Driving on the Big Island of Hawaii

There’s a reason the Big Island is called that. It covers a lot of territory, and if you want to see opposite sides of the island (which you really must experience to appreciate the differences), the best way is to rent a car and drive. The Hilo side, or east coast, is green and fertile, while the Kona side to the west is volcanic and barren in places.

The Kona side of the Big Island is dry and mountainous.

Lush landscapes attract visitors at Akaka Falls on the wet side of the Big Island.

If visions of traffic jams, honking horns, and irate drivers fill your mind, you can clear it out right now. Driving allows you to see the constantly changing landscapes and to visit areas of the island you might not see otherwise. Realize that distances between landmarks are often far, but taking your time is the best way to enjoy scenery any way.

If you decide to rent a car during your vacation, check rental companies online prior to leaving to find a reservation that fits your needs.  Book before leaving the States to guarantee the category of car you want and to lock in the price before arrival. You might be lucky enough to snag a special deal or to use airline or credit card miles, if desired.

When making out a budget for your trip, be sure to factor in the cost of car rental and gas, which is likely to be higher that what you pay in the States. Check on whether the weekly rate is cheaper than a daily rate, even if you’re not there a full week. Extra fees can be significant for picking the car up at one airport and dropping it off at another location ($75 and up). Gas stations are few and far between, so be sure to scope out the nearest one to the airport (if you plan to refuel yourself) prior to heading out to catch a flight home. Otherwise you could be driving 10 miles out of your way and wasting time trying to put that last bit of gas in the car.

Without our own transportation, we would have missed Laupahoehoe Point Park, recommended to us by a local.

Destinations like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Polou Valley Lookout, and Akaka Falls don’t sell food, so you might want to stash some fruit or snacks to munch while traveling. Turn on local radio to hear traditional Hawaiian music (and the more modern kind) or just find out what the locals are playing. You might get a kick out of hearing common slang and expressions, too.

Be considerate, and observe rules of the road; tickets are expensive. Download weather apps and directional maps to your smart phone, or bring your GPS to help navigate unfamiliar territory. Overall, driving on the Big Island is a low-stress experience that allows you visit sights that you want to see on your own time frame.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Going on Adventures  Austin Adventure Travel

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