Hawaii Big Island: Six of the best things to do


The Big Island is getting bigger all the time, often in dramatic fashion. You can explore its two giant volcanoes: Mauna Kea, the highest, and Mauna Loa, the biggest, and may even experience snow on the summits. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park covers Kilauea Volcano, the island's most active that erupted with such devastation in 2018. Indeed, the landscape within the park has changed dramatically over the past 12 months. However, if you wish to see the effects of the recent eruption head to Isaac Hale (or Pohoiki) Beach Park where fresh lava covered the trails and picnic areas on its way to create the world's newest beach in August last year. See nps.gov


Hawaii draws you to its shores with its warm waters. And on the Big Island you can take a dip off a golden sand beach, a volcanic black sand beach and a rare green sand beach in a single day. For golden sand aim for the north-west corner, specifically Hapuna Beach State Park or stay at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort that has its own area at the northern end of the beach. The best-known black sand beach is Punalu'u on the south-east coast. Papakolea is a rare beach made of green sand from olivine crystals but getting there is an out-of-the-way challenge. See dlnr.hawaii.gov


Snorkelling with manta rays is a remarkable wildlife experience. Some years ago, at Keauhou Bay, south of Kona, a resort on a point found its bright lights attracted plankton to the surface and that lured hungry manta rays. Now, each night several vessels, including Fair Wind Cruises, head out with snorkellers who cling to a float while feeding manta rays perform aquabatics mere centimetres away from your face mask. Our main star is a manta named Amanda who does a series of loop the loops the length of our float. See fair-wind.com


The air of Hawaii is remarkably clear and the summit of Mauna Kea is home to several astronomic observatories. It was recently part of the worldwide network to photograph a cosmic black hole. However, about halfway up, above the clouds, at an elevation of 2000 metres is a rest stop that's perfect for stargazing because it's not so cold that your night vision stops working. Lawrence, our guide for Kapohokine Adventures, serves us an early barbecue dinner before ensuring we arrive in time to observe the sun through a heavily-filtered telescope. After dark he explains the unfamiliar northern skies and shows us several astronomic highlights through a powerful, 25-centimetre portable telescope. See kapohokine.com


As every Australian schoolchild knows, Captain Cook was killed in 1779 in Hawaii, which he had earlier named the Sandwich Islands after the 4th Earl of Sandwich (one of his patrons and the inventor of the sandwich). If you drive to Kealakekua Bay you park near a sacred platform (from which Cook took the wooden fence to repair his ships incurring the Hawaiian's wrath) and look across to the monument marking where he died. To get there you'll need to take a guided kayak tour or it's a steep, six-kilometre return hike. When you step ashore at the memorial you'll be out of the US – this small piece of nautically hallowed ground remains officially British. See dlnr.hawaii.gov


Hawaii's coffee industry began in the town of Captain Cook on the western side of the Big Island when Samuel Ruggles brought arabica coffee beans from Brazil in 1828. The climate and rich volcanic soil suits it well and not only is Kona coffee renowned across the US but it's a rarity in providing good American coffee by Australian standards. The Kona Coffee Belt with some 600 hundred small coffee plantations is about 50 kilometres long and up to five kilometres wide and between 200 and 800 metres above sea level. There's an annual Kona Coffee Festival every November but many of the farms are open to visitors and have tastings. Try Kona Red, a juice drink made from the coffee berry that surrounds the bean. When buying Kona coffee make sure it states 100 per cent Kona because "Kona Blend" may contain as little as 3 per cent Kona beans. See konacoffeefest.com

David McGonigal travelled with assistance from Westin Hapuna Beach Resort (see marriott.com) and the Grand Naniloa Resort Hilo (see doubletree3.hilton.com).