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.
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"
My wife and I arived in Hilo and Kona via the Celebrity Century. Hilo and Kona were two of the stops on our fifteen day Hawaiian cruise for my 40th birthday. Hilo was a port and not a tender so we were able to walk right off the ship and begin our tour of the area. Kona was a tender port so we were shuttled to the pier in smaller boats.
Chances are that you've looked at a map of the Big Island and thought: Hmmm...the Saddle Road looks like a short and scenic way to get from Hilo to the Kona side (or vice-versa). And it can be. Cutting through the lava-strewn saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, it is definitely the shortest path between Hilo and Waimea. On the sunny morning I drove it, I caught a view of snow-covered Mauna Kea, dotted with observatories, as it played hide-and-seek through the clouds. The barren landscape was pocked with cinder cones and Mauna Loa rose boldly to my left. It was a great drive!
However, exercise caution. First and foremost, realize that most rent-a-car companies FORBID you to drive on the Saddle Road. If you damage your car there, you should lie about it unless the vehicle's undriveable or requires a police report -- then you're screwed and your insurance will probably be void. The one company that I know of that allows this, Harper's, is expensive but worth it if you want to drive this road (or head to the peak of Mauna Kea). The Saddle Road is windy and narrow in spots, and the blankets of fog that settle on it are so thick that you cannot see two median reflectors in front of you (I know -- this is what I experienced in the afternoon return trip). And locals recommend staying off it after dark -- and there's no scenary then any way.
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.
If you do not have a real 4WD car and do not want to walk down to the Waipi'o valley/beach you can take a shuttle.
It is leaving from the Waipio Valley Artworks in Kukuihaele on the Old scenic drive to Waipio Valley. (Route 19 to Honokaa then route 240, 0.5 mi before the lookout). The shuttle leaves daily except Sunday at 9am, 11am, 1pm and 3pm. The round trip will take about 2 hours.
It is 50$ a person.
When I was on the Big Island in the summer of 2013, I saw that construction is nearing completion on the realignment, widening, and general modernization of the famous - formerly notorious - Saddle Road.
In years past, Saddle Road was infamous for being narrow, winding, dangerous, poorly lit, and pitted with potholes. Rental Car companies expressly forbade visitors to the Island from taking their vehicles on the road!
All this has change. The State of Hawaii has been committed to a lengthy, expensive, and challenging re-built of this important road. Most of it - all except about ten miles on the far western end - was finished when I was there. It provided a modern highway that lived up to standards that you would expect to find anywhere in the foothills or mountain approaches of Colorado or California. Only the far western end of the Saddle Road was still something that your grandparents might have driven over in the 1940s.
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.
There are only two ways to get to the Big Island, by air and by sea.
If you’re looking for great views, black sand, less touristy and an almost untouched place then you’ll spend a great vacation staying on the Hilo side. But if you’re more interested in commercialized, touristy, and full of resorts, restaurants, and bars place then Kona is a place for you. Please, don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great place to spend a vacation and there’s plenty to see and explore.
Whatever side of the island you choose to stay at, you can always cover the whole island driving around it and exploring many attractions and points of interest. After all it is only about 300 miles. Just remember to have full tank of gas, so you don’t find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere without a drop of fuel, gas stations are quite rare on the island.
Before writing all this, I should have mentioned one very important thing, if you’re visiting the Big Island you’ll definitely need to rent a car because public transport is a castle in the sky :)
There are plenty of car rental agencies, all conveniently located at the airport. Make your booking in advance, when we arrived to the Island we were told to be lucky, because a day before they had no cars available!
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'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.
The Big Island has good roads and is nearly impossible to get lost driving because there's only one main road that goes around the island: Route 19.
Renting a car offers you much more freedom to explore the state parks dot along the road, may it be lava tubes, beaches, or scenic vistas.
We rented a car to make our exploration around the island easy and convenient. We stopped along the way to view some beautiful lava tubes flowing with water, the 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.
They say that little Oahu is just 1/6 to 1/7 the size of the Big Island here. They also say that all the rest of the Hawaiian Islands could fit inside the space taken up by the Big Island here. They aren't kidding. You clearly need wheels if you plan on seeing anything beyond your hotel room on Hawaii. Roads are paved of course and in pretty decent condition, but there will be occasions you need to motor across a single-lane stretch of something which is halfway btwn a road and a newly-dried slab of lava, bumps and ripples and all, and you will then thank your stars that you went ahead and got the Jeep.
Inter-island flights - There are plenty of flights between Oahu and the other islands which run at various times each day. The main airlines are Hawaiian and Aloha with some smaller runs being handled by Island Air and Air Molokai.
Rental Cars : We hired a car for the time we were there which was the best way for us to explore the Island.
Alamo Rent-A-Car . 1-800-GO-ALAMO
Dollar Rent A Car . 1-800-800-3665
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