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Driving Tours on the Big Island


The Big Island is filled with amazing sites and a great way to view them is by car. There are 8 of the 13 different climate zones that exist on the Island, and you can pass through several very different zones in a matter of hours.

No matter which direction you drive there will be something worth seeing.

The Shaka Tours app has several GPS audio tours that take you on routes around the Big Island. It’s available on Android and iPhone. It can be downloaded here.

Driving Tours

Farmers Markets and Forest Picnics

Saturday mornings are a great day to visit Waimea town and take a scenic drive along the Hamakua Coast. The markets throughout town offer an amazing variety of locally grown and raised products and a peak into the creative community that lives on the island. Be sure to try some local goat cheese, breads and local honey, coffee, unique fruit varieties and locally-made treats!  From Waimea, continue your country drive along the Hamakua Coast. This rugged coastline was once home to the booming sugar industry, and now, home to cattle ranches and homestead farms. If you still have some treats left from the farmers market a great picnic location is Kalopa State Park. Take a right off of highway 19 just outside of Honoka’a. Enjoy a meandering drive up the slopes of Mauna Kea to the quiet and tucked away forest at Kalopa State Park. The park is home to an arboretum, many great walking trails and lots of beautiful park space or tables to enjoy your picnic.

Historical Park & Snorkel

Enjoy an immersion into Hawaiian culture at Puʻuhonua O Honaunau national historical park then cool off at “two-steps” snorkel spot. South of Kona, take Route 160 to the ocean, when you reach Puʻuhonua Road take a right. Enjoy a view of the historic Kealakekua Bay then head further south along the coast to Puʻuhonua O Honaunau Park. The park was once home of royal grounds and a place of refuge during war times. Explore the sacred grounds where you will find the Great Wall, Hawaiian games, a sacred temple (heiau) and wooden statues of Gods. If you remembered your snorkel gear, walk out of the parking lot and take your 1st left back down to the ocean. Almost directly in front of you, conveniently carved into the lava reef you will find the ‘two-steps’ that lead you into the ocean. This special spot is home to some of the best snorkeling waters in Hawaii.

Local food, Waterfalls & Multiple Attractions

Exploring Hilo can be a fun day trip, with many different options for where to spend your time. The Daniel K. Inouye Highway takes you on a drive in between two of the largest mountains in the world, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. This drive also includes views of Maui and the Kohala Mountain Chain and Hualalai Mountain.

If you make this trip on a Wednesday or a Saturday the Hilo Downtown Market has an amazing assortment of unique tropical fruit and flowers and locally-crafted souvenirs. Make sure to discover a rambutan, soursop or the amazing white pineapple while you are in paradise.

While visiting Hilo we also recommend seeing Historic Banyan Drive, trying poke (local raw fish dish) from Suisan Fish Market and enjoying a stroll through Liliuokalani Park & Garden all located on beautiful Hilo Bay. On the southern end of Liliuokalani Park you can find Ali’i Ice Co., a small building where they sell delicious handmade paletas (Mexican ice pops).

One of Hilo’s famous landmarks is Big Island Candies, where you can watch the production of a unique variety of world-famous chocolates and treats and enjoy some samples and gift shopping. 

North of Hilo you can find Akaka falls and Rainbow falls, Onomea Bay and the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. South of Hilo you can find the Panaewa Zoo and the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory.

Southernmost Point in the US, Ancient Temples & Green Sand Beach

To visit South Point follow Hwy 11 toward the South side of the Island. The winding road is lots of fun to drive and has beautiful sights with several lookouts along the way. Between mile markers 69 and 70 will be the turn off for South Point Rd. Follow this road South for about 10 miles and you’ll come to a fork with a sign, take the right turn toward the “Southernmost Point in the USA Kalae”. Follow this road to the end and find a place to park. If conditions are good you’ll likely see people cliff jumping beside the parking area. There are porta-potties beside the diving area. The actual tip of South Point is about a 5 minute walk further down the road. Near the point you’ll also find Kalalea Heiau, an ancient temple signifying the importance of this area’s fishing grounds, and salt pans. If you take the drive to South Point you may consider visiting Papakōlea Green Sand Beach. You’ll need to head out early though, as you will need to hike about an hour from the trailhead to get there! To learn more about the beach and getting there visit our Papakōlea Beach page.

Sea Turtles & Tasty Treats

If you are headed to Volcanoes National Park, you may want to stretch your legs in Punaluʻu town or just stay here and lounge on a black sand beach. When you make it to Punalu’u you do not want to miss the Punalu’u Bake Shop for ice cream, malasadas (Portuguese donut) or lunch. Punalu’u, is also best known for the beautiful black sand beach and lily pond, home to many honu (green sea turtle). The turtles love to bask in the sun on this particular beach most of the day and if you snorkel you are sure to see them in the water. This area of the island is also known to have some of the best coffee in the world, make sure to stop by one of the many roadside coffee stands for a sample!

Inside Volcanoes National Park is Chain of Craters Road which will take you on a winding road past historic lava flows and craters south down to the coast. Since this road is inside the park you will have to pay for admission at the gate, so we recommend exploring the park as well during your visit! It takes about 30 minutes one way to reach the end of Chain of Craters Road if you’re driving straight there, but there are a number of stops that can be made along the way, so depending on how much you want to see you could spend a couple hours on your way down to the bottom of the road. In addition to lookouts at the various craters and signs denoting the various historic lava flows, you’ll find the Keauhou Trail, Naulu Trail, and Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs along the way. The road ends after a switchback-style descent at the Hōlei Sea Arch, a natural 90-foot arched rock formation in the volcanic cliff. The dramatic view of the large waves crashing up the cliffs in succession is quite stunning. There are bathrooms and a small cash-only stand selling beverages and souvenirs here as well. Return to the park via the same route that you came.

Scenic Vistas & Lookout Point

The sacred Waipi’o Valley is on the Northern side of the Island. It is called the “Valley of Kings” and has beautiful views along with historical and cultural significance. The valley is over five miles deep with cliffs up to 2,000 feet tall. It is also home to Hi’ilawe, the tallest waterfall on the Island (1,300 feet.) The overlook is at the end of Hamakua Heritage Corridor drive. To get there, drive North on Hwy 19 and turn onto Hwy 240 at the town of Honoka’a. Follow Hwy 240 for 9.5 miles to the dead end at the lookout point. The view of the valley sides and the coast is gorgeous. Check out our Helicopter Tour page to learn more about how you can see the Valley from a different vantage point!

Antique Shops & Paniolo Culture

Explore a town rich in paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) culture and Hawaii state history. Honoka’a is a great stop on your way down the Hamakua Coast or on your way to or from Waipi'o Valley Lookout. The cattle on Hawaii’s Big Island was originally gifted to King Kamehameha in the late 1700s, he let the cattle herd roam, reproduce and become feral for the next twenty years, which devastated local agriculture. In 1812, the King began allowing hunting of the cattle and in the 1830s, he returned from Mexico with three vaqueros (Mexican cowboys), and thus, Paniolo Culture was born in Hawaii. The sugar industry later brought with it, immigration of many Portuguese cowboys, as well. After the sugar industry dissolved throughout the state, these Portuguese cowboys continued to utilize their previous dairy experience on their land in Hamakua. Many of these same ranches have been passed down through generations and continue to be working ranches throughout the area today.

With a town rich in history, you can also visit, Buddhist temples, some of the oldest Japanese cemeteries in Hawaii and a great collection of Antique Shops. Take a step back in time at Gramma’s kitchen for breakfast or lunch, don’t miss trying some amazing fudge and have fun finding all of the historical murals through town that celebrate this rich, living history and culture.