The Big Island is crisscrossed by a 175-mile network of paths — The Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail –that extends from Upolu Point in North Kohala along the island’s west coast to South Point and east to Puna’s Wahaula Heiau, an extensive temple complex. Created for a variety of purposes, these trails pass through four national park sites—Puukohola Heiau, Kaloko-Honokohau, Puuhonua O Honaunau, and Hawaii Volcanoes. Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park is a 1,160-acre area on the Kona coast that includes two ancient fish ponds.
Portions of the Ala Kahakai trail are worth the effort to reach and hike, like the Puu Huluhulu Trail. For less than a mile this trail loops around both crests of forested cinder cones with panoramic views of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa between the trees. Visitors also can just hike on portions of long trails like the 15 mile stretch between Kawaihae and Anaehoomalu Bay, part of the state’s Na Ala Hele trails system.
Some of the most interesting trails also are among the most challenging. For example, below the Pololu Valley Lookout, the steep, 1-mile Pololu Valley Trail (sometimes referred to as Awini Trail) leads to a black-sand beach. But it requires a 400+-foot elevation change and can include slippery mud. The beach is a lovely stretch of fine black sand rimmed with black lava rock and emerald green beach ground cover. However, rough surf, riptides and the occasional appearance of Portuguese Man-o-wars make it not the ideal beach for swimming. Another valley hike on the east coast, the steep grade on the 1-mile down to Waipio Valley is very tough on the knees. It also leads to a very challenging 18-mile round-trip on the Muliwai Trail that leads to waterfall-laced Waimanu Valley.
The stroll to reach Akaka Falls north of Hilo is really beautiful. The path is surrounded by gorgeous plants including giant ti plants, birds of paradise, torch ginger, bamboo, and split leaf philodendron. Akaka Falls free falls 442 ft. Further up the path are signs leading to Kahuna Falls, another beautiful waterfall. Another nearby stroll, not a hike, is the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. This stunning rainforest preserve north of Hilo is not to be missed for several hours of wandering through a lush wonderland.
Kipuka Puaulu (Bird Park) Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is an easy 1.2-mile round-trip hike that passes by native Hawaiian flora and fauna in a field of lava known as a kīpuka. See native birds like the ‘apapane and the ‘‘iwi. Native trees along the trail include giant ohia, koa, soapberry, kolea, and mamane. Further along the south coast, near South Point, is Papakolea or Green Sand Beach with a trail that follows one of the few green sand beaches in the world. The beach was named for a greenish, semi-precious stone named olivine that comes from the base of the Pu’u o Mahana cinder cone and is deposited on the sand by the ocean’s waves.
Accessed from Waikaloa Beach Resort, the trek along the Mamalahoa Trail, or King’s Trail, leads to some of the most well-preserved petroglyphs on the island. Nearly 30,000 carvings of animals and people were left in old pahoehoe lava flows by the ancient Hawaiians. The trail, built in the mid-19th century for horse travel, used to stretch 32 miles from Kailua Kona north to Puako. Wear sturdy shoes for hiking on the lava trail. Several historical signs along the way to guide you.