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9 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii

The Big Island of Hawaii is known for its incredible natural attractions and specifically the volcanoes that have shaped and continue to shape the landscape. There are also several interesting historical sites. The main population centers are Kailua Kona, where many tourists end up spending their time, and Hilo, the largest town. Hilo receives considerably more rainfall than the dry Kona Coast.

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1 Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National ParkHawaii Volcanoes National Park View slideshow

This is one of the most geologically interesting national parks in all of the United States. It is home to two active volcanoes that allow visitors to see the wonder of nature in action.

2 Waipio Valley and Overlook

Waipio Valley and OverlookWaipio Valley and Overlook View slideshow

This incredibly beautiful valley on the northeastern coast of Big Island, about 50 miles north of Hilo, has often been described as a sort of "Shangri La", almost cut off from the outside world. The valley, about 1 mile wide, dissects the Kohala Mountains and is difficult to reach because of the steep cliffs on the three landward sides. Strong waves make it equally unapproachable from the sea.

Bananas, papayas, mangoes, avocados and grapefruit grow on the fertile valley floor and colorful ginger trees, orchids and hibiscus decorate the landscape. Where the valley meets the ocean is a long black sand beach. As many of the local people will tell you, it was in this area that the movie "Waterworld" was filmed.

There is a steep and twisting road into the valley which allows access by car or by foot. Most car rental companies do not allow their vehicles to be driven down into the valley so some people choose to walk down the road.

Waipio is fed by the Hiilawe Falls, which drops over 1200 ft. This double waterfall is one of the highest in the world but in the dry season has very little water nowadays because it is used to irrigate the land above the valley.

3 Mauna Kea

Mauna KeaMauna Kea View slideshow

Mauna Kea is Hawaii's highest mountain and home to the Mauna Kea Observatory. During certain months the snow covered mountain offers downhill skiing. A road, best suited for 4WD vehicles, offers access to the summit which stands at 13,796 ft.

4 Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park (Kona Coast)

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park (Kona Coast)Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park (Kona Coast)

This park is a great place to learn about island traditions.The present temple site was restored by the national park authorities and is a replica of the original which dates from the end of the 18th century. The palace was a place of refuge, protected by a huge wall measuring 10 ft high and 16 ft wide. This thick wall between the former palace and the sanctuary has been preserved over the centuries, with repair work being carried out in 1902 and 1963-64. Using information gleaned from pictures, replica koa wood carvings of temple gods have been placed in their original positions.

Attractions found on the estate include the landing place of the royal canoes ("keone'ele"), the stones on which the royal family played a type of Hawaiian game known as "konane", and the Kuuhumanu Stone, behind which the Queen hid from Kamehameha's henchmen but was discovered when her dog began to bark. Also on site are a royal fishpond known as "he-lei-palalu", the Keoua Stone, supposedly the favorite place of Keoua, King of Kona, burial vaults, rock carvings and models of houses belonging to the priests and inhabitants of the City of Refuge.

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5 Parker Ranch (Kona Coast)

Parker Ranch (Kona Coast)Parker Ranch (Kona Coast) t.benedict View slideshow

Parker Ranch covers a huge area of land and is the largest cattle ranch in the United States. Visitors can take a tour to learn about the history and business, and see the beautiful landscape.

6 Waikoloa Beach Resort and Petroglyph Park

Waikoloa Beach Resort and Petroglyph ParkWaikoloa Beach Resort and Petroglyph Park View slideshow

Located on the Kona Coast, Waikoloa Beach is home to a lovely area with a number of petroglyphs. Most visitors come to this area for the Hilton Waikoloa Village. There are few resorts in the world which compare to the care which has gone into creating a magical environment for guests at Hilton Waikoloa Village. While the resort is large, guests can move around the grounds using a sleek transit system or beautifully appointed wood paneled boats which cruise the canals on the grounds.

Art galleries here contain millions of dollars of Hawaiian, Oriental and other art. On the grounds are tropical gardens set with sculptures grouped by theme. A variety of species are found throughout the gardens which surround a saltwater lagoon. One highlight of the resort is a dolphin area where guests, especially children, can wade in and interact with the dolphins.

7 Ahu'ena Heiau

Ahu'ena HeiauAhu'ena Heiau eggrole

This fully restored temple, directly behind the Kamehameha Hotel in Kailua Kona, is possibly the best example of a Hawaiian place of sacrifice. Ahuena Heiau was built by Kamehameha I on Kamakahonu Beach and dedicated to the god Lona.

Kamehameha I spent the last years of his life at Ahuena Heiau. According to Hawaiian custom, his bones were removed from his corpse on a stone platform in the temple and taken north, possibly to Wawahiwa Point, where they were left at a secret location.

His son and successor, Kamehameha II, grew up here and this area became central to the abolition of the tabus and the destruction of heathen idols and temples during his reign. Further measures to abolish the old religion were then implemented from Lahaina, the seat of government. Restoration of Ahuena Heiau was supervised by the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

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8 Akaka Falls State Park and Kahuna Falls

Akaka Falls State Park and Kahuna FallsAkaka Falls State Park and Kahuna Falls View slideshow

Akaka Falls State Park near Hilo is home to both Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls. The Akaka Falls are the tallest on the island, free falling 442 feet. The setting here is quite stunning with lush surroundings of tropical ferns and palms. A short circular hiking trail, with some elevation changes, leads from the parking lot past both Akaka and the equally scenic Kahuna Falls. The trail is paved, but has many steps.

9 Magic Sands Beach

Magic Sands BeachMagic Sands Beach Blake Handley

Magic Sands Beach is located just south of Kailua Kona. The beach is sometimes sand covered and at other times it is void of sand leaving a rocky shore. It is a good location for swimming and snorkeling.

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