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wormtail Mar 27, 14 7:06 pm

Big Island Hawaii trip 5/2015 need help
My wife and I have never been to Hawaii. We are nearing retirement and want to take this dream trip 5/2015. We have accrued enough miles on AA and UA to use for the trip from Montreal (YUL) or Albany, NY (ALB).

I'm planning to arrive on a Friday, Leave the next Saturday (got to get back to work). Rather than island hop, and wasting more time in airports when we get there, we would rather travel to the big island and do a combination of mountain, volcano stuff and beach stuff.

I am considering both of us applying for Hyatt and Hilton cards this fall which would potentially give us 2 nights each for each card-8 total. Renting a car and maybe get Hotels in different parts of the island every few days.

I am in the early stages of planning this trip. For others that have been there how would you maximize the fun for this trip?

Thanks in advance.

sdsearch Mar 27, 14 7:23 pm

Be awere that all the chain hotels are in other parts of the Big Island far from the Volcano National Park. So you need to decide (especially if you want to be able to see it at dusk, etc) whether you want to use points for the hotels but have a long drive (in the dark), or whether you want to stay some days in the indie places near Volacno National Park.

I'm not sure which places you want to do the mountain stuff, but you should evaluate the same issue for that.

On Hawaii in general (not just this island), the chain hotels tend to focus on "resort" areas with beaches, not the areas where the other activities you want to do necessarily are. (I ran into the same thing on Maui. I did indeed start driving the Road to Hana while it was still dark, one of the two times I took it, to get to the far side of the island for a couple hour hike while it was still the cooler morning. But at least I'm used to driving mountain roads as well as "too narrow" roads from many other trips to other places. Those who aren't used to mountain roads often freak out at driving the Road to Hana on Maui even in the daytime!)

Having said all that, I'm haven't been to the Big Island yet (only Maui so far), and I don't know if the roads to Volcano National Park are easier than the Road to Hana or not.

I do suggest you get the guidebook The Big Island Revelead, if you haven't aleady. The Revealed seeries of (per-island) books are, per most people, the best guidebooks for Hawaii.

wormtail Mar 27, 14 7:33 pm

Thanks for the reply and suggestions, I will look for that guidebook. The free night hotels would be nice but not essential. Sounds like they would be best used for the beach part of the trip and the mountain part we would book with cash(well obviously not cash-you know what I mean.)

shinypenny01 Mar 27, 14 7:54 pm

I second the guidebook recommendation, well worth it.

I've been to the Big island twice, so have a little experience. For the beach Kona are is best (West), the volcano national park is in the South East, Waipio Valley is in the NE, the mountain is slap bang in the middle. It is a very big island. Personally I say near Kona and drive everywhere, but a couple of days near the national park could also be nice. Would you be comfortable doing 5-6 hours driving in a day? If not you could always stay just south of Hilo, there is a beautiful botanical garden on the coast up north of Hilo as well.

If you are racking up spend on things like hotels or other travel expenses I recommend picking up the Barclaycard Arrival Credit Card. It comes with a $450 rebate (effectively) on travel expenses if you spend $3k in the first 3 months. I just used it to get $400 rebate against my $700 deposit on accommodation for my third trip to the big island.

If you have any specific questions do let us know!

P.S. if you want to there is a great B&B in the hills behind Kona, it is the best reviewed B&B in Hawaii, and top 10 in the US according to trip adviser. It's here if you are interested I've been twice, and will be returning.

pickles1107 Mar 27, 14 7:57 pm

Be aware that there are no Hyatt hotels on the big island.
Look to the Fairmont credit card instead for two free nights at the Orchid. You could also use the suite upgrade that comes with your card to get a 1 bedroom executive suite.

wormtail Mar 27, 14 8:38 pm

Thanks for the great ideas. If we both applied for the Fairmont card that would be 4 nights at the Fairmont Orchid, which would cover half the trip, nice.

I'm thinking it would be nice to arrive spend a cheap hotel night just to crash after a long day of travel. Then afew nights at the beach then pack up and do the volcano thing and mountain thing for 2-3 nights or so then finish back to the beach. Maybe bookend the trip with 2 nights at the Fairmont Orchid at the beginning and end.

maverick17 Mar 28, 14 1:24 am

I also stayed in Kona. The Sheraton there was very empty, and we got a great rate by bidding on it. Also my mother and sister, who don't swim/dive, were able to see the Manta Ray's from the deck there, so that was nice. If you like snorkeling or sealife at all, definitely do the Manta Ray snorkel or dive. It is one of the best dives in the world, and is unforgettable. (I would not do the Sheraton cove for this though. I think the other spot near the airport gets more mantas.

The drive to the volcano wasn't too bad. We didn't have a lot of time on the island, so we didn't move locations. There is a nice black sand beach with turtles on the way, and we spent some time in the national park, then up to Hilo for dinner. We then went back to a location along the coast (outside the park, somewhat deserted the night we were there) where you can walk out on a dirt road and get as close enough to see some red) from the lava. The national park is open at night and you can go back in and see the glow of the cauldron. There are lots of trails in the park, and the recommended guidebook will be valuable. If I go back, I think I will do a helicopter tour. Honestly the park is cool, but a bit less than I expected. I would like to be in the chopper over the area where it hits the sea. We drove back that night, for a full 12 hour day.

Lastly, beware seating. I was there in May 2013, and all the flights booked up with triathlon people quite suddenly it seemed. So if you see the flights you want, I would grab them.

wormtail Mar 28, 14 5:39 am

renting a 4WD from Harpers
So to drive to the top of Mauna Kea, 13 thousand feet, you cannot use your regular rental car. You have to rent from Harpers Rental and rent a 4WD, or there are trips for $200 where a tour drives you up. Has anyone done this. Sounds like the best option would be rent a usual car for the week then on the day of your Mauna Kea trip, drive to Harpers and get a one day rental from them.

KennyBSAT Mar 28, 14 5:53 am

There's a lot of good info here as well as in the Big Island Revealed book. We are going for the first time in October and skipping the chain hotels.

+1 if seats are available, grab them!

puchalskir Mar 28, 14 7:58 am

Definitely get the Revealed Guide book. I would stay in the Kona area most the time, but stay in Volcano for 2 or 3 days. You can drive from Kona to Hilo over the saddle road in a about an 1.5 hours now, so you can easily do day trips there.

We stay in the A'Bay area. We prefer to rent condos, there are plenty there and they can be very good values. There are plenty of shops/restaurants etc that are walking distance. It's a good base, but you do sort of get sick of driving 30 minutes into Kona on the same road. Hope you enjoy looking at lava.

Near the airport is a seahorse farm which is worth it even though it's expensive. You might need to book in advance.

We drove to the visitor center at Mauna Kea. You definitely need a 4x drive with a high clearance to do the drive from the visitor center to the top. We hike from the Mauna Loa observatory to the summit, that was one of the worst hikes I've ever done. All lava, and the views from the top aren't that special.

Volcano has tons of great hiking. If you can make it to Kalapana, it's worth it to drive there to see the more recent lava floes. The area to the east of that is very pretty to drive through. Lava Tree park is a worth while visit.

Try to go to Hilo when the farmers' market is in full force. The tsunami museum in Hilo is also interesting.

You can actually drive around the island in a day and do quick stops at places if you are a glutton for punishment. We did it in about 10 hours with a bunch of stops. Try not to speed, there are speed traps.

If you have any specific questions, feel free to PM me. We go to the big island every year and we don't go to just lay on the beach, although that's fun too.


snuggliestbear Mar 28, 14 8:14 am

I would agree with most people and say stay in Kona, but be aware that you will have to do a TON of driving to get places. Since you say you have never been to Hawaii before, could I suggest an alternative island? Kauai is much smaller (less driving), has many of the same features (no lava, but plenty of nice beaches and hiking), and a similar vibe. My wife and I have done both islands and Honolulu. After doing the big island this past February we both agreed that while TBI was good and fun, Kauai was better.

Hotel wise there is one of the best Hyatt's on Kauai and plenty of other hotels and resorts. On the big island driving from Kona to Volcano National park will take you about 2 hours. On Kauai driving from the Na Pali coast to Waimea (almost going around the entire island) will take about 2.5 hours. That gives you a sense of the difference in scale between the 2 islands.

wharvey Mar 28, 14 10:22 am

The Big Island is my favorite place to visit.... done it many times. I am not a beach person... so I am not a fan of staying on the Kona side... you are far away from the beauty of the Island... and would have to travel a great deal to get to the northern/eastern/southern areas.

Personally, I would rent a condo/house on the Hilo side of the island and use that as home base. So much more convenient to the sites that are most worth visiting.

Also, I would get a 4-wheel-drive.... and I had no problem using the car from the company we rented from... was not Harpers.

I highly recommend this tour. FREE. And the only way to get inside one of the observatories. I have done this four times... love it each time.

Lots of great advice in the Hawaii forum.

777Flyer2 Mar 28, 14 2:07 pm

I would probably take a tour to Mauna Kea - it is very high up there. The plane you fly in will only max at 8,000 feet, and at 13,000 feet if you don't know how you will react (headache, tiredness,) it might be better to let someone else drive.

maverick17 Mar 28, 14 3:39 pm

I liked Kauai too, but I would choose Big Island over Kauai easily. So I appreciate the size is smaller and the Hyatt is nice, but if you like your idea of BI I'd stick with it.

mile ho Mar 28, 14 4:40 pm

Love Big Island - my favorite island.

We didn't rent anything special and drove up to the summit of Mauna Kea. Wasn't a problem for us .. it was cold though. Amazing and highly recommended.

Last trip we stay up the mountain a bit from Kona in B&B. If you get a little elevation it's great to stay there.. cooler. Great snorkeling around Kealakekua bay. You don't have to hike to the Capt Cook monument area to snorkel. Great around the Napo'opo'o Beach Park.

We also did a lava hike. Right now the lava flow has stopped where they hike but is a good site to monitor.

I so love the big Island. You won't be disappointed.

If you have a Costco membership you can shop there for food and gas plus they often have GREAT car rental prices.

And the Big Island Revealed is a MUST.

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