Too often the word “tourist” is said with a bit of negative connotation that suggests something is over-hyped by visitors and ultra-commercialized. To this we say, sure, you can view touristed areas through this glass-half-full perspective, but there is another side of this coin. The other side is that these places became touristed because of their uniqueness, their specialness that still exists. When it comes to the Big Island, such touristy things might include luaus and snorkeling tours — both of which are popular and often booked up, but because they ought to be! The underwater landscapes and the unique cultural event that are luaus are special things about Hawaii and of course, people come as tourists to experience them as they should!
Now, that aside, there are times when you are visiting a place where you might want to visit something special and photo-worthy without the crowds and the commotion. Maybe you want an activity that is fun, but not necessarily the biggest attraction of an area. When you’re in this state of traveling mood, the following list is for you (at least when that location is the Big Island). These are Big Island highlight locations that aren’t put as prominently on travel lists and must-dos, but locations that are undoubtedly worthy in their own right.
5 non-touristy things to do on the Big Island:
1. Papakolea Beach
Papakolea Beach is one of only four beaches in the entire world that has green sand. This green sand is created by a lava-sourced mineral called olivine that has collected on this one part of the Big Island. It offers a pretty and very unique beaching experience as you sit at the edge of a gorgeous bay ringed with layered lava rocks.
So unique that you might be wondering why this is considered a touristed spot, well, that’s because it’s not so simple to get. Papakolea Beach lies at the end of an almost 3-mile hike. This trail is not shaded and so many travelers opt to skip it, thus making it an ideal choice for those up for an adventure away from the Big Island crowds.
2. Volcano Golf and Country Club
There are a lot of popular island golf clubs and courses throughout Hawaii, but the Volcano Golf and Country Club has somehow slipped major notice. This Big Island golf course is located just one mile away from the Volcanoes National Park, on the slopes of Mauna Loa itself. This gorgeous location means you can enjoy a round amidst panoramic views of Mauna Loa as well as the towering Mauna Kea at the center of the island. It’s a pretty course that happily takes walk-ups and before or after your round, you can easily make your way to the Volcanoes National Park.
3. Kaumana Caves State Park
Kaumana Caves State Park is a very small park that’s tucked near neighborhoods just west of Hilo. Its small size and location just off of the major throughways mean that Kaumana Caves State Park all too often gets overlooked by the crowds, making it an ideal place to explore for those who like the off-the-beaten-trail experiences.
As its name suggests, a special cave is a big attraction at Kaumana Caves State Park. After pulling up to the park’s parking lot, you’ll see a short trail leading to a metal staircase. Go down that staircase and you will find yourself entering a two-mile lava tube cave formed from lava cooled and hardened following an 1800s eruption of Mauna Loa.
Kaumana Caves State Park is free and has full restrooms and picnic tables available at the parking lot, but other than that, this is a largely sparse state park. The cave itself is not lit and so if you do plan on exploring its depths, we recommend bringing a flashlight or otherwise making sure your phone is charged and ready for its flashlight use.
4. Keawaikis Golden Pools
Like Papakolea Beach, the Keawaikis Golden Pools sees fewer tourist crowds due to it lying at the end of a moderate trail. The trail to these unique freshwater ponds is about one mile long (or a full two-mile loop) over fairly rocky terrain (boots recommended). But at the end of that trek, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous landlocked freshwater pools surrounded by verdant plant life. They each feel like their own little oasis given the rocky terrain and the lava fields you will have to walk over to reach them. Keawaikis Golden Pools gets its name from the way the waters shimmer when the sun beams down at the height of the day.
And if these golden pools aren’t enough to fully tempt your adventuring fancy, there’s also a secluded beach out this way. The black sands of Keawaiki Bay offer a nice alternative to resort beaches while still offering clear waters and a gorgeous western view.
5. Pololu Valley
Pololu Valley is located in the far northwest of the island and is the northernmost of a series of valleys that were carved out from past eruptions of the Kohala volcano. Through the heart of the valley runs the Pololu Stream as it makes its way from the volcano’s peak down to meet the ocean.
You can experience Pololu Valley in two ways. First, the easy way, there is a Pololu Valley Lookout at the ridge of a cliff that runs along the valley’s western end. Standing here, you can look at a gorgeous vista full of tropical greens with the ocean, beaches, valleys, and sometimes even waterfalls visible on a clear day. If you’re feeling more adventurous, there is a trail that leads down into the valley for a more close-up experience of its beauty.
Learn More About the Big Island of Hawaii
The Big Island of Hawaii is a very multifaceted island with plenty of things to do and places to eat and shop. Learn more about what this verdant island has to offer by visiting our other pages and be sure to let us know when you return which activity was your favorite, touristy or not.