Planning a trip to Hawaii can often seem overwhelming between the price, the countless attractions, and deciding which islands to visit. Some people will argue that Oahu is the best island to visit for first-timers, while others may say Maui is the must-see. While a few things were certainly overrated, others were definitely worth the effort and time it took to get there. The Green Sand and Black Sand Beaches were both far from either of the main Big Island towns, but getting off the beaten path pays off more often than not. Here are the best places in Hawaii, in my humble opinion 🙂
Manta Ray Night Snorkel and Dive (Kona, Big Island)
One of the top two snorkels and top 10 SCUBA dives in the world, there is absolutely nothing cooler than exploring the ocean’s underbelly and majestic creatures via headlamp. You’ll meet at the marina at sunset where you’re taken 30 minutes by boat to a cove known for its manta ray activity. Attracted to the lights and the plankton drawn out by the lights, the snorkelers hold on to a floating raft on the surface while the divers sink to the bottom. Within minutes, huge mantas are doing flips in between the two groups. On any given day you can see dozens of the famed sea creatures, each with their own story and name.
Papakolea Green Sand Beach (Big Island)
One of just four green sand beaches in the world (the second closest is in Guam), the drive to Papakolea takes you through 10 miles of cornfields before you reach a small dirt parking lot close to the shore. From there, one giant family of 16 is waiting in jacked up 4x4s to take you the last 3 miles to the beach unless you’re brave (or silly) enough to attempt the hike or off-roading on your own. It’s a rocky, windy, unmarked trail with plenty of sand traps to get stuck in and definitely worth the $15 to hear their stories of the island, as they have been doing this for seven years. The unique green sand gets its coloring from the mineral olivine, found in the enclosing cinder cone the area’s volcano. Don’t want to drive? Opt for a guided tour.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach (Big Island)
Formed by cooled magma, there are a few black sand beaches and lava tubes around the Hawaiian islands, but only on the southernmost tip of the Big Island do giant sea turtles swim up on shore with you. Just a 10-minute drive from the Green Sand Beach, coconut palms frame the scene while Hawaiian Green Sea turtles sun themselves on shore. While it’s a huge fine to touch the turtles or take any of the black sand home with you, it’s an epic setting for many Instagram-worthy photos. If you’re looking for a color trifecta, there’s also a red sand beach on Maui.
Did you know? You can also see turtles in Oahu
The Road to Hana (Maui)
If you don’t like driving, the Road to Hana is rough. A windy two-lane road commencing in a town of three buildings, it’s claustrophobic and stressful. One of the most scenic roads in the world, if you drive yourself, there’s no good way to see the waterfalls along the Hana Highway. With almost nowhere to pull over, unpredictable traffic, sketchy weather (it is the rainforest), and even scarier passing situations, it’s much better to go with a tour.
Volcano National Park (Big Island)
I may have just gone at the wrong time of day (aka. in daylight, the park’s open 24/7 to see the orange glow at night), but what I did see was a huge let down as most of the park was closed due to volcanic activity. The Crater Rim Drive is nothing special, you really need to get out to experience the nature of the area so allocate time to do one at least one of the hikes, especially through the lava tube. It’s recommended to go with a guide so you know what you’re looking at. Either way, though, it was weird for a national park.