Big Island Guide: How to Prepare and Where to Stay

Tips and tricks on how to vacation in Big Island with ease.


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THURSTON LAVA TUBE, HAWAI’I VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK. 
PHOTO: JACK WOLFORD 

 

HOW TO PREPARE

THE BIG ISLAND IS ANOTHER WORLD. 

They do things differently there. All the molten mana bubbling under the volcano seems to spin a normal traveler’s compass sideways. So the secret to a successful, laid-back, gonna-cruise kind of holoholo is to plan the hell out of the sucker on the front end of the trip.

 

RENT THE CAR FIRST. 

Why? Because as we’ve discovered, Hilo doesn’t have near as many rental cars as Kailua-Kona, so if you’re thinking of picking up in one airport and dropping off at the other—which seems so logical on the face of it—you may find yourself out of luck. And that’s an expensive taxi ride, my friend.

 

If you’re leaving from Kona and returning your car there: go early and do something fun near the airport, like swimming and lounging at Hāpuna Beach or, even closer, Kikaua Point Park Beach (limited parking) or Manini‘ōwali Beach at Kua Bay (Hwy 19 between mile markers 18 and 19). Don’t spend the last few hours of a relaxing Sunday stuck in a chain of 25 hesitant tourist drivers all heading to the same Kona rental car return. 

 

NAIL DOWN SATURDAY NIGHT. 

What is it about Saturday? A kama‘āina couple can fly in, enjoy a great day, relax in a romantic resort or country lodge, have another great day and fly home Sunday night. Yes, the Big Island is for lovers. Unless you waited too long to book a room; then that fragrance in the air is likely eau du flop sweat as your honey watches you pacing tight circles in the parking lot of another sold-out hotel, cell phone clamped to your ear. Fortunately, there always seems to be a room somewhere on the Big Island, thanks to tons of resort stock in Kailua-Kona. “When in doubt, call the Royal Kona Resort,” advised a Hilo friend, Mark Panek, who gets the $110 kama‘aina rate whenever he and his wife decide to extend an afternoon into an evening. 

 

WHAT TO PACK. 

In general: underpack. Unless you’re going to make this a resort weekend, carry only a big shoulder bag or a small backpack and the roller suitcase—which should be mostly empty when you leave and on your return overstuffed with omiyage and loot from your farmers market visits, outdoor adventures and fashion/crafty-treasure hunts.

 

Besides clothing, here’s the stuff you need: good walking shoes or all-terrain sandals, a swimsuit, a light waterproof jacket, phone charger and a map. Don’t rely on GPS—reception is notoriously spotty. Take, but don’t rely on, the tourist map at the car rental or airport kiosk. A real map will unlock places where all the other people aren’t. Don’t even bring that wrinkled, paperback novel you’ve been meaning to read; Hilo has at least three bookstores.

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