A short walk from Royal Kona Resort to town was 25mins business. Believe me, you don't want to walk that far under the sun either.
I was so glad to renting a car for the last day so that I could visit the painted church & National Park before catching the flight in the afternoon.
Although there are lots of traffic between Kona town & the airport and driving on the opposite side, it is pretty pleasent to drive on the Big Island.
You cannot go to Hawaii and NOT rent a car. There is so much to see and do.
Hawaii (specially the big island) offers opportunity for a vast amount of eco climates that are not encountered all within one island anywhere else in the world.
You can be atop a mountain (with snow in winter) or, at sea level at a beach, or within a rainforest or even a dessert like atmosphere all within one day - if you drive!
Hawaii is also one of the cheapest places in the US to rent a car but beware; make sure your insurance covers or take out an appropiate policy at time of rental.
Also, be aware that you will need a 4 wheel drive for certain "off road" adventures opposed to a car if you're only planning to drive around cities such as Kona or Hilo.
Whenever possible, go for the 4 wheel, part of the fun of Hawaii is being able to explore and "just pull over"
We drove from Kalaoa to Hilo and had some breathtaking views at lava fields, the "Saddle" and Mauna Kea volcanoe. Although it was a hell of a ride we were glad to have witnessed it!
The state has plans to relign and improve Saddle Road in the near future. They want to make this road the vital link between east and west Hawaii. It's supposed to upgrade into a two-lane highway. Finally it should make the road less "exiting" and definately more rental-car friendly.
The road was built during WW II to provide access to an Army training area in the Big Island's interior. We had the feeling that it hasn't been maintained or improved much since. Although paved for its entire length, Saddle Road is a narrow, winding, barely two-lane road with steep grades, sharp curves, poor pavement conditions, inadequate signing and substandard drainage. Not surprisingly, Saddle Road has a higher accident rate compared with average roads.
Still you must consider that it is the shortest route between the east and the west side of the island. Despite its poor condition it is much used by island residents and a limited number of sightseers.
Saddle Road (State Route 200), the closest thing to a cross-island highway on the Big Island, is a famously bad road despised by most rental car companies. These companies generally prohibit tourists from taking their vehicles on the road. We were driven by locals at our day of departure and witnessed why it's unsafe to drive.
The road was built during WW II to provide access to an Army training area in the Big Island's interior. We had the feeling that it hasn't been maintained or improved much since.
Keahole-Kona International Airport is reasonably sized and easy to use. It's one of the last in the United States that I know of that is basically an outdoor facility. (All the check-in counters, gates, shops, even security facilities are open to the wind.) One note - eating options here are very limited. Once you go through security, the only eating option was an overpriced greasy grill. So don't come here with an appetite, expecting to find some good nosh before your long trans-Pacific flight. (The voice of experience here.)
If you want to drive to the top of Mauna Kea there is literally only 1 rental company to rent from... Harper Car & Truck Rental.
Their trucks are made for the difficult climb and more importantly have the gears for descending the mountain safely.
If you rent from any other company it's prohibited and you could actually end up dead when your brakes fail.
I have to add, it was fun driving this vehicle.
With the USD still in a black hole against that mighty euro, even us diehard Europhiles have to consider Stateside alternatives. Thank goodness that includes Hawaii! United Airlines has some terrific deals to all of its Hawaiian destinations, not just Honolulu. They fly daily from Chicago O'Hare to Honolulu as well as Kona (via Maui,) and even have Saturday nonstop service from Denver to Kona. This is in addition to the twice-and thrice-daily service from LAX and SFO to the aforementioned islands, plus Lihue, Kauai. And Aloha Airlines offers dirt-cheap interisland flights, when you want to do more than *just* one island.
Before you leave home make a reservation for a rental car or jeep. There is not enough vehicles to meet the demand at peak season.
We leased a car and had to take a jeep instead. They called it an upgrade but at the price of gas on the islands, we didn't think much of it.
The roads are good and there is no problem driving anywhere that you may want to go.
Unless you plan on just staying at your resort, you will definitely need a car. The island is very large, and all of the points of interest are a good distance away from each other. On the plus side, roads are nicely paved and well marked.
If you are flying to or form the Big Island and Honolulu, considder a scenic flight in a small plane rather than a large jetliner.
I flew out of Hilo to Honolul via Kamuelaa-Waimea with Pacific Wings in their small Cesna 208B and regard it as one of my most scenic flights.
After departing from Hilo we flew up through the clouds to Kamuela-Waimea with great views of Manua Loa, Manua Kea and the Big Island highlands. On the flight from Kamuela-Waimea to Honolulu I saw humpback whales from above outside the Hawaii coast and had great views of Maui to the east and flying over Kahoolawe, Lanai and Molokai before we reached Oahu. It took a little more time than a flight with Hawaiian or Aloha Airlines would have done, but you get to see much more while flying at 10.000 ft compared to 30.000.
If you're wondering weather you should rent a car for getting around the Big Island or not. Unless you're staying at a resort and don't plan doing much more than staying there, make a reservation for a rental car and you'll be able to get around and see the island.
A few places are only accessible with a 4WD ,and a few places like the sadle road and Manua Kea are restricted by all rental companies except Harpers, but you'll be able to get to most places of interest in a regular car. But if you want to see Waipio valley, Green Sand Beach without getting there on your own feet or opting on catching a ride, you should look into paying the extra bucks and rent a 4WD.
On The Big Island, you want to have a rental car with 4WD. There are lots of awesome sights you cannot get to otherwise.
The Ford Explorer was good because we could leave things like the "noodles" we bought to float in the ocean, and our dirty hiking boots and socks in the back - just in case we ever needed them.
Flying direct from the mainland to the Big Island is definitely convenient, unfortunately flights only arrive from a few cities.
From Pennsylvania we were scheduled to fly to Chicago, then to Los Angeles, and finally to the Kona airport.
This would have been a long day as scheduled, but it turned out even longer because our first flight never left the ground.
We flew United Airlines. I wouldn't really recommend them, but your choices are limited if you're flying direct to the Big Island.
The Big Island is named so for a very good reason - IT'S THE BIGGEST ISLAND, and to see it properly you've gotta' have a car.
This Island bigger than all the other islands combined and has 10 of the 15 climatic zones in the world. This makes for many types of terrain and scenery.
If you plan on checking into a resort and staying there your whole visit - find one closer to home and save a bundle on airfare.
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