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Big Island Itinerary - 7 day/8 night Itinerary

California, USA
posts: 156
reviews: 1
Big Island Itinerary - 7 day/8 night Itinerary

Hello Fellow Travelers,

We are looking forward to our Dec 30-Jan 6 first trip to Big Island. We are family of 4 with 2 kids (10 and 15). We love travel and especially enjoy nature, gardens, short hikes, waterfalls, beach and good variety of food. We don't snorkel or scuba as 3 of the 4 in the family don't enjoy that activity (hence some of the must-dos are out like Manta Ray even though it is right where we are staying, may be I will sneak out one of the evenings).

Our air travel and hotels are booked (using points mainly) and largely dictated by what was available through Hawaiian Airlines (air) and Sheraton/Castle Resorts (hotels). This meant our air travel dates were locked (Dec 30-Jan 6). Also based on availability, we have the following hotel booked as well. We have economy car rental through Dollar Rental (I have to check if they will let me drive on Saddle, South Point or not which will alter the itinerary below a bit).

Dec 30-Jan 1 - Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel

Jan 2 - Jan 6 - Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa

Below is our 7 day/8 night itinerary that I am thinking of. I would appreciate advice and feedback on things to add/remove/change based on the time of the year and our interests.

Day 1 (Mon): Arrive in Hilo in mid-afternoon, check-in to Castle Hilo Hawaiian and do some late afternoon/evening activity. I was thinking driving to Kaimu Beach Park to see black sand beach and walk to Kalapana Lava Viewing Area. Assuming we get out hotel by 4 pm and reach @ Kaimu by 4:45 pm, will be able to just do a quick visit to the beach and viewing area. I realize sunset is typically ~ 6 pm in Dec right? If this is too ambitious perhaps hang out in Liliuokalani Gardens but I have to check the closing times first.

Day 2 (Tue): Hamakua Coast Day. Visit Rainbow Falls, Onomea Bay Scenic Drive, HTBG & Onomea Falls, Akaka Falls, Laupahoehoe Point and Waipio Overlook. Note we will not be hiking or driving down Waipio Overlook to the beach area.

Day 3 (Wed): HVNP Day. Jaggar Museum, Kilauea Overlook, Thurston Lava Tube, Pu'u Huluhulu Cinder Cone, Chain of Craters Drive, Pu'u Loa Petroglyph, End with Jaggar view in the evening/at dark.

Day 4 (Thu): Drive to West Day via South Route. Punalu'u Beach, Naalehu town, Papakolea Beach, South Point, Check-in to Sheraton, Relax

Day 5 (Fri): Kona Day. Makalawena Beach, Kealakekuwa Bay, Pu`uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, Hulihe'e Palace

Day 6 (Sat): Kohala, Hawi Day. Hapuna Beach, Pololu Lookout (no hike), Hawi Drive, Hawi Farmers Market, One of the ranches - Parker or Kahua (horse back ride may be), Mauna Kea Visitor Center in evening and back to Sheraton

Day 7 (Sun): Free Day. Explore various beaches - Waimea, A-Bay, others. Any suggestions here would be great.

Of course, this is just a guideline, we will adjust/tweak as things come to us. We have been to Maui and Kauai, so we know having a plan helps, but we often make real-time changes once there. i.e. linger or go back to places we really fell in love with, and skip things that will remain unexplored for the next visit.

What do you think? I have not yet researched food places, which I will do so in near future and ask questions separately.



21. Re: Big Island Itinerary - 7 day/8 night Itinerary

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Removed on: 5:05 pm, July 21, 2013
California, USA
posts: 156
reviews: 1
22. Re: Big Island Itinerary - 7 day/8 night Itinerary


Thanks for sharing your photo blog. The pictures are stunning and only increases the appeal of our upcoming vacation. We can't wait, thanks.


Hilo, Hawaii
Destination Expert
for Hilo, Island of Hawaii
posts: 30,270
reviews: 4
23. Re: Big Island Itinerary - 7 day/8 night Itinerary

hi nick,

I realize it is a bitter pill to eat costs in order to make changes, and I understand if you feel you cannot or donʻt want to. You can still make a few changes now and avoid issues later, rather than just saying oh well.

We donʻt like bumming you out, but OTOH, this is often what happens when first time visitors set their plans for airfare and lodging in stone BEFORE coming on the forum and asking if itʻs a good plan. Puts us in a tough position, but the DEʻs have a commitment to being honest in our appraisal.

You can still have an amazing vacation, but I would encourage you to work on an itinerary that wonʻt get you stuck in bad weather.

You canʻt change your hotels, but you can change your touring plans.

I posted a topic today showing how Hilo can change rapidly with heavy rain.


Also please do not trespass. If you are going to Papakolea in a vehicle, your rental or local, you are trespassing on land owned by the Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL). They permit you to walk in without prior arrangement.

I think Shea well explained why parking with luggage at Papakolea is unwise, but as I made the original comment, Iʻll reply too: Thieves target areas where visitors are known to park and go off on long hikes, that are within the thievesʻ own home turf, where they are comfortable loitering or stopping without seeming out of place. They also know that tourists often see the south and the northeast coasts while transiting; how could they not?

Akaka Falls was a huge trouble spot until parking attendant was instituted. Now it is OK. Papakolea has no security features at all, and it is extremely well known as a place where tourists foolishly leave their stuff, so I do not think it is safe at all.

I agree with Shea that chasing different colors of sand is not at all a good way to set your priorities. Itʻs only sand, and a beach is so much more than sand. Chase sand color and you MAY get some OK photo ops, but you wonʻt have fun with your family at some or most of those stops, because you will encounter wind extremes and unswimmable beaches, and long dusty or windy hikes to get there.

A plan more yielding of a fun vacation with kids would center on going to beaches that are enjoyable in the winter season.

Hilo, Hawaii
Destination Expert
for Hilo, Island of Hawaii
posts: 30,270
reviews: 4
24. Re: Big Island Itinerary - 7 day/8 night Itinerary

So ... some changes I think are important, with caveat that sometimes we do have fantastic weather east side on NYE, but it is not something you should count on.

I still think you should change your type of car, and very soon, as quite soon the cars for New Yearʻs period will sell out or go very high.

Our roads are quite bumpy. Perhaps it is the nearly daily small earthquakes that ripple the roads, or the tropical heat and sun and rain working on the road surface, and the fact there are not enough road funds or crews to go around (even if they did not take 3 times as long to do any repair project as they should).

Those little economy cars have lower quality shocks/suspension and seats, and your poor kids are going to be bumped and jostled and going around curves all the time. So bump up the car quality to something with decent back seats and do yourselves a favor as well. I know some couples are happy with their compacts, but I never rented less than an intermediate to come here, even when I drove a compact at home.

Second, keep your family safe. This island is big for trucks, including raised trucks where the undercarriage is higher than the trunk of a compact car. In terms of collisions, compact cars donʻt stand a chance. So protect your family while on the road. Better quality cars also have more safety features, in my experience.

Rain on the Hamakua Coast is so heavy (can be) that it obliterates visibility, and at the same time there is no place to pull over. But the truckers just keep on truckin, and have no patience. So donʻt drive it in bad weather. The weather can change in 15 minutes. You can head for Waipiʻo in sunshine and a storm can blow in.

Bookmark NOAA for this island, and pay attention to the forecast while on island. Localize the forecast with a spot click or zip code. If the rain is likely 80% or higher, or it says Heavy Rain, stay off. If there is a Flash Flood Advisory, stay off. If there is a Wind Advisory for Mauna Kea or Saddle, donʻt go. And so forth.

Donʻt drive anywhere on NYE after dark (this advice is for staying in Hilo). I donʻt think there are any events that would allow underage kids, so best you make a party of your own at the hotel.

Kaimu would be part of a tour of lower Puna. If you have time to do such a tour, then walk out to Kaimu. Just donʻt go down there for that alone; it is a waste of gas and time. The Red Road along the coast is very beautiful. But you do not have time for it the day you arrive.

Hamakua Coast, as I said, just do it in the morning and turn around at Akaka Falls, before you get into the big gulches, which are always a trouble spot when weather is poor, prone to rock falls and traffic accidents. The road is very mellow as far as Akaka, and most of the stops are within that range, 13 miles out of Hilo. You then either drive the rest on a transit day, and stop at Waipiʻo, or you go down to Waipiʻo from the west side. But the lookout can be a blowout in poor weather, and itʻs on the wet side, so donʻt bother unless weather is good (per the NOAA forecast for Honokaʻa, not what you see from your hotel in Keauhou).

I think Hwy 270 FROM Hawi is an interesting drive in late December, because itʻs great for whale sightings. Shea is probably thinking of the land scenery. Heading north you do not see much ocean, although you might see Maui. Heading south there are gorgeous ocean views and often whale spouts.

Do not drive Kohala Mountain Rd. in wet weather; it can be nasty. If weather is good, and there is snow on Mauna Kea, there are some great views of Mauna Kea going towards Waimea.

Yes, I do realize I have told you the best views are going south on both roads. Your choice how to turn it into a loop. There are view stops you can make going north on 270: Lapakahi, Mahukona, Kapaʻa. There may well not be snow on Mauna Kea. So make your decision based on the conditions of that day. Get your kids ice cream or shave ice at Anuenue in Kawaihae. Ono!

PS. Rainbow Falls and Peʻe Peʻe (not PeePee) are not on Hamakua coast. They are in Hilo. There is no need to do them on a Hamakua Coast or transit day. They are 5-10 minutes from your hotel and NOT on the way to Hamakua, up the hill from Hilo on the south side of the Wailuku River. Hamakua you have to cross the Wailuku River and head north.

Edited: 8:06 pm, July 21, 2013
California, USA
posts: 156
reviews: 1
25. Re: Big Island Itinerary - 7 day/8 night Itinerary


Thank you so much. I totally understand and acknowledge all your warnings and appreciate all your suggestions. I will bookmark NOAA for weather forecast before venturing out and sounds like upgrading to an intermediate or full size sedan is in order, appreciate the counsel on that one too. And as I mentioned to SheaG, am looking into a double bookings on South Kohala (although cursory look yesterday didn't have anything on NYD which is not surprising) to avoid backtracking on Hamakua and Hawi/Waimea days.

We will play the itinerary by the ear and make real time adjustments. I did read through these boards leading up to the rough itinerary and since but probably underestimated the driving in Dec/Jan weather on east side. The video you shared really put a visual to everything you, SheaG and others have been warning me about. Hopefully we won't get that kind of flash flooding, road closures and really awful conditions.

We get 2 vacations in a year (Summer and December), so we always make a Europe trip in Summer and an island trip in December. This year was BI, in years past it has been Maui, Kauai, Oahu, Mexico, etc... We have travelled a lot as a family, so understand the need to enjoy, have fun and be safe. I guess we have to live w/ the fact that we may not be able to see all of BI (even highlights) given weather conditions on east side in Dec and somehow have to make a trip back in the Summer when conditions might be better.

Thanks for the great advise and insights, really appreciate it. I feel like we are in a much better position to safely enjoy and have an amazing time on BI. Can't wait!!!


Hilo, Hawaii
Destination Expert
for Hilo, Island of Hawaii
posts: 30,270
reviews: 4
26. Re: Big Island Itinerary - 7 day/8 night Itinerary

Sounds good. At one time I thought that the tropics didn't have defined seasons, but they do. December is a fantastic season to visit the island. Really it is. But not all the island may be conducive.

I actually had a vacation that brought me here 2 days after the storm of the century in 2000. Luckily I had booked all west side and planned to drive east. Hilo was not even an option. It was a disaster area. The highway to VNP was washed out, Hwy 11 in Pahala. But there was a long dirt road detour that got us there. I was just glad we were staying west.

So we couldn't see Hilo, but there was plenty to do here. To me the Big Island was never about seeing all the sights. It was just about BEING on the Big Island. We were here and happy doing pretty much anything. I still feel that way. Winter has its effects, some weeks more than others, but you adapt.

Have a great trip but feel free to ask more questions.

California, USA
posts: 156
reviews: 1
27. Re: Big Island Itinerary - 7 day/8 night Itinerary

Well said KamainnaK.

<<To me the Big Island was never about seeing all the sights. It was just about BEING on the Big Island. We were here and happy doing pretty much anything.>>

I so agree with that and really looking forward to a great time. Thanks again.


Mumbai (Bombay...
posts: 8
reviews: 37
28. Re: Big Island Itinerary - 7 day/8 night Itinerary

We are a family of 4 ( 2 adults and 2 adult kids ages 19 & 21) planning to spend 8 nights in Big Island in May 2014, staying in Kona. We have a rental car and have booked a condo for all the 8 days. We like to hike, sightseeing, snorkel. Please advice the following:

1.Must do things

2.Considering the size of the island, what is the best itinerary to cover all places of interest and activities.

3.Should we stay 1 night at the Volcano National Park or is it okay to drive back to Kona the same day?

Considering all the possible alternatives we are very confused as to what is the correct way of planning the 8 days so as to get the best of this beautiful island.

posts: 1,776
reviews: 36
29. Re: Big Island Itinerary - 7 day/8 night Itinerary

It's much better to start your own new thread than to bump somebody else's question from last year . . .

posts: 7,619
reviews: 27
30. Re: Big Island Itinerary - 7 day/8 night Itinerary

Yeah Ami J....starting your own thread will likely yield more specific responses for you.

Also a good place to start for researching "must sees" is the top right section on this page"Top Questions"

Many folks have answered this question previously, and the top answers are conveniently located in this section for you to explore.

A little digging should reap rewards for you....