So you are headed to the Big Island by cruise ship!
What to do during your time in the Hilo cruise port?!
Time in Hilo cruise port
If you are on the NCL Pride of America cruise ship, the expected times are:
- Arrival 8am
- Departure 6pm
Other cruise lines that dock in Hilo are likely similar, but check your Hawaii cruise itinerary to be sure to help better plan out your day.
Car rental in Hilo
If you want to explore some of the best things to do on the Big Island that are on the Hilo side, it will be best to rent a car.
This will likely be a car rental company that’s located at the Hilo airport.
Before you book your car rental, it could be best to call the Hilo car rental company you are looking to book with to confirm that they will be offering a free shuttle from the cruise port to the airport on your cruise date. (And maybe call a few days before your cruise just to double confirm too!)
Uber in Hilo
Otherwise, there is Uber on the Big Island.
This would probably only be best if you are sticking close to Hilo town though!
You can check the Uber app and input a starting point (near cruise port) and end point to get an idea of how much Uber might cost from the Hilo cruise port to where you want to go.
It would be best to do this check when it’s morning in Hawaii to get a better idea of prices, and when there’s a cruise ship in port to get an even better idea! (NCL is usually in port on Tuesdays.)
Shore excursions in Hilo cruise port
Of course tours and shore excursions are always an option when you are on a cruise!
Have a look at the shore excursions in Hilo offered by your cruise line:
More below on what to do on your own from Hilo cruise port!
Here's some info on Hawaii trip prep!
- Best shoes for hiking in Hawaii
- The perfect type of shirt for swimming in Hawaii
- Do you need water shoes for Hawaii?
- THE top things to pack for Hawaii
The best of the Big Island:
- Things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Where to see lava fields on the Big Island
- The big list of things to do on the Big Island
If you don’t want to sign up for a tour and prefer to explore the Hilo side of the Big Island on your own with a car…
How far are the top spots from the Hilo cruise port?!
First, have a look at this list of things to do directly near Hilo. You can do everything on this list reasonably with the time you have in port. But if you need to prioritize so you can do something else too, Akaka Falls and Kaumana Caves I think are the top choices!
In case you want to explore some other things on the Hilo side of the Big Island, below is a list of the best things to choose from when you get to the Hilo cruise port!
Driving times are approximate and just to give you an idea! Listed times are actually from the Hilo airport, since that’s probably where you’ll be picking up your car rental.
Direct Hilo area
Hilo to Rainbow Falls: maybe a 15-20 minute drive
These waterfalls near Hilo are located at Wailuku River State Park.
This is practically in Hilo town, and it can be a pretty quick stop.
Once you park, you are basically at the waterfalls lookout point.
There’s a small trail off to the left that will take you up to the spot where you can see the river that feeds the waterfalls.
There are also some banyan trees around here.
Hilo to Kaumana Caves: Maybe a 20 minute drive
If you are looking for a unique volcano-related activity to do when you’re on the Big Island, consider this!
This can a fun activity to walk through caves formed by lava!
You can make this a quick stop by just visiting the cave entrance without going in, but the fun is in walking through these caves!
There are 2 main cave openings here.
Over to the left is a spot where you can get down and crawl to get up close and personal to the smaller opening that lava came through.
Over to the right, you can walk on uneven lava rocks as you venture further into the cave.
Even walking for 15-20 minutes into the cave and turning around can be a super cool experience, and you can think of it as a lava cave hike!
You light your own way, so you absolutely need to be sure to come prepared if you’re going to venture further than the immediate cave entrance. (Don’t depend on your phone light only – use this as a back-up plan!)
Kaumana Caves: See more about planning your time here
3. Carlsmith Beach Park
Hilo to Carlsmith beach park: maybe a 10-15 minute drive
This can be a good spot to test your luck on seeing turtles near Hilo.
I saw a turtle while I was here in the pond-like area that opens out to sea, and I also talked to someone who said he was swimming with 4 or 5 turtles in the ocean.
4. Richardson Ocean Park
Hilo to Richardson Ocean Park: maybe a 15 minute drive
If you’re looking for a black sand beach near Hilo, this is it!
This ocean park or beach park can be another good spot for a good chance of seeing turtles near Hilo.
I also saw a turtle here.
This is located right down the road a few minutes from the other Hilo beach, Carlsmith beach park.
5. Akaka Falls
Hilo to Akaka Falls: maybe a 30 minute drive
This is one of the best waterfalls on the Big Island, and it will start to take you a bit north of Hilo town.
Be sure to take the Akaka Falls loop trail for a more dramatic approach to the waterfalls. (And for the chance to walk in baynan trees!)
Park outside the state park gate to avoid the parking fee.
A bit further north
6. Waipio Valley lookout
Hilo to Waipio Valley: maybe a drive of around 1 hour and 15 minutes
A famous overlook on the north side of the island.
You can head down to the beach by taking a steep walk there, or a steep drive there with a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
This is about an hour from Akaka Falls.
Now heading south of Hilo
Hilo to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: maybe a drive of around 40 minutes
Cost: $25 per vehicle
At a minimum, you’ll want to give yourself 2 hours to visit the park.
You could also find things to be here all day too.
THE hike to do here is a hike into a former lava lake.
You’ll also want to drive to the end of Chain of Craters Road which will take you to the coast. Along the way, you can see where old lava stopped flowing on the road. There are also many opportunity to get out and walk across vast lava fields aka old lava flows!
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: See more about planning your time here
8. Mauna Loa Road
Hilo to Mauna Loa Road: maybe a drive of 45 minutes
Mauna Loa is one of the main volcanoes on the Big Island.
And, it’s possible drive up part way on the slopes of Mauna Loa by taking the Mauna Loa Road near the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (The summit isn’t accessible by car.)
This takes you on a narrow road as you make your way up.
Once you reach as far as you can go by car, you can then also do a little bit of hiking on the Mauna Loa Trail.
You can’t do the whole Mauna Loa Trail as a day hike but you can hike part of it!
You can walk for an hour or so and then turn around.
Mauna Loa Road is off the main road just 5 minutes past the main Hawaii Volcanoes National Park entrance.
Now moving to a different area that’s kind of near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
These next few activities are things to do on the Puna coast, and it’s possible to do all of these things listed below if you choose to ONLY go to Puna during your time in the Hilo cruise port. Maybe you can do these Puna coast activities, and then depending on how much time you have left before you need to get back on the ship, you can then go to Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls, or Kaumana Caves.
Otherwise, if you choose to spend just a couple of hours at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you can fit in at least few of these Puna activities. To get to the Puna coast from the national park is about 1 hour.
Hilo to Kaimu beach: maybe a drive of 40 minutes
Take a black sand trail to get to a black sand beach!
This is a beach to just look at (not swim at) on the Puna coast, and the views are amazing!
There are lava fields around here that you can walk around.
Kaimu black sand beach: See more about planning your time here
10. Red Road
Hilo to Red Road: maybe a drive of 40 minutes
One of the best scenic drives on the Big Island along the Puna coast.
It’s a pretty short drive – point to point might be 30 minutes, but you can make stops along the way.
11. Pohoiki black sand beach
Hilo to Pohoiki beach: maybe a drive of 40 minutes
This is at one end of the Red Road for another one of the black sand beaches you can see along the Puna coast.
This is the Big Island’s newest black sand beach, created in 2018 because of the lava flows.
So basically, you can drive Red Road from Kaimu to Pohoiki, from black sand beach to black sand beach!
12. Leilani Avenue
Hilo to Leilani Avenue: maybe a drive of 35 minutes
Leilani Estates is the neighborhood that was often the focus on the national news during the 2018 volcano eruption on the Big Island that destroyed homes.
Not all homes were lost in this neighborhood, but you can see where the lava flows stopped with a drive to what’s now the end of Leilani Avenue.
If you choose to go here, keep in mind that some residents are bothered by tourists who show up in their neighborhood.
13. Lava tree state monument
Hilo to Lava tree state monument: maybe a drive of 40 minutes
See lava-formed tree molds.
Hilo to Punaluu black sand beach: maybe a drive of around 1 hour and 10 minutes
See a black sand beach AND see turtles!
Well, you’ll definitely see a black sand beach. (One of the many black sand beaches on the Big Island!)
There’s never a guarantee, but there’s a good chance you’ll see turtles at Punaluu black sand beach!
Punaluu black sand beach: See more about planning your time here
Even further south
For these final 2 activities, Kona is a bit closer to them, but not by much. (Maybe like 10 minutes.)
So if these things are of interest to you, you may consider using your time docked in Hilo to go to the southernmost area of the Big Island (and Hawaii and the United States!) if there are other things you want to do when in the Kona cruise port.
These things are located pretty much right near one another and about 35 minutes past the Punaluu black sand beach.
15. South Point
Hilo to South Point: maybe a drive of around 1 hour 40 minutes
Visit the southernmost point of the United States of America.
Hilo to green sand beach: maybe a drive of around 1 hour 50 minutes
Visit one of the 4 green sand beaches in the world. (So they say!)
There is a likely illegal shuttle you can take to get there, but make it a coastal hike to the green sand beach instead! The listed drive time is to the parking lot only. From there, you’ll need more time to take the shuttle or hike it.
Papakolea green sand beach: See more about planning your time here
And those are a few things to consider when you are in the Hilo cruise port on the Big Island!
And the summary aka quick list…
List of things to do from the Hilo cruise port!
Hilo area/North coast
- Rainbow Falls (free)
- Kaumana Caves (free)
- Carlsmith Beach Park (free)
- Richardson Ocean Park (free)
- Akaka Falls ($1)
- Waipio Valley (free)
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park area
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ($25)
- Mauna Loa Road (free)
- Kaimu black sand beach trail (free)
- Red Road (free)
- Pohoiki black sand beach (free)
- Leilani Avenue (free)
- Lava tree state monument (free)
Plan more of your Hawaii cruise
- Things to do on the Kona coast (Big Island)
- Things to do in Haleakala National Park (Maui)
- Things to do on the Road to Hana (Maui)
- Planning a trip to Pearl Harbor (Honolulu/Oahu)
- Things to do on Oahu
HAPPY HILO CRUISE PORT PLANNING!
Top things to pack for your Hawaii vacation!
The ultimate beach towel for travel?!Turkish towels are considered to be more absorbent and lightweight than your average beach towel. Be sure to check out turkish towels like these!
Possibly among the best Big Island maps for tourists!The Franko maps of Hawaii have a high level of detail for activities and it's beachproof aka waterproof. There's an "adventure" guide map and a "snorkel/dive" guide map. Plus a wall map for home to get you excited for your upcoming trip to Kona!
The cheapo way to waterproof your phoneYou can take underwater pictures with a simple waterproof phone case like this. Touch screen may not work well underwater - try the volume button to snap the pic instead!
Get your suitcase more organized!Packing cubes can make it so you're spending less time on your vacation looking for things! They are basically a form of drawers in your suitcase. Take a look at these packing cubes.
Wear less sunscreen by wearing a UPF swim shirt!Wearing a swim shirt means less skin that's exposed to the sun which means less sunscreen you need to apply! See about wearing swim shirts with UV protection like these when you're snorkeling.
Be sure to take a look at the reviews of these amazing tours on the Big Island:
- Sailing the ocean with a sail + snorkel trip
- Kona's most popular tour: Swimming in the ocean at night with manta rays (likely to sell out)
- Star gazing at Mauna Kea volcano
- Dream Hawaii helicopter flight: Circle the Big Island to see Hawaii's volcanoes from above
- Sail the ocean in the evening on the Captain Cook historical sunset dinner cruise (likely to sell out)