Author Topic: visiting hawaii - big island - for 4 days soon. advice?  (Read 7769 times)

Mr Mark

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visiting hawaii - big island - for 4 days soon. advice?
« on: February 28, 2013, 08:37:47 PM »
The clan may be taking a trip to Hawaii big island real soon. 4 days. Just for the hell of it.

Would appreciated any tips before I get cracking on the internets wrt rental cars, places to stay, how to best see a volcano, self catering, etc.



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Re: visiting hawaii - big island - for 4 days soon. advice?
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2013, 09:44:23 PM »
Calling Nords...

We (my 10yo daughter and I) stayed on the Big Island for about the same amount of time about a year ago.  Here's what we did sort of in descending order of "cool":

Swimming with the manta rays (or diving if you're scuba certified) is fabulous.
Swimming with the dolphins is fun.
Swimming in the ocean is fun.  Snorkeling at the bay with Captain Cook's statue is pretty nice.  It's a place called "two-step" and is an easy 20 minute drive south of Kona.
Whale watching cruise is fun if you get to see whales, which you will if you go in the next month or so.  We took a catamaran out of the harbor to the north of Kona a ways.
Parasailing was fun.
We drove/climbed Mauna Kea, which we thought was fun and interesting.  They say don't take rental cars and there are pricey tours that will take you.  We broke the rules and everything turned out fine.
The shaved ice in downtown Kona is good and worth a try.
The seahorse place by the airport is good for younger kids but not really interesting for grownups.
The Atlantis submarine ride is OK; pricey for what you get IMHO.
We did a luau, which was crummy food and 2 hours of 48 different types of pacific islander dances.  This was probably the one thing we actually disliked.
We skipped the volcanos because it was quite a drive down and back.
We wanted to take surfing lessons but it didn't fit into our schedule.

Fly into Kailua-Kona and stay along the beach in the Kona area.  We used the Expedia tour guide / expert at our hotel to book stuff, and the prices were probably not as good as haggling yourself, but it took a lot of pressure off of me to have them arrange everything.  I'd recommend using them.



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Re: visiting hawaii - big island - for 4 days soon. advice?
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2013, 09:51:26 PM »
We went a couple of years ago, and it wasn't cheap (went via Costco travel though, which has good deals).

Places to stay: maybe check vrbo?  We stayed at a fancy resort.  Our room had a fridge.  I took an electric hot pot (heats water).  You can do quite a bit with that.  We had breakfast included, ate sandwiches or hot things using the hot pot for lunch or dinner, and went out one meal.

This book was helpful.  If you want to eat out, they rate restaurants.  We found a couple of hole-in-the-wall cheaper places to eat from this.

If you end up in a condo with cooking ability, there's a Costco on the Island.  Food in Hawaii is ridiculous.

We stayed in Waikoloa.  So the volcano day was a LONG day.  It's 100 something miles - we were on the complete opposite side of the island from the volcano, so when we drove, it took a whole day.  I'd recommend staying in Hilo for a day or so if you want to see the volcano without the big drive.

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Re: visiting hawaii - big island - for 4 days soon. advice?
« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2013, 11:20:26 PM »
Thanks for the advice  so far!

For various reasons we have free flights*, and so last minute we're flying tomorrow. To Hilo. Any tips on rental cars, places to stay, restaurants, kid friendly activities, good dive snorkel boat trip people who aren't't too commercial, all would be  much appreciated!

*Airmiles for me and airline insider for the rest of family, so entire flight is costing us $35. and my business membership gives us access to the business class lounges and free bags. Sweet.


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Re: visiting hawaii - big island - for 4 days soon. advice?
« Reply #4 on: March 01, 2013, 12:25:00 AM »
You can get some information from here.


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Re: visiting hawaii - big island - for 4 days soon. advice?
« Reply #5 on: March 01, 2013, 05:59:58 AM »
I highly recommend the Hidden Hawaii book.  It can help identify fun and interesting activities.

There are several B&Bs near volcanoes national park that make a lot of sense if you plan to spend most of your time there.


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Re: visiting hawaii - big island - for 4 days soon. advice?
« Reply #6 on: March 13, 2013, 01:31:48 PM »
I was all ready to post about my 4 day trip on the Big Island in 2011, but then saw that you already went!! 

How was the trip?!

I rented a Jeep and did a leisurely road trip around the island, starting in Hilo, to Volcano, South Point, Kona, Waimea, and back to Hilo.  I hope you had time to see Volcano National Park.  I camped out there one night, and even without any active eruptions, it was a very cool place to hike.  I also thought that South Point, and the nearby green-sand beach were highlights.

For anyone else planning a trip, it doesn't have to be expensive.  My biggest expense was the Jeep rental (but it was worth it, expecially to off-road to the green-sand beach).  I stayed at the Hilo Bay Hostel one night (very neat "Old Hawaiian" feel and very cheap), camped the next (had my gear from hiking on Kauai the week prior), and then found a nice cheap Sheraton resort in Kona for my last night (even without advance reservation!... and watched their luau show for free from my balcony!!).  That "Revealed" guidebook mm1970 posted was fantastic.  I got one for every island I visited and found a lot of cheap/free things to do.

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Re: visiting hawaii - big island - for 4 days soon. advice?
« Reply #7 on: March 13, 2013, 04:21:04 PM »
Thanks for the reminder! Got back couple of days ago, went for 8 days.

The big island is great. Although, if you are urban, not that big in size. So in hindsight for, say for a 1 week stay:
- Stay mostly HiLo and drive to volcano (40min) and see real volcano stuff at national park total bargain for days of MMM fun. Lava. You can drive north too, easy 1.5 hrs. To drive across the super scenic saddle road across the island is now very easy, not 'banned' by rental companies, and is 2 hrs from Hilo to Kona. Hell, it's as big as Houston, basically.
- go camping in Kailua Kona, self cater and buy at farmers markets or in Hilo. Rental car is essential I'm afraid, but if staying for 2+ weeks I'd be tempted to buy one and resell.
- we used priceline after we arrived and got some great last minute deals at super luxurious resorts. But incidental costs will kill you unless you are a ruthless sneaky self catering mustashian. Take a cheap snorkel kit and an inflatable thingy. Refillable bottles, snacks, booze, you get the drill. But treat the staff well. Great for 1 special night. I'd recommend Hilton resort north of kona. Check in early, hang around late after a late check out. Awesome place. Lagoon, boats, monorail, balcony, dolphins, turtles, pools galore, super luxurious and totally trippy. We got it for 190 a night incl. Taxes. Totally worth it.
- In Hilo, we loved "Hilo Seaside Hotel." 2 star, but free beach 20 m away, great pool, clean rooms with 2 dbl beds and ensuite, and a very good restaurant. Again, rack rate is 129 plus tax, but we bid it for 90 incl. Tax. Billies is another awesome place. Again, 2 star. But friendly, no problem with the self catering, wonderful.
- it is advanced mustashianism, generally. The whole place is set up to milk tourists at every turn. Surprise compulsory resort fees @$30 per day. $20 for 'self parking' ,  breakfast $30++ , etc etc etc. Use the force, Luke!

We had a blast. And will return.


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Re: visiting hawaii - big island - for 4 days soon. advice?
« Reply #8 on: March 13, 2013, 09:51:34 PM »
Calling Nords...
Yeah, I totally missed this thread. 

I guess I should take that FAQ and turn it into a blog post.  (  I wrote it for families with kids in tow, but if you're adults only then you can go much more frugal & rugged.

Here's the text:
Believe it or not I get this question at least twice a month. Here are some nuggets and links that I've gleaned from other posters over the years:

Start with the "101 Things to Do" website and pick your island(s).

Try posting your questions on It has a very busy section of people asking about moving to or vacationing in Hawaii, and a lot of the board members live to know it all share their experience. You'll get a lot of kama'aina recommendations and posts from the neighbor islands. You might even find rental home bargains that you'd never see on a consolidator's website.

If this is your first Hawaii visit then you should do Waikiki. Very kid-safe beach and plenty of other things to keep everyone entertained. Hanauma Bay, the Diamond Head Lookout hike, & Makapu'u Point whale-watching are right around the corner. There's Sea Life Park, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and plenty of shopping/browsing. Waikiki even has a zoo and an aquarium, which are surprisingly good for their age & location. Kids will forever remember their ride on the Atlantis submarine, although you'll probably forever remember the price.

IMO the best bet for a second island would be the Big Island. Spend some time at the volcano, spend some time at Hilo, spend some time in a cheap rental home in Pahoa, and even drive to the other side for the big city lights of Kailua-Kona. Hilo captures the most of the charm of Old Hawaii while retaining the convenience of Wal-Mart and CostCo. Prices are a bit higher than Oahu but lower than the other islands.

Maui has its own imitation of Waikiki with the Lahaina/Ka'anapali area. We prefer Ma'alaea Bay (lots of rental condos) with the oceanarium, boat harbor, and beaches. Kula is wine country. If the kids are old enough then Oprah's Thompson Ranch land may be open for horseback trail rides. You'll also want to take a snorkel cruise. Don't bother with the road to Hana; your kids will go car crazy and you won't enjoy the driving.

Kauai is our favorite island for Kapaa & Poipu, but there are fewer kid-friendly activities. Lihue is a small airport and the island is more expensive than the Big Island or Maui. Waimea Canyon is breathtaking, as are the eco-tours and the beaches. Our kid was bored.

Molokai & Lanai are very small, very rustic, and (compared to the other islands) very lacking in visitor amenities. Prices are much higher than the other places. We've lived here for over two decades and I have yet to haul my butt over to either of them, although I'm told that their surfing is like it was in the rest of the world during the 1940s. Some day I will spend a week at Molokai Ranch (closed a couple years ago) on Molokai and another week on Lanai.

Niihau is private property and closed to visitors.

Discount lodging:

Our best-ever family vacation was on the Big Island's Pahoa coast at a Kapoho Beach rental home. The gated community had great walking trails, an old lava field to explore, and unbelievable snorkeling. Turtles visited daily. The neighborhood was built with water channels and tidepools to nearly every backyard, so your kids can don their snorkel gear on the lanai and splash among the fish while you man the frosty beverage & BBQ grill lifeguard station. The tidepools are very safe (only about 4-6 feet deep) and heated by subterranean lava flows to 85-90 degrees so it's great just to soak (the last eruption there was over 40 years ago). A petrified-forest state park is 15 minutes by car, the volcano is an hour's drive, and Hilo is about 30 minutes. You might need to bring video tapes or DVDs for the evenings after everyone collapses (check your rental house to see if they have a VCR/DVD player... and a TV).

The best flight I've ever had to Hawaii was out of... Newark NJ. Continental goes straight to Honolulu in a 10.5-hour marathon that eliminates a lot of weather & crowds hassles, to say nothing of lost luggage. The longer flights have given our kid a chance to settle in, watch a couple movies, eat a couple meals, and play with all the features of the entertainment system before crashing for a long nap. I never heard a single "I'm bored" and we were much less frazzled when we finally arrived. I think it's way better than switching planes every four-five hours and keeping track of everyone in the departure lounges.

If you're seriously planning to travel during snow season then I'd stay far away from O'Hare. Go through Atlanta or LAX/SFO or even DFW... but not O'Hare.

Get a rental car. You're going to want to shop Ala Moana, snorkel Hanauma Bay, hang the Pali Overlook, drive H-3 both ways, windsurf Kailua, hike Diamond Head, visit the Polynesian Cultural Center, buy tchotchkes at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet, and cruise the North Shore's surfing contests. Those can all be done via bus or visitor trolley but it's a lot more difficult to make the timing work for you and to haul your loot. Hotel parking isn't too pricey and as long as you avoid rush hours you'll have no trouble getting around. You may even get a weekly rate under $150 with the airfare or the hotel.

I've set up my blog with a 3D Travel widget that uses Google Earth to "fly" around Hawaii.  It's pretty realistic:

Here are suggestions on voluntourism and labor exchanges (including WWOOFing):

Our best "Hawaii vacation" in the last couple years was Napili Bay on Maui's west side:

Real backpackers do Haleakala Crater.  My spouse and I totally wimped out and stayed in the 1930s cabins.  Hey, they had woodstoves.
We learned nothing from that experience so we repeated it:
And we're hoping to get the call again this year.

If you can swim then you can surf.  Even if you can't swim, the lifeguard can probably still teach you:

And consider these posts before you decide to make the big move here:

Questions?  Recommendations?  Let me know what I could put into a future post.


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Re: visiting hawaii - big island - for 4 days soon. advice?
« Reply #9 on: August 26, 2014, 10:13:57 AM »
Bumping this up.  I will read up the links Nords posted above.  But quick questions:

first timer to HI - 2 adults, one child (11 years).
All prefer beautiful beaches more than anything else (ie, do not need any fancy kids activities or other distractions); soft sand and blue water preferred (instead of the a black/rocky beach)
Kid may want to take surfing lessons

With this very simple criteria, which island to narrow it down to?  We are thinking week of Nov 22-29 (thanksgiving week)

thanks for any pointers!


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