautiously and avoid disturbing animals on the roads.
  8. Book Accommodations in Advance: The Big Island can get crowded during peak tourist seasons. To secure the best accommodations, book well in advance, especially if you plan to stay in popular areas like Kona or Hilo.

Remember to embrace the laid-back island vibe and take your time exploring all the natural wonders and cultural treasures that the Big Island has to offer.

I hope my 5 day Big Island itinerary helps you to plan the ultimate Hawaiian holiday! This is a very special island, unlike anywhere in the world. I loved my time there, and I hope you will too!

While the Big Island is an absolute must-see for any trip to the Aloha State, there are plenty of other beautiful Hawaiian islands worth visiting too. I’ve rounded up all the islands in this post, so you can find which offers what you’re looking for!

If you’re looking for more Hawaii travel tips, do check out my guide on how to have the ultimate adventure in Hawaii and my recommendations of the top things to do on your first visit to Hawaii.

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With a passion for food, fun and adventure, Chloe is the content creator behind one of the UK's top travel blogs Wanderlust Chloe. From volcano boarding in Nicaragua, to sailing around Sicily and eating her way around Japan, her travels have taken her to some of the coolest spots on the planet. Named Travel Influencer of the Year in 2022, Chloe regularly works with a number of tourism boards, producing inspirational travel content across multiple platforms. Find out more about Chloe here.

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