Beyond the Beach: Big Island Adventures With Kids

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You’re at a beach resort in , sitting by the pool and sipping a margarita. The sky is blue, and the weather is balmy. Life is wonderful, right?

Not quite. Your toddler is cranky and sunburned, and your teens are bored. What began as the perfect beach vacation is slipping toward disaster.

Luckily, the Big Island of Hawaii offers a variety of activities that go beyond the typical “beach resort” fare, and many of them are sure to delight visitors of all ages. Here are some family-friendly activities for travelers wanting to escape the beach.

1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The Big Island is home to five volcanoes, one of which has been erupting continuously for over thirty years. At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you can visit steam vents and walk through lava tubes – long tunnels formed from hardened lava – and smell the sulfur at Halema’uma’u Crater. If conditions are right, you might even be able to see lava flowing. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located on Highway 11, about 30 miles from Hilo and 96 miles from Kailua-Kona. The park is open year-round, including holidays. Entrance fees: $5.00 per person or $10.00 per vehicle. Free and/or discounted passes are available for seniors, disabled people, and US military members.

2. Panaewa Rainforest Zoo

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The only zoo in the United States that is situated in a tropical rainforest, the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo is small but worth a visit. The zoo’s collection of exotic species, including several varieties of parrots and monkeys, is a big draw for animal lovers. Located at 800 Stainback Highway in Hilo, the zoo is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is free.

3. Ranches and Rodeos in Waimea

When you think of Hawaii, you probably don’t think of rodeos. You might be surprised to learn that the Big Island has a long tradition of cattle ranching and a unique cowboy culture to go with it. The Parker Ranch, headquartered in Waimea, is one of the oldest and largest ranches in the United States. A strong presence in the community, the ranch hosts rodeos and horse races. Visit the ranch’s headquarters to learn about paniolo culture – “paniolo” is the Hawaiian word for “cowboy” – and to find out about ranch events and activities. The Parker Ranch’s headquarters are located at 66-1304 Mamalahoa Highway in Waimea. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

4. Stargazing on Mauna Kea

The tallest mountain in the world, if measured from its base at the ocean floor, Mauna Kea has exceptional conditions for stargazing. Children under 16 years old are advised against visiting Mauna Kea’s summit due to its extreme elevation at 14,000 feet above sea level, but aspiring astronomers will love the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station (VIS), at 9,200 feet. The VIS has large telescopes for public viewing and informative stargazing programs every evening. Bring warm clothes – it gets chilly at night. If you get too cold, you can retreat indoors to peruse the VIS’s displays and video programs. The Visitor Information Station is on the Mauna Kea Access Road, about an hour from Hilo and two hours from Kona. It is open from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. every day of the year, and admission is free.

Whether you and your family enjoy stargazing or rodeos, volcanoes or exotic animals, there are many unique adventures to be found on Hawaii’s Big Island.

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