Even though I had been to the Hawaiian island of Hawaii two other times, with this being my third time, I didn’t feel like I truly explored the island until this time. Let’s get to the name first, though. The island of Hawaii is also called The Big Island because the official name Hawaii can be a bit confusing since all of the Hawaiian islands are collectively called Hawaii. As you may guess from its nickname The Big Island, it is also the biggest of the Hawaiian islands, of which also includes Maui, Kauai, Oahu, Lanai, Molokai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe.
Even though I had been to the Big Island twice before, I had spent most of my time in the area called Kona. I would even sometimes refer to the Big Island simply as “Kona” when I would talk about it. What a mistake that is because the Big Island is so much more than just Kona! For my third time, I wanted to branch out and see more of the island. There are four major areas (although technically there are more, I’m simplifying here) of the Big Island: Waimea in the north, Kona in the west, Hilo in the northeast, and Volcano and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in the southeast.
This time I stayed in Waimea and found it to be much less touristy and more quiet than the Kona area but still with plenty to do in the area and within a reasonable drive of other parts of the island. The farthest I had to drive in a day was two hours to get to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and since I went all the way to the bottom of the park where it meets the ocean, it was two and a half hours to get back. Hilo was an hour or less away, depending on what part I went to and Kona was around thirty to forty-five minutes away.
Waimea is also known as “Cowboy country” with the Hawaiian word for cowboys being “paniolos,” which goes back to 1793 when five cattle were given to Kamehameha the Great. Now there are two major ranches, Kahua Ranch and Parker Ranch, where you can arrange horseback rides and watch rodeos. I had no interest in either so I can’t say what they’re like but I did enjoy the beauty of the area. It’s not as hot and dry as Kona nor as cloudy and rainy as in Hilo so the weather was perfect every day as well with highs around the upper 70’s and lows in the low 60’s. This isn’t seasonal weather but is typical year-round.
Where to Stay, Things to Do
There are two airports on the Big Island, one in Kona and one in Hilo. The one in Kona is about a 30 minute drive to Waikoloa Village (the one in Hilo is over an hour away so unless it’s a lot cheaper, you don’t want to fly into that airport), and Waikoloa is where most of the hotels, shops, restaurants, and golf courses are in Waimea. For “just” $900/night, I could have stayed in the fancy schmancy Westin Hapuna Beach Resort. Or even better, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel for a “mere” $1300/night. I walked by both hotels while I was hiking the Ala Kahakai Trail, which I do recommend as it has stunning ocean views and I can attest both hotels are luxurious massive places to stay right on the beach. There are more affordable hotels and Airbnb properties in Waimea, although you likely won’t be right on the beach for anything less than $500/night. No worries, though, there are plenty of beaches within a short drive of more affordable accommodations.
There are so many things to do on the Big Island I couldn’t possibly cover it all here. I’m going to start with things to do in Waimea and work on other posts with things to do in the other areas of Hawaii. I already mentioned the ranches and golf courses in Waimea. I’m not a golfer but I walked, ran, or hiked by several golf courses during the course of my stay and the views from some of those holes were incredible! As you might imagine, Mauna Kea and Hapuna golf courses look like the most beautiful and are the highest rated if you do a search. There are about 15 golf courses in the area so you’ve got plenty to choose from.
Some of the best beaches in Waimea include Hapuna Beach, Waialea Bay Beach, Samuel M. Spencer Beach Park, Kauna’oa Beach (also known as Mauna Kea Beach, behind the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel), Kapa’a Beach Park, and Anaeho’omalu Beach. Many of these beaches are rocky and/or sometimes have riptides and strong currents or big waves, so be aware. You should heed any red flags that are on a beach, as they mean danger, usually due to strong currents but sometimes for other reasons. Even though I saw red flags at some of the beaches I visited, there were still people swimming in the water, but not me! Some of these beaches have wonderful shade provided by trees so they’re nice and relaxing to sit and listen to the waves with a good book.
One of my favorite trails in Waimea is the Ala Kahakai Trail, as mentioned earlier. It’s a well-marked trail that winds along the coast but has some spots that are a bit steep and rocky so I recommend wearing hiking shoes. Also wear sunscreen and bring water because much of it is exposed to the sun. This trail is 175 miles long but it’s easy to just walk bits and pieces of it. The Puako Petroglyph Park is an interesting place to see many petroglyphs and is a short hike. Kalahuipua’a Historic Park was also one of my favorite walking paths because it goes past some fish ponds full of colorful fish and eels and there are tons of birds flying around and singing; it’s a paved easy trail.
A must-see site is the Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site. This is where many Hawaiians consider to be their capital, according to the film shown at the site, since it has major significance to the local people. Here, the story of King Kamehameha and his first cousin, Keoua Ku’ahu’ula is told. I had heard of Kamehameha before but I had never heard the entire story about how he united all of the Hawaiian islands. You can scan a QR code at the center and listen at your own pace to the history behind the site as you walk along the easy walking path. There’s a temple that’s still in use by some local people, so it’s off-limits to visitors but you can see the outside. At the water by the site, some people have seen sharks and even whales but we saw neither while we were there. No admission is charged but donations are accepted.
There isn’t much else besides hiking trails and beaches in Waimea. You will find a cluster of restaurants in Waikoloa Village and some galleries and a couple of shops further inland, including Gallery of Great Things, Anna Ranch Heritage Center, and Paniolo Heritage Center. You can also arrange helicopter tours over the Big Island and rent a bike or arrange a bike tour with Big Island Bike Tours and Rentals. One nice thing about the Big Island is it’s biker-friendly because many of the roads have extra-wide shoulders that are designated bike lanes.
Would I recommend staying in Waimea on the Big Island? Absolutely. It’s perfectly situated for some day trips to Hilo, Kona, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and there are plenty of outdoor activities if you want to stay in Waimea. It’s not nearly as crowded or expensive as Kona and is just as beautiful, plus the weather is perfect year-round.
Have you been to the Big Island? If so, have you been to Waimea? If you haven’t been to Hawaii, is it on your list?
4 thoughts on “Hawaii, “The Big Island,” Third Time’s a Charm While Discovering Waimea”
Since we’re trying to visit all of the national parks, Hawaii is definitely on our list. I appreciate your post because we wouldn’t have known that Waimea is the cheaper place to stay or that there is so much to do around there. Your photos make me want to book a trip now!
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I would also love to visit all of the national parks, but as I’m sure you’re aware, some of them are really difficult to get to (Alaska in particular but also Minnesota and some other states). The ones in Hawaii are at least easy to get to, well, once you take that long flight to the Hawaiian islands! It’s definitely worth the long flight, though.
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