Relaxing beaches, cliff-hanging valleys, expansive farmland, sky-high mountains, lava desert and active volcano flows. You’ve arrived on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Although Oahu and Maui are popular tourist destinations, the Big Island has some of the most diverse terrain. Coupled with its inviting Hawaiian culture, this hidden gem has been recognized as one of National Geographic’s “Drives of a Lifetime.” Gear up as a modern day Magellan and circumnavigate the island to explore its hidden sanctuaries.
Begin in Kailua-Kona, where missionaries started the first Christian Church in 1820. It also happens to be the home of The Fairmont Orchid, a luxurious hotel. Boasting 540 rooms, all with spectacular garden and ocean views, the resort entices vacationers into making it their sole destination. Offering a variety of excursions without leaving the hotel grounds, the Fairmont Orchid invites guests for a complimentary guided hike along the beach. The trail ends with an optional refreshing yoga session or “mindful meditation practice.” Should you forgo the classes, go enjoy the sun-kissed breeze near the pool and sip on a Lava Flow – the perfect blend of rum, strawberries, banana, pineapple juice and coconut cream makes this elixir one that can’t be missed.
A Fairmont Orchid stay wouldn’t be complete without wrapping up the afternoon with an oceanfront cabana massage, followed by dinner with a panoramic view of the ocean. The Spa Without Walls allows the outdoor healing properties of Hawaii to enhance the wellness treatment, making it a popular service for guests. Upon arrival, be sure to make reservations at the critically acclaimed Norio’s Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar. Tables fill up quickly as everyone seems to vie for the restaurant’s half-inch thick, melt-in-your-mouth sashimi. Truly living up to the phrase “locally caught fish,” dining at Norio’s will make it unlikely that mainland fish will ever taste the same.
For sushi skeptics, the Fairmont Orchid brings Hawaiian culture to its guests by offering a weekly luau. A sumptuous buffet dinner is preceded by a “Gathering of the Kings” presentation. The dancers of the Island Breeze dance company tell the story of the settlements on the Pacific islands. Boasting the power of their chiefs, the performance entertains viewers of all ages as they sample a variety of native dishes, such as taro rolls, lemon marinated poke, underground roasted kalua pork and ripe pineapple.
Rest up from the luau and begin the drive of a lifetime the following day. Travel to the nearby town of Waikoloa and sip on natively brewed Kona Coffee from the Island Java Lava eatery. Paired it with a Hawaiian specialty, macadamia nut pancakes drizzled with coconut syrup, and your taste buds will be doing their own hula.
Now fueled with energy, prepare for a hike along any one of the Big Island’s preserved national park trails. Driving an hour north will land travelers at the Pololu Valley lookout. Located at the end of Highway 270, only a short 20-minute hike from the trailhead will end at one of the Big Island’s black sand beaches. Although swimming isn’t encouraged due to the strong current, walking barefoot along the shoreline is singular in nature. Sprinkled with lava rock that glisten emerald and burgundy tones in the sun, Pololu Valley is a site that is likely to be forever etched in the mind.
Should the southern route be taken, driving an hour in the opposite direction of Kailua-Kona will lead road-trippers to the Captain Cook Monument. According to one Hawaiian legend, Capt. James Cook was one of the first explorers to set foot on the Big Island. Thought by the natives to be a god, Cook’s deity undoing came about when he was unable to navigate stormy Pacific waters. By day, the sculpture warrants a photo-op. At night, snorkeling in the adjacent Kealakekua Bay will be an unparalleled experience. The manta rays come alive in the evening, as they perform countless somersaults around swimmers. Their bellies glow in the moonlight, appearing like twinkling stars in the water.
Continue along the journey to Papakolea Beach, also known as the Green Sand Beach. It is one of only four green sand beaches in the world, with the other three on the Galapagos Islands and in Norway. This Hawaiian beach is easily accessible by a 40-minute shoreline hike or a quick 10-minute off-roading adventure offered by friendly locals. Stretching less than a half-mile long, the Green Sand Beach is surrounded by parallel cliffs. Snag a spot in a cove and let the sound of the crashing waves show you a true wonder of the world.
Exploring the Big Island doesn’t have to stop come sundown. Home to one of the few active volcanoes, the Kilauea Volcano constantly re-creates the Hawaiian landscape with its lava flow. Witness its glow in the evening by circling Crater Rim Drive, a 10.6-mile road that follows the circumference of the volcano. For more daring travelers, a bird’s-eye view of the entire island, volcano included, can be captured with a two-hour helicopter tour.
Complete this drive of a lifetime come morning at picturesque Rainbow Falls, just outside of downtown Hilo. In the early hours, the bright sunlight produces a rainbow from the mist of this 80-foot waterfall.
With its black sand beaches, crystal clear snorkeling, green sand beaches, magma flowing volcanoes and crashing waterfalls, the Big Island is a vast canvas filled with innumerable delights.