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All Day Tour of Big Island of Hawaii with Pictures

Updated on January 6, 2018
Peggy W profile image

I live in Houston, and I have worked as a nurse. My interests include art, traveling, reading, gardening, cooking, and our wonderful pets.

Grand Circle Island Tour of the Big Island

My husband and I wanted to see as much of the Big Island of Hawaii as we could while on vacation and thought that a tour is generally always money well spent when in a new area.

The Polynesian Adventure Tours were chosen which provided not only specially trained driver/guides but also furnished very comfortable and spacious premier mini coaches with very large windows so that we could easily see everything that we passed while on the road.

The coaches picked us up at our hotel between 8:20 AM to 8:30 Am and returned us between 6 to 6:30 PM. It totaled 11 1/4 hours for us that day of splendid sightseeing adventures.

The year we were there in 1993 the adult fee was $60 per person for pickup at the Ritz-Carlton Mauna Lani resort. Lunch was not included with this price.

Big Island of Hawaii
Big Island of Hawaii | Source

Many scheduled stops were a part of this Polynesian Adventure Tour which let people stretch their legs and also grab a bite to eat or take photos. We were very happy with this tour and would recommend it to anyone who wishes to experience a great overview of the island with explanations of what we were seeing and a little history being given all along the way.

After picking up everyone from various hotels in the general area, the first stop was at a Kona coffee shop. They are very proud of their locally grown coffee and rightfully so.

Many people reboarded the mini coach van with steaming cups of Kona coffee in hand.

Map of the route we took and the direction on the Big Island of Hawaii.

We started from the west side of the island near Kona along the Kohala Coast.  I marked the route we took with arrows pointing in the direction of the tour.
We started from the west side of the island near Kona along the Kohala Coast. I marked the route we took with arrows pointing in the direction of the tour.

Place of Refuge

After our coffee stop in Kona, our tour took us to the very old and historic Pu'uhonua o Honaunau or Place of Refuge.

This is a historical park set aside by Congress in 1961. It consists of 180 acres and reflects what life in Hawaii used to be like when only native people lived here prior to the late 1700s when the first outsiders came to the island.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Fishpond serving only the royalty.  Fish would be caught in the sea and stored here until needed for food. Place of Refuge on Big Island of HawaiiHouse models showing how they were constructed at Place of Refuge on Big Island of Hawaii
Fishpond serving only the royalty.  Fish would be caught in the sea and stored here until needed for food. Place of Refuge on Big Island of Hawaii
Fishpond serving only the royalty. Fish would be caught in the sea and stored here until needed for food. Place of Refuge on Big Island of Hawaii | Source
House models showing how they were constructed at Place of Refuge on Big Island of Hawaii
House models showing how they were constructed at Place of Refuge on Big Island of Hawaii | Source

An immense L-shaped stone wall comprised of lava rock was built. The dimensions of this massive wall are 1,000 feet in length or 305 meters and it is 10 feet (3 meters) high and 17 feet (5.25 meters) wide. Common folks were separated from royalty by this wall and it was painstakingly built by hand. No cement or mortar was utilized in its construction. The rocks were carefully placed to mesh together like so many exact fitting puzzle pieces.

This original wall has been in place since the 1500s and has only had a couple of minor repairs.

What makes this place a sacred area is that it holds a temple that houses dead chief's bones.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Chief's thatched building in background at Place of Refuge on Big Island of HawaiiOld Hawaiian canoe & my hubby at Place of Refuge on Big Island of HawaiiExterior of the palace grounds at Place of Refuge on Big Island of Hawaii
Chief's thatched building in background at Place of Refuge on Big Island of Hawaii
Chief's thatched building in background at Place of Refuge on Big Island of Hawaii | Source
Old Hawaiian canoe & my hubby at Place of Refuge on Big Island of Hawaii
Old Hawaiian canoe & my hubby at Place of Refuge on Big Island of Hawaii | Source
Exterior of the palace grounds at Place of Refuge on Big Island of Hawaii
Exterior of the palace grounds at Place of Refuge on Big Island of Hawaii | Source

Why is this called the Place of Refuge?

Back in the early days, the Hawaiian people lived by a set pattern of laws called kapus. Here are some examples of kapus.

  • One Kapu would not allow one's shadow to touch a chief
  • Women could not eat with men
  • One had to abide by the rules (kapus) of when to fish and hunt, etc.

If any of these rules or laws were broken the penalty was death unless one could make it to this holy place...the place of refuge.

If one could avoid the punishment and get inside these walls, priests would forgive the person and they could have a second chance at life. Thus this sanctuary was a life giving place as well as housing the ruling royalty at the time.

Thatched huts and buildings for the chiefs lie inside this sacred area. There is also the royal fish pond and private royal beach that the commoners could not utilize.

The kapu (laws) were abolished by Chief Kamehameha the 2nd in 1819 and the protection of this place of refuge ceased to exist. The native peoples for a time were confused and no longer had the parameters of life neatly delineated for them. Ideas from the outside world began to flood in and change Hawaiian culture forever.

These old palace grounds still retain a feeling of spirituality from the many celebrations of life and burials of the dead Hawaiian chiefs that took place there over the centuries. The National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior administer these grounds. Much is left as it was and the carvings still stand guard in this holy place.

Punaluu Black Sands Beach

After leaving the very interesting and historic site of Pu'uhonua o Honaunau on the southwestern side of the island we drove for a while and started heading up the southeastern edge of the Big Island of Hawaii. We passed many white steeple Congregational Churches along the way.

Our next stopping place was at the Punaluu Black Sands Beach and its surrounding fish ponds along the Puna to Kau coast.

These black sands originate from lava that has been pulverized over time and can be a bit rough on bare feet. On the other hand just like pumice it could grind down any calluses one might have on one's feet!

We saw dogs and people having fun in the surf and also people doing some sunbathing alongside one of the fish ponds.

Having never seen a black sand beach this was quite striking and I captured some photos as a memory.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Punaluu black sand beach  in HawaiiPeople sunbathing by a fish pond on that black sand beach  in Hawaii
Punaluu black sand beach  in Hawaii
Punaluu black sand beach in Hawaii | Source
People sunbathing by a fish pond on that black sand beach  in Hawaii
People sunbathing by a fish pond on that black sand beach in Hawaii | Source

Have you ever been on a black sand beach?

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Our next stop on our circle island tour took us to the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park which was most interesting.

We learned that Pele the volcano goddess was deemed to be responsible for these wondrous land building volcanoes according to old myths of the early Hawaiian inhabitants. Each of the Hawaiian Islands was in turn built by her.

Shield Volcano

In reality deep under the Pacific ocean lies a rift in the earth where molten magma (super heated and liquefied rock) begins to rise up creating cooled layer upon layer of a resulting mountain slowly built under the sea. Eventually as this process continues the mountain eventually rises above the sea and becomes an island.

This is called a shield volcano and is the type that has formed all of the Hawaiian Islands.

Pacific Plate

Also at work is a Pacific Plate (a portion of the earth's crust) that is constantly moving to the northwest about 2 to 3 inches a year. As long as the plate sits atop this rift in the earth spewing molten lava the island continues to grow. But as the Pacific Plate moves further away the island has no continuing source with which to build more land and the effects of erosion begin to chip away at its total surface.

This is what has happened over the eons of time and is continuing to happen today. Therefore the northwestern and oldest islands in the Hawaiian chain are continuing to decrease in size and some have already disappeared back under the ocean waves.

The Big Island of Hawaii has 2 of the most active volcanoes in the world and they are linked to the magma producing source far underneath the sea thereby still expanding the size of Hawaii for now.

Molten lava still flows to the sea from Hawaii's volcanoes where the superheated lava is cooled by the ocean waters and solidifies into more land area. This can readily be viewed by anyone touring the island and it is quite an impressive sight to behold!

Day 2 of our stay we flew over the fiery Kilauea volcano in a helicopter and saw the white steam cloud bank at waters edge where water and lava explosively met.

Me with Mauna Loa caldera in background - Photo taken by my husband in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Me with Mauna Loa caldera in background - Photo taken by my husband in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park | Source
Note pressure point in the Kilauea caldera in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Note pressure point in the Kilauea caldera in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park | Source

Mauna Loa and Kilauea are the two active volcanoes in this national park. A growing pressure point within the Kilauea caldera was pointed out to us. There are also steam vents within the park which let some of this heat underground escape into the air.

It is comforting to think that the geologists think that they can predict with fair accuracy when these volcanoes might become more active than they currently are so that people can be protected. I wonder if Pele agrees?

Thurston Lava Tube

The surface of an active lava flow area might look crusted over but is riddled with tubes in which lava is flowing from the source of the volcano. Most of the time these are unseen until it hits the waters edge with steam sizzling, cooling and adding to the land mass as it tumbles into the sea.

In some cases the top of the crusted tube might cave in like happened on our helicopter tour exposing the red hot lava as it continues to move.

For obvious reasons this is why it can be dangerous to be walking in an area of active lava flows whether one can actually see the lava or not.

These lava tubes are originally formed from the lava itself. The outer upper crust eventually cools and thickens as the lava inside continues to flow. As the lava flow diminishes in size the sides cool and harden and eventually when it ceases the smooth floor hardens as well.

We got to walk through an extinct lava flow which left an impressive walkway called the Thurston Lava Tube. While not the longest nor largest tube in existence it was quite a feeling walking through what at one time used to be molten lava. You can get an idea of the height and width from the couple of photos that I took.

Outside of the Thurston Lava Tube lush vegetation was growing. Many tree sized ferns were flourishing among the vines and other plants.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Entering the Thurston Lava Tube on Big Island of HawaiiInside the Thurston Lava Tube on Big Island of HawaiiVegetation outside the lava tube on Big Island of Hawaii
Entering the Thurston Lava Tube on Big Island of Hawaii
Entering the Thurston Lava Tube on Big Island of Hawaii | Source
Inside the Thurston Lava Tube on Big Island of Hawaii
Inside the Thurston Lava Tube on Big Island of Hawaii | Source
Vegetation outside the lava tube on Big Island of Hawaii
Vegetation outside the lava tube on Big Island of Hawaii | Source

Macadamia Nut Tree Grove

As we left the Volcano National Park area and were driven further northeast vegetation becomes very lush. Another planned stop was at a macadamia nut grove and factory.

They grow millions of macadamia trees on the island we were told.

Originally brought to the islands for use as windbreaks against the sometimes fierce trade winds, this growing of macadamia nuts has now become an industry for islanders. Many of our fellow travelers stocked up on purchases of nuts at this stop.

Macadamia nut tree
Macadamia nut tree | Source

Nani Mau Gardens in Hilo, Hawaii

Hilo is the large city in Hawaii on the east coast of the Big Island.

It has an airport which is where we stopped to refuel on our helicopter ride on day 2 of our Hawaiian vacation trip.

Hilo also is the sight of the beautifully landscaped grounds of the Nani Mau Gardens.

Our tour allotted some time for all of us to meander around the grounds and admire the different vegetation that grows in this environment.

This magnificent Nani Mau garden consists of 53 acres so we merely got an impression of what was there. One could obviously spend the better portion of a full day there if desired.

Nani Mau garden plant
Nani Mau garden plant | Source

There were many tropical plants like bromeliads, anthuriums, orchids and so much more. I have inserted a few photos which might give one an idea of some of the colorful displays that can be enjoyed in this Hilo garden spot.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Landscaped grounds of the Nani Mau Gardens on Big Island of HawaiiNumerous orchids and other plants at the Nani Mau Gardens on Big Island of Hawaii Nani Mau Gardens on Big Island of HawaiiPhoto of my husband at the Nani Mau Gardens on Big Island of HawaiiAnthuriums at the Nani Mau Gardens on Big Island of Hawaii
Landscaped grounds of the Nani Mau Gardens on Big Island of Hawaii
Landscaped grounds of the Nani Mau Gardens on Big Island of Hawaii | Source
Numerous orchids and other plants at the Nani Mau Gardens on Big Island of Hawaii
Numerous orchids and other plants at the Nani Mau Gardens on Big Island of Hawaii | Source
 Nani Mau Gardens on Big Island of Hawaii
Nani Mau Gardens on Big Island of Hawaii | Source
Photo of my husband at the Nani Mau Gardens on Big Island of Hawaii
Photo of my husband at the Nani Mau Gardens on Big Island of Hawaii | Source
Anthuriums at the Nani Mau Gardens on Big Island of Hawaii
Anthuriums at the Nani Mau Gardens on Big Island of Hawaii | Source

Rainbow Falls

Heading north of Hilo the next point of interest where we were allowed to disembark and walk was the area around Rainbow Falls.

As one can see from the photos I took vines grow in abundance and use trees for support. Long aerial roots hang down and this made me remember the old Tarzan movies of my youth where slightly thicker roots were used by Tarzan to swing from tree to tree. I do realize that the setting was different but there is no accounting for memories. (Smile)

The walkway down to view the Rainbow Falls is not handicapped accessible. A rather steep trail is followed much of it on stone steps and a metal handrail is provided to get down to the vantage point where one can see the falls.

The thundering flow of water crashing down can be heard from a distance and as my pieced together photo shows a very pretty sight awaits those who are able to make the effort to see it.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Rainbow Falls on Big Island of HawaiiLush vegetation near Rainbow Falls on Big Island of HawaiiPathway down to see Rainbow Falls on Big Island of Hawaii
Rainbow Falls on Big Island of Hawaii
Rainbow Falls on Big Island of Hawaii | Source
Lush vegetation near Rainbow Falls on Big Island of Hawaii
Lush vegetation near Rainbow Falls on Big Island of Hawaii | Source
Pathway down to see Rainbow Falls on Big Island of Hawaii
Pathway down to see Rainbow Falls on Big Island of Hawaii | Source

We still had a way to travel to return to our hotel.

After driving along the northeast coastline for a while we headed inland and were driven through the lush area of the Parker Ranch near Waimea.

The Parker Ranch is one of the largest ranches in the United States and much beef is exported from this area.

It was a long and eventful 11 1/4 hour day on this circle tour of the island but we truly enjoyed everything that we had gotten to see and experience. I would heartily recommend taking this tour or a similar one if you ever get the chance.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Lush area around WaimeaNortheastern (Hamakua Coast) view
Lush area around Waimea
Lush area around Waimea | Source
Northeastern (Hamakua Coast) view
Northeastern (Hamakua Coast) view | Source

Have you visited the Big Island of Hawaii?

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Big Island of Hawaii:
Hawaii, Ocean View, HI 96737, USA

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© 2009 Peggy Woods

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    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Donna Toncrey,

      Waimea Bay is on the island of O'hau...not the Big Island of Hawaii. Perhaps you drove around both islands? There is so much to appreciate on those islands. Hope you make it back a 3rd time...or even more! :)

    • profile image

      Donna Toncrey 

      2 years ago

      We did our own driving tour around the island. We did it in 1 day. The only thing I was disappointed with was that we didn't make enough time to go to the North Shore beaches and Waimea Bay. That famous surfing spot has always been on my bucket list. Guess we have to go back a 3rd time!

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello leahlefler,

      Kauai and Maui are supposed to be gorgeous islands in the Hawaiian chain. We only saw the Big Island but would like to see some of the others someday also. So many pretty places in this world of ours! Thanks for the visit and comment.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Thelma,

      Glad that you liked this all day tour of the Big Island of Hawaii. Thanks for your comment. I loved taking the photos! :))

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 

      7 years ago from Western New York

      That is just beautiful! I have been to Kauai, but never to the big island. I've always wanted to see a volcano in action! The black sand beaches look divine - what a gorgeous place to visit!

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      7 years ago from Germany

      Great and informative hub. Thanks for sharing. Photos are beautiful.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Happyboomernurse,

      That Place of Refuge on the Big Island is not only historic but beautiful. Nice to know that you enjoyed learning about it. Our helicopter ride over the island was on another day and I devoted a hub just to it. Glad you liked that one photo. Go to the hub itself to see more if you like. Thanks!

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Ann,

      No, I'm not a travel agent. Maybe in my next life! Ha! This all day tour of the Big Island was great. Thanks for your comment.

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 

      7 years ago from South Carolina

      Thanks for sharing this fabulous Hawaian tour with us. I particularly loved the history and legend of the Place of Refuge and also the photo you took titled: "Papillon Helicopter Ride with Pictures".

      Voted up, awesome and beautiful.

    • anndavis25 profile image

      anndavis25 

      7 years ago from Clearwater, Fl.

      Are you a travel agent? You could be. Glad to get a glimpse of you and hubby.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello SammySammo,

      So glad that you discovered this bit of paradise. That is what I think of the Big Island of Hawaii. Thanks for your comment.

    • SammySammo profile image

      SammySammo 

      7 years ago from Boston, MA

      Wow! Lots of information here and lots of pictures and videos for people who haven't been there and for people who have who miss it.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello lyn,

      Have a wonderful time on your Hawaiian Island Vacation next year. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. The all day tour was definitely worth the time spent as well as money.

    • profile image

      lyn 

      8 years ago

      Great stuff, am heading there next year and have bookmarked your posts to reread before I go.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello loveroflife,

      My husband and I surely enjoyed our vacation tour of the Big Island of Hawaii. Happy that you enjoyed the pictures and hope you get to visit it in person someday.

    • profile image

      loveroflife 

      8 years ago

      Seeing your pictures and reading your descriptions of the big island of Hawaii makes me want to visit.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Best and longest! LOL Thanks James. Hope you get to visit there someday.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      I can't say enough about the beauty of this place and of your photographs. Volcanos, lava tubes, black sand beaches, waterfalls—and the Nani Mau Gardens may be the topper! If I was on this trip, this day would have been my best day. WOW! Thanks for sharing your adventures.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello blaze_xeno, Glad you like it. Thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      blaze_xeno 

      9 years ago

      Great hub nice picture

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Ethel, Thanks for leaving a comment. I like that photo also!

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Mardi,

      I like reading other people's travel hubs also. This world is so big with so many great places to see that no one can see it all. Glad you are enjoying these memories and photos of our travels. Have one more wrap-up of our Hawaii vacation to publish. Still working on it. Thanks for the comment.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      9 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Oo you are so lucky. Some great photos there Peggy. I love the fish pond one with the reflecting trees.

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 

      9 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Peggy - I feel like I can sit back and see all the great places you have been. Becoming a bit of an arm chair world traveler thanks to your hubs. Excited to see where my next holiday will be!

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello Journey, Hope you get there someday. We only saw the Big Island of Hawaii and did as much as we could to see what we could in the alloted time. Would like to see the other islands in that chain someday as well. At least you will have a preview of what is on the Big Island with all the photos I took and am sharing in these hubs. Thanks for leaving a comment.

    • Journey * profile image

      Nyesha Pagnou MPH 

      9 years ago from USA

      Peggy, these photos are awesome. Hawaii is one place I haven't been yet and it is surely on my list of places to visit! Thanks for sharing the story of your vacation. - Journey *

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Pete,

      Glad you are enjoying them as well. Thanks for the comment.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Kiran,

      Happy to be sharing these photos and descriptions of our trip. Bringing back many happy memories for me as I write these travel hubs. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 

      9 years ago

      You always have great pictures and excellent descriptions.

    • kiran8 profile image

      kiran8 

      9 years ago from Mangalore, India

      Another fantastic review with WOW pics....Thank you so much peggy :)

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