Last year, my family of four decided to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Hawai‘i. On Hawai‘i’s Big Island we discovered the perfect blend of relaxation and adventure.
After a week of adventures on Maui and O‘ahu, our third stop was the island of Hawai‘i. It’s known as the Big Island for a reason; spanning more than 4,000 square miles, it’s packed with diverse landscapes ranging from fiery volcanoes to tranquil tidal pools. I was traveling with my husband, Alex, and our 9-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. We all enjoyed spending four days and three nights of rest and relaxation here — plus a few active excursions exploring the unique local wildlife and scenery.
We did things a bit differently on the Big Island. Since it’s so large, we split our stay into two parts. First, we flew into Hilo on the windward (east) side of the island. We planned to stay overnight there before heading down to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park the next day.
While we were in the area, we stopped by ‘Akaka Falls, a scenic and easily accessible state park. It’s well worth the visit just for an opportunity to see such a gorgeous waterfall up close. From the parking lot, walk along the paved footpath past the lovely, 100-foot Kahūnā Falls to the main attraction: the majestic ‘Akaka Falls which plummets 442–feet into a gorge. The kids loved the easy hike, which is lush and tropical, taking you past abundant orchids, ferns and bamboo. We were all impressed and captivated by the unique flowers and huge leaves on the trees.
- Entry to ‘Akaka Falls is $5 per car or $1 per pedestrian.
- The hike to the falls is less than a half mile but does include some stairs; walking the entire loop takes less than an hour.
- Other great family activities near Hilo include Lili‘uokalani Gardens (a great place for a picnic), Carlsmith Beach Park (featuring child-friendly swimming spots) and the Hilo Farmers Market (a fun place to look for souvenirs).
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
One highlight of the island is definitely Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park , a 333,308-acre expanse of craters, lava fields, rain forest and coastline. Visitors can explore 150 miles of hiking trails and catch a glimpse of two active volcanoes. The park also features scenic drives such as Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road.
First, we went to the Kīlauea Visitor Center, which I highly recommend in order to make the most of your time in the park. The rangers do an excellent job helping you plan your visit –– simply tell them the number of hours you have available to spend there, and they’ll customize an itinerary that’s perfect for you and your kids. You can also pick up maps and find out what attractions and trails are open or closed.
We ended up spending the entire day there exploring the lava fields. We especially enjoyed following the paved, half-mile Devastation Trail through the stark cinder landscape from the 1959 Kīlauea Iki eruption. Our kids enjoyed the simple things the most, like running across a lava field and playing hide and seek among the rocks. They also loved watching the steam vents; it was neat to explain to them that the steam was coming out of the middle of the Earth.
Later, we drove the Chain of Craters Road to the ocean and along the coast, where we saw the 90-foot-high Hōlei Sea Arch. While we were there, we also spotted a gorgeous rainbow in the mist. It was so magical, my son wanted to run to the end of the rainbow because he thought there’d be a pot of gold there.
By then, it was early evening, so after exploring the coast a bit longer, we started the two-hour drive to Kona. The kids were exhausted, and they napped in the car as we drove across the middle of the island on Saddle Road. It’s a fast and beautiful highway that made the long journey relatively easy.
- The park’s famous Thurston Lava Tube has been closed since last year’s eruption, so check its status at the visitor center when you go.
- One-way rental cars can be expensive. If you’re starting in Hilo and ending in Kona like we did, consider getting a one-way rental car until you reach Kona, and then dropping it off and picking up a new rental car for your time in Kona.
Marriott’s Waikoloa Ocean Club
Once we arrived in Kona, we remained on that side of the island for the rest of our stay. We were happy to settle in at Marriott’s Waikoloa Ocean Club for some rest and relaxation. It’s a smaller resort, but we loved it. The beach is spectacular — the sand is super soft and very clean, and the water is great for families because it’s located on a sheltered bay. It’s probably the best beach we visited on the island.
Guests have access to the amenities of the adjacent Waikoloa Beach Marriott Hotel and Spa, including on-site dining and golf. We loved hanging out on the beautiful patio that connects to an open-air lobby and coffee shop. That’s where the resort hosts a lot of their family activities, including lei making. My husband and daughter had loved making leis in O‘ahu, but they’d forgotten to bring them with us. So this time, we all decided to participate in the activity; we had lots of fun using plumeria blossoms to craft new leis, which made lovely souvenirs.
Another night, we participated in the resort’s make-your-own poke bowl activity, and then my husband and I sipped cocktails while watching the sun set from the patio. During our stay, I also decided to indulge in a massage at the resort’s boutique spa, which was fantastic. The entire family spent lots of quality time by the pool simply lounging and relaxing — not to mention enjoying picture-perfect sunsets from our villa balcony.
- If you’re interested in snorkeling, Owners can borrow equipment from the resort for free.
- You can also go on a free guided tour to explore the historic petraglyphs near the resort. The tour departs from the adjacent Kings’ Shops — ask your concierge for details.
We were happy to spend most of our time in Kona unwinding at the resort. But I was also on a quest to see sea turtles while in Hawai‘i, so we made a point to visit Kīholo Bay one day. A beautiful place to hike, it’s ideal if you want to see interesting geography and wildlife. There’s a smaller, quieter feel to it when compared to some of the other beaches on the island.
You have to walk quite a ways through gravel to get to a series of tidal pools, but it is worth it. We saw a ton of sea turtles just basking in the sun and swimming in the water. We even walked past a Hawaiian monk seal resting on the beach! While we were there, we also stopped by Queen’s Bath, a small freshwater pool in an open-air lava tube.
Overall, Hawai‘i’s Big Island is where you’ll get the most bang for your buck if you and your kids are nature lovers. It’s definitely on our list of places to return to — even though we spent several days there, we felt like we barely scratched the surface of what this amazing island has to offer for the entire family.