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Planning a trip to Big Island Hawaii? Don’t settle for life at a resort! Here are all the best Big Island adventure activities you can’t experience anywhere else.
While media most often portrays the Hawaiian islands as a white beachy paradise, that’s only one small part of the story.
All 7 of the main Hawaiian islands have different things to offer from people, food, activities, sights, and vibe. Big Island Hawaii is our favorite when looking for adventure on a Hawaiian vacation. You can’t beat all of the amazing things to do on the Big Island!
From hiking the active lava flow area to finding a green sand beach to swimming with manta rays and kayaking with dolphins, the Big Island adventure activities are second to none. If you are an adrenaline junkie going to Big Island, Hawaii, in search of some fun look no further!
Top Big Island, Hawaii, Adventure Activities
1. Manta Ray Night Dive
This is a Big Island Hawaii activity you don’t want to miss! A manta ray night dive is popular with people of all ages and SCUBA skill levels, as you can choose from dives under the water to those that stay near the surface.
Join a night dive boat along the Kona coast after sunset to swim with manta rays. Most dives will begin between 8:00- 9:00 p.m., since they attract the friendly giants by shining light from their boat into the water. The light attracts plankton, which the manta rays swim to the surface to see and eat.
While manta rays are technically in the shark family, they do not have teeth or stingers (like their cousin the sting ray), making them one of the safest underwater thrill creatures. Despite their tame demeanor a manta ray night dive makes our list of the top adventure activities on the Big Island because the animals are still pretty overwhelming in person.
An open mouth sweeping near you leads to views straight into a manta ray’s body cavity, which feels straight out of a horror movie. Unlike any scary monsters the worst manta rays will do is give you a body high-five, though.
- Book a manta ray night dive here before you leave for Big Island! This tour includes a sunset boat ride through the bay and provides wet suits and snorkeling gear to watch manta rays feed near a lighted raft.
2. Hike to the Green Sand Beach
Big Island, Hawaii, is one of the rare places on Earth you can find green sand. Not only are you able to see green sand in person, you’ll follow a gorgeous hike to get there!
A 2.5-mile hike leads from the nearest dirt parking lot to Hawaii’s Green Sand Beach. The hike takes you to the coast and then over small hills and a meandering trail to the secluded Green Sand Beach. The trail is gorgeous, and a great way to spend an afternoon.
Be warned, however. The trail takes 1-2 hours to hike and is a moderate challenge due to common sand and rock skree and an uneven path. You’ll want to bring plenty of sun screen and water at all times of the year because there are no trees to block you from direct sunlight, which will rapidly drain your energy.
Since there’s no easy way to get here the Big Island Green Sand Beach is actually less crowded than you would expect. You’re surrounded by nature, not hotels, which makes the beach even more worth it once you arrive.
Once at the Green Sand Beach you can hike around the nearby cliffs or play in the water. If you’ve made the effort to walk here, at all, you may as well stay for a while!
3. Cliff Dive at South Point
As the name would imply South Point, Hawaii, is the official southernmost point of the United States, and cliff diving there is one of the most iconic Big Island things to do.
South Point is a rocky coast line which used to be a popular fishing spot. Decades ago fishing boats were gently lowered to the ocean by pulleys and ropes, and fishermen would descend using metal ladders drilled into the rocky edge.
Nowadays the ladders remain but the fishing boats have long gone. Instead the area is frequented by adventure travelers. Signs warn people not to dive off the remaining platforms along South Point due to recent injuries and deaths, but that hasn’t stopped adrenaline junkies.
If you choose to cliff dive at South Point you can jump from any point along the coast. The free fall is between 30-50 feet (no one seems to know for sure). The coast overlooks the water at a negative angle, so there is no harm of hitting rock on your way down. The water is plenty deep enough for a safe landing, as long as you don’t belly flop! Once you bounce back to the surface you’ll have to make your way to one of the hanging ladders.
Climbing back up the metal ladders is as hard as cliff diving in the first place. The ladders are only attached at the top, so there is some difficulty in holding on to the slick bars as the ladder sways under a person’s weight. The metal is rusty in places, which can lead to unexpected cuts on your climb up.
But you’ll get to tell your friends you did one of the most dangerous cliff jumps in the United States, which is pretty cool!
4. Kayak Kealakekua Bay
Kayaking Kealakekua Bay is one of the best Big Island Hawaii adventure activities because you can accomplish so much! It’s easy to rent a kayak right on the bay from a local kayaking stand, and having a blast rowing around the open water of Hawaii.
In addition to seeing the coastal sights, Kealakekua Bay is one of the best places on Big Island to go dolphin watching. Dolphin pods are known to hang around the area, so a few hours in a kayak are almost guaranteed to cross paths with these amazing creatures up close and personal.
Kayaking Kealakekua Bay will also lead you straight to the Captain Cook monument, which is accessible only by water. Why should you care? Well, the Captain Cook monument happens to be a very popular playground for local fish. Bring some snorkel gear on your kayaking trip to swim with the fishes, in a positive way!
- Book a Kealakeua Bay snorkeling adventure before arriving at the Big Island. This tour includes 2.5 hours of sightseeing the Kealakeua Bay and snorkeling with tropical fish, sea turtles, and dolphins! Includes seasonal whale watching from December-April.
5. Visit Sea Turtles on Hawaii’s Black Sand Beach
That’s right, not only can you find white and green sand beaches in Hawaii, there’s also black sand beaches!
Big Island’s Black Sand Beach is much easier to get to than the Green Sand Beach. Though it doesn’t take much effort to find, the Black Sand Beach makes our list of the top Big Island adventures because it still quite rare around the world and an incredibly unique sight.
The black sand is actually tiny bits of basalt lava rock, which “explodes” when hot lava comes into contact with cool water. The “sand” formed by the nearby lava flow seems to all wash up in one place: Punalu’u Beach on the Big Island.
While there you can also see native sea turtles, as this happens to be one of their favorite rest stops on the Big Island. Two birds, one stone!
6. Hike the Active Lava Flow Area
This was the single best thing we did on the Big Island. It’s one of only two active volcanoes in the world which allow guest access, which makes it one very special, unique thing to do!
Park a car at the Lava Flow Area Parking Lot (check Google Maps for exact location). A constant shuttle van is available to take visitors from the parking lot to the Lava Flow entrance for free.
You can walk from the drop off zone to the beginning of the Lava Flow Area Hike, or ride bikes for an extra adrenaline boost. Bike rental stalls are all over the drop off area in case you’re interested.
Once at the end of the paved road you’ll start a hike east across the baron lava flow field to the hill with streams of active lava flow. The hike out takes 2-3 hours, but is exhilarating!
Be sure to wear full-coverage tennis shoes on this hike. It’s not a difficult hike, but the ground and lava hills are covered with glass-like shards of dried lava, which are easy to slip on.
Once you arrive at the active lava flow area it’s worth the extra effort to make it to a faraway stream with less people. Spend as much time as you want around the active lava flow. It’s easily one of the best Big Island things to do!
7. Big Island Hot Springs
Just outside of the active lava flow area of Big Island, Hawaii, you’ll find a string of meditation centers offering hot spring baths. Yes, you’re sitting in a tub of water, which doesn’t sound all that exciting, but you’ll have to relax from all of the Big Island adventures, anyway, so you may as well do it in mineral water straight from the lava flow area!
There is a saucer-shaped aquifer under Big Island, Hawaii, which is warmed by geothermal activity. Hot springs baths are made by drawing up that hot water and plumbing it straight into bath tubs or pools. People believe these hot spring baths are not only relaxing, they are also healing. The water is believed to contain many minerals our bodies need to replenish and remain healthy, so a dip could be a unique way to rejuvenate you for your next adventure!
Related: Our favorite Big Island Hot Springs
8. Hike Mauna Kea Point
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano and the tallest peak in Hawaii. It is considered a sacred peak, and one that leads to a near Heavenly view of clouds covering Big Island, Hawaii.
You can reach the Mauna Kea summit by 4×4 truck or by hiking. If you choose to hike (which we encourage all true adventurers to do!) you would begin at the Humu’ula Trail. Humu’ula Trail is easily accessible from the Mauna Kea Visitors Center and requires no fees to hike.
Budget around 6 hours to reach the peak from the Visitor’s Center, a difference of almost 4,000 ft. The hike is strenuous and can lead to altitude sickness. Be prepared with lots of water and a jacket as well as by taking time to adjust to the high altitude.
The best time of day to summit Mount Kea is sunrise. Clouds have yet to completely roll in, which means you could have spectacular views of the surrounding area as well as the astronomical research telescopes on the peak!
- Arrange a sunrise Mount Kea hike before you go to Big Island. This tour includes a continental breakfast, stargazing, and a discussion on local vegetation.
Don’t want to go alone? Book a top-rated tour with a local expert here
All of the islands of Hawaii are special, but Big Island is our favorite. There is so much for an adrenaline junkie to enjoy. I hope you enjoy all the adventurous Big Island things to do as much as we did!
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