The Big Island has diverse landscapes. There is a "wet" side that is lush and green, and "dry" side that is sunny and sparse and in-between all of it is land that looks like the surface of the strange planet. The best way to see everything is by driving the loop that pretty much goes around the entire island.
We spent one week in Hilo (the wet side) and that's when we did all of our touring. When we arrived in Kona for our second week (the sunny side), we just laid by the pool and recovered from the touring. It took us about 5 leisurely days to do the entire island. We used two guides. The one we use for driving around was The Gypsy Guide. We LOVE this app! We used it on the Road to Hana in Maui and it was like a new trip even though we've done the road at least four times. I can't recommend it enough. The Gypsy Guide doesn't give you restaurant and excursion recommendations. For that, we used Elanaloo's Big Island Guide. Elana lives on the island and has great recommendations for all areas, not just the sunny resort part of the island.
The first day we went to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We kept our hikes to about a mile but, if you come prepared, you can do longer day hikes. You are very exposed, so bring a hat and plenty of water. There are quite a few hikes around the park and the Gypsy Guide will tell you where they are. It's still good to stop at the visitor's center to see if any trails are closed.
The next day was waterfall day. We made it to all the falls on Elandloo's list except one and we managed to fit in a botanical garden and a lava tube. There are two botanical gardens. We skipped the one with the zip line.
This is Rainbow Falls and if you look carefully you can actually see the rainbow at the bottom. Kinda proud of that!
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden has a great story. It was a labor of love.
The third day our touring took us to the northern loop and down to Kona and Wiamea. I loved all the cattle ranches. I was determined to eat local beef while I was there. I only found local ground beef burgers. When I asked at a nice restaurant why they don't have local steaks the server said that the chef didn't like the local beef because it was not tender enough. He gets his steaks from Chicago. Apparently, the farmers can't afford to fully grass feed their cows to maturity. At seven months they ship them off to the mainland to get fattened up on commercial farms. Made me sad.
The last thing on our list was to visit a coffee farm. Elanaloo had several listed. We ended up going to Greenwell Farms. I think you only need one coffee tour. Be sure that the one you want to visit is open. We found several that were closed on the weekend. 100% Kona coffee is expensive but it's worth it. We came home with three pounds and plan on getting more online. I have a better appreciation for coffee growers.
They grow coffee like grapes for wine.
Avocados the size of grapefruits.
Even though we spent nearly a whole week touring the island, I feel like there is still more to do. There are lots of spots I would like to spend some more time in and go for longer hikes to remote beaches.
The island guides are easy to break up if you don't feel like doing the entire route. There were lots of drives that we did that weren't photo-ops but still interesting. We got a good overall feel for the island.
Elanaloo's guide is good to get while your planning your trip because she has recommendations for places to stay.
You can download Gypsy Guide when you get there. Look at their other driving tours while you're at it. They have guides for the US and Canada.