How to explore the Big Island of Hawaii on a budget

Had so much fun making this little travel video of me and my husband's trip on the Big Island! I hope to be able to do more travel videos because it's my favorite way to remember the memories I never want to forget:)

Shot using our Sony a7s and GoPro Hero 5 (with the GoDome attachment). 

Josh and I went to the Big Island a couple months ago and had such a magical time together! We got a rental car and one of the best parts was just enjoying the long drives along the coast and spontaneously stopping to explore. Whether camping under the stars or getting friendly wake up calls from a little horses outside our tent, this was such a special time with my love. There are a lot of things I learned and suggestions I have for people looking to vacation on the big island. First, I would definitely recommend getting a car. The Big Island really is a BIG island ha ha. There's so much to see and if you don’t plan things out you could spend a lot of time driving back and forth to different places. I put this little post together to help you see fun things to do around the whole island so hopefully you don’t have to backtrack too much! Below is a map we created of the island. I’m going to go around it clockwise starting on the West Kona side.


Big Island Map

Below is a sample itinerary of what I would do if I had seven days to explore the Big Island of Hawaii.


Day 1: Snorkeling Kona Side

Under Water

We loved snorkeling in Kailua Bay! It's right in Kona and you are most likely guaranteed sunny clear waters because the Kona side is the dry side and does not rain nearly as much as the Hilo side! There are so many colorful fish and turtles right in the bay! You can even rent the old-fashioned retro snorkel masks for just $1.50 a day! Some people say these retro masks don’t work for them but we loved them! Also, there is an epic snorkeling place at Captain Cook Monument. We never went but we heard amazing things about it! The hike to get to Captain Cook Monument to snorkel is 2 hours in 2 hours out. When you’re going to the Monument it’s a long trail going down and then you go straight back up it when hiking out. We heard you can rent kayaks for $50 a day and they’ll take you right to the spot. After a fun day and clear blue waters of the Kona side I would stay on this side and watch the sunset because every sunset I saw on the Kona side was seriously one of the best sunsets of my life!


Rope Swing

Day 2: Beach day!

I would definitely recommend checking out Hapuna Beach! It's a little bit more touristy but it's a beautiful white sand beach you don't want to miss. We also  went to a secluded black sand beach along the way (I think it's called number 49 black sand beach). You  you pull up to the side of the road and you'll see a little trail that leads to the beach full of lava rocks! It's about a 15-minute walk down to the beach but we literally were the only people there it was so magical there's a Coconut Grove and a cute little swing you can swing on. Beach 69’s is also a cool beach down the road and there's a rope swing there as well. The sunset there is pretty magical.


Polulu Valley


Day 3: Polulu Valley!

This drive is magical in and of itself! It reminded me of New Zealand with the green Rolling Hills. You don't even feel like you're in Hawaii haha it feels like a totally different country! Polulu Valley is a great hike to take a family on. It's a good trail and such a beautiful black sand beach with gorgeous mountains surrounding it. This Valley is a must-see! After parking the hike is a short 20 minutes down and 20ish minutes back to the car. Pretty easy hike.


Big Island Slide



Day 4: Waipio Valley!

I heard there's a couple different ways to get into Waipio Valley and when we went we found directions online. This is such a beautiful Valley with waterfalls and a tropical (sometimes chilly) landscape. It's such a magical place! When we went we did the White Road waterslide hike. This was the highlight of our trip. It was so fun! I would not recommend taking little kids on this hike if you plan on going all the way to the water slide. There is a sharp ridge and a little sketchy for young ones (the first part of the hike is probably fine though). Plan on doing the White Road hike make sure you are very respectful. It is on private property and the owners were very gracious to us walk through their land but I do worry that if people disrespect it then it might get closed off. Also, I heard that sometimes cops will fine people if the neighbors complain a lot. Bring money ($7per person when we went) and be respectful and the guy that's on the land is okay with people passing. This hike took us about one  and a half hours to get in and the same to get out. I think we ended up spending two hours at the slide and taking pictures so it ended up being a quite long but well worth it activity.


Akaka Falls

Day 5: Akaka Falls!

This hike is so pretty! You do have to pay for this hike unless you have a Hawaii state ID. Also, I noticed people paying for parking but we just parked on the road before the parking lot and didn’t have to pay. One of my highlights of this waterfall was the cutest fruit stand on the side of the road that had hanging bananas. There were so many different types of bananas that the lady let me try! You won't want to miss cuz its just the cutest! The drive to Akaka Falls is so beautiful! We stopped along the way at a random spot and found a beautiful tropical Botanical Garden a with beautiful beach cliff and waterfall. At one point we even stopped and just drove along an abandoned road with the tallest trees that reminded me of the Redwood forest in California.

narnia hike


Day 6: Narnia Hike and Lava

Hawaii Lava

One of the prettiest hikes we went on when on the Hilo side was the “Narnia Hike.” So pretty! There are four sets of waterfalls that stream down into a river! The water was so cold but it was totally worth it! Seriously reminded me of Narnia because it was so magical! Something fun to do on the Hilo side is to go check out the lava. The lava is down in Pahoa. If I remember correctly you drive all the way down Kaimu-Chain of Craters Rd and park your car. When you get there, you pay about $20 per person for a bike (unless you want to take a long walk). The lava is about 8 miles away so getting a bike is worth it! It took us about two hours. One hour of biking back and forth and one hour for hanging out and taking pictures. We went at night time which was so magical to see the lava flowing off into the ocean with all the pretty stars. If you go remember that they open the gates at 3 pm and close around 8:30 pm. If you get in before 8:30 pm you can hang out and leave whenever you want. I would even think it would be cool to go before sunset and see the sunset with the lava during the day and then see the stars at night on the way back. Note: most of the bikes you rent come with light so make it easy to ride in the dark.

Hawaii Sea Turtle


Day 7: Punaluu Beach!

This black sand beach was so beautiful! You are definitely guaranteed to see turtles. We saw like 20 some chilling around on the sand and swimming in the water. It's such a gorgeous beach with lots of pretty palm trees. Then I would drive down to South Point. This place is really fun for cliff jumping! The water is so blue. There is also a Green Sand Beach there that I have heard amazing things about! You have to have a car with 4 wheel drive, which we didn't have, because the road gets a bit bumpy. I would definitely check this out if we had a more suited car or we had set aside time for an all day hike.


Kona Building Sign

Bonus: Favorite places to eat

The Thai restaurant near the King Kamehameha Marriott Hotel in Kona! The tom Ka soup was so good. We also loved the Frenchman's Cafe. It's a little pricey(like $13 a plate) This cafe had such yummy crepes! There is a yummy Acai Bowl place right next door too. We also love Chirashi Sushi on the Kona side. I don't even know what role to recommends because every single role we had was so good! On the Hilo side, we loved Lucy's Taqueria. I always got the enchiladas but Josh said that the burritos were so good smothered! Their chips and salsa are also so yummy. My cousin introduced us to all the hot spots on the Hilo side because she has lived there for like 8 years! There is Ocean Sushi, which is moderately priced but very good sushi on the Hilo side. Liko lehua Cafe is moderately priced with good hamburgers and salads (also found on the Hilo side). Hilo Bay Cafe is expensive but good food and entrees, they also have sushi which is always a plus. If you're health food conscious Culture Cafe is moderately priced food that is really good too! If you're into Indian food Kamana kitchen is also really good.