Plan at least 4 days to drive around the island. You *could* drive around the entire island in 4-6 hours, but you would not be able to enjoy & take time to enjoy the beauty and true Aloha spirit if you were rushed. Purchase a book called "Hawaii - the Big Island Revealed". It's a WONDERFUL book that guides you around this breathtaking island. It gives you things to do, what highway markers to look for, and more.
We rented a car to take the drive along the scenic Rt. 19 . We stopped along the way to view some beautiful lava tubes flowing with water along to the way to Kaimana Caves, Akaka Falls and then on to Volcanoes National Park.
The route is a short one but a good way to get off the highway and see the beautiful coast line.
The Big Island is the only Hawaiian Island that you need to plan out a circumnavigation. There is so much to see and do that I would recommend splitting up the drive into two seperate and full days.
We were staying in Kona so before setting out we tried to get a hotel in Hilo for the night. The ones that sounded decent in my guide book were full, so we called around the places in Volcano and found a B&B there.
We started at 9 in the morning and headed north, on Highway 11 and then 190, reaching the ranch lands and town of Waimea at 10:30, where we stopped for coffee at Starbucks and perused the Parker Ranch general store (where grandson got a cowboy hat, of course). Waimea is a spot we wanted to return to but never got the chance. Higher elevation made for cooler weather - lots of grazing cows and horses. Reminded my wife of her home state of Montana.
Continuing on toward Hilo on Highway 19, we could feel and see the changes as we left the dry side and entered the luxuriously green wet side. No rain, tho. We missed the turn off for Akaka Falls but couldn't turn around anytime soon so on we went. Turned at the 4 mile Scenic Drive - which is a section of the old highway that is very well named. Stopped for a great lunch and smoothies at "What's Shakin'" about 1PM. Next stop The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens just down the road. Great Gardens. Spent about 2.5 hours wandering around there which didn't leave much time for Hilo. Just drove though hilo with a brief stop at Banyan Drive. Traffic was starting to get very busy so we decided to head up to Volcano while it was still light enough to see since it had started raining.
Next day we stayed at Volcano Park until 1:30 PM, which didn't seem like enough time but we had the long drive back to Kona ahead of us.
South Point on the Big Island is the southernmost point in the 50 United States. If you don't care about things like the southest, northest, eastes or westest, then you can stop reading now. But for those of us who do care, it's worth the 12 mile detour off of highway 11. The drive is pretty but unremarkable, except for a cluster of rusted unused modern windmills. The point itself is scraggly lava gradually entering the ocean with such irregularity that it's impossible to determine if you are standing further south than the guy on the other outcropping. The black lava itself is decorated with messages written in white coral stones against the natural blackboard. It's not remarkable except for its southerlyness.
Before you go, you should realize that most rental car contracts prohibit you from driving on South Point Road. I don't know why -- while it is a poorly paved one-lane road, it's not in bad shape. Just don't leave any valuables in the car at the end.
It is marked on most maps as a “4-mile scenic road”, but also known as a Hamakua Drive. The serpentine road carves its way through the rainforest foliage, rich with amazing banyan trees with its roots that hug above the drive like giant fingers , eucalyptuses, hapu’u and other trees, shrubs, and plants that can only be found on the Hawaiian Islands.
From Hilo, drive north on the road 19 and once you pass the Hilo Bay this is where the enchant nature beauty begins. Hamakua Drive will take you along the coast line where you’ll find the most astonishing views and several points of interest like Onomea Trail, Botanical Gardens, and Akaka Falls State Park.
The left side of the road is bordered by the untouched forest, while the right side offers amazing views on the ocean with its mighty waves, black lava rocks and an occasionally passing Noio bird, also found only in Hawaii.
You will want to make several stops along the drive because the photo opportunities along the way are simply impossible to ignore and although there are no designated parking spots people always find spots beside the road to stop for a few minutes and enjoy the scenery that is so indigenous.
The Big Island is an amazing place to visit. My mom lives in Hilo and i got a chance to take the drive along the coast from Hilo to Kona. It was one of the most beautiful drives i have taken. Along the way we stopped at Hapuna Beach and it was one of the most beautiful beaches I've been to. The water is warm, the beaches are great, and its an awesome place to spend an afternoon!
South Point, Southern most point of the USA.
The actual place where Polynesians first stepped foot in Hawaii will always remain a mystery, but it was probably somewhere near the southern tip of the Big Island. This area seems like a probable place because their approach would have been from the south, where all of Polynesia lay. When sailing north, the Big Island would be the first island they would have seen, and South Point would have been the nearest landfall.
The cliff near South Point Park is a common mooring place for modern day fishermen who find these waters a rich resource. From the precipice the drop is about forty feet to the ocean‘s surface, but the cliff base goes down another thirty feet below the surface of the water. Ladders, hung to make access to the boats easier, swing freely in the air just above the sea. The cliff is deeply undercut. In the heat of the day the water looks inviting. It is so clear the bottom can be seen plainly. For some there might be a temptation to leap into the cool water, and climb back up the ladder. It looks inviting, but don’t do it. A swift current runs along the shore. The flow will carry anyone in the water straight out to sea. It is called the Halaea Current, named for a chief who was carried off to his death.
Mahana Beach, also called Green Sands Beach. I HAVE A MAHANA BEACH PAGE UNDER MUST SEE ACTIVITES.
One of South Point's most famous scenic spots is Mahana Beach, also called Green Sands Beach because it has a distinctive golden green color. "The grains of green sand are olivine the olivine becomes concentrated on this beach due partly to its high specific gravity." accumulation of such a large quantity of the granules that produced the green sand beach.
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The irony is if you have a vehicle, you can travel all around the big island and stop to go into the ocean many places along the way to the north. In the north it gets more tropical and the road a bit more rural, but a nice trip. The black sand beach is one that is different to enter.
Having a rental car can be a plus here, because it gives you an opportunity to explore the island on your own. You can purchase a map of the island at a local store or some are free at the airport or some hotels. It's not very difficult to follow. You can drive through and stop off at several beaches along the way, and take some great photos along your scenic drive. You can make it a half day or day long self guided tour! A map and other free brochures that are usually provided can help you decide where you can stop along the way.
We went to the lookout here before going on our horseback ride in Waipio Valley. It was really cloudy when we went here but it did not rain thankfully. There were alot of people here so the rain did not stop anyone from coming. This lookout shows just how big Waipio Valley really is. Right next to the outlook is the road that leads down into Waipio Valley. Apparently you have to have a 4x4 to get down or even go on the roads that are down there as they were washed out. The hike down does not seem that bad however we saw people coming up and they were definatley out of breath. We even saw a family that took their kids down. Everyone rested on the way up. The lookout has a covered picnic area and also has bathrooms. I think when we went the bathrooms were closed. There was also some very pretty flowers in this area. The only thing I would of changed is the weather. I can only imagine what this place would of looked like if the clouds would of cleared up. I would definatley check the forecast before you decide to go here it will make it much more pleasurable. If you want souveneirs I would say go across the bridge that is near the look out and check out Waipio Valley Artworks. They have many diffrent types of handmade crafts along with paintings and even and ice cream shop. This is also where you meet up to go horseback riding into the valley. There is also van tours that can take you down into the valley.
There is quite a few people that actually live in the valley, some homes look like shacks and some are nothing more then a tarp. If our tour guide was telling us the truth the second place you come to with a tarp on the roof actually has satellite hooked up. You can also see a lot of taro fields. Hiking is also allowed however I woud stick to the roads or the trails and to not go trapsing threw somones yard. You also need to be careful as their are some marijuana growers down there and they will probably not like you getting near their plants. We never saw none then again we were on a guided tour. There is signs posted up telling you not to enter someones land.
This is were most of hawaiis taro plant comes from also.
One interesting thing our tour guide told us is that for some residents the land has been passed down from generation to generation and when one person passes away they leave it to their family. I think he was saying that they have to pay a small fee which only a few dollars or so but it will continue to get passed on. Our tour guide said his grandma lived in the valley and he used to but he now lives up top because it has more amenities and makes it easier on his kids.
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