The Complete Big Island Vacation Guide

big island cover Aloha! So you are planning a vacation to the Big Island – you are going to have such fun! This is the complete Big Island vacation guide, which is the online version of my ebook Plan Your Best Vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii Ever! Where to Stay and What to Do on the Big Island.

Topics in this guide

Aloha!

So you’re planning a vacation to the Big Island (Hawaii Island) –

Congratulations! You are going to have SUCH FUN! First, you’ll be flying in to either Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA) or Hilo International Airport (ITO). You may find a direct flight, but if not, your airline will probably schedule your connecting flight from Honolulu for you.

If you have to do it yourself, you can do so with either Hawaiian Airlines or Go! Airlines http://www.iflygo.com/.

Also check out Hawaiian for great rates to Hawaii.

My Favorites on The Big Island

My favorite area:

Tough one on this really big island, but I’ll say the Kohala Coast. This has two of my favorite beaches, Hapuna and the Mauna Kea Beach, and it’s also got my favorite resort, the Hilton Waikoloa – a beautiful and fun place to visit whether you stay there or not!

My favorite hotel:

This is easy – the Hilton Waikoloa. They’ve got Dolphin Quest, a great program for learning about dolphins – and if you want to spend the bucks, close encounters with them 🙂 The rooms are very nice, the pools with their slides and waterfalls are fantastic, there are several restaurants and lounges, tons to do, and you can ride around the place on the Disneyland-like free tram and boat shuttles. Also, they have a pretty lagoon and a cool art collection displayed around the pools, walkways and gardens.

My favorite luau:

Island Breeze. This is held on the historical royal grounds at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. The pre-luau activities begin when the royal court paddles in from Kailua Bay and the conch shell is blow. You can learn fun Hawaiian crafts and get a Hawaiian “tattoo.” The show features various dances of Polynesia, including hula of course, and concludes with the Samoan fire dance. The menu is traditional Hawaiian featuring the underground baked pig, fresh catch of the day and chicken.

My favorite activity:

Really hard to choose just one, but I’ve narrowed it down to the Fair Wind Snorkel Cruise at Kealakekua Bay (where I got to swim with dolphins!) and the lava flow view hike when the lava’s pouring over the cliff into the sea. For up to the minute lava updates, call the Kalapana Lava Viewing Hotline at (808) 961-8093 or the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at (808) 985-6000.

For more general lava updates see here http://www.hawaii-lisa.com/lavaupdate.html

Best Weather on the Big Island

Like all of Hawaii, the Big Island offers exceptionally good weather, especially on the west side.

Hawaii has two seasons: summer (May through October) and winter (November through April), and the temperatures change very little between these two seasons. Average daytime temperatures at sea level in the summer are 85°F and in the winter, 78°F. When the sun goes down temperatures at sea level rarely drop more than 5 to 10 degrees.

The weather does change quite a lot from region to region (the island has all but two of the world’s eco-climates), especially when you travel upland. Bring a sweater if you go up to Volcano. You can even find snow here in the winter at the top of Mauna Kea!

Like all of the Hawaiian Islands, the Windward side (here, that is the Hilo and Puna side) gets most of the rain. Hilo is the rainiest city on Earth in fact. The Windward side is very lush and tropical, and most of the rain falls at night and early morning, although sometimes in the winter the rain will fall for days on end. The Leeward side (Kona and Kohala) is usually sunny at sea level, and when it rains, it is usually in the late afternoon. Kohala is desert like in its dryness, which makes for lots of sunny beach days!

The ocean waters here aren’t too cold either. Surface temperatures average 74° to 77°F in the winter and 78° to 83°F, with the warmer temperatures found on the Kohala Coast – at Hapuna, you’ll feel like you are in a heated swimming pool.

Best Hotels on the Big Island

These are the best hotels in all of Hawaii Island, in my opinion.

If you consistently find higher prices than what I have found, maybe prices are up due to high season or some other reason. You find the best fares during the off-peak season, late September through the first week of June. And exception to this is fares go up around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, as well the days closely surrounding them and Spring Break.

You may find lower prices by bidding at Priceline and using Hotwire.com. This is all detailed below the tables. All listed prices are based on double occupancy. If you find lower prices than I’ve listed here, don’t question it, just book it!

Best Overall and Beachfront Hotels on the Big Island

Note that all with the exception of the Chalet Kilauea are beach front.

  • Chalet Kilauea featuring the Inn at Volcano, At website: $107 for a room at the deluxe Inn at Volcano. Less for some of the other properties.
  • Fairmont Orchid, $199 at Expedia.
  • Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Ka’upulehu, $495 at Expedia.
  • Hilton Waikoloa, $189 at Expedia.
  • Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, $296 at Expedia.
  • Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, $274 at Expedia.

Best Family Hotels on the Big Island

  • Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, $274 at Expedia.
  • Sheraton Keauhou, $159 at Expedia.

Best Budget-Priced Hotels on the Big Island

Many of the following hotels don’t list with Expedia and Priceline. If you call them directly for reservations, be sure to ask “Do you have any discounts that could bring my rate down?” You could get a “Yes” and a better rate off the bat.

I also highly recommend bidding on Priceline. Many of these smaller operations do not sell rooms to Priceline, and so if you are bidding on Priceline you will normally get something like a resort or a 2 to 4 star hotel. Remember, you can’t pick your hotel if you bid, just your desired star level.

You’ll have the most luck with getting low bids accepted on Priceline when the hotels are hurting for visitors, but try anytime. You could really get some good deals.

Most of the following are condos and include full kitchens, private washer/dryer, pool and barbecue. The “Best Prices” are based on Expedia, Priceline (lowest prices without bidding) and the hotel’s site.

  • Hale Kona Kai, $140 at website, $10 extra per person after first two.
  • Kona Isle, $99 (2009) and many rent 5 nights get two free specials for 2010 with rates starting at $105.
  • Sea Village, $96 for 1 bedroom, $112 for 2 bedrooms at Expedia.
  • Dolphin Bay Hotel, $99 (one queen bed), $149 (one bedroom) and more options. Weekly rates discussed on request.
  • Hilton Waikoloa, $189 at Expedia.
  • Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort, $159 at Expedia.
  • Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, $296 at Expedia.
  • Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, $274 at Expedia.
  • Fairmont Orchid, $199 at Expedia.

Best Hotels for Romance and Weddings on the Big Island

  • Hilton Waikoloa, $189 at Expedia.
  • Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort, $159 at Expedia.
  • Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, $296 at Expedia.
  • Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, $274 at Expedia.
  • Fairmont Orchid, $199 at Expedia.

Bidding on Hawaii Travel at Priceline and Shopping at Deep Discount Sites, Expedia and Hotwire

Shopping for travel reservations through Expedia, Priceline, and Hotwire is a great way to save money on hotels and sometimes even flights to Hawaii. You can often get even better prices than ones in the charts. I have personally bid and got $55 at the Royal Kona Resort and $120 at the Waikoloa Marriott. My friend got $110 at the Waikoloa Hilton and $85 at the Hapuna Prince. (All of these hotels are on the Big Island.) And I know someone who bid and received a round trip flight from San Francisco to Honolulu for $250. These are good deals!

Oh, and don’t forget car rentals. You can get great deals on car rentals by bidding.

The only issue with bidding for hotels is that you won’t know what hotel you get until you are locked in to paying for it. You just specify a certain star level or class of hotel.

And the only issue with bidding for flights is that you won’t be able to specify an exact time, but they do tell you it will be sometime between x morning hour and x evening hour, so not too bad. I have a friend who got a round trip flight Los Angeles to Honolulu for $179 through Hotwire.

At Hotwire you can get their regular low rates while specifying your hotel, airline/flight time and car model, but to give you the deep discounts Hotwire gets from their partners that they’re not allowed to publicize, you won’t know the names until after you reserve. As mentioned above though, you can choose general times, star rating on hotels, size of car, etc.

So How Should I Bid on Hawaii Travel?

Hotels:

I like to decide on a hotel I like, then find out what its star level is. Then on Priceline, I go directly to naming my own price, and during the process Priceline will tell you what the average price is for that star level. I then bid half of that.

The Priceline website will have a ticker of recently accepted rates in the area you are searching for that is helpful.

An awesome resource is the bidding for travel forum. If you scroll down on the home page you’ll see three Hawaii forums, based on which islands you are planning to visit. People bid, and then come here and post their accepted and rejected rates.

I have heard that the posted “median retail prices” at Priceline are sometimes inaccurate. I don’t worry about this in Hawaii because I am so familiar with what the hotels cost here. You, however, may want to check prices on the website of a few hotels that are the same star level as you want. You can then try to bid 50% of that.

Rental Cars –

$15 a day is generally a good place to start, and check the recent winning bids on Priceline.

Flights –

I like to bid 50% of whatever the going rate is and then bid up in $50 increments if that is refused.

Most Fun, Must-Do, Activities and Things to Do on the Big Island

This is my personal favorites list of the most exciting and fun things to do on the Big Island:

  • Atlantis Submarine Kona,Featured on National Geographic. The Big Island’s tour takes you down to visit underwater gardens of coral teeming with schools of tropical fish. You may also see manta rays and sharks.
  • Take the Fair Wind Snorkel Cruise at Kealakekua Bay. This is a must-do, in my opinion. You will snorkel in a pristine marine preserve and if you in the morning, chances are you will see dolphins. They also offer whale watch cruises.
  • Play with and pet a dolphin at Dolphin Quest. You do not need to be staying at the Waikoloa Hilton to enjoy this wonderful (and educational) experience, but slots fill up fast so sign up as early as you can. They book up to a year in advance.
  • See Waipio Valley from Horseback, Combine fun horseback riding with a tour of this legendary and beautiful valley. You might even see some of the wild horse herd!

My Favorite Inexpensive/Free Activities on the Big Island

  • View the Lava! When it’s flowing into the sea, you can, from the Kalapana Viewing area, safely view the red hot molten lava pouring over the cliffs. The view point is about 1/2 mile away from the lava, so binoculars or a camera with good telephoto for optimal viewing. This is best viewed at night so also bring a flashlight (and good walking shoes!). For lava updates, call the Kalapana Lava Viewing Hotline at (808) 961-8093 or the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at (808) 985-6000.
  • If you aren’t staying at the Hilton Waikoloan, you can still tour the hotel and see the dolphins. Just park nearby, walk in through the gate and start looking around. People come in for just the restaurants and dolphin quest all the time.
  • Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, This is the island’s main attraction, and there’s lots to do and see up here – steaming craters, a walk-through lave tube cave, rainforests and moonscapes, a volcanic science and cultural museum, the famous Kilauea Lodge, a fantastic visitor’s center, lots of hiking trails and more. Most of the National Park activities are wheelchair accessible. It can get chilly up here so bring a sweater. Warm up at the lodge’s lounge with hot cocoa while you look out at the now active Halema`uma`u crater (spewing ash and steam but occasionally lava) and enjoy the big lava rock, fireplace (grab a free brochure on its history).
  • Kayak Kealakekua Bay,Take a guided kayak tour to the pristine marine preserve and snorkel the coral reefs. Ocean Safari Kayak Adventures offers “Early Riser Dolphin Quest Tours.” Or check out the sea caves of Keauhou Bay.
  • Visit Rainbow Falls in Hilo, For the best chance of seeing a rainbow over the 80-foot falls, go early when the sun and morning mist make their magic.
  • Puakō Petroglyph Archeological Preserve, This contains over 3,000 pertroglyphs. It’s a short hike from Mauna Lani Resort, which also has some to view. Non-guests can also access via the resort and pick up a map and brochure.
  • Akaka Falls State Park, On the Hamakua Coast (the Big Island’s answer to Maui’s Hana Highway), this includes a very pretty hike through lush gardens and over a stream with the famous 400-foot waterfall waiting for you at the end. Because it’s a big visitor attraction with an unguarded parking lot, don’t leave valuables in your car.
  • Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, Also located near Hilo on the Hamakua Coast, this well maintained nature preserve is a must see if you’re into flowers and walking paths that meander among waterfalls and provide sweeping ocean vistas. Over 2,000 species including orchids (Hilo is the “orchid capital” of the world.
  • Parker Ranch, One of the largest and most historical ranches in the United States, Parker is home to the paniolo, the Hawaiian cowboy, and has a variety of visitors attractions including their Historic Homes Tour.
  • Hulilee Palace, Large, elegant museum in Kailua-Kona that was once the vacation home of King David Kalakaua (the Merrie Monarch), Queen Liliuokalani and other Hawaiian royalty.

Best Big Island Beaches

Many visitors who don’t leave Kona are disappointed in the small pockets of sand they find there. A good deal of the island’s coast is is rocky. The “Volcano Island” being so much newer than its neighbor islands doesn’t have as many of the kind of beaches you’d expect from Hawaii. Why? Beaches and their sand are made by hundreds of thousands of years of ocean surf pounding against shells, coral and rock. The Big Island is the youngest of the islands, so beaches haven’t had that much time to develop. Many parts of the coast is younger than 1,000 years old, while Kilauea Volcano still adds hundreds of acres of new land a year. The Big Island has many other incredible attributes that more than make up for this lack of beaches, but hey, we have a few really nice beaches too, including ones that make national and world wide “Best Beach” lists!

Don’t hit all of these unless you are really into beaches. Just pick a few and take your time.

Note: In Hawaii, all beaches are public. Anywhere that there is water, there must be public access to the shoreline. If you are in a residential neighborhood and want to check out the beach, just look for the blue signs that say “shoreline access” and follow the path, even if it’s directly between two houses. Sometimes, though, residential beaches do not have restrooms or showers.

Don’t worry about directions too much. You can see the ocean from almost everywhere, and there are signs designating the beaches. Here’s a link to Google’s Big Island Map. And here’s the Hawaii Ocean Safety Map.

The surf conditions in Hawaii somewhat follow the seasons. During Hawaii’s summer (May – October), surf from the south occasionally has high surf conditions. During Hawaii’s winter, surf from the north has higher surf.

Hapuna (Kohala) – About 30 miles north of Kona on Highway 19 just before the Hapuna Prince Hotel.

Papakolea Beach (Green Sands Beach) – South Point, Kau – Green Sand – Take Highway 11 to Ka Lae (South Point) and drive about 12 miles to the end of the road. Then hike the 2 1/2 miles to the beach. For more details: Green Sand Beach.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach – Kau – Black Sand – South of Kona near the 63 mile marker of Highway 11 (and about 20 miles south of Volcano National Park).

Ahalanui Park (The Hot Pond) – Puna – Near Kapoho. Directions are a little complicated, and there are two popular routes. Here’s a Google map from Hilo to Ahalanui. We travel the more scenic route: Take 132 and just past the Lava Tree Park where the road forks, stay to the right. This will be Pohohiki Road. Take it all the way to the ocean where it ends at Isaac Hale Park and Pohohiki Boat Ramp. Turn left and you’re there in just a couple minutes.

Kauna’oa Beach (Mauna Kea Beach) – Kohala – Take the Mauna Kea Beach hotel turnoff from Highway 19, about 31 miles north of Kona. They may not let you in if all the spaces have filled up. Try early in the morning or later in the afternoon.

Richardson’s Ocean Park – Hilo – Black Sand – Take Kalanianaola (Hwy 120) out of Hilo, heading towards Volcano Hwy and Banyan Drive. Cross Volcano Hwy and drive on about 5 miles past the fish ponds. Look for the sign just past Leleiwi Park.

While the “Volcano Island” isn’t known for its beaches there are some beauties here, including some of the best in Hawaii and even the world. The beaches above are just a short list of my favorites, but you may find many more that strike your fancy as you drive along the Big Island’s coastline.

Best Big Island Guidebook

The Big Island Revealed is my favorite guidebook. Absolutely straight talk and real opinions from 2 people who have done everything they review. The aerial photos of the hotels are awesome for choosing a hotel. I love this guidebook.

In Conclusion

So that’s it – have a wonderful, wonderful vacation! The Big Island is an awesome place, and you really can’t go wrong here.

Aloha!

Comments

2 Comments on The Complete Big Island Vacation Guide

  1. Ron Ober on Sun, 1st Aug 2010 7:46 pm
  2. Aloha Lisa; stubbled across your site so I will comment. With 40 to 50 places to stay in the Volcano area I wonder why you only mention one that gets mediocre reviews, is certainly NOT the best deal and infringes on another’s name. We have been here since 1989 and do not appreciate Chalet Kilauea trying to morph into “The Inn at Volcano”, a confusingly similar name. Please delete that from your publications. Check us out next time you are in Volcano… Ron

  3. Lisa on Mon, 2nd Aug 2010 9:00 pm
  4. Hi Ron, thanks for the comment. I will check you out the next time I am Volcano 🙂

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