Are you travelling with the whole family to the Big Island? Keen to see more than the resorts and beaches of the Kona coast? From black sand beaches to active lava flows, the Big Island really does boast it all, but some of the best experiences are the ones where you sneak off the beaten path. We’ve collected our absolute favourites in Hawaii Big Island: An Off-the-Beaten-Path Road Trip With Kids.
Hawaii Big Island: An Off-the-Beaten-Path Road Trip with Kids
Big Island Road Trip: Kona Coast
Starting in Kailua-Kona, we spent a few days exploring the Kona coast including Spencer’s Beach Park and the Pololu Valley.
Samuel Spencer Beach Park
This slice of beach paradise is a family’s dream. With calm water, white sand, and plenty of shade, it’s a great option for families with kids. It’s also quieter than Hapuna Beach.
Bonuses: free parking and full-service change rooms with warm showers.
Getting to and from the Pololū Valley lookout is half the fun. Driving up from the Kona area, we took coastal Highway 270 with its unmatched views of the Pacific. After going through the town of Hawi, the road narrows noticeably, winding through lush forest and curving over one-lane bridges which is magical and particularly fun!
The Pololū Valley hike is 2.5 miles (4 kilometres) round trip which is manageable for families with small children. It’s a steep climb to the valley below, but once you arrive, the area is perfect for beachcombing, exploring and hiking further inland. The trees are great for climbing as well, which was a hit with our kids anyway.
On the way back, we stopped in Hawi again for its famous ice cream (totally worth it!) and then took the Kohala Mountain Road through utterly stunning scenery that is completely different from the lush tropical feel of coastal Highway 270.
Big Island Road Trip: Hilo
After a few days on the Kona Coast, we made our way to Hilo, which was the perfect base for exploring the east side of the island.
Kilauea’s Active Lava Flows
Hands down, our tip-top experience on the Big Island was taking the time to hike to Kilauea’s active lava flows. It was a rigorous, arduous journey, but worth every hard-earned step (which involved carrying all three of our children at various times).
We’ve got a whole post about that here.
Not only is Kehena beach spectacularly gorgeous, set against a volcanic cliff backdrop, it also plays host to truly fascinating visitors. The beach boasts perfectly soft black sand in a quiet cove, accessible only by a steep walking path off Highway 137. We loved the spot so much, including the very interesting company, that we visited twice. Kehena beach is frequented by families, musicians, artists, hippies, yogis and quite a few folks enjoy nude sunbathing.
After a nice long afternoon at the beach, head over to Uncle Robert’s Awa Bar and Night Market (especially on a Wednesday evening when the market really really fires up) for delicious eats and live music.
Volcanoes National Park
Okay, so this doesn’t exactly fit the bill of “off the beaten path” adventures since it is a busy park and saw over 2 million visitors in 2017. But it made it onto our list because it is really cool.
Here are just a few of the amazing things to do in Volcanoes National Park:
- See a smoking volcano crater
- Meander through a lava tube
- Hike down, across and up a crater (Klauea’Iki Trail)
- Marvel at how lava transforms a lush landscape into an eerie scene from another planet on the Chain of Craters Road
- Walk through volcanic steam
- Visit what feels like the end of the earth and feel the Pacific’s power as it carves sea arches out of the volcanic shoreline
You won’t have any of these experiences to yourself in Volcanoes National Park. In fact, you’ll be sharing them with hundreds of other people. But the sights and wonders in this corner of the Big Island are worth braving the crowds.
Kapoho Tide Pools
This was a crowd pleaser for everyone. These interconnected tide pools link the shoreline to the breaking surf with perfectly-sized pools for snorkelling. Tropical fish find refuge in the calm waters. Bring your reef shoes, the volcanic rock is sharp. Life jackets are a good idea for young children as some of the pools are deeper than you expect.
A parking area with visible signage is just outside the vacation rental area. It takes a walk to get to the tide pools, but it is worth it!
Richardson Ocean Park
After being on the lookout during our entire Hawaii trip, we finally found sea turtles swimming in the small tide pools around Richardson Ocean Park. The calm pools, protected from the raging surf, are a perfect spot for the turtles to rest and sun themselves. What marvellous creatures! Richardson Ocean Park is an easy access beach in Hilo, great for beachcombing, exploring, and of course, turtle watching.
The day we drove the Saddle Road between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa was a perfectly bluebird day. Driving towards Mauna Kea, the telescopes at the summit shone brilliantly and clear. Behind us, Maua Loa rose like a behemoth, and we could actually see the summit – a bit of a treat after days of cloudy weather.
A short hike up to the viewpoint near the Visitor’s Center was about all we could manage with three kids.
It is possible to drive to the summit if you have a 4WD vehicle and a full tank of gas (check with visitor’s center / not recommended for children). The day we were there, the road was closed for a long time because of snow and ice! Who knew in Hawaii?
The views on a clear day give a sense of the scope and magnitude of Mauna Loa and Hualālai in the distance.
These were our top off-the-beaten-path experiences on the Big Island of Hawaii. What were yours?