Hawaii isn’t cheap. No matter if your condo is only $279 a week, no matter if you cashed in miles to get there, once you arrive everything from gas to eggs will give you sticker shock. Because of this I went out of my way to find free things to do on the Big Island with the Deal Kids. I wanted to share my top three* with you and am looking forward to hearing your ideas as well.
Petroglyphs at the Fairmont Orchid: Petroglyphs, or native Hawaiian rock carvings, are all over the Big Island but the ones at the Puako Reserve are very accessible to all ages (even strollers). You could spend days exploring the 175 mile Ala Kahakai trail and thousands are in the fields in the Mauna Lani property where the Fairmont is located. If you just want a quick dip into the Petroglyph pool, follow the signs once you get near the Fairmont Orchid to “Petroglyph Park”. You’ll park in a beach parking lot and back to your right (facing the beach), there’s a nice display of at least 20 Petroglyphs that even the littlest kids could enjoy. If you’re a bit more adventurous, there’s a 1/2 mile or so trail through the woods that takes you to a larger field. After you’ve had your fill of history, take a walk along the beach path to the Fairmont’s poolside deli for a mango smoothie to cool off and some turtle watching from their pier: a wonderful 1/2 day good for even the youngest travelers.
Manta Ray Viewing from the Sheraton Kona: Nighttime activities with kids can range from $50/person Luaus to, well, dinner and shave ice. The Deal Kids and I really enjoyed seeing the hundreds of rays undulate to the bright lights the Sheraton Kona shines onto the ocean. Don’t bother getting to Rays on the Bay before 15 minutes after dark as you have to wait for the snorkel boats to clear out. Don’t feel bad about going through the restaurant to the viewing area in the back- they’re used to it. Also, be patient and let it take a bit for your eyes to adjust. Those whitecapped waves you think you’re seeing? Those are manta rays!
Higashiara Playground and Park: Playground? Really? Yes, playground! We kept driving by Higashiara Park, tucked into the hillside of the ring road about 20 miles south of Kona, on our way to and from other places. We finally stopped by on our way to the airport and immediately regretted not having come sooner. Higashiara has an enormous playground with more slides, ziplines, merry-go-rounds, swings, and playhouses than any kid could desire.
But that’s not what makes it special. First, the entire playground is steeped in Hawaiian design: from the volcano of the climbing structure to the outrigger canoe made for hide and seek. The tiles decorating the seating areas are decorated with Petroglyphs and other Hawaiian icons. Then, once you’re done admiring the playground, you just have to look up- the entire park has a picture perfect view of the Pacific.
*Notice I threw the word “dry” into the title. I did that to remind you that the beaches in Hawaii are free, as is snorkeling once you have the gear. The Deal Kids had never snorkeled before so Kahaluu Bay was just their speed. The beach is not fancy at all, but we spotted 3 large turtles, an eel, and more than enough fish to keep us entertained in a very shallow and protected cove. When you’re done, there’s a local conservation society set up at the beach to help you identify what you saw…and an all important shave ice truck.
We bought our masks and snorkels at Long’s Drugs for $6/set when we got there and went out twice: definitely a bargain. The masks were fine, but the snorkels very basic- I ended up finding up some fancier ones for $1 each at a thrift store. You’ll definitely want swim/beach shoes as the entry is rocky.
Did getting out on the Big Island make you hungry? Check out Traveling Mom’s restaurant recs.
I’d love to hear if you’ve visited any of my picks and if you have your own to add to the list. What are your favorite free things to do on the Big Island? Please share in the comments.
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