Itinerary For Big Island Hawaii
This January we visited Hawaii on a cruise and even though we knew we would love the cruising experience (sailing the pacific had been a long dream of ours) we were not sure we would get enough time to actually enjoy the big island Huwaii.
To our surprise, even with little planning, we were able to do a lot in each Island. Of course, there are always things left unseen, and always so much more we can do. But here is a glimpse of what we (and you) can do in and around Hilo, Hawaii if you’re only there for one day.
Our cruise arrived at 7am, and we were probably among the first 10 people out. We had to adjust to the timing coming from the west coast of the US, and quite frankly that day I was up at 5am hungry anyway.(you can blame the pregnancy🤣) Besides, we wanted to make sure we enjoyed every minute we could.
Our cruise docked on the Hilo Harbor, and as soon as we got off the ship there was a whole table set up with tours and activities being sold. One tour caught our attention: A FREE Tour to Rainbow Waterfalls. We inquired about what it entailed, and after finding out all the details, we decided to take it, beginning with it our busy one day Itinerary.
First Stop: Rainbow Falls at Big Island Hawaii
Once in the tour van, they explained they offered a paid extension to this tour, which took you to the lava fields left over from the 2018 explosion and eventually dropped you back off in town for wandering around. Because the Big Island Hawaii is so big, and we wanted to visit the black sand beaches we decided to only go to the waterfall.
Rainbow fall is about 12 minutes drive (15 min with traffic) from the Port of Hilo and you pass the town of Hilo on your way there. The waterfalls are easy to see, have several lookout points, and are a stunning (and very fitting) welcome to Big Island. They are lush, (and even more so when we went because it had been raining for 2 weeks) open, accessible, and so incredibly beautiful. The water cascades down from a river, and everything from the riverbed to the water, and the flora all around seems like out of a movie.
The shuttle drops you off there and comes back around in about 20-25 minutes for those wanting to go back to the ship. We decided to take the shuttle back, since we knew we could walk back to town, but upon telling the driver our plans, he dropped us off in the center of town instead.
Second Stop: Hilo Farmersmarket Big Island Hawaii
Our main reason for wanting to visit Hilo town, was that since it was Saturday, we knew they were having the Hilo farmers market. In case you are not aware, Big Island is not only incredibly lush, but most people actually grow their own food. They told us at one point Hawaii was completely self sustainable. Even though that is no longer the case, the fruits and vegetables in the market did not disappoint one bit. We walked around the market for a little bit, stopping to see local art, smell all the wonderful lotions and taste some of the delicious fruits. We bought some fruits and fresh spring-rolls rolled in rice paper, and decided we would picnic at the beach.
Third Stop: Walking around Hilo Town + some shopping
We then walked around downtown Hilo, which was around 5-7 blocks at most. We made some stops in some antique, thrift and local art shops. The locals seemed to be all extremely happy it was finally sunny after so much rain, and everyone seemed in very good spirits.
We stumbled upon a gallery with beautiful Hawaiian art, and made friendly conversation with one of the shop keepers. Then we bought some underpriced Leis at salvation army which we knew we would use for photo props later on.
Fourth Stop: Visit to King Kamehameha Statue + Picnic at the park
Our initial plan was to walk from town to the black sand beach, but as we walked a bit past town, we got super hungry. From afar, I had seen the statue of King Kamehameha who was one of the great Hawaiian kings and the unifier of the Hawaiian islands. Legend has it that he was a large man ( around 6’7” and over 330 lbs ) and that by the age of 14 he moved a giant stone (that sits in Hilo town) which certified him as the next ruler.
So we paid a visit to the statue, walked around the gardens in front of it, and decided to picnic under a giant tree. This park in front of the ocean is where the original town of Hilo used to sit, but after two devastating Tsunamis, the last one in 1960, they decided to build the town a few miles off the coast to prevent it being washed away (again) by another natural disaster. This left a rather large chunk of lang, and this is now a huge green area where one can walk, sit, exercise etc.
So we indulged in fresh Hawaiian fruits and spring rolls while bird watching under the shade of a tree. For a minute there, it felt like time stopped. It’s amazing how the energy of these islands can be felt the second you get on them. One half day in Hawaii and we were already on island time!
Fifth Stop: Black Sand Beach “Carlsmith Beach Park”
After lunch, we called an Lyft which costed us a total of $12 USD to go to the best reviewed black sand beach nearby. Carlsmith Beach Park was not only beautiful and indeed a black sand beach, but turtles frequent it often, so we were convinced this was the spot to visit.
To our surprise, the beach was even more beautiful than we thought. The entrance to the park looks like an old golf course, with patches of deep green grass surrounded by little lagoons. Right behind it, you can see the deep black lava rocks surrounded by the light blue ocean. This is paradise!
We spent a few hours there, taking photos, soaking in the sun, exploring around different areas of the beach, and convincing ourselves to get in the cold Hawaiian water.
Sixth Stop: A Walk back to the ship + searching for turtles
The black sand beach was stunning, but we saw many other bodies of water on the way there, so we decided that we would do the 40 minutes walk back to the ship. Our hope was to enjoy some other beaches along the way (since we had a few hours left) and to hopefully encounter some turtles along the way. The first beach was pretty busy (it was Saturday after all) and that’s probably why no turtles were around. However, the other beaches we saw along the way looked more quiet, so we decided to risk it.
The walk back was not super pleasant, mostly because there are no sidewalks. However, there were indeed many other beautiful beaches along the way. We stopped in two of them, both completely different from one another and the black sand beach.
In one of them, we finally saw some turtles.
It was absolutely perfect, our day in Hilo. We hit all the spots we wanted to, saw all the things we wished to see, and enjoyed our day to the fullest. At the end, we arrived on the ship with 15 minutes to spare, but the ship did not leave us!
Big Island is an absolutely beautiful place, and one that deserves much more than 1 day. We did the best we could with our limited time (7am-4:30pm) and felt we covered a lot of ground without feeling rushed. Overall, I would totally do it all over again. But if I visited big Island on a cruise again, I would take a tour to one of the volcanoes for variety’s sake.
What did you think? Was this a good one day itinerary? What would you have done differently?
Leave me a comment below!