Best Free Activities on Hawaii, The Big Island

Imagine sitting on a quiet beach in the Pacific Ocean, foamy waves matching the foamy coconut drink in your hand. A faint sound of ukulele music provides a high note to the undertone of the ocean’s tide going in and out; it feels as if you could stay in Hawaii forever.

North Kohala coastline (Cameron Brooks Photography) Best Free Activities on Hawaii Island

Then the bill arrives — fourteen bucks for a Pina Colada? — and these fantasies come to a screeching halt.

No doubt about it, Hawaii Island, nee the Big Island, is perfect for a luxury vacation and without careful attention, it can have the price tag to match it.

Rest assured, though, Hawaii Island also has many wonderful, free activities. A luxury vacation with a stay at one of the best upscale resort hotels on Hawaii Island is pampering and relaxing, but to really know the island, it’s a great idea to leave the resort grounds and create vacation experiences that will last longer than that last poolside Lava Flow. Here are The Vacation Gals’ recommendations for the best free activities on Hawaii Island.

Best Free Activities on Hawaii Island (“The Big Island”)

Ka Lae: This is off the beaten track, for sure. The Polynesians first landed here when they came across the Big Island all those centuries ago, so it’s of historical and cultural interest.

It’s on the somewhat lonely and windswept southernmost part of the Hawaii Island: This makes it easy to imagine what life was like back then, as the settlers started carving out their lives on Hawaii.

Ka Lae is a National Historical Landmark, and guess what? It is the southernmost point of the United States!

Hawaii Island South Point near Ka Lae, the southernmost point of the United States (Imoco Media)

Mauna Kea: This dormant volcano is known worldwide for both its striking elevation (over 13,000 feet above sea level) and snow on an otherwise tropical island.

Want to splurge a little? Try one of these 13 Best Things to Do on The Big Island.

Mauna Kea means “white mountain” because of this snow; some travelers like to ski there in the morning, and then go surfing off Kona or the Kohala coast a few hours later (skiing is not free, however).

The summit has an observatory, above much of the Earth’s water vapor and atmosphere. This makes is a prime spot for clear views of the universe.

Mauna Kea from Hokuula Mountain in Waimea, Hawaii Island (Cameron Brooks Photography) Beset Free Activities on Hawaii Island the Big Island

Puako Petroglyph Field: There are several well-preserved petroglyph fields in Hawaii, and this is one of my favorites.

Just off Highway 19 and a short walk from the Fairmont Orchid resort, the Puako Petroglyph is remarkably well preserved.

A short hike through the scrubby forest helps a traveler feel some distance removed from the luxury resort setting of the Orchid.

Petroglyphs at Puako Archeological Preserve on Hawaii Island (Hawaii Tourism Authority/Kirk Lee Aeder)

Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company: Hey, it’s Hawaii, why not indulge? Free samples of macadamia nuts, right from the source, along with a factory tour make this a great free activity on Hawaii Island.

Mokupapapa Discovery Center: There’s a big (for Hawaii) aquarium here, with both scientific and historical interpretations of the marine animals native to the area.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands’ fish and other sea life are featured; this area is one of the least polluted, most remote areas on Earth.

The Hilo Farmers market is nearby as well – although it’s great to support local farmers, their produce is not free!

Akaka Falls State Park: This is a top spot for visitors to the Big Island, with easy hikes and beautiful vistas. On Hilo side, but north of Honomu, it’s far from any vog (volcanic fog) that occasionally can cloud the air of the island south of Hilo. Two waterfalls reward hikers at the end of the trails.

Path to Akaka Falls on Hawaii Island (Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson best free activities on hawaii island)

The Waikoloa Petroglyph Field: It’s apparent that I love these ancient monuments to Hawaiian life. The Waikoloa Petroglyph Field is right along Waikoloa Beach Drive, a popular road with high-end resort hotels at its terminus.

Take a break from spa treatments and lazing by the ocean, and walk to these petroglyphs. It’s truly amazing to see how the resort area was developed around these centuries-old carvings, with only a little disturbance.

The historical and cultural significance of these petroglyphs, out there in the sun for anyone to see, impresses and enhances a luxury Hawaii vacation.

Greenwell Farms: You’ve heard of Kona coffee, it’s among the most delicious in the world (my favorite Hawaii Island mornings start with sipping Kona coffee while watching the sun rise).

Free personal walking tours of the Greenwell Farms coffee fields and processing facilities can include free samples of the famous brew; the daily tours are drop-in style from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM.

Kona Coffee Farm stroll on Hawaii Island (Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson)

Kohala Historical Sites State Monument: Also a free activity, this monument is right in Kohala, where the best luxury resorts line the beach.

There are two historic monuments here: One is the birthplace of King Kamehameha, who united the Hawaiian islands in the 1700’s.

The other site of cultural significance is Mo’okini Heiau. This National Historic Monument marks the site of the most famous, well preserved sacrificial temple in Hawaii.

Liliuokalani Gardens on Hawaii Island (Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson)

These are just a few of the best free activities of Hawaii Island, nee The Big Island. Others include a windy walk through Lapakahi State Historical Park, the Liliuokalani Botanical Gardens, and the Kona Historical Society.

A luxury vacation on Hawaii Island would be enhanced by any one of these; the sights, sounds, and cultural activities make for a more well-rounded trip.

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Imagine sitting on a quiet beach in the Pacific Ocean, foamy waves matching the foamy coconut drink in your hand. A faint sound of ukulele music provides a high note to the undertone of the ocean’s tide going in and out; it feels as if you could stay in Hawaii forever.

8 Comments on "Best Free Activities on Hawaii, The Big Island"

  1. What fantastic tips! I love petroglyphs, too – and hadn’t known of these special sites. Thanks!

  2. Petroglyphs AND waterfalls? Those are two of my favorite reasons to go on a hike.

  3. Thanks for all this post i will add doing some surf lessons

  4. Starting pricing a family trip that’s starting at 9-10k, I NEED to read this on what FREE options there are. I think just sitting on the beach is good enough too.

  5. Great tips, a few off the beaten path ideas! I live on the Big Island and have explored all these posts and I can say that it really is a good sampling! Mauna Kea gets skipped a lot I think but its incredible so definitely great to see especially in winter when there is snow. But be prepared with warm clothes and watch for altitude sickness symptoms. Also when you go to Ka Lae be sure to head a bit farther and visit one of the worlds very few Green Sand Beaches! It’s beautiful!

  6. Great list! We’ve done several of these activities. I recommend a seeing sunset above the clouds while standing on snow and dressed in a parka on Mauna Kea.

  7. An excellent list! I’ve spent a lot of time on the Big Island because my college roommate’s family is from there, and it’s truly another world!

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