Puna, the big nose of the Big Island that points east, is by any measure one of the best places to visit in the state, but not that many people see it since the island is so ... big (larger than all the other islands combined). While rental cars jam places like Maui's Hana Highway, you can cruise virtually solo on the Kehena-Pohoiki Scenic Drive. It begins at the south end of Puna, about 25 miles from Hilo. This is also where the current hikes to see flowing lava begin, near Kalapana Bay.
The hot spot on the water is Isaac Hale (hah-lay) Beach Park, where surfers love the left-break off of the park's breakwater. You can walk out for grandstand seats.
Behind the community cottage at the beach park is Pohoiki Warm Spring, a natural warm pool created by the Big Island's geothermal goings on.
The tropical tree tunnel leads to a huge forest of Ironwood trees, which look like conifers at MacKenzie State Park. This is among the best coastal campgrounds in Hawaii, though there is no beach and monster waves pose a threat along the bluffs.
A large warm pool—a fabulous freebie—is a few miles down the road at Ahalanui Warm Pond Park. A grove of coco palms make the lawn of this county park's picnic area inviting.
Greenery gives way to lava lands as you head north in Puna. The pocked topography at the coast creates a unique snorkeling park at Waiopae Tide Pools. A dozen or more swimmable depressions are rich with coral and fish at this marine conservation sanctuary.
Just north of the pools is Cape Kumakahi, the eastern most tip of the Big Island—the air here has been measured as the purest on the planet. A short walk through the slag heaps (the coast was extended by a half-mile in a 1960 eruption) brings you to an excellent swimming hole. The tepid waters of the Kapoho Bay Seapool (a.k.a Champagne Cove) are crystal clear.
When looping inland back towards Hilo, you'll want to pull in at Lava Tree State Monument. A .75-mile path weaves through lava statues created when a high-tide of lava came through in the 1700s. When the flow receded, some of the hot stuff congealed on the trunks of ohia trees, and remained as columns when the trees burned away. Songbirds provide a raucous soundtrack to this sort-of eerie stroll.
More details and stuff to see in Puna await in Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer.