Big Island of Hawaii Guide
Credit: Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection

The Ultimate, Elevated Guide to Exploring the Big Island of Hawai’i

From the Waimea Farmers Markets to Rum Tasting and a Cultural Helicopter Tour, We’ve Got Your Trip Covered

One of the world’s most ecologically and biologically diverse areas, Hawai’i Island features two active volcanoes and eight climate zones (from snow-capped mountains to jungles and black sand beaches). There’s also an incredible food scene here! Exotic crops include papaya, macadamia nuts and world-famous Kona coffee, but the North Kohala coast is a bona fide foodie destination thanks to local chefs, farmers, ranchers and fishermen who have championed the farm-to-table movement at restaurants and resorts across the “Big Island.” This includes Mauna Lani on the sunny Kona-Kohala coast, which makes a sparkling base from which to explore. And if you haven’t made plans this Labor Day, consider this the ultimate guide to enjoying the award-winning resort’s first-ever Mauna Lani Culinary Classic, a three-day celebration featuring the talents of some of our favorite chefs, sommeliers and mixologists.

 

Where to Eat 

Farmers Markets and Coffeehouses

Credit: Chloe Leis / Unsplash

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Wake up early and start your day with a visit to one of three farmers markets around Waimea. On Saturdays, the Waimea Town Market and Kamuela Farmers Market (from 7:30 a.m.) host vendors selling fresh fruits, veggies and flowers along with clothing and handmade crafts—plus delicious local eats. The slightly smaller Waimea Midweek Market at Pukalani Stables (open Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) is great for orchids and coffee. First, stop by neighborhood favorite Waimea Coffee Company for a Mayjah Matcha (sweetened with Bee Kine Hawai’i raw honey) or one of their beautifully poured lattes before strolling the stalls.

 

CanoeHouse

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Big Island of Hawaii Guide
Credit: Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection

Another fantastic place to savor straight-from-the-farm produce sourced from purveyors across Hawai’i is Mauna Lani’s beachside restaurant, CanoeHouse, where dishes like buttery shokupan pull-apart bread (a traditional milk bread from Japan), Kahuku corn “ribs” and Kona kampachi with yuzu kosho grace the menu. Framed by palm trees, tiki torches and ocean views, it’s a stunning spot to enjoy Golden Hour, but a standout signature experience here is the six-course “MY” Menu tasting menu. Curated each night by Executive Chef Mark Libunao and General Manager Yuka Raso, it features seasonal ingredients delicately prepared using Japanese-inspired techniques—reservations are highly recommended.

 

The Mauna Lani Culinary Classic

The celebration of the summer is taking place this Labor Day at Mauna Lani, where 12 James Beard-nominated and award-winning chefs are serving up six delicious events over the course of three days. Highlights include an omakase experience in honor of Blue Ribbon Restaurants’ 30th anniversary, a surfside bash featuring Hawai’i’s most iconic chefs, a seven-course collaborative dinner at the CanoeHouse and many more. Pick and choose which events are worth indulging in—we’ve got our eyes on the Sushi Master Class with Blue Ribbon Sushi’s master chefs. Or, you can have it all with the All Access Pass, which grants entry to all six Culinary Classic events and then some (think boozy brunches with the Bromberg brothers and late-night afterparties in Mauna Lani’s chic beachfront residences). Make it an extra long weekend with exclusive room rates for guests of the Culinary Classic.

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Explore Hawai’i Island’s Natural Wonders by Land, Air and Sea

Beyond the Barrel Tour with Kuleana Rum Works

While rum might not immediately spring to mind when thinking about Hawai’i (although, who doesn’t love a piña colada on the beach or poolside), sugarcane plantations were prevalent across the islands for centuries. Today, several types of sugarcane are used to make award-winning rum at Kuleana Rum Works, and Mauna Lani’s Beyond the Barrel Rum Tour is a wonderful way to learn about their farm-to-glass process. Take a tour before heading back to the resort for lunch and an immersive mixology class where you’ll get to craft a Lani Tai (Mauna Lani’s riff on the traditional mai tai) with Kuleana’s Nanea aged rum.

 

Cultural Helicopter Tour With Paradise Helicopters

Credit: Asia Brynne, Paradise Helicopters

Some of the Big Island’s most iconic landmarks, sacred sites and waterfalls are only accessible via helicopter. Therefore, a cultural tour with Mauna Lani’s local Hawai’i expert and cultural ambassador, “Uncle” Danny Akaka, is an exceptional way to experience them. You’ll look out over Waipi’o Valley, a historic landmark that King Kamehameha the Great once called home, and get serenaded by Uncle Danny with his favorite songs on the ‘ukulele at wahi pana (sacred place), Āpua Point, which lies at the base of an 800-foot waterfall.

 

Coastal Adventures on the Kalama Kai

A coastal adventure along the Kohala Coast is another must-do at Mauna Lani, and chartering the resort’s 42-foot Yellowfin powerboat, Kalama Kai (which means “light of the sea” in Hawai’ian), is one of the best ways to spend time on the water. The four-hour experience—which includes lunch, drinks and snacks for up to six people—can be tailored accordingly. Private snorkeling and offshore fishing excursions can reward with green sea turtle, tropical fish and spinner dolphin sightings, while the island’s secluded black-sand beaches and untouched marine sanctuaries only accessible by boat are great for stand-up paddleboarding. 

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Recharge in Your Private Residence

Big Island of Hawaii Guide
Credit: Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection

Adventure-filled days call for a soulful home-away-from-home space to relax and recharge, and Mauna Lani’s two-bedroom residences fit the bill beautifully. Located steps from the sand and ocean and finished in sophisticated neutrals, they feature full kitchens, indoor-outdoor living spaces, private swimming pools and outdoor rain showers. Dedicated Guest Experience Curators can seamlessly personalize your stay from check-in to check-out with curated itineraries, dinner and activity reservations. Additional perks include a complimentary round-trip car transfer to and from Kona International Airport, private beach access, a one-day poolside cabana or beachside Hālau rental and daily breakfast at HāLani. Yes—your Big Island vacation is sure to exceed expectations.

Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection
68-1400 Mauna Lani Dr
Kamuela, HI 96743
855.201.3179
@maunalaniauberge

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Keri Bridgwater is a freelance writer covering travel and lifestyle. Her work has been featured in Fodor’s Travel, Marie Claire, Matador Network and InsideHook, among other outlets and publications.

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