Family Vacation Guides:
Big Island of Hawaii
Where to Stay
What to Do
Where to Eat
Money $aving Tips
The Big Island of Hawaii offers so much for today's vacationers. Here, you can:
* Visit a drive-in volcano at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, literally the hottest site in the country:
* Ski on snow atop Mauna Kea, one of the world's tallest mountains, and then adventure into the blue waters of the Pacific for snorkeling later on in the day;
* Play on any one of 20 golf courses on the island, also known as the Golf Capital of Hawaii;
* See 90 percent of all stars visible from the planet from the vantage point of an oceanside swaying hammock;
* Experience 21 of 22 micro-climates in a single day, more than anywhere else in the world - if you don't like the weather ... just move to another part of the island!;
* Take an extended road trip - the Big Island is twice the size of the state of Delaware;
* Visit some of the most beautiful beaches in the nation, including Hapuna Beach which received Conde Nast Traveler's vote as the #1 beach in the country. Here, beaches come in all colors, including white, golden brown, black, salt & pepper; and even green!;
* Stop for cattle crossing at Parker Ranch, one of the largest working cattle ranches in the country;
* Experience adventure in many forms, including diving with manta rays; taking a door-less helicopter ride over a volcano; cruise through a mountain in a kayak; go to a "star party" atop 13,796-foot Mauna Kea; watch whales all year long; swim with turtles and thousands of tropical fish; surf the Big Island's best breaks; charter a fishing boat; hike past waterfalls and along lava flows; explore the high country on horseback; or go mountain biking;
* Relax at some of Hawaii's most beautiful resorts; or
* Enjoy the friendly spirit of "aloha"!
Take your pick - you can be as active or as laid-back as you like. The Big Island offers something wonderful for each member of the family. You're sure to find what you're looking for here.
Where to Stay
Accommodations on the Big Island of Hawaii are as varied as the island itself. Choices range from luxurious resort communities to vacation rentals, bed & breakfasts, or camping facilities.
On the Big Island, you'll find a full range of hotels and resort communities to satisfy every need. Take your pick from all-inclusive packages at beach front hotels to thatched-roof cottages, from five-star classic resorts to Disney-style theme park accommodations. Activities and dining opportunities abound, and many of the properties offer children's programs. Take a look at some of our family favorites.
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai
This brand-new, top-rated, 243-room resort is located on one-half mile stretch of beach on the Kona-Kohala coast of the Big Island. Carved from the landscape formed from 19th century eruptions of the Hualalai volcano, the resort blends local mythology and culture with modern-day luxury and convenience. Accommodations are housed in 36-low-rise bungalows allowing ocean views and "step out" access to the beach. 32 of these bungalows are ocean view and 4 are golf course and ocean view. Families should request accommodations in the ocean view bungalows near the children's pool, the Sea Shell pool, and the beach. Over 600-square feet in size, the resort's luxurious rooms are particularly spacious and accommodating for families. Special touches: milk and chocolate chip cookies waiting in the room on arrival, special children's amenities including "no-tangles" shampoo, conditioner, bubble bath and bath sponges (spelling your child's name!), and beautifully decorated and equipped cribs complete with a baby-care kit of diapers and wipes. Each child also will find an adorable plush toy seal waiting for them in their room - a free souvenir of their stay at the Four Seasons. The resort's Kids for All Seasons program is offered year-round on a complimentary basis for children 5-12. The program includes swimming outings, beach excursions, scavenger hunts, and Hawaiian arts and crafts. Babysitting is also available. The resort's Ka'upulehu Cultural Center offers weekly classes including lei making, lauhala weaving, ukulele lessons, hula dancing, and Hawaiian navigation by the stars. For those families who want to get up close and personal with Hawaii's fantastic underwater life, the resort's King's Pond is a perfect way to experience snorkeling without the currents or waves. This man-made pond is stocked with over 3,000 fish and an eagle ray. Snorkel gear is complimentary for several hours, and the pond is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Parents will enjoy the fully-equipped spa and sports club, and both golf and tennis are available at the resort. The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is perfect for those families wishing to combine unprecedented luxury with family-friendly features and a wide array of sports activities. $$$$
Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel
Kohala Coast, Hawaii
Situated on 32 oceanfront acres, this beautiful 350-room luxury hotel is set on the beach Conde Nast Traveler magazine named as the best in the nation. The contemporary low-rise architecture of this resort blends beautifully into the site's bluffs, creating a natural, low-profile feel. Rooms are nicely decorated, and all offer an ocean view and private lanai. If your family puts beautiful, natural white sand beaches at the top of your resort shopping list, this may be the perfect place for you. As part of the Mauna Kea Resort, guests at the Hapuna Beach Prince have signing privileges and access to next-door sister property Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Thus, they have two gorgeous beaches from which to choose: the lengthy Hapuna Beach and the classic white crescent Kauna'oa Beach fronting the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. It's hard to choose between the two. In addition to a beautiful setting, guests can enjoy six restaurants and lounges, a large pool and whirlpool, 18 holes of championship golf, fitness facilities and jogging paths, and a full array of water sports. Thirteen tennis courts are located next door at the Mauna Kea, a short shuttle bus ride away. The resort's daily Prince Kids children's program for kids 5-12 is offered at the Hapuna Beach Prince. Both half-day and full-day with lunch programs are offered. Activities include scavenger hunts, t-shirt painting, watercolor painting, swimming, games, lauhala weaving, and other arts and crafts. $$$$
Hilton Waikoloa Village
This 62-acre property is the equivalent of the Disneyland of the Big Island. Trams and mahogany water boat taxis will take you from the lobby to your room in one of the three tower buildings, or to any of the restaurants or attractions this sprawling resort offers. Here you'll find a swimming pool of almost an acre in size complete with a 175-foot water slide, a lazy river that connects several smaller pools, a sandy beach fronting a 4-acre lagoon complete with tropical fish and sea turtles, and the DolphinQuest dolphin encounter program. Children will especially enjoy snorkeling near the huge sea turtles, paddl includes large water parks, many activities and shopping, the Hilton Waikoloa Village may be the place for you. $$$$
Kona Village Resort
Named as one of Andrew Harper's Hideways of the Year, the Kona Village Resort combines privacy with family-friendly features. This all-inclusive Polynesian-style resort offers one of the most unique children's programs to be found anywhere in the nation. The resort's complimentary Keiki in Paradise children's program is run by a group of 3-4 highly-dedicated, experienced staff who bring the Hawaiian culture and experience to life for their guests. Activities include making kui lei/coconut leaf headbands, fishing contests, hula lessons, Hawaiian crafts, pool activities, hikes, and tennis round robins. Babysitting is also available. Programs run daily from October through August. One of the resort's guests, Michael Davis of Marin County, California, was particularly impressed with the resort's commitment to families. "The children's program here is amazing," he said. "We've been to a number of resorts on the Kohala Coast, and we've never seen anything like it anywhere else. There is tremendous support and commitment from the resort for the kid's program, and the quality of the staff is extremely high. It's a very educationally-oriented, hands-on program full of local crafts and local culture." Says Michael, "We're very impressed!" The resort offers particularly unique Polynesian-style accommodations including individual thatched hales (cottages) nestled among lush lagoons, fishponds, and along the palm-fringed shore and crescent of natural salt-and-pepper sandy beach of this 82-acre upscale property. Each hale includes ceiling fans (no air conditioning), a mini-refrigerator stocked with soft drinks daily, and coffeemaker. Privacy and relaxation are key to the Kona Village way of life. With no phones, radios or televisions in the rooms, this resort offers an authentically Hawaiian, "get away from it all" experience for its guests. If you and your family are seeking to experience the peace of a simpler time, this may be just the place for you. Daily rates include accommodations, three meals daily, sodas and juices in room, use of fitness center, tennis, ocean sports and activities, children's program, historical and petroglyph tours, Wednesday night cookout, Friday night Luau, and other features. $$$$
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
Kohala Coast, Hawaii
Designed by renowned hotelier Laurance S. Rockefeller more than 30 years ago, this world-class resort property underwent a complete restoration and re-opened in December, 1995. The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is situated on 60 landscaped oceanfront acres, and features 310 guest rooms, two championship 18-hole golf courses, 13 Plexipave tennis courts, 7 restaurants and lounges, a heated freshwater pool and whirlpool, fitness facilities and jogging paths, horseback riding, and a wide array of ocean sports and activities. A resort shuttle service navigates through the grounds of the 1839-acre Mauna Kea Resort, and guests have signing privileges at sister-property Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel located next door. With two spectacular natural white sand beaches from which to choose - including the crescent-shaped Kauna'oa Beach fronting the hotel and nearby Hapuna Beach, this is an excellent property for families who require a great on-site beach to make their vacation complete. Mauna Kea's classic low-rise architecture and use of colors (the exterior is the exact color of the sand on the beach, the floor tiles of the entrance and lobby are the perfect blue of the sea) help to add a natural, low-key feel to the resort. The resort's Mauna Kea Children's Program, designed for kids 5-12, is offered daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the resort's sister property, the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. Half-day and full-day programs are available. Registration takes place on the Promenade level of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, and then children are shuttled to the Hapuna Prince for the program. Alternatively, parents can take the children directly to the Activities lanai at Hapuna. Children's program activities include scavenger hunts, swimming, games, t-shirt painting, lauhala weaving, watercolor painting, and other arts and crafts. Special events, including luaus and clambakes, are offered at the property. $$$$
Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows
Kohala Coast, Hawaii
(800) 327-8585 (reservations) or (800) 367-2323 (information)
Located on a nice stretch of white sand beach, the 3,200 acre Mauna Lani Bay resort offers guests Five-Diamond accommodations and a wide variety of sports and activities. Families can choose from rooms with two double beds, suites consisting of two guest rooms each with a private lanai, or the five sumptuous bungalows situated adjacent to the hotel. Family Packages are now available year-round. Over ninety percent of the guest rooms overlook the Pacific Ocean or the fishponds, and all rooms have a private lanai. For those wishing a vacation with all the comforts of home, Villa condominiums are also available. These feature a full kitchen, laundry facilities, daily maid service, and full use of all hotel privileges except room service. The hotel's saltwater ponds teem with a myriad of tropical fish, green sea turtles and black-tipped sharks. The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel is well-known for its endangered species program focusing on Hawaiian green sea turtles. Each 4th of July, the hotel releases into the open ocean a number of turtles which have been raised in the hotel's saltwater ponds. Now embarking on its tenth year, more than 75 turtles have been released through this program. The resort's Camp Mauna Lani program, offers children ages 5-12 a wide range of activities, year-round, including tidal pool exploration, lei making, story telling, historic tours, sports activities and arts & crafts. The camp is complimentary for families who purchase the Family Suite Package, which includes two connecting rooms and day camp for up to two children daily. At the same times, guests ages 13-17 can participate in Mauna Lani Bay's Eco-Teen Adventures program which offers supervised day-long wilderness hikes, moonlit reef walks, and kayak trips. In addition to the beautiful accommodations and setting, guests can enjoy two championship golf courses, tennis, a fitness center, and a variety of ocean sports. $$$$
Royal Kona Resort
This 452-room hotel overlooks Kailua Bay, and is located within walking distance of Kailua-Kona's many restaurants, shops and historic areas. This is a fun location for families who like to be close to a variety of restaurants and shopping, and do not need a beautiful, sandy beachfront area to make their stay complete. Beaches, however, are located close by. At the resort, you'll find swimming and wading pools, tennis courts, a restaurant, and lovely oceanfront views. All rooms are air-conditioned and have lanais, refrigerators, and coffee makers. If possible, request one of the corner rooms in the Beach building, as they feature large lanais overlooking the sea. The resort also offers an oceanfront luau three times each week, providing Polynesian entertainment and an imu ceremony. $$$
The Orchid at Mauna Lani
Kohala Coast, Hawaii
Formerly the Ritz-Carlton, this luxurious 539-room ITT Sheraton property is located on 32 beachfront acres within the Mauna Lani Resort. Beautifully-furnished rooms are located in two six-story wings, and each guest room offers a private lanai. The resort features a beautiful white sand lagoon fronting the hotel - perfect for family swimming; a 10,000 square foot swimming pool; a 36-hole championship golf course; ten tennis courts; a complete fitness center; and a wide array of ocean activities. The Orchid's year round Keiki Aloha children's program is available for kids ages 5-12, and offers fully supervised half-day, full day, and Saturday evening programs. Activities include cave explorations, Hawaiian games, tide pool explorations, lei making, petroglyph hikes, kayaking, treasure hunts, and arts and crafts. Both adults and children enjoy The Orchid's Beach Boys, who teach resort guests about the islands' cultural legacies and hidden treasures. Guests can participate in demonstrations of how to create drums from the trunks of coconut trees, making fishhooks from bone and wood, and how to through a net or shoreline fish. At the end of the day, families enjoy relaxing with the Beach Boys as the sound of their 'ukulele fill the air as they "talk story" and share legends of old Hawai'i. Parents will enjoy the resort's new Orchid Centre for Well Being, a comprehensive activity and wellness program that incorporates sport, spa, wellness, culture, and mind-body synchronization into guest activities. $$$$
The Royal Waikoloan
This Outrigger Hotels & Resorts property is located on the beach at Anaehoomalu Bay in the Waikoloa Beach Resort. Situated on 15 tropically-landscaped acres, the resort also fronts one of the Big Island's longest beaches. This property offers a great value for families wishing to vacation on the Big Island, particularly with its all-inclusive package. This all-inclusive rate starts at $184 double occupancy (children 5-11 years are an additional $71 per night, those 12-17 are $100 per night), and includes three full meals daily, unlimited quantities of most beverages in restaurants and lounges, a Hawaiian lu'au and Polynesian show, catamaran and snorkel sails, a wide variety of activities, and the use of bicycles, windsurfers, and other water and beach equipment. While there is no formal children's program, babysitting is available. Most rooms have an ocean view, and all have a private lanai for relaxing. Golf, tennis, and an assortment of ocean sports are available on the premises. $$$
For larger families or those who wish to be more flexible and mobile, vacation rentals including condominiums and houses are scattered around the Big Island. Shoreline areas that are especially good for these types of rentals are the Keauhou-Kona area, Puako, Kapoho, and Pulalu'u. All of these communities are close to the shore and are prime areas for snorkeling, reef exploration or other water sports activities. A few of the best condominium complexes for families include: Kanaloa at Kona (800-688-7444), the Aston Royal Sea Cliff Resort (800-922-7866), and the Aston the Shores at Waikoloa (800-922-7866).
If you're looking for a cooler climate, Volcano Village, Waimea, Holualoa and Hawi vacation rentals will give you a perspective on island life within small upcountry communities.
Some great sources for vacation condominium rentals include:
Classic Aloha VacationsKauai, Hawaii
767 Islington Street
Portsmouth, NH 03801
You might also check out the classified sections of the Big Island's newspapers or call the Big Island Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau at 808-961-5797. They can provide you with general information on vacation rentals as well as a wide variety of accommodations choices.
Bed & Breakfasts
The Big Island of Hawaii offers a number of bed and breakfasts which can accommodate families. If you're interested in this type of accommodations, you may wish to contact Hawaii's Best Bed & Breakfasts, a travel service catering exclusively to Hawaii's finest B&B lodgings. For almost a decade, this group has been evaluating over 700 B&Bs in Hawaii to come up with those which offer the best in lodging, food and service. While all of the accommodations have private baths and are non-smoking, you should be aware that private residences in Hawaii are seldom air-conditioned and daily maid service is not provided at most B&Bs. For more information on Big Island bed and breakfast accommodations, contact:
Hawaii's Best Bed & Breakfasts
P.O. Box 563
Camping, Mountain Cabins and National Parks
If you love to sleep in the big outdoors, there are a number of campgrounds along the shores of the Big Island, or in several mountain parks including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Fees start from as low as $3 per night for a camping permit. It is suggested that you call the State Parks Division (808-974-6200), the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (808-985-6000), or the County Department of Parks and Recreations (808-961-8311) for reservations or updated information. The Big Island Hawaii Visitors & Conventions Bureau (808-961-5797) may also be of assistance in finding suitable campgrounds for you.
What to Do
Walk on a Volcano
The Big Island's most popular tourist attraction is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This is the only park of its kind to be found in the United States, and it is well worth the visit. The 377 square-mile park is located in the south-central part of the Big Island, about a 45 minute drive from Hilo and about a 2 1/2 to 3 hour drive from the Kailua-Kona area. The drive from the Kohala Coast resorts can be a tough one for kids, so try to break it up with stops along the way.
If you only have one day at the park, there are a few must-see attractions to visit. First, stop at the Kilauea Visitor's Center and see the spectacular 20-minute film on eruptions which shows hourly. If you and your family are active hikers, you'll also need to check in here to obtain a permit to hike down towards the current eruption site or to take overnight backcountry camping trips. Make sure to bring plenty of water on your hikes - the Park Service requires it and you'll definitely need it.
Stop into Volcano House to view the pictures, visit the gift shop, and see Kilauea's caldera. Then take 11-mile Crater Rim Drive which encircles the caldera and leads to other interesting attractions. Along Crater Rim Drive, you'll see steaming vents, sulfur banks, recent lava flows, the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum, and the incredible Thurston Lava Tube. The tube was created when the top of a lava stream hardened when exposed to air, while the lava underneath kept flowing 28 miles to the sea. When all the lava eventually drained out, what was left was a huge, damp, empty tunnel. Part of the tube is now open to the public, and it's a sight that shouldn't be missed. Other scenic stops include the Kilauea Iki Crater, Devastation Trail, the Keanakakoi Crater, and sulfurous Halemaumau Crater.
If you have more time, you may wish to make the 50-mile round trip ride down Chain of Craters Road to view the current eruption zone from a distance. The drive takes 2-3 hours, and if the eruption in the East Rift Zone is still occurring, you may have the opportunity to see it on the drive.
A few words of caution for families visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. First of all, make sure not to remove anything from the park including plants, animals, archaeological materials, or lava. All are protected by federal law, and perhaps more than that. Second, make sure to wear good sneakers or hiking boots and bring layers of clothing including rain gear. Weather on the summit is extremely changeable. In addition, if anyone in your family has respiratory problems, do not stop at the sulfurous steam vents along Crater Rim Drive. Roll up your car windows and drive on.
If you're planning to spend the day in Volcanoes National Park, you might want to plan on taking a picnic lunch or orienting the day's activities around meal times. There is no food or gasoline available on Chain of Craters Road, so make sure to fill your gas tank and eat before you go. Volcano House serves a buffet lunch, but it tends to be very crowded with tour groups. Consider the Steam Vent Caf� behind Volcano Store, or the Volcano Country Club Restaurant at the Volcano Golf and Country Club, two miles south of the park's entrance.
For more information about the park and for current eruption update reports, call (808) 985-6000. The current eruption reports will give you important information on what can be seen, where activity is occurring, and how to get there. Based on that information, you can make a more informed decision on how to spend your time in the park.
Take a Mountain Kayak Cruise
The Kohala Mountain Kayak cruise is a family ecotourism adventure. Here, you'll journey through the historic Kohala Sugar Plantation irrigation system completed in 1905. The kayak trip takes you over private lands to the irrigation system, and then along a particularly scenic portion of the 22.5 mile system. You'll travel through ancient Hawaiian rain forests, over ravines and waterfalls, and through dark tunnels.
On your kayak trip, you'll travel through a total of 7 tunnels, over 4 flumes, and in 5 different ditches. The expedition uses high-tech inflatable kayaks for stability, comfort and safety. Guides are experienced kayakers, and have been trained in first aid, CPR, and water safety. Bring dry clothes to change into at the end of the cruise.
Cruises are approximately 2 1/2 hours long, and cost $75 per adult and $55 per child. Two trips are typically offered daily. For more information, call Kohala Mountain Kayak Cruise at (808) 889-6922.
Watch the Whales
Thousands of humpback whales typically cruise the waters surrounding the Big Island from December through April. During these months, whale watch cruises will take you and your family out to view these massive mammals. One of the most thrilling sights imaginable is to see a breaching 80,000 pound humpback whale propelling itself skyward out of the water, only to spin and fall with a crash into the depths below.
If you're on the Big Island during other months of the year, you can go out on a whale watching cruise to see other whale types including giant sperm whales, pilot whales, false killer whales and pygmy whales, as well as melon-headed and beaked whales. Playful dolphins will often surround the boat. We went on one of these cruises during the summer months, and saw some friendly pilot whales who approached the boat and stayed around for almost an hour.
For information on year-round whale watching cruises, call Dan McSweeney's Whale Watch Learning Adventures at (808) 322-0028 or Living Ocean Adventures at (808) 325-5556.
Bask on the Beach
The Big Island of Hawaii is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Here, you can take your pick from a variety of colors of sand - from pure white to gray, black and olive green. As always, anywhere in Hawaii, exercise caution with your children and do not turn your back on them when they head for the water. Given the reefs and the way the waves can break close to the shore, its easy for unsuspecting children to get hurt by big waves or rough currents.
Some of our favorites beaches for families are:
* Anaeho'omalu Bay -- a beautiful family beach studded with palm trees near the Royal Waikoloan Resort in Waikoloa. This beach has nice sand, shade, and excellent facilities. You can rent sailboats or other water sports equipment, relax in the calm waters of the bay, or explore the ancient fishponds nearby.
* Hapuna Beach State Park -- the beach Conde Nast Traveler named as the best in the nation. Hapuna has beautiful white sand, a nice sandy bottom, and good surf. This beach features covered pavilions, good facilities and lifeguards. At the snack bar, you can rent beach gear or get a snack for the kids. Hapuna Beach is located on the Kohala Coast along Route 19 north, near the Hapuna Beach Prince Resort. Watch for the signs for Hapuna, then turn left.
* Kauna'oa Beach -- a beautiful, classic crescent of white sand located at the Mauna Kea Resort. This well-maintained beach features fine white sand, clear water, and moderate surf. You can find some good snorkeling at the left end of the beach. If you're not staying at the Mauna Kea Resort, there are a limited number of passes to the beach available at the gate. Access is first come, first served, so get there early. Kauna'oa Beach is located on the Kohala Coast along Route 19 north. Turn left at the Mauna Kea sign and get a beach pass at the gate.
* King Kamehameha Hotel Beach -- a popular beach with both locals and visitors to the Big Island. The beach features white sand, calm surf (a good beach for young children), and good snorkeling outside the inner bay. SNUBA and dive instruction also takes place here. This beach is located near the pier in Kailua-Kona. There is paid parking at the hotel or free parking around the town area.
* Spencer Beach State Park -- perfect for young children with calm waters, white sand, and clean facilities. Camping is also allowed at this spot, and sea turtles are often spotted here. The beach is located along Route 19 North near Kailua-Kona. Follow the signs to Spencer Beach.
* Kahalu'u Beach Park -- certainly one of the best snorkel spots on the island with a wide variety of fish and marine life. You may even be able to swim with sea turtles here. Make sure to bring your underwater camera! For the best snorkeling, try to get out closer to the breakwater where the water is clearer. This beach has a pavilion, lifeguards, full facilities, rentals, and a lunch concession. While normally very safe, high surf conditions can create a strong rip current. When in doubt, ask the lifeguards for assistance. This spot is extremely popular, so try to get their early to avoid the crowds. This beach is located south of Kailua-Kona, and parking is available at the park.
* Punalu'u Beach Park -- a must-see if you've always wanted to walk on a long black sand beach. This is one of the few black sand beaches that hasn't been destroyed by volcanic activity, and the quality of the fine, black sand is amazing. Punalu'u offers good swimming, snorkeling, and picnicking under lots of tall palm trees. This beach is located on Route 11 south of Hilo. It's a perfect stop if you're taking a road trip to Volcanoes National Park from the Kona Kohala Coast.
* "Baby Beach" -- a favorite with locals with babies and toddlers. The waters are calm here, there are shallow tide pools where the kids can splash around, and lots of sand for building sand castles. The only drawback is no shade, so make sure to bring an umbrella and lots of sunscreen. "Baby Beach" is located in Kailua-Kona. From Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway, turn toward the ocean on Makala Boulevard. At the dead end, turn left and drive for about one-quarter mile to the Kona Gymnasium. Park in the lot, and then walk between the baseball diamonds towards the ocean. Follow the public access signs between some very nice houses to the beach.
Go Snorkeling or Diving
The waters around the Big Island are teeming with marine life, including turtles, trumpet fish, parrotfish, moorish idols, several types of tangs, and many others. You can view this underwater life on your own by snorkeling right from the shores of many of the island's beaches. Alternatively, you might enjoy taking a snorkel cruise, a diving excursion, or one of the many glass bottom boat trips available around the island.
For snorkel cruises, you may wish to call Red Sail Sports (808-885-2876), Body Glove Cruises (808-326-7122), Captain Zodiac Raft Expeditions (808-329-3199), Kamanu (808-329-2021) or Fair Wind Snorkeling and Diving Adventures ( 808-322-2788).
The Big Island offers a wide array of diving opportunities, including diving with Manta Rays. For more information, call Manta Ray Dives of Hawaii (808-334-1154), Nautilus Dive Center (808-935-6939), Big Island Divers (808-329-6068), or Eco Adventures (808-329-7116).
If you want to see the underwater marine life, but don't want to get wet, you have several options. Atlantis Submarines (808-329-6626) can take you 120 feet below the sea to a 25-acre natural coral reef, Nautilus Kona (808-326-2003) will allow you to view the undersea coral gardens of the Kona Coast from their semi-submersible's vehicle, and the Kailua Bay Charter Company (808-324-1749) or Ava Mahalo Lani (808-334-0101) can take you on a glass-bottom boat cruise.
Visit the Place of Refuge
Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park is one of the most beautiful sites on the island, and should definitely not be missed. The name of this historical park, translated as "place of refuge at Honaunau" is a beautiful restoration of one of Hawaii's ancient religious spots.
At Pu'uhonua o Honaunau, refuge for vanquished warriors and those who had broken the rules of the kapu system was guaranteed if they arrived at the temple. The only way to reach the temple located on this 20-acre finger of lava bordered by the sea, was by swimming across a large bay known as the shark's den. If the swimmer made it alive, he or she was absolved of all transgressions and was offered sanctuary here.
Tall royal palm trees, painstakingly renovated buildings, and huge wooden tikis fill the peaceful, beautifully-maintained grounds of the Place of Refuge. Kids will love exploring the area, viewing the petroglyphs, examining the tikis, and imagining what it would have been like to live in an earlier time. This is also a particularly magical location to view one of Kona's famous sunsets.
The Visitor Center (808-326-2326) is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and guided tours are available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The admission charge is $2. To reach Pu'uhonua o Honaunau, drive down Highway 11 south past Kona and Captain Cook, and turn towards the sea on Route 160.
Get Above It All in a Helicopter or Plane
One of the most awesome things you can do on the Big Island is to take a helicopter or plane ride around the island, viewing some of the most spectacular sites by air. We found this was one of the best ways to see current volcanic activity, as well as such areas as the Waipio Valley, the North Kohala mountain range, and gorgeous waterfalls. In a helicopter or plane, you can capture a bird's eye view of the island, and see sights that you can't reach on land. These activities are extremely popular, so make sure to make your reservations at least 24-48 hours in advance.
Helicopters can swoop down low to get you as close as possible to the sights, however, some people are afraid of helicopters or have less money to spend on an air trip. Fixed wing airplanes can address both of these concerns, and offers a chance to see the island via air at a more moderate price. While the volcano is one of the most popular destinations, tours also often include circular coastal routes.
For more information on helicopter flights, call Blue Hawaiian Helicopters (808-961-5600), Mauna Kea Helicopters (808-885-6400), Safari Helicopters (808-969-1259), or Kenai Helicopters (808-882-1851 in Kona or 808-969-3131 in Hilo), or Hawaii Helicopters (808-329-4700). Each company offers a variety of helicopter trips, ranging in length from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Prices vary based on the length of the flight from $99 to $290.
A number of operators offer flightseeing excursions by airplane, including: Big Island Air (808-329-4868), Classic Aviation (808-329-8687), or Hawaii Island Hoppers (808-969-2000). Air trips vary in length from 25 minutes to 2 1/2 hours, and range in cost from $65 to $189.
Go Horseback Riding
The Big Island is a wonderful place for horseback riding, and there are several organized trail rides that are perfect for families. Some resorts, such as Mauna Kea (808-882-4288) maintain their own stables. Others explore the Waipi'o Valley or South Kohala areas.
Waipi'o Na'alapa Trail Rides (808-775-0419) caters to families, and arranges two-hour horseback rides through the beautiful Waipi'o Valley. The trails take riders through a lush tropical setting with jungle trails, taro patches, waterfalls, and historic and spiritual places.
Paniolo Riding Adventures (808-889-5354) gears trail rides for beginners to buckaroos. You'll don leather chaps and oilskin dusters and ride with wrangler guides through pasture land, groves of native Ohia trees, and past ancient sites nestled between cinder cones with beautiful views of the Kona and Kohala coasts.
Bike Down a Volcano
If your families wants an active diversion on your trip to the Big Island, consider a biking tour. The down-the-volcano tour is particularly easy, and would be suitable for anyone comfortable with bicycle hand breaks and gears. While there are several tour companies which organize bike trips of several days in length, two operators given below run half-and full-day tours ranging from easy cruises to challenging off-road treks.
For more information, contact Chris' Adventures Bike or Hike or Mauna Kea Mountain Bikes. Breakfast, lunch, and/or snacks are typically provided.
See a Luau
Attending a luau is a wonderful way for families to experience authentic Hawaiian foods and entertainment. While they are rather expensive ($49 to $65 per adult), it's a great thing to do at least once on a visit to the islands. Make sure to get there in time for the imu ceremony, although you may find your younger children are either amazingly fascinated with, or completely "grossed out" by the whole kalua pig. Once reassured that "it tastes a lot like barbecue", my children loved it. Other delicacies may include lomi salmon (marinated salmon, tomatoes and onions), poi (it tastes better when mixed up with something a bit more flavorful), and laulaus.
While the food has been good at the luaus we've attended, the entertainment and dancing tends to be superb. The Kona Village Resort (808-325-5555) offers an excellent, authentic luau on Friday nights in a magical lagoon-front setting. The Hilton Waikoloa Village (808-885-1234) puts on its "Legends of the Pacific" show with samplings of Hawaiian food and entertainment. The Royal Waikoloan (808-885-6789) also does a nice job with its luau, held on Sundays and Wednesdays at the luau grounds on the resort. The Polynesian revue features the well-known Tihati troupe of entertainers. The Royal Kona Resort (808-329-3111) in Kailua offers a beautiful oceanfront luau three times a week, with particularly good dancers and a lovely imu ceremony.
Golf at One of Hawaii's Championship Courses
One of the things the Big Island is known for is its beautiful, challenging, championship golf courses. Along the Kona Kohala Coast, you'll find some of the best golf facilities in the world, each with its own special layouts and features. Near the top of the sunny South Kohala Coast, you'll find the award-winning Mauna Kea Beach Resort 18-hole course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., and its companion course, the Hapuna Golf Course. The Mauna Kea course has been repeatedly chosen by golfing magazines as one of the best in the world.
A few miles south, golf lovers can tee off at the two 18-hole courses at the Mauna Lani Bay Resort, the Francis H. I'I Brown North and South courses. The South Course has been the site of 8 world-famous Senior Skins Games held in January of each year. The men's tee at the 15th hole of the South Course is particularly memorable, as the ball must fly over a stretch of open ocean to complete play. With its green fairways lying against the stark black lava rock, the golf courses at Mauna Lani Bay are particularly stunning.
Heading further down Route 19, you'll come to two other memorable courses at the Waikoloa Resort. The Waikoloa Beach Golf Course is associated with the Royal Waikoloan Resort and the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Kohala Coast. Its twin, the 72-par Tom Weiskoph/Jay Morrish-designed King's Course, is also particularly challenging with its four large lakes.
If you're staying at the Four Seasons Hualalai, you may have a chance to play one of the newest jewels in the black lava desert, the 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed course at the Hualalai Golf Club. This course is already making a name for itself, and hosted the prestigious Senior PGA Tournament of Champions in January of this year. At this spectacular course, players can see the ocean from tee boxes at every hole.
Hike to Beautiful Waterfalls
The scenic Big Island has something for everyone: mountains, volcanoes, waterfalls, lush rainforests, clear blue seas, deep valleys and sheer cliffs. Hiking, either by guided tour or on your own, is a great way to see these sights.
Combination van/4WD & hiking tours have become very popular on the Big Island, as they allow hikers to access difficult to reach spots. Some of the groups specializing in these types of tours include Hawaii Forest & Trail (808-322-8881), Hawaii Island Excursions (808-329-0065), Hawaiian Walkways Hiking (808-885-7759), and Hawaiian Eyes Van/Hiking Tours (808-937-2530). Green Sand Tours (808-929-9664) will take you for a hike along secluded Green Sand Beach, which is made up of fine grains of green volcanic stone called olivine.
If you're interested in hiking to some beautiful sites on your own, don't miss beautiful Akaka Falls and its companion, Kahuna Falls. Akaka Falls State Park is located off Highway 19 near Hilo. Park the car, and take a relatively easy 20 minute hike along paved paths to see Akaka Falls tumble more than 420 feet into a pool below. Nearby Kahuna Falls is approximately 100 feet high.
Visit the Onizuka Space Center
While waiting for your flight, or on one of those days when it would be better to stay indoors, visit the Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center at the Keahole Airport in Kona. This highly interactive Space Center is dedicated to the memory of Hawaii's first astronaut, Colonel Ellison Onizuka, who perished with all crew members aboard the ill-fated Challenger mission on January 28, 1986.
This is a hands-on museum designed for families. Here, you can test your skills at manipulating hand controls to rendezvous with an object in space, roll coins into a five-foot wide gravity well that illustrates orbital motion, launch a miniature space shuttle, or log onto the space shuttle computer program that explains the various system components on board.
The Center is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $2.00 for adults and $.50 for children.
Where to Eat
Beach Tree Bar & Grill
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai
This casual pool-side restaurant faces the beach, and serves wonderful, lunches and reasonably-priced dinners. Choose from sandwiches, fresh seafood, pastas, and salads. The grilled Island Catch of the Day was always excellent each time we sampled it. A good children's menu is also available. This is a wonderful place to kick back and enjoy the evening with your kids. Entertainment is often offered during the evenings. $
Big Island Steak House
Kings' Shops, Waikoloa Beach Drive
This reasonably-priced restaurant is decorated with memorabilia from the '30's, '40's and 50's. Try the baby back ribs or the coconut prawns. They're great! $$
Wharf Road and Mahukona Highway, Kawaihae Center
If you're in the mood for pizza, especially the gourmet or specialty variety, don't miss Caf� Pesto. This harborside restaurant serves excellent pastas and pizzas with Pacific Rim flavors. Try the seafood risotto made with sweet Thai chili, Hawaiian spiny lobster, jumbo scallops and tiger prawns. The kids can get their favorite "regular" pizzas, too. $-$$
Hualalai Club Grille
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai
This casual restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort pleases families with a great keiki menu for the kids as well as a wide assortment of adult favorities including hand tossed brick oven pizzas, fresh fish, pork, steak, and pastas. Specials are offered daily. The restaurant is a favorite with golfers, and serves both lunch and dinner in a relaxed atmosphere. $$
Kamuela Provision Company
Hilton Waikoloa Village
This restaurant offers families a breathtaking sunsets and views of the Kona-Kohala coastline. Ask for a table along the lanai, where you can enjoy the sea breezes and evening entertainment. The restaurant offers an extensive children's menu as well as an excellent variety of choices for adults. The fresh fish, salads and steaks are particularly excellent. $$
Kona Ranch House
75-5653 Olioli Street
This restaurant is known locally for its big portions, reasonable prices and good service. Families seeking a fine dining experience (white tablecloths and the works) should request a table in the Plantation Lanai, while those seeking a more relaxed family-style atmosphere (booths, no tablecloths) should request the Paniolo Room. While the restaurant offers a wide selection of entrees, the fresh fish and barbecue platters are particularly excellent. $
Ocean View Inn
75-5683 Alii Drive
This family-run restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and offers American, Chinese, and Hawaiian specialties. Servings are large, and the plate-lunch menu is particularly good. $
Pavilion Restaurant at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Drive
Relax on the lanai overlooking crescent-shaped Kauna'oa Beach and enjoy a great meal with your family. This restaurant at the upscale Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is particularly family-friendly, and offers a wide variety of adults selections plus a good children's menu. The fresh fish and rack of lamb were particularly good when we were there. The view is spectacular. $$
Sam Choy's Restaurant
73-5576 Kauhola Street
Koloko Industrial Park
If you're in the mood for a large, local-style breakfast or lunch, head for Sam Choy's in the Koloko Industrial Park near the International Airport. Lunches here offer some great choices, including saimin, omelets, and Hawaiian burritos. On Wednesday through Saturday nights, Sam Choy's is open for dinners consisting of Hawaiian local cuisine including great fresh fish. Dinner menus and lunch specials change often. $-$$.
The Orchid Court
The Orchid at Mauna Lani Resort
If you're in the mood for a more elegant dinner with a wide variety of choices, take the family to the Orchid Court. Our preference for seating was out on the terrace at one of the glass-topped tables. While the kids enjoy one of the selections from the children's menu, you can dine on such specialties as grilled local ahi, sesame-crusted mahi mahi, filet mignon, or kiawe wood-smoked pork loin. A variety of Asian noodle dishes are also available. $$
Money $aving Tips
Although Hawaii can be expensive, a family vacation to the Big Island doesn't have to break the bank. Here are a few tips to help you keep within your budget:
* The Entertainment Club produces a special savings book for the Hawaiian islands, offering 2-for-1 dining options, 50% discounts at some hotels and resorts, and other specials. The Hawaiian islands book is #7T2, and is available for $28 including shipping and handling. For more information, call 800-374-4464.
* Pick up some of the local tourist publications, including This Week Big Island and Spotlight's Big Island Gold. In addition to giving you lots of ideas of activities and things to do, the books also sometimes contain discount coupons.
* Souvenirs and gifts for the folks back home can cost a bundle. To save some money on these items, visit Hilo Hattie's in Hilo or Kailua-Kona, or the Walmart in Kaulua-Kona. Both offer good values on souvenirs, and Hilo Hattie's sometimes offers discount coupons on meals if you purchase their Hawaiian and tropical wear.
* If resort amenities aren't particularly important to you, consider renting a condominium to save money on meals and provide additional living space for your family. The laundry facilities can be a big help, too. For more information on locating condominiums on the Big Island, see the "Where to Stay" section of this Spotlight.
* While splurging on a helicopter ride or a snorkeling trip can be great, there are also many free or inexpensive activities for families on the Big Island. Visit the fishponds and petroglyph areas around the King's Shops and the Royal Waikoloan Resort, visit the hands-on Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center, tour the Parker Ranch Visitor Center and Museum, hike around the volcano at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, or visit the peaceful Place of Refuge at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau.
* If you're planning on staying at a resort, make sure to ask about available family packages and all-inclusive rates. A number of the major resorts offer such programs, and they can save you hundreds of dollars on a first-class vacation.