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Big Island in December - Questions and Recommendations

Big Island in December - Questions and Recommendations

Old May 2, 18, 7:24 pm
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Big Island in December - Questions and Recommendations

I'm planning a week-long trip to The Big Island in December and it's my first time on the island. I would really appreciate some help with planning our itinerary.

I've been to HI before; I had an ex-girlfriend who lived in Maui and I stayed with her for a few weeks some ten years ago and had a fantastic time. I was really surprised by the diversity of the landscape and the varied and unique character of the different areas of the island we explored. It was absolutely necessary to rent a car for that experience and I'm wondering if Big Island is similar.

The base of our trip is going to be spent at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in Waimea, which I've booked for 6 nights. I know very little about the area but the beachfront looks picturesque and I love the mid-century modern architecture and the thoughtful design of the landmark property.

While we're looking forward to days of relaxation and tropic tranquility, we also want to get out and explore the island. Would it be worth booking a night or two on the southern end of the island?

When I was driving along the Hana Highway years ago, I really wished that we had stayed overnight at the Travaasa, which would have afforded us so much more time to explore the eastern end of Maui. Would you suggest a similar approach to exploring the Big Island? I've got two potential overnight inns on my radar: W.H. Shipman House in Hilo and the Volcano Teapot Cottage in historic Volcano Village.

Is Hawaii similar to Maui in that each area offers distinct flavor (sights, activities, etc) or is that more the result of Maui's tourist-driven development? I understand that the Big Island is supposed to be the most pristine and unspoiled of the Hawaiian islands, so I'm curious if there's equal incentive to choose to stay in various places rather than situating ourselves in Waimea for the duration of our trip and simply taking some daytime excursions. I also realize that it's called The Big Island for a reason, which makes me wonder if it would be practical to try and drive the whole perimeter of the island without moving around a bit. Would it be possible, for instance, to explore Volcano at an enjoyable and leisurely pace without an overnight stay in the vicinity? We'd absolutely want to visit Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park as well, which looks to be approx. 2 hours drive from Mauna Kea Hotel.

I'm also a bit concerned about our dining options in the resorty-er areas. From what little research I've done, there seems to be a dirth of good non-tourist restaurants (i.e. not serving burgers, bbq & poke bowls) nearby; at least comparatively speaking (Maui).

Could anyone offer some advice and input into how best to approach planning as I would like to book our flights this week but I need to finalize the itinerary first, in case I end up adding a couple of nights at other properties on the island.

Thanks so much!

Last edited by OliverB; May 2, 18 at 7:34 pm
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Old May 2, 18, 8:40 pm
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Flipping through TripAdvisor pages, I'm questioning whether 6 days is enough time and I feel that a couple of additional nights would be really useful. I'd love to do a dolphin swim and maybe manta ray night swim. I definitely want to spend some time in Volcanoes National Park. Honaunau Bay. Botanical Gardens. Maybe a drive to the summit of Mauna Kea. Visit to Kona Coffee farm. I also need to research lava boat tours though I understand those are somewhat controversial.
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Old May 3, 18, 2:45 am
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I would stay as long as I could. It is a BIG Island. I spent 5 nights on Maui last year, and felt it was plenty. I have been to the BI 4 times now, and still have not seen the entire thing. It is MUCH more variable as far as landscape than Maui. Have you done any research on it? Something like 13 different climates on one Island. Mauna Kea Resort is a great base. The only reason I can think of to book a night somewhere else, is if you want to see the volcano after dark. I might book a night or 2 in Volcano itself, and in Hilo for that. Lower Puna is very scenic, I can easily spend a full day down there. Pretty much everything else can be done on day trips from Mauna Kea Resort, although some of the days might be long.

Definitely do the Manta Ray night snorkel, and I did enjoy a drive to the summit of Mauna Kea, although heed the warnings about altitude sickness. I was surprised that it affected me as much as it did (only went as far as visitor center), and probably will not go back up the mountain for that reason. You will find lots of restaurants in places like Waimea, Waikoloa Resort, etc.
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Old May 3, 18, 9:13 am
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Thanks so much!

I did do some basic research last night -- just enough to determine our length of stay and orientation so that I could book properties and flights.

We're now staying 10 nights total from December 7th until 17th.

Here's what our itinerary looks like:

12/07-12/13 @ Mauna Kea Beach Hotel - (6 nights)

12/13-12/15 @ Shipman House Guest Cottage in Hilo - (2 nights)

12/15-12/17 @ Volcano Tea Pot Cottage - (2 nights)

We're flying into Kona (already booked) and I'm thinking about flying out of Hilo on the return leg.

From the very basic research I've done so far, it looks like we could do the following from our base at Mauna Kea:

• Explore town of Waimea.

• Manini'owali Beach at Kua Bay in Kailua-Kona.

• Manta Ray Night Snorkeling + Dolphin Tour in Kailua-Kona. It looks like Hawaii Oceanic + Kona Ocean Adventures are the two most popular outfitters.

• Tour Kona Coffee Living History Farm in Captain Cook.

• Possibly visit Kealakekua Bay in South Kona.

• Definitely visit Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park at Honaunau Bay!



It also looks like there's a LOT to cover in Hilo and 2 nights will barely scratch the surface:

• I'd like to explore Carlsmith and Richardson Beach Parks.

• Possibly visit Rainbow Falls / Waiānuenue (more research needed on this)

• Definitely visit the Hilo Farmer's Market and maybe the Pacific Tsunami Museum

• The Pepeekeo Scenic Drive in Pāpa'ikou looks spectacular! I hope we can find a way to do this en route from Mauna Kea Hotel in Waimea.

• We will definitely be visiting the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden!

• ʻAkaka Falls State Park in Honomū looks great also. If we can find time to do the ʻAkaka Falls Loop Trail (again further research needed) to see Kahuna and ʻAkaka Falls, that'd be great!

• Hilo also seems like a better point of departure for a sunrise or sunset boat tour of the lava flows in Pāhoa. I'm not sure if this will even be possible during our visit (12/18) and I need to look into this more because I seem to remember reading that this is considered a controversial and potentially even dangerous activity among locals. Hilo also seems to be a good jump off point for Lava Tree State Monument (I'm mapping shorter driving distance than Volcano Village area to Pāhoa) which I need to look into more and determine whether it's high priority. There's no way we'll be able to squeeze all of this into 2 days!

• We might also do the Mauna Kea summit drive en route from Mauna Kea Beach Hotel to Hilo, time permitting. I'll need to look into this more as well.


Finally, we have 2 nights in Volcano which will give us plenty of time to do the Kilauea Iki Trail, explore the Thurston Lava Tube (Nāhuku), explore Mt. Kilauea Tour and drive alone the Crater Rim.

We might also make time for Paradise Meadows Orchard & Bee Farm in Naalehu.


Still to be researched, decided and mapped out are the following sights/activities in my notes:

• Kaumana Caves Park
• Liliuokalani Gardens
• Huliheʻe Palace
• Hapuna Beach
• Manini’owali Beach and Kua Bay
• Pololu Valley Lookout
• Waipi’o Valley; Waipio Lookout
• Kealakekua Bay
• Hōnaunau Bay
• Papakolea Green Sand Beach
• Mamalahoa Kona Heritage Corridor
• Sea Horse Hawaii Foundation
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Old May 3, 18, 9:15 am
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Based on all of the above, would you suggest adding one more night in Hilo?

Also, does flying out of Hilo after our 2 night stay in Volcano offer significant convenience over KOA on the return, even though it's more expensive and there are less routes and options? We could fly out of KOA much later in the day and on a non-stop for less than we could out of Hilo... but I wouldn't want to spend our final day on Big Island in the car and sacrifice doing/seeing things just to drive to an airport. I'm also uncertain how that would work for the rental outlets; if it makes any difference or adds more cost.

Last edited by OliverB; May 3, 18 at 9:29 am
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Old May 3, 18, 11:41 am
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Originally Posted by OliverB View Post
Thanks so much!

I did do some basic research last night -- just enough to determine our length of stay and orientation so that I could book properties and flights.

We're now staying 10 nights total from December 7th until 17th.

Here's what our itinerary looks like:

12/07-12/13 @ Mauna Kea Beach Hotel - (6 nights)

12/13-12/15 @ Shipman House Guest Cottage in Hilo - (2 nights)

12/15-12/17 @ Volcano Tea Pot Cottage - (2 nights)

We're flying into Kona (already booked) and I'm thinking about flying out of Hilo on the return leg.

From the very basic research I've done so far, it looks like we could do the following from our base at Mauna Kea:

• Explore town of Waimea.

• Manini'owali Beach at Kua Bay in Kailua-Kona.

• Manta Ray Night Snorkeling + Dolphin Tour in Kailua-Kona. It looks like Hawaii Oceanic + Kona Ocean Adventures are the two most popular outfitters.

• Tour Kona Coffee Living History Farm in Captain Cook.

• Possibly visit Kealakekua Bay in South Kona.

• Definitely visit Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park at Honaunau Bay!



It also looks like there's a LOT to cover in Hilo and 2 nights will barely scratch the surface:

• I'd like to explore Carlsmith and Richardson Beach Parks.

• Possibly visit Rainbow Falls / Waiānuenue (more research needed on this)

• Definitely visit the Hilo Farmer's Market and maybe the Pacific Tsunami Museum

• The Pepeekeo Scenic Drive in Pāpa'ikou looks spectacular! I hope we can find a way to do this en route from Mauna Kea Hotel in Waimea.

• We will definitely be visiting the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden!

• ʻAkaka Falls State Park in Honomū looks great also. If we can find time to do the ʻAkaka Falls Loop Trail (again further research needed) to see Kahuna and ʻAkaka Falls, that'd be great!

• Hilo also seems like a better point of departure for a sunrise or sunset boat tour of the lava flows in Pāhoa. I'm not sure if this will even be possible during our visit (12/18) and I need to look into this more because I seem to remember reading that this is considered a controversial and potentially even dangerous activity among locals. Hilo also seems to be a good jump off point for Lava Tree State Monument (I'm mapping shorter driving distance than Volcano Village area to Pāhoa) which I need to look into more and determine whether it's high priority. There's no way we'll be able to squeeze all of this into 2 days!

• We might also do the Mauna Kea summit drive en route from Mauna Kea Beach Hotel to Hilo, time permitting. I'll need to look into this more as well.


Finally, we have 2 nights in Volcano which will give us plenty of time to do the Kilauea Iki Trail, explore the Thurston Lava Tube (Nāhuku), explore Mt. Kilauea Tour and drive alone the Crater Rim.

We might also make time for Paradise Meadows Orchard & Bee Farm in Naalehu.


Still to be researched, decided and mapped out are the following sights/activities in my notes:

• Kaumana Caves Park
• Liliuokalani Gardens
• Huliheʻe Palace
• Hapuna Beach
• Manini’owali Beach and Kua Bay
• Pololu Valley Lookout
• Waipi’o Valley; Waipio Lookout
• Kealakekua Bay
• Hōnaunau Bay
• Papakolea Green Sand Beach
• Mamalahoa Kona Heritage Corridor
• Sea Horse Hawaii Foundation
Your choice of activities is your choice, but I can't imagine why would would definitely go to the farmer's market, but only possibly go to Rainbow Falls. I'd suggest that you reorder your priority list.

Enjoy your time in Hawaii. Sounds like a great trip you have planned.
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Old May 3, 18, 11:43 am
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Originally Posted by OliverB View Post
Based on all of the above, would you suggest adding one more night in Hilo?

Also, does flying out of Hilo after our 2 night stay in Volcano offer significant convenience over KOA on the return, even though it's more expensive and there are less routes and options? We could fly out of KOA much later in the day and on a non-stop for less than we could out of Hilo... but I wouldn't want to spend our final day on Big Island in the car and sacrifice doing/seeing things just to drive to an airport. I'm also uncertain how that would work for the rental outlets; if it makes any difference or adds more cost.
Depending on your route t will take you about 2-4 hours to drive from Hilo to Kona Airport. (with stops) If you have not already taken one of the routes, it can be a nice drive to finish off your trip.
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Old May 3, 18, 12:39 pm
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Originally Posted by 747FC View Post
Your choice of activities is your choice, but I can't imagine why would would definitely go to the farmer's market, but only possibly go to Rainbow Falls. I'd suggest that you reorder your priority list.

Enjoy your time in Hawaii. Sounds like a great trip you have planned.
I did note that I needed to research a lot more as I've only quickly browsed through photos on TripAdvisor late last night, but from what I recall, the other falls seemed more interesting than Rainbow.

To be clear, I was never weighing waterfalls against a farmers market. I'm interested in the latter because I enjoy fresh exotic produce local to the islands. It's not an either/or circumstance.
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Old May 3, 18, 12:46 pm
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Originally Posted by 747FC View Post
Depending on your route t will take you about 2-4 hours to drive from Hilo to Kona Airport. (with stops) If you have not already taken one of the routes, it can be a nice drive to finish off your trip.
Our route as of now looks like this: Kona - Waimea area (Mauna Kea Hotel) - Hilo - Volcano - ???

If flying out of Kona, would it make more sense to continue along the south western circumference of the island via HI-11 from Volcano back towards Ocean View and then up to the 180/190 to Kona... or to head back the opposite way in the direction of Hilo and then north to Kona?

As of right now we only have 2 nights in the Hilo area and there seems to be an abundance of activities and sights (I'm even considering extending one night) with another 2 nights in Volcano. Based on that alone, I'm not sure whether I want to spend our last day driving all over the island. On the other hand, activities in the Volcano area seem to be more limited, so maybe it is worth driving around the full island to see new sights. Still not sure what to do and I want to get some more advice on whether an extra night in Hilo would be recommended before I book our return flights. If we flew out of Hilo, that might afford us more time to spend in the area; especially if we booked an evening departure.
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Old May 3, 18, 1:37 pm
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Originally Posted by OliverB View Post
I did note that I needed to research a lot more as I've only quickly browsed through photos on TripAdvisor late last night, but from what I recall, the other falls seemed more interesting than Rainbow.

To be clear, I was never weighing waterfalls against a farmers market. I'm interested in the latter because I enjoy fresh exotic produce local to the islands. It's not an either/or circumstance.
The drive to Rainnbow Falls will be be 10 min from Farmers Market. Well worth it

Originally Posted by OliverB View Post
Our route as of now looks like this: Kona - Waimea area (Mauna Kea Hotel) - Hilo - Volcano - ???

If flying out of Kona, would it make more sense to continue along the south western circumference of the island via HI-11 from Volcano back towards Ocean View and then up to the 180/190 to Kona... or to head back the opposite way in the direction of Hilo and then north to Kona?

As of right now we only have 2 nights in the Hilo area and there seems to be an abundance of activities and sights (I'm even considering extending one night) with another 2 nights in Volcano. Based on that alone, I'm not sure whether I want to spend our last day driving all over the island. On the other hand, activities in the Volcano area seem to be more limited, so maybe it is worth driving around the full island to see new sights. Still not sure what to do and I want to get some more advice on whether an extra night in Hilo would be recommended before I book our return flights. If we flew out of Hilo, that might afford us more time to spend in the area; especially if we booked an evening departure.
the Southern route has a wide variety of ecosystems, and while not a jaw-dropping drive, is is worthwhile. Just make sure you leave slack time as traffic around Kona can get congested. (Only briefly)

Do monitor this site. https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/hvo/

Madame Pele is acting up and your volcano plans may need to be adjusted.
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Old May 3, 18, 1:52 pm
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Hmmmm, on your list you forgot to include at least day or at the beach or pool chillin' and enjoying some awesome beverages and watching the most amazing sunsets you'll find on this planet!!

Don't get caught up trying to see everything in one trip or you'll need a vacation after your vacation!! Enjoy the moment!! I'm already planning my 4th return to the big island!!
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Old May 3, 18, 2:54 pm
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The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel has a perfectly fantastic beach...please plan to spend at least a full day enjoying the beauty there. Swimming is especially nice in the morning! Enjoy your stay...we're heading to the Big Island in a few weeks, and will spend several nights up in Volcano. Visiting the park during the day and then returning later to enjoy to the glow is just wonderful.
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Old May 3, 18, 4:25 pm
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If you want to see lava and are worried about the boat tour, another option to consider is via helicopter. I haven't done the boat but I have done helicopter and it's a great way to see the lava flowing. Taking the helicopter from Hilo should cost less and you'll spend a lot less time flying to and from the volcano than if you took it from Kona.
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Old May 3, 18, 4:38 pm
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Originally Posted by Hawaiian717 View Post
If you want to see lava and are worried about the boat tour, another option to consider is via helicopter. I haven't done the boat but I have done helicopter and it's a great way to see the lava flowing. Taking the helicopter from Hilo should cost less and you'll spend a lot less time flying to and from the volcano than if you took it from Kona.
How much would we be looking at for a helicopter tour?

When you say that it should cost less to take from Hilo, do you mean as compared to taking it from Kona airport? We're talking about the lava flows in the Pāhoa area, right?


Also, to clarify, we are definitely making time for lounging; that's precisely why I booked 6 nights at the Mauna Kea! We'll have at least 3.5 days of relaxing on the beach. I've booked our room entirely on points and paid for an oceanfront upgrade so that we can lay out on a balcony listening to the crash of waves and the afternoon trade winds gently blowing with a cool drink and Arthur Lyman on the playlist.
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Last edited by OliverB; May 3, 18 at 5:21 pm
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Old May 3, 18, 5:44 pm
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Depending on what Madame Pele is up to, spending a night at Volcano House is a good option. If they don't have any crater view rooms then I would keep with your original plan. Also, the restaurant there is good so you can watch the sunset while you eat and see the glow.
If you have allergies or asthma either hiking down to see the lava flow or a helicopter tour may be better than a boat tour. The boats got pretty close and my wife (who has allergies) said she would have died if we had taken the boat tour.
I would probably take the route Mauna Kea -> Waimea -> Hilo -> Volcano -> South Point -> Kona. That way you get to see pretty much the whole island and all of the different ecosystems. Also since you will be spending a lot of time North Kohala you can check out Hawi. The last time we stayed at Mauna Kea we did the drive to Hawi and saw a bunch of whales.
What kind of food are you looking for and budget? Since you are going to be near Mauna Lani Hotel, I would definitely go to the Captian's Table at Canoe House.
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