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arriving into kona or hilo airport and itinerary feedback

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Sydney, Australia
posts: 248
reviews: 79
arriving into kona or hilo airport and itinerary feedback

hi all.

ok so we'll be visiting big island for about 8 days from 2nd November to the 9th. i've been researching on previous threads about where to arrive (we're coming from lihue) into - either hilo or kona.

From my research it sounds like hilo is a casual laid back not too touristy where as kona has the nice beaches and more touristy (not to say we don't like it, from first glance its probably like maybe waikiki or kaanapali?)Pretty much we won't be going to hotels, we're on a budget so we'll be looking into airbnb to save money.

Now I was researching which one was good to fly into and my initial thoughts were to fly into Hilo, stay there for 3/4 days and then the rest at Kona and then we fly out to Kahului. This was because the price coming out from Kona was more cheaper than flying from Hilo.

I've noticed that south is where the VNP is but then theres also the north section to go drive around too. I guess the issue with my initial idea is the drop off fee since i'd be getting it at Hilo and then returning it to Kona.

So after much more thinking (and when doing this post), I think it would be best to arrive into Kona (would arrive 12:25pm earliest flight from Lihue) get the car rent for 8 days, do a drive south, then stay at hilo for a bit, then up north then back to Kona for the flight out.

I'm hoping the car rental would be the same price from Hilo and Kona and I don't really mind if I have to take a shuttle from the airport to the depot as I remember we did this for Kahului and they're pretty close by to each other anyway (plus will avoid the one way charge if applicable)

A mock up of our itinerary - can you please provide your thoughts into this? We would follow a similar trail like the following link



*Nov 2nd sat - arrive at Kona at 12:25pm

(4 nights accom at Kona?)

over the 4 days go check out Kealakekua Bay/Green Sand Beach & VNP

* Nov 6th - arrive at Hilo

stay for 3 nights at Hilo

over our time in Hilo, relax and also check out the black sand beaches

*check out 9th and do a drive from Hilo up north and then arrive in the evening to Kona to stay 1 night with an early flight out on the 10th back to honolulu.


this site looks like it caters for 7 days around the island starting from kona

Our primary goal within big island?

check out the nice beaches

see the volcano/lava

do a nice scenic drive

relax and chill with the locals

have a great time :)

oh fyi we've done the big island on a day trip from oahu. we caught a plane and then did a helicopter tour of the volcano which didn't turn out great (mainly coz we couldn't handle the flight but the views hehe) then back to oahu same day.

thanks all for your help :)

Big Island, Hawaii
Destination Expert
for Island of Hawaii
posts: 16,995
reviews: 68
1. Re: arriving into kona or hilo airport and itinerary feedback

I personally think those drive guides and suggested itineraries are pretty lame although it's nice that Frommers mentions the Kohala heiaus and historical parks. I also wouldn't change lodgings three times in seven nights. The wasted gas and time checking in and out outweighs the one way drop fee, which is often waived if you book through Costco but in any case should just be around $50-75. You should go with your original plan to fly into Hilo and out of Kona or vice versa.

I also wouldn't spend more than two nights on the east side, especially in November when it could pour rain the entire time.

A few points where you seem confused. "Kona", which comprises a very large area consisting of two districts, north and south, is not where most of the beaches are, that's the Kohala Coast. Kailua Kona, the largest and main town on the west side is nowhere near like Waikiki or even Kaanapali. It has no beach to speak of and while it is more developed and touristy than Hilo, that's not saying much. Kailua Kona is "casual and laid back" even if it is a bit of a tourist town. Hilo has very little tourist infrastructure but it's not a place where you should expect to be embraced by locals who will invite you to have a beer. It's a very quiet, rainy, Old Hawaii, heavily Japanese town and residents keep to themselves.

There are black sand beaches island wide. The green sand beach, Papakolea, requires a long, hot, often windy hike to an unswimmable beach. I wouldn't prioritize it.

Kealakekua Bay is an overused, crowded Bay that has seen much better days and the best snorkeling area is only accessible by kayak or boat tour. If you're on a strict budget you can skip this and enjoy snorkeling from many shore spots. The one snorkel tour you should prioritize $ wise is the manta ray night snorkel.

VNP will be visited from your east side base (either Hilo or Volcano) not your west side base (either Kailua Kona or the Kohala Coast). If you want to hike to the surface lava flows, currently you'll need to hire a guide to do so. It's impossible to say what conditions will be like in November, though they have been relatively stable for several months now.

The best approach to a week on the BI isn't a circle lodging approach. You should choose one base west for the majority of your time (six nights) and one base east for about 2 nights. When you're transiting between the two, take the Hamakua Coast and pick up those sites. Your stated interests will be most easily accomplished that way.

We'll need a specific nightly accommodation budget if you want us to give you lodging suggestions. On the west side condos are a good choice to save money on meals and you can find many in the beach district of South Kohala for $125-150/nt. A beachfront hotel will start at $200/nt. Reading through the Top Questions on where to stay and things to do is helpful.

Re: chill and relax with the locals, to be honest, that's not likely to happen. People who live here are going about their lives and aren't really interested in chilling and relaxing with strangers anymore than I suspect you do at home. "Locals" are at the laundromat or doing yard work or spending free time with their families. :-)

Edited: 3:43 pm, June 29, 2013
Denver, Colorado
posts: 2,246
reviews: 25
2. Re: arriving into kona or hilo airport and itinerary feedback

Yes at 8 days total 7 nights its probably best to take the one way car rental approach. Probably 4 nights staying in the South Kohola area will allow you do visit some nice beaches like Hapuna Beach or Waialea Bay and a day trip north to Hawi and Polulu Valley overlook (maybe a hike down) and another day trip east to Honokaa and Waipio Valley overlook).

Then on your early long transit day you can pick up the Captain Cook sites and maybe Black Sand Beach on the way for 3 nights in Volcano. If heading the other way around maybe do the Hamakua Coast sites w/ an accomodation in Hilo for 3 nights. Keep one full day to see Volcano National Park and one full day for Hamakua Coast sites and maybe half day visit of lower Puna.

When planning you will quickly realize you haven't left enough beach time. In that case extend your stay to 11 nights minimum then maybe a mix of 5 nights South Kohola, 3 nights Hilo or Volcano, and back around to Kona or Captain Cook for 3 nights.

Also, if coming from Kauai and limited for total trip time keep in mind that island is much smaller and doesn't take as long for a complete island tour or better yet add all of that time to the Big Island and skip the wasted transit day thru Honoluliu (no direct flghts).

Hilo, Hawaii
Destination Expert
for Hilo, Island of Hawaii
posts: 30,270
reviews: 4
3. Re: arriving into kona or hilo airport and itinerary feedback

Shea's advice is spot on and I think it would serve you well to rethink along those lines.

For the rental car rates, don't hope, check them and see how they go for the different options. Hawaii Discount Car Rental will price out the drop fees for you. There's no one rule which is higher. In any case, it costs an easy $50 in gas and a few hours to cross the island, so if you do pay a drop fee, you are saving as much in gas.

It's up to you how much you wish to put into this trip, but I can tell from your post that your concept of the island is kind of off still. If you do some more reading, it will help you. I don't recommend reading these sites that try to package it up for you in a few easy steps. Much better to get a good book like a Lonely Planet that really explains the island. So many websites are just making money throwing out BS about the island to get ads.

Read some trip reports posted here and some topics with sample itineraries that real travelers are working out, and look through the Top Questions. Spend some time with the map of the island and maybe Google Earth to get the lay of the land. Read about the lava viewing in the top question.

I think it would pay off in the long run to do some more reading now before booking anything.

It sounds like this is a solo trip, and it might be fun for you to have some people to talk to. If you pick air B&B where the hosts are interested in interacting, that could be one way. Because there are so many visitors here, residents tend to block them out and don't seek to socialize, as Shea said. Hilo, for example, is not a town with friendly local bars. Some could even be hostile to strangers. You want to find places that are tourist friendly. After all, you are a tourist. That said, there's a happy medium where a place is patronized by both visitors and locals and isn't pure tourist trap.

Maybe post closer to the date and we can steer you towards some laid back entertainment, but do try to find hosts that sound like your type.

Sydney, Australia
posts: 248
reviews: 79
4. Re: arriving into kona or hilo airport and itinerary feedback

thanks all

just going through all the feedback and my responses as follows;

reference to relax and chill with locals - i guess when I meant this was just being in the area where the locals are and wasn't a requirement to hang out the locals, it was just being in the area where locals are so we aren't always in the touristy area. Its like if you came to sydney, I would say yes you can stay in the city and do the touristy stuff though if you wanted a local view, then venture out to other areas and not just be restricted to the main city

Papakolea - noted and can remove this from our itinerary if required

Kealakekua Bay - noted and can remove this from our itinerary if required. checked manta ray night snorkel and wow this looks awesome, wish I could dive but can't so this night snorkel sounds like an option!

With regards to the budget, well basically we're on a tight budget and not looking at doing hotels this time round (mainly coz we're doing a 5 month trip around usa from august and once month is hawaii in november) so we'll be doing this via airbnb and there is still lots of options via that method.

Ok i've seen references to staying at 'Volcano' - sorry silly question but is this referencing to staying at acommodation near VNP?

Car rental - last time we did oahu and maui, we did use the following links, not sure if prices have gone up but would it be ok travelling around big island with a small car or do we need an SUV or Jeep? When we did Maui we got a jeep wrangler as we were doing the Kona drive and the NW drive from kaanapaili to Kahalui and it was pretty adventurous on the roads we went on.



OK revised itinerary, thoughts on this?

Arrive in Hilo, stay here for 3 nights (so 2nd, 3rd, 4th, check out on 5th).

While based in Hilo, use this as a base to go to VNP and also just to relax in the area (fingers crossed it doesn't rain), check out PUna

do the Hamakua Coast on the 5th.

stay at Kailua-Kona until the 10th (stay at South Kohola 5th, 6th, 7th check out 8th then stay at Kona or Captain Cook 8th, 9th and 10th flight out)

So we'll be Lihue from 2nd to 10th, I haven't bought the ticket from Lihue to Kona/Hilo but we can reduce this for 7 days instead and leave on the 8th or 9th? Haven't researched Lihue in detail but I will so I was hoping a week would be enough to check out the sites/beaches and relaxing as well too. And yes I want to get the quickest and earliest flight from Lihue to Big lsland but it goes via honolulu

ON, Canada
posts: 10,121
reviews: 34
5. Re: arriving into kona or hilo airport and itinerary feedback

<<"Ok i've seen references to staying at 'Volcano' - sorry silly question but is this referencing to staying at acommodation near VNP?">>

Yes, Volcano is the town adjacent to the park ... usually just a few minutes drive to the park entrance from accommodations in the town.

I would reconsider staying in 3 locations on your trip. It might work out better to decide first what you want to do while on the BI and then determine where the best places to stay will be. Hilo (or Volcano) and S. Kohala Coast should work out well.

ON, Canada
posts: 10,121
reviews: 34
6. Re: arriving into kona or hilo airport and itinerary feedback

Forgot to add ... Re a rental car, there is no need for a 4wd vehicle as the rental contract prohibits use on unpaved roads ... so you'll be limited to taking a 4WD to the same places that you can take a non-4wd. The road that you drove on on Maui (Kaanapali north to Kahului) meant that you were in violation of your car rental contract if you rented from one of the major rental agencies. Prohibited use of the vehicle means that the insurance is void. (I think you meant the Road to Hana on Maui and not 'Kona' ... that road is OK to drive on, but not to continue on around the south side to return.)

posts: 7,619
reviews: 27
7. Re: arriving into kona or hilo airport and itinerary feedback

So, seeking clarification..... At one point you say you will be on Kauai from the 2nd-10th......then "Kona" arriving the 2nd until the 10th......??

If possible allot more time to the Big Island than Kauai(though I love Kauai).... The Big Island is huge and almost like 2 Island visits with stays on the east and west sides.

Definitely limit your accommodation locales to 2......for most efficient use of time . I don't understand the logic of staying in Kailua-Kona then followed by a few nights in Captain Cook??? I do get the sense you will be Travelling with a companion ....as you do reference"we" a time or two.

I do happen to know that for the car one way fees...or avoidance of such...works better (oddly enough) for a KOA pick-up and ITO drop-off (Costco discount through Alamo) Best practice would be to just cross the Island once....so any drop fees easily become a wash if you can avoid the crossing and save Fuel and time.

.The Inter-Island fares from ITO should not be significantly higher. You are looking at Hawaiian?

A "jeep" or 4wd is definitely not needed on the Big Island....You will realize savings by just renting a vehicle that is comfortable for your party...Midsize is usually fine.

A good map will serve you well, and assist you in getting your bearings around the Island.

Hilo, Hawaii
Destination Expert
for Hilo, Island of Hawaii
posts: 30,270
reviews: 4
8. Re: arriving into kona or hilo airport and itinerary feedback

As I said, it's your choice how much work to put into planning your trip. My feeling though is that if you don't know that Volcano is a village near the VNP, that you have not done the proper reading yet that I suggested. That is not an obscure piece of info. It's something one would pick up reading any guide for the island.

Re what you said about getting away from the tourist track in your last post and your comparison to Sydney-- I know exactly what you mean, but what I was trying to convey is it's different here. Islands are small and tourism to Hawai'i has a huge impact. Tourists are welcomed to many spots, all that are considered of interest to visitors. If a spot is NOT tourist oriented, then it may be a place locals actively want to escape tourism, and you will not be welcomed there.

You would think perhaps that people living on an island would be interested in meeting folks from across the sea, but there are so many strangers around all the time that it's the opposite. People want to be with others they have grown up with or know very well. Many have jobs that require them to interact and say Aloha all day, and they just want to be off in their off time.

Sydney, Australia
posts: 248
reviews: 79
9. Re: arriving into kona or hilo airport and itinerary feedback

thanks all - appreciate your feedback on this and apologies if I look like that I haven't researched about it and your probably right. me and my fiance currently living in london will be leaving in august to travel around usa for 5 months so we're trying to do as much research as we can not just on hawaii but everything so we can lock down accommodation and so forth and the only reason why we havent' researching big island into detail and thus why I needed your help.

we've done oahu on our first trip and loved it so went back a 2nd time this time we did 2 weeks, one week again in oahu and one week again in maui and really enjoyed ourselves. Our goal is to have a good, relaxing and enjoyable time in hawaii again but extending this to 2 other islands so we'll be there for 4 weeks. I have a rough idea for oahu and maui what to do/stay since we've been there before. For Lihue, its a pretty small island so i'm sure a week would be enough to do all we need to do on the island.

i'll go research into big island nows via the Top questions and also check out some trip reports then. I think the urgency at this stage is to what to fly into? but it sounds like the choice would be to fly into Hilo and then fly out of Kona airport, then next would to see which places to stay and then lock in accommodation (airbnbs) then car rentals

With regards to your feedback.

Volcano - checked it out and definitely close to VNP. I think the decision now is to whether we stay there for a couple of days or just use Hilo as a base to get down there. I checked airbnb and there are still some accommodations within our budget that we can apply for. As SUSANM2004 suggested, "Hilo (or Volcano) and S. Kohala Coast should work out well" looks good to me.

SUSANM2004 - regarding your response about our car rental in maui, we did ask the agency as I did research about that how it was prohibited doing those roads but because we got a jeep wrangler, perhaps they allowed this but I did ask and they said it was fine. I know I shouldn't say this but the south side return was hectic in the dark and definitely next time we do this, we would know where to go and how to get back and going back the same way isn't that fun but don't worry, when we do rent a car in maui, i will ask the question definitely as I don't want the insurance to be void.


Regarding the dates, apologies I got this mixed up. We are in Lihue from the 27th October to 2nd November, we haven't booked the flight from lihue to big island yet. but my initial place was Big Island from 2nd november to 10th nvoember but i suppose we could skip a day in lihue and come to big island as it is the bigger island

Oh regarding the reference to Kailua-Kona then by captain cook, i wasn't thinking of doing that. there was a post by "TheodoreJay" and he suggested "11 nights minimum then maybe a mix of 5 nights South Kohola, 3 nights Hilo or Volcano, and back around to Kona or Captain Cook for 3 nights." thus why I said either Kona/Captain Cook and not doing both.

Sadly we aren't members of costco and even if we were I don't think I can get the costco discount via alamo but you know what, I'll make enquiries and try to find the cheapest car and also the maximum coverage so I don't need to worry about the car if something happens to it (not to say im not going to take care of it , of course I will) so I think we'll get the economy car :)


Thanks for your honesty and totally understand. I'm happy if we sit to the tourist tracks and pockets of areas were tourists are ok to visit. We never had any issues during our trip when we went to oahu or maui either on the tourist/non-tourist places we went :)

Hilo, Hawaii
Destination Expert
for Hilo, Island of Hawaii
posts: 30,270
reviews: 4
10. Re: arriving into kona or hilo airport and itinerary feedback

My apologies (thanks for your gracious reply), I was not thinking of the scope of your trip. I can see why you want to nail down the large strokes first.

Definitely DO price rental cars along with airfare before deciding the inter-island flights.

Do add a day or two to the Big Island. It is not just bigger than Kauaʻi; it is NINE times bigger, but you have then equal time. November could be rainy in Kauaʻi. I would do 5 Kauaʻi, 7 Big Island leeward, 2 Big Island windward. You can get a good discount for a 7 day stay in one place. If that doesnʻt appeal, then 4-3 on this island, but be resigned to possibly rainy weather for half your visit.

Oahu and Maui are more tourist-oriented islands than this island. With the exception of Aliʻi Drive in Kailua Kona, it is not really that touristy wherever you go here. The Kohala Coast resort lodgings are mostly tourists, but the actual beaches and recreation areas are a good mix, even in front of hotels.

Did you do the Waianae Coast on Oahu? Talk about an area that is hostile ... we have nothing like that.

I think you will be very happy with the Big Island. I really think it will be a good time for you.