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Hilo-Volcano-Kona Itinerary

Calgary
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Hilo-Volcano-Kona Itinerary

Hi there,

My wife and I are arriving in Hilo on January 1 at 11:00 AM and we'll be leaving the Big Island from the Kona Airport at 3:00 PM on January 3. So far, the only thing on our itinerary is exploring Volcano National Park on January 2. Could someone suggest a couple of itineraries for us -- one on the afternoon of January 1 on our drive towards VNP, and one on the morning of January 3 on our way to Kona? I have gone through the forums and am wondering about the following: Ken's Pancake House in Hilo sounds nice but I'm guessing they will be closed on New Years Day. Can anyone confirm? What about the Farmer's Market? Will that be opened? If not, that'll be ok because I also read that there are some wonderful falls in or near Hilo. Are they easy to find? Are there road signs that will point us in the right direction? And we would also like to stop at the Punalu'u black sand beach on our way to Kona. How far off Hwy 11 is the beach? And how long is the drive from VNP to Kona on January 3 (which is a Wednesday). Depending on the length of the drive, we may have an hour or two in Kona before we have to catch our plane. Any suggestions for things to see in Kona? I hope someone can help me. Thanks in advance for your help!

Yan

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1. Re: Hilo-Volcano-Kona Itinerary

You should drive North to Akaka Falls first, go on the Scenic Drive on your way back to Hilo and go to the Tsunami Museum. I assume your second day is for VNP. You will need to leave early on 1/3, it's a three-hour drive from Volcano to the Kona airport if you don't stop anywhere. Punaluu is just off the highway. The Hilo Farmers Market is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays but I don't think you will have time to go there unless you stay in Hilo and visit it before you head back to Kona. I don't know about Ken's but I am sure KK will help you out on that subject.

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2. Re: Hilo-Volcano-Kona Itinerary

the problem with helping you out here is you don't say whether you're staying those two nights in Volcano or Hilo. It sounds to me like you're staying in Volcano because you say you're driving to VNP the first day and you'll do the park the second day, and then drive to Kona.

If that's right, your itinerary depends on whether you go the north or south route back to the airport. The Black Sand beach is not that interesting. In order to see it you'll be giving up a lot of better sights, but that's up to you. If you want the Black Sand, then you have to take Hwy 11 south as you seem to know and you cannot do the Farmer's Market which is open the morning of Wed, Jan 3.

And as TT says, to see waterfalls you would have to go first to Akaka Falls, which is about 20 miles north of Hilo and maybe 5-7 miles up the mountain. It's an easy drive. Hwy 19 doesn't get curvy until after you pass the Akaka Falls turnoff, which is well marked. Your rental car will come with a drive map book.

If you go see the Falls it'll take about an hour for the drive and say an hour for exploring, that'll put you up at VNP in late afternoon if you have lunch.

I would go to Liliukalani Gardens over the Museum, but that's a matter of personal interest ... I think the gardens are lovely to walk around and a great way to unwind after a flight.

I don't know if Ken's will be open or what will be open on New Year's Day, but as Ken's is 24 hours they're as likely as anyone. Come to think of it it's unlikely the Tsunami Museum would be. Ken's is a friendly place but not my style, and I can't drink the coffee; it's so weak for my taste. But if you dislike Starbucks strength coffee then you might love it. What kind of food and atmosphere do you like?

I do not think you'll have time to stop in Kailua-Kona on your way out unless you get up really early. I think it's more interesting to forget the Black Sand beach, take Hwy 19 north, stop at the Farmer's Market briefly.

Actually what I would do is not fly out of Kona as all it seems to do is add a long drive to your visit to VNP. To me the point of going to the west side is the beaches but you won't have any time for that. If you flew into and out of Hilo you could see the waterfalls and the black sand and the Farmer's market. But I assume you've already got your tickets.

Lastly, I have to caution you against planning out these two days hour by hour because you don't know if the weather will allow you to do these things. It could be total downpour on Jan 1 and too slippery to walk around Akaka Falls. Nor is it enjoyable to drive the highway here in the pouring rain as you have low visibility and it's more scary than fun.

Our weather tends to alternate between a few days of rain and then some sun. If you stay 5 days you have a good shot at good weather, but frankly with two days you might just hit rain, so you should have a back-up plan other than hiking ...

I always wish for people to get sunshine but I don't like to see people get set on it. This just happened to me, I went to a South Pacific island for only two days in August, in the dry season, and it poured rain and I had to cancel the tours I'd booked. I was really bummed out because I had this idea I didn't have to worry about rain in the dry season ... but I did.

If it's raining in Volcano Village and the upper park, Chain of Craters road is usually hot and dry, as is Black Sand Beach, so just switch things around if you get rain.

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3. Re: Hilo-Volcano-Kona Itinerary

Typicallytropical & KamaainaK, thanks for your great suggestions. Tripadvisor is such a great site because of wonderful people like you. You're right, KK, we are staying in Volcano for two nights. And we have already purchased our tickets to fly out of Kona on Jan. 3. It looks like I may have short-changed Kona in my planning but we will be staying in Honolulu for a week prior to our trip to Big Island and I thought flying to the Hilo side of Big Island would be a nice change of pace as we may be beached out. And I thought flying out of Kona instead of Hilo would let us take in more of the Big Island. Is the southern route along Hwy 11 scenic at least? And thanks for the Liliuokalani Gardens suggestion. It is a great alternative if the Tsuanmi Museum is closed. Perhaps we could visit the black sand beaches on Jan. 1 instead of Jan. 3 so we will have more time to do some sightseeing on Kona before we fly off. Oh, one more question: I'm guessing a stop at Rainbow Falls would be unneccessary if we are going to Akaka Falls? Thanks again!

Yan

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4. Re: Hilo-Volcano-Kona Itinerary

Hi Yan, you're welcome!

let's see ..

"Is the southern route along Hwy 11 scenic at least?"

while all of Hawaii is scenic, I'd rate it as the least scenic drive on the island, which is why I tried to nudge you the other direction. If you look at a map, at least 2/3 of it is far from the ocean. The woods of the district are blighted from the sulphur fumes of the volcano. The stretch going north that isn't inland is twisty turny high on the slopes of Mauna Loa.

Hwy 19 on the other hand is tropical and lush along the ocean all the way to Honokaa, then through green pastures up to Waimea, then if you drive down the Kawaihae or Waikoloa Rds to get down to Hwy 11 there's a gorgeous panorama of the ocean. However, it could be raining from Hilo through Waimea, you have to assess that when you get here.

"Perhaps we could visit the black sand beaches on Jan. 1 instead of Jan. 3 so we will have more time to do some sightseeing on Kona before we fly off."

There is just the one black sand beach on that road, Punalu'u. it's about 30 miles past Volcano and a 5-6000 foot descent off the mountain. It's right on the highway. You can't swim there, so there isn't much to do except look at the black sand and look at the turtles if they're out of the water. If you're driving to Kona that way it won't slow you down more than 30 minutes unless you decide to have a picnic. I've never been excited about this beach. The guidebooks make a big deal of it and IMHO it doesn't deliver ... but you may find it amazing.

I can't think of anything in Kailua-Kona specifically worth sightseeing. It's more of a center for activities and a hub for people to stay. There's a tourist drag along the water that's always bustling, but not sure it offers anything Oahu doesn't do better. Hilo is a more historic downtown for strolling around. Kona is cars, modern commercial district, souvenirs, concrete, condos, restaurants.

Instead of Kailua-K I would stop in one or more of the little coffee towns south of kailue-kona to have lunch (at Coffee Shack or Aloha Theatre) and take the pretty drive on the upper highway through Holualoa and drop down past Kailua-Kona near the airport., thus avoiding the traffic jam.

Rather than either Black Sand or Kailua-Kona, for me the "must see" along that route is hands down the "Place of Refuge" National Historic Area in Honaunau. You will have to get up and leave early to have time to see it.

"Oh, one more question: I'm guessing a stop at Rainbow Falls would be unneccessary if we are going to Akaka Falls?"

Probably, they are different though. At Rainbow Falls you can right up to the top of the waterfall which is awesome if it's running heavily (likely at that time of year). You can park right there, and it's only 10 minutes up from town. Akaka Falls the falls are set farther back, the beauty there is the lush jungle setting framing the falls and less getting up close to the power of the water.

Akaka Falls trail you should skip if it's raining heavily; in that case go to Rainbow Falls where you don't have a slippery trail, and continue up the road to Pe'ePe'e falls/Boiling Pots lookout as long as you're in the neighborhood.

If you plan on going to Punalu'u on your first afternoon you won't have time to do that and the Akaka Falls loop unless you skip your lunch.

For whatever my opinion's worth, if I had a choice between Hilo Farmer's Market/northern route and Black Sand/southern route I would go with the biggest farmer's market in the state.

However, if you fly out at 3 you need to budget your time to arrive at 1 pm if you have checked bags and haven't done web check-in. This builds in some time to get stuck in traffic and get there by 1:30. You should allow 3 hours for your drive to the airport from Volcano, not counting stops.

The decision to fly out of Kona gives you a look at more of the island and less time to make stops. It's a fine approach, call it "intro to the Big Island." But resign yourself to skimming the surface. At least you have a whole day at VNP .

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5. Re: Hilo-Volcano-Kona Itinerary

Snootchiebootchies,

You already got excellent advice from the TT and KK, and I have little to add. Personally I would hit Punalu’u the first day. I would get the car, lunch and explore around Hilo, Coconut Island and Liliuokalani Park, jump up to Rainbow Falls, PeePee Falls, Boiling pots, Wai’ale falls. Then down to Punalu’u and come back to the park, check in and then dinner in Hilo. Explore the park on the second day. On the 3rd, get up really early and take the northern route, stopping at Onomea Bay, Akaka, Tex’s drive in for Malasadas and the Waipio overlook. Then over the hill to Hapuna, down the road to the airport and fly out. This puts you on the north side of Kailua-Kona, same as the airport. Gas at Costco if you have a Costco card.

Ken’s was always open on New Years Day when I was living in Hilo.

Good luck and happy travels!

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6. Re: Hilo-Volcano-Kona Itinerary

Thanks again for the suggestions KK and Echolynch! You have convinced me. I will visit Punalu’u on January 1 and then take Hwy 19 to Kailua-Kona on January 3. Thanks very much to everyone for helping me on my itinerary. Just one final question if that's ok -- how much time would it take to detour off Hwy 19 to the Waipio overlook? Would it extend my drive by 15-30 minutes or is it more like an hour or more? Thanks again!

Yan

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7. Re: Hilo-Volcano-Kona Itinerary

Hi Yan,

I haven't timed it recently but I think it's roughly 10 miles, with a low speed limit (25? 35?), so about 20 minutes each way, roughly, and time to enjoy.

This overlook is an awesome sight; everyone should see it once if it works out that there's time.

Tip on Hwy 19: there aren't many places for pit stops after Hilo. Akaka Falls I'm not clear if they're still on porta-luas doing repairs, but Tex's Drive-in in Honokaa, just on makai side of highway soon after the gas station and very easy to see is a nice stop. Restrooms, food, wonderful view down onto the ocean. This is shortly before the market turnoff to Waipio.

Another stop between Hilo and there is the Train Museum at Laupahoehoe.

I've noticed that women care more about these things, so hey, you can impress your wife with this specialized island knowledge. . ;-)

If you need an energy fix before the last lap to the airport, there's a Starbucks in Waimea's Parker Center.