Big Island of Hawaii: A Guide for Solo Travelers Who Seek Solitude and Want To Avoid Crowds
Planning a solo trip to Hawaii? And looking for some quiet, soul-searching Zen time for yourself? The Big Island is calling you!
It’s the largest island in the state but with much less urban development and is never crowded! There are more people in the city of Honolulu on Oahu than the entire population of the Big Island!
On the Big Island (also called Island of Hawai’i), you will find plenty of peaceful countryside and spectacular wilderness to enjoy and explore – without running into a ton of people or worse, getting stuck in a traffic jam!
Where to go/What to do
Whatever your age, interest, and personality, the Big Island offers a wide range of things to do and see for the single and solitude-seeker travelers.
Here are some suggestions that may help you to get away from it all! Let’s face it, you will always find some tourists at these incredible places, but with a little planning and effort, you will be ahead of the crowd!
Green Sands Beach (Papakōlea) – located near the southern tip of the Big Island, this beach is part of an extinct volcano. The sand gets its magical green color from the volcanic olivine crystals. A 2.5-mile (each way) solitary hike on a wind-swept coastal trail will take you to this isolated beach. Be sure to bring enough water and snack and take out all your rubbish when you leave! Swimming is not recommended here (strong current and no lifeguard), but the breathtaking scenery alone is worth it!
Pohoiki Black Sand Beach – created by a massive lava flow during the 2018 volcanic eruption in lower Puna, this spectacular half-mile crescent beach features jet-black sands and brackish water lagoons. Here you will have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to walk (or sit and contemplate life) on top of the planet’s newest land! Located at Isaac Hale Beach Park where the lava cut off the scenic Red Road (Hwy 137).
Makalawena Beach – this secluded beach requires a hard, sweaty hike to get there! With long stretch of soft white sand and gentle aquamarine surf, it’s ideal for swimming and daydreaming. Other beachgoers are few and far between, it’s also the perfect place to fulfill your Robinson Crusoe fantasy! Located on the West side of the island on the Kohala Gold Coast.
Spencer Beach – nestled in a tranquil bay near Kawaihae Harbor, this golden sand beach is very low-key and rarely crowded. Calm water to swim and plenty of shade to escape from the hot sun! You may lounge a whole day undisturbed on the beach reading, snoozing or watching the clouds floating by on the blue sky!
'Akaka Falls – a short hike through a lush rainforest filled with bamboos, wild gingers, and palms will take you to a stunning 445-foot waterfall cascading into the deep gorge below. There are a few smaller wonderful waterfalls along the trail. Come early in the morning to soak up the serene, solitude atmosphere – before the tour buses arrive!
Rainbow Falls – this magnificent waterfall is located only a few miles uphill above downtown Hilo. On sunny days, you can spot a vivid rainbow in the mist at the foot of the waterfall, hence its name. Climb up the trail above the waterfall for an impressive bird’s-eye view. Again, come early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the cruise ship crowds.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa. A hugely popular national park but because of its vast size, you won't feel so crowded! Hike the remote Kilauea Iki trail (2.4 miles each way) for an unforgettable journey across the floor of a dormant crater. Watch out for the nene (native Hawaiian geese) while driving around in the park!
Pu’ukohalā Heiau National Historic Site – this decidedly less busy national park is known for the enormous rock temple (called heiau) built by King Kamehameha The Great in 1791. Follow the 0.5-mile trail uphill for a close-up view of this fortress-like structure. Visit other sacred sites down by the shoreline, including a submerged temple dedicated to the shark gods where you might spot a few blacktip reef sharks cruising in the shallow water.
Kalopa Native Forest State Park – this amazing 100-acre park is a must-visit for nature lovers and photographers! Hike the 0.7-mile loop trail through an enchanted old-growth forest and imagine you’re in a Hansel and Gretel fairy tale! Don't forget to grab the trail map and nature guide booklet from the trailhead station. Listen! There’s no other sound except for the birds chirping and your feet crunching on the trail!
Kalapana Black Sand Beach – take a short hike out to the deserted Kaimu Beach to gaze at the large shore breaks or fiery sunset over the primordial lava landscape! Find a flat rock facing the ocean to sit, meditate, and let all your worries melt away! Believe it or not, UFO sightings are frequent here, and there’s even a UFO landing pad near the beach (set up by some friendly locals) to welcome extraterrestrial visitors.
Captain Cook Monument Trail – this 2-mile hike (each way) takes you to the best snorkeling spot on the island! However, it’s a tough hike, especially on the way back uphill due to the steep, rugged trail terrain. (Hint: Must be in excellent physical shape to hike this trail!) Start early in the morning to avoid the searing mid-day sun. Bring plenty of water, snack, sunscreen, and yes, good hiking shoes! Spend an entire day down by the crystal-clear water of Kealakekua Bay, enjoy swimming with hundreds of coral reef fish or a pod of dolphins!
Parks and Botanical Gardens
Wailoa River State Park – just a 10-minute walk from downtown Hilo, this tranquil park spreads out around the picturesque Waiakea Pond. Take a nap on the grassy meadow or go for a stroll over the arched bridges. Visit the Wailoa Arts and Cultural Center in the park to see some exciting art exhibitions. Look for the statue of King Kamehameha I (founder of the Kingdom of Hawaii) at the park’s entrance.
MacKenzie State Park – located on the scenic Red Road in lower Puna, this peaceful park is known for its soaring sea cliffs and ancient ironwood forest. It’s always quiet and empty here, you will hardly see anyone, except for a few fishermen (and maybe a ghost or two!). One of the best spots on the island to watch humpback whales breaching very close to the shoreline – during whale season (November-March).
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden – perched on a hillside above Onomea Bay and filled with natural waterfalls and streams, this 40-acre garden showcases over 2,000 tropical plant species. Some are extremely rare or endangered. Get ready for a remarkable kaleidoscopic flora experience! Come during the weekdays when it’s relatively crowd-free and more relaxed to walk around. Located on the Four-mile Onomea Scenic Drive.
Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo & Botanical Garden – explore this underrated hidden gem and see more than 100 varieties of tropical animals, birds, and reptiles; along with an extraordinary collection of plants from the rainforest regions around the world. Here, you will see the giant Amazon water lily (with its 10-foot diameter leaves) or, if you are lucky, the rare and foul-smelling Sumatra corpse flower in bloom! Free admission, donations are accepted.
Lava Tree State Park – this small but unique park is home to dozens of fascinating lava tree molds. When red hot lava flows through a forest, it often leaves behind many solidified lava pillars – in the shapes of the burnt trees! Follow the trail for an up-close and personal encounter with these ethereal, Instagram-worthy natural wonders. Do not touch or climb on them; some are over a century old and quite fragile!
Hawi – located in the North Kohala district, this quiet plantation town is home to a handful of eclectic galleries, boutiques, and cafés. Don’t miss the nearby Pololu Valley Lookout with an epic view of the wild northern coastline! From the lookout, you can hike the switchback trail down to the black sand beach below but beware that the hike up is very strenuous!
Kailua-Kona – somewhat touristy but remains a charming seaside town. It hosts the famous Ironman World Championship triathlon in every October. Visit interesting landmarks like Hulihee Palace (former residence of Hawaiian royalty) and Mokuaikaua Church (Hawaii’s oldest Christian church). Get some tropical shave ice (Hawaii-style snow cone), walk to the pier, and enjoy a sweeping view of the ocean and sky.
Hilo – there are over 20 well-preserved historic buildings in the downtown bayfront area. Visit the Tsunami Museum, go for a jog around the beautiful 30-acre Lili'uokalani Japanese Garden, or chill out under the swaying palms on Coconut Island. On less cloudy days, you can see the peak of Mauna Kea Volcano rises majestically above Hilo Bay.
Pahoa – with centuries-old wooden buildings and boardwalk, Pahoa has the look and feel of a long-forgotten frontier town on a Hollywood movie set! This quaint village (along with its wonderfully quirky residents) has survived two devastating lava flows from recent volcanic eruptions. It's now served as the gateway to the otherworldly and spectacular lava-scape in lower Puna.
One of the best ways to see the Big Island is to take a road trip. Rent a convertible, put the top down and belt out your best rendition of “What A Wonderful World” as you cruise along the highway! Here are some suggested road trips:
Big Island Solo Travel Tips
- Go local! Immerse yourself in the laid-back Big Island lifestyle and culture. Ditch your fancy resort attire! Boardshorts, t-shirt and flip flops are all you need to blend in. Learn a few simple Hawaiian words to greet (“Aloha”) or to thank (“Mahalo”) - it goes a long way! Always show respect to the kama’aina (local people) and the aina (land) wherever you travel on the island.
- Go with the flow and let go of all expectations. If it rains, keep going because it will stop soon, the sun will shine again (and look for a rainbow!). Plus, it might not be raining where you are heading! The Big Island has ten different climate zones; you can travel from a wet, humid rainforest to a hot, barren lava desert in less than an hour!
- Treasure your alone time. Keep a journal to document new things you discover or learn on the trip. Use the time to re-evaluate and make personal goals. Take plenty of photos to preserve your most memorable moments.
- There are many other great swimming beaches (Hāpuna Beach, Kua Bay, Beach 69, etc.) on the Big Island that you don’t want to miss! Yes, these famous beaches are more crowded, but if you get there early in the morning, you can find a perfect spot on the sand, away from other beachgoers. Put on your headset with some groovy music, sit back, and enjoy people watching!
- Make friends along the way. Share information and experience with other fellow travelers you meet on the trail or at a café. Ask the locals for directions if needed. Hawaiian people are friendly and love to “talk story” with you!
- If you need to balance your alone time, join a meditation or yoga class. There are numerous yoga studios around the Big Island, use your favorite social media to find the nearest one. Or book a scuba diving trip or kayaking tour and have a fun day with other like-minded people.
- If eating alone in a restaurant makes you feel uncomfortable, then order take-out and have a fabulous picnic on the beach! Or go to a farmer’s market, buy some fresh fruits and bento (home-cooked meal to-go packs). Better yet, head to a local diner and get the all-time-favorite loco moco. Relax on the beach, enjoy the gorgeous sunset, delicious food, and toast yourself for being well and living well.
All photos were taken by the author with an Olympus Stylus TG-630 iHS digital camera and iPhone6.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Viet Doan