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4N/5D Itinerary check

San Mateo...
Level Contributor
67 posts
4N/5D Itinerary check

Hi TA community,

I'd appreciate any suggestions on the following itinerary for two adults. We'd love to see red lava if possible, but I've been following all the threads on this in the forum so I know that's unlikely.

Day 1:

Arrive at Kona airport in the afternoon. Taxi to Kona proper and pick up rental car. Evening Manta ray snorkel for 1 (1 adult doesn't swim, so will be doing a ride along). Overnight in Kona.

Day 2:

Option 1: Drive to Mauna Kea, explore the museum and area. Drive to Hilo around sunset and stay overnight.

Option 2: Explore Kona and do a Mauna Kea star gazing tour and overnight Kona. Would then drive to Hilo in the AM. Yes, this would mean skipping Mauna Kea in the day.

Day 3:

Explore Hilo: Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls, lava boat tour if lava is active at all, explore Kilauea if open. Drive to Kona in the evening and overnight there if it's not too late, or overnight in Hilo and drive to Kona the next day.

Day 4:

Explore a Kona beach or two, submarine tour, coffee tour. Any othe recommendations? Over night Kona.

Day 5:

Fly out.

Thank you for your help!

21 replies to this topic
Destination Expert
for Oahu
Level Contributor
49,073 posts
18 reviews
1. Re: 4N/5D Itinerary check

You're on a teeny sub-Forum for Kailua-Kona. If you don't get any/many responses, post on the ISLAND of Hawaii Forum (AKA Big Island Forum) ... it's the full Island Forum. That's where most people post.

Waikoloa, Hawaii
Level Contributor
2,545 posts
39 reviews
2. Re: 4N/5D Itinerary check

BL, Kailua-Kona is not a teeny subforum. Many posters post here and they always get answers.

OP, you should pick up your rental car at the airport. A taxi will cost $60-80 depending on where you are going in Kailua-Kona.

There's no museum at Mauna Kea. Do you mean the visitor center? It's pretty small.

Please don't take a lava boat tour (if they're running). They're very dangerous.

Is this your first time to the Big Island? There's a lot to see that isn't in Kona or Hilo.

San Mateo...
Level Contributor
67 posts
3. Re: 4N/5D Itinerary check

Thanks BLBL, will do if needed.

Boulders, I've heard picking up a car at the airport is way more expensive, but if taxis are that expensive then it makes sense to just rent from the airport, so thanks.

Yes, I meant the visitor center at Mauna Kea. I guess a whole day isn't needed to explore the area? Maybe we'll plan to get there in the afternoon and do some star gazing on our own before driving on to Hilo.

Yes, first time on the big island. What are your thoughts?

Edited: 19 September 2018, 01:23
Naalehu, Hawaii
Level Contributor
1,193 posts
70 reviews
4. Re: 4N/5D Itinerary check

Most of the rental car companies are at the airport and not in Kona. I think the only major not at the airport is Enterprise. Who are you renting from?

There really isn't much "area" to explore at the Mauna Kea Visitor's Center. You wouldn't need a whole day there. In fact, probably an hour at the most. The observatories are at the top of the mountain, so you won't be able to see them. It's only about an hour and a half to drive from Kona to Hilo, so adding in stopping at the Mauna Kea Visitor's Center would make that a half day total. Then you'd have the rest of the day to spend in and around Hilo. I would add the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden to your list of things to do there.

There is no lava currently flowing into the ocean. Parts of the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park are open, so you can definitely do some exploring there.

Vancouver, Canada
Level Contributor
1,256 posts
263 reviews
5. Re: 4N/5D Itinerary check

4 nights is a very short stay. Your itinerary uses up a full day driving from one side of island and back and wastes time packing/unpacking and checking in and out. If it were me, I would just stay and enjoy the Kona side and save the Hilo side for another time, especially if the lava activity is low. Also, the visitor center Mauna Kea is only worth a quick drive by, imo. I would not want to make a special return trip and spend a long evening up there (long drive in the dark, cold, no guarantee of clear weather/visibility, see the same stars from a nice secluded beach).

Edited: 19 September 2018, 11:44
Issaquah, Washington
Level Contributor
1 post
44 reviews
6. Re: 4N/5D Itinerary check

I travel from WA state to Kona a couple of times a year. Re: rental cars -- I ALWAYS get my car at the airport. There are deals and if you factor in any taxi you're way ahead. I get a car for a week for around $180 all in. Have someone stay with the luggage and jump on the bus to the rental yards, then swing back thru & pick up the fam/friend/luggage.

Star gazing at the mountain is wonderful, but four things not on your list are my favorites even after years of visits:

- Volcano Park and the overlook/visitor's center (should be open again);

- Waipi'o Valley north of Akaka Falls is WAY more spectacular imho (even just the overlook, but it's fun to go on one of the 4WD open air bus tours down into the valley);

- Some of the lesser known beaches are beautiful, like Hapuna (be careful if the waves are big...it's a steep shore & the waves crash in shallow water on the sand) and snorkeling in A-Bay (Anaeho'omalu Beach & bay) or Kealakekua..."where the humuhumunukunukuapua'a go swimming by". Rent snorkel gear about anywhere (but the best is from the real dive shop in Queen's Village).

- South Point and the moderate hike to the green beach.

Edited: 22 September 2018, 17:16
San Mateo...
Level Contributor
67 posts
7. Re: 4N/5D Itinerary check

Thanks everyone for the tips! Here's my revised itinerary below. This was very helpful!

Day 1:

Arrive and pick up rental at the airport. Head to Manua Kea Visitor's Center in time for sunset. Stick around for star gazing. (hopefully it's one of those free informational nights from the information center!). Head to Hilo after where our hotel will be.

Day 2: Hilo

Check out Rainbow Falls, Akaka Falls, Botanical Gardens. Explore the Farmer's Market (does it only run on a Saturday?). I've also heard you can see the glow of the volcano at night in Pahoa. Is that still true? If so, will probably check that out this evening. If time willing, will check out Waipi'o Valley in the morning but otherwise will save that for another trip.

Day 3:

Explore Volcanoes National Park: Chain of Craters Drive, Thursten Lava Tubes. Spend approximately half day here.

Visit Punalu'u beach

Drive to Captain Cook and stay overnight.

Day 4:

Kahalu'u Beach Park for snorkeling in the morning

Coffee tour

Manta Ray night snorkel

Day 5:

Head to Kona for a submarine tour in the morning, explore kona.

Fly out

Edited: 01 October 2018, 18:31
San Diego...
Level Contributor
148 posts
24 reviews
8. Re: 4N/5D Itinerary check

No glow from the volcano to see anywhere.

As I write this, Thurston lava tube remains closed, but lots of interesting views, and Chain of Craters Road is open to the sea arch.

One can only scratch the surface during such a short stay, but you'll get a taste of the island.

South Pole
Level Contributor
41,320 posts
4 reviews
9. Re: 4N/5D Itinerary check

These are some areas I would tweak.

The drive from Mauna Kea to Hilo at night can be white knuckle terrifying, no visibility due to clouds sitting on the road, and a winding road with no shoulder to pull over when you cannot see a car length ahead as to where to steer. Just don’t.

What time are you arriving at the airport?

You mention maybe visiting Waipi’o Valley from Hilo. That is like driving back to the west side, then back to the east. You can take the Hamakua Coast road to Hilo instead of the Saddle, especially if your flight leaves you a good amount of daylight. You can stop at Waipi’o Lookout.

If not enough time for that, just take the Saddle and skip Mauna Kea. The VIS is not really worth the detour, very minimal. Just get to Hilo before sunset.

Hilo FM, the full version, is Wed and Sat.

Kahalu’u is not good snorkeling any more, and it gets hordes of cruise ship tourists. The coral is all trampled. The better snorkeling is north of the airport, especially Kohala Coast, but wha time of year is this?

The submarine tour is not recommended by many. It’s more of a thing for small kids and maybe Japanese nationals (not sure why, maybe it sounds Disney?). You could not pay me o be shut up in a submarine with small children. ;-)

If your flight comes in later in the day, I like your original plan to stay west side that night.

What are you missing? Well, my favorite parts of the island are Kohala and Hamakua, Hilo, and Naalehu. So most of what I think is worth seeing. And there’s not much for a visitor to do in Naalehu, just had to include it as a place I love. As a visitor, I don’t get the reasoning for missing the northern half of the island. It’s kind of like going to California and only visiting SoCal.

San Mateo...
Level Contributor
67 posts
10. Re: 4N/5D Itinerary check

Hi KamaainaK, thanks, this is a great perspective and I appreciate your insights! I get what you mean, but with 4 days, I have no illusions about exploring all of the big island. Just looking to get a taste of the area for my first of hopefully many visits here. As a native Californian, if someone were visiting the state for 4 days, I'd absolutely tell them to stick to either Socal or Norcal :).

I'm visiting in early November. I'm really intent on star gazing at Mauna Kea, but if the night drive is really that bad, then perhaps my only options is to shell out $$$ for a tour. I definitely don't want to drive at night if it's that unsafe!

We land around 1:30pm. So definitely I think there's enough daylight to take the Hamakua coast road to Hilo, I like that we have that as an option.

Thanks for the snorkeling tip! Khalu'u was recommended by our B&B, so that sucks to hear it's not a good spot. Where in the Kohala coast do you recommend in November time?

I liked the idea of the submarine tour given that the other person I'm traveling with does not swim. But I am open to other recommendations on activities! Neither of us are big lay on the beach type of people either.

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