Your first full day on the Big Island, let's get an early start.
General: DIY / How-To
|Guide Series: Big Island Vacation Itinerary
Assuming you've come to the Hawaiian Islands from a place located to the east (like the U.S. mainland), then you have the time zone change in your favor.
For example, if you flew from California to Hawaii on Day 1 and normally wake up around 7:00 AM in California, your body will still be wanting to get up around that time, which will be 4:00-5:00 AM in Hawaii (since we're 2-3 hours behind California depending on Daylight Savings Time which we don't follow in Hawaii). For more on time in Hawaii, see What Time Is It In Hawaii?.
Use this timezone change to your advantage on Day 2 to get an easy, early start. Do it now because by Day 3 you'll have lost all or most of that advantage. Since getting up early is so easy today and because you're on the east side of the island, go watch a sunrise. You don't have to have the perfect spot picked out. Just watching the sunrise over Hilo Bay is worth your time. Or head out to nearby Coconut Island and watch from there. Or anywhere you want!
Okay, now what should we do today? Well, most people choose the Big Island because they want to see a volcano. So where do we go to see a volcano? Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, or VNP as it's known! It's about a 30 mile drive from Hilo to VNP so about a 45 minutes by car. While the park is open 24 hours a day, the visitors center and museum may not yet be open so stop and grab some breakfast along the way.
Assuming the Kilauea Visitor Center is open, that should be your first stop after you enter the park. If you arrive before they open that's okay, you can drive along Crater Rim Drive and start viewing the Kilauea Volcano crater and various steam vents. Once the Kilauea Visitor Center opens go check that out to better understand the volcano and the park. Be sure to also have a look at the Volcano Art Center Gallery which is nearby the visitor center as well.
If you haven't already, now would be the time to drive along Crater Rim Drive, stopping at the various lookout points to see the crater, steam, and raw nature. On the west side of the drive is the Jaggar Museum which you'll want to check out to learn more about volcanology. Another popular attraction is the Thurston Lava Tube (Nahuku) which is an underground cave that was formed by flow lava. The lava is long gone now but the tube remains and you can walk through it.
It's probably about time for lunch and while there aren't tons of restaurants around here, there are a few which you can see here. For those of legal drinking age, you may enjoy a wine tasting at the nearby Volcano Winery. Depending on how much you're loving the park, you may even eat and come back to explore VNP further. Take your time, enjoy the place.
All done? Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was pretty neat but you probably want to see some actual flowing lava, right? Well, that's tricky because it's always changing. Sometimes lava is flowing, sometimes it is not. Maybe it's flowing in an area that's difficult to get to. Be sure to ask about current lava flows and viewing areas at the Kilauea Visitor Center to get the latest information as well as Nationa Park Service website.
As of late 2016, the Kalapana Lava Flow was traveling all the way out to the ocean and it is possible to view it if you don't mind a 5 mile hike that takes about 2 hours (one way). Just remember, this is real lava and you can literally walk right up to it and get hurt (or worse) if you're not careful. Be respectful and keep children away from the lava. An added bonus to doing this hike is that you'll also get to see the amazing Holei Sea Arch, which you could still see if you're not planning the hike.
Some people like to spend the day at VNP and then see the Kalapana Lava Flow at night since the glowing lava in the dark is certainly an incredible experience. We'll leave that up to you as a 5 mile hike in the dark isn't for everyone. Either way, this was a very full day so we won't plan anything else. This is Hawaii after all and you're on vacation so let's slow down a bit and relax.
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