hawaii travel guide: do the big island circle tour

Hawaii’s been having a rough time, you guys. First the flooding in Kauai, and now the earthquake and subsequent eruption of Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island. It’s a far cry from how the Big Island looked a little over a year ago when the hubs and I spent a day there. And because we only had a day, and we wanted to see as much as possible in that short span of time, we did the Big Island in a Day tour—and it was totally worth it!

Our guide, Drew (who totally reminded me of Jason Mraz), picked us up at our hotel pretty much at dawn, and we set off to our first destination: the black sand beach! On the way, we stopped at a bakery, where we bought some pastries and some honey to take home with us (it’s since become “my thing” to bring honey home from places, but Hawaiian honey is in a league all its own!).

Hawaii Travel Guide | Big Island In a Day Tour | Punaluu Black Sand Beach ParkHawaii Travel Guide | Big Island In a Day Tour | Punaluu Black Sand Beach ParkHawaii Travel Guide | Big Island In a Day Tour | Punaluu Black Sand Beach ParkHawaii Travel Guide | Big Island In a Day Tour | Punaluu Black Sand Beach Park

Next, we went to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the active volcano (or at least its billowing smoke). There’s also a visitor center there with lots of information about volcanoes in general, photos from eruptions, and information on the scientists who study volcanoes and their activity.

Hawaii Travel Guide | Big Island in a Day Tour | Hawaii Volcanoes National Park20170408_115056

I believe the lava tube we went through is part of the National Park as well (it basically feels like a long tunnel, but it’s noteworthy and kind of surreal to walk through knowing that hot lava actually created it).

Hawaii Travel Guide | Big Island in a Day Tour | Lava tubes!Hawaii Travel Guide | Big Island in a Day Tour | Lava tubes!

After that, we stopped for lunch at the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens. We dined amongst some of the most beautiful and fragrant orchids I’ve ever seen. If it would have been easier for us to transport one home (and if I didn’t have a known history of killing orchids), I totally would have brought home with us. The lunch was pretty yummy too—we got to try Hawaii’s purple potatoes!

After lunch, Drew took us to the first of two waterfalls we would see that day. Along the way, Drew was fantastic about weaving a lively story about Hawaii’s history—about its kings and the various battles fought to control the islands—it’s super fascinating stuff, you guys, and it kept us entertained in the car between stops!


We made two back-to-back waterfall stops that day—first at Rainbow Falls (above), and then at Akaka State Falls (below). The lookout for Rainbow Falls is pretty close to the parking lot, but for Akaka, there’s a short walk through the lush rainforest.


Our final stop was at Waipio Lookout, which offers spectacular views of Waipio Valley, home to King Kamehameha I when he was a boy, called the Valley of the Kings.

Hawaii Travel Guide | Big Island in a Day | Waipio Lookout20170408_165540B01A2360Drew dropped us back off at our hotel around seven that night (yes, we saw pretty much the entire Big Island in 12 hours—or the highlights, at least), along with tips on where to get a good dinner, after which we promptly zonked out in our hotel.


We had a little bit of time before our flight back to Kauai the next morning, so we spent a couple hours just exploring the area around our hotel, taking pictures of random beautiful things along the way. The little hut you see below is actually a reproduction of the home King Kamehameha lived in (yes, a king lived in that tiny hut, it’s true)!

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Hawaii Travel Guide | Do the Big Island Circle Tour to See the Most in a Short Amount of Time

Published by ashleymmaynard

Oh, hey. I'm Ashley. My passion is travel: from planning to adventuring and everything in between! I'm here to impart my wisdom on epic but affordable travel: how-tos, must-dos, and don't-dos!

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