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Driving on Big Island

Florida
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Driving on Big Island

Is it safe to drive from VNP at night back to our hotel (The Fairmont Orchid) Meaning are there street lights, easy to find hotel in dark, etc.) By the time we drive to Hilo to take a 50 minute helicopter ride, continue to the park, walk around, I'm assuming it will be dark by the time we are done sightseeing in the park.

Lexington, South...
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1. Re: Driving on Big Island

You don't want to be driving back from the park in the dark. Having driven both routes recently I can tell you it's nothing I'd do again if I didn't absolutely have to.

Your best bet is to get up early with the sun and get a head start on your way over. If you get up early enough and thus get to the park early enough and IF you can schedule your helicopter flight around noon, you might have between 2-3 hours in the park before your flight. That'd give you some time to explore around Crater Rim Drive at the least.

After your flight you could return to the park to explore what you missed and head down Chain of Craters (seeing the same sights from the ground you just saw from the air).

But I'd get started back no later than 5:30pm or so. Whatever you do, don't take the south route. And if it's raining, get started earlier than 5:30 back. A recent accident claimed the lives of a few folks right near the entrance to the park - proof that driving in this area at night, especially in the fog or rain is NOT something you want to be doing. Not trying to be an alarmist, but it's very dark out there and is nothing like the driving most folks are used to. Only when you get back to the Gold Coast would you have good "street lighting."

Florida
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2. Re: Driving on Big Island

Shouldn't we do the helicopter ride first since it's on our way to the park instead of wasting time driving back and forth from the park to the helicopter? It is my understanding the Hilo airport is approx. 40 minutes drive to the park. Thanks

Lexington, South...
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3. Re: Driving on Big Island

One could argue that, I'll agree. It really depends on your schedule and how early you would theoretically get to the park.

You can do the park in a day if you rush and don't do any of the great trails. You won't be able to linger much, but you should be able to do a lot of it in a day, even if you start around noon. Just be warned that visitation increases dramatically around 11am. At 6:30-7am, there is almost no one in the park.

Washington DC...
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4. Re: Driving on Big Island

Driving back in the dark is a bad idea--roads are 2 lane, winding, and darker than you can imagine. I prefer to at least be on the coastal highway in Kohala (if driving back from the north) or past Kailua (if coming back from the south) before dark.

The east side gets dark earlier, obviously. Even the main highway to the western resorts is no picnic in the dark--bright headlights in front of and behind you, etc. Plus passing cars....and DARK.

There are onnly a few street lights at the report entrances (light pollution for the observatories means they are yellow). You will have no trouble finding Mauna Lani Drive; there is a stop light. It's getting there that can be scarey.

So we prefer to leave VNP by 4 or 4:30 PM. Sunset is not all that late, even in summer. It is 7:06 pm in Kona on 6/21; 5:51 pm on 12/21.

We get there by noon and have time for a long hike (Kilauea Iki, 2 hr) and another couple of short hikes or longer drives (e.g., Crater Rim cruise and stop or down Chain of Craters). We don't dawdle or stop for lunch.

With the helicopter, you could skip the long (2hr rt) Chain of Crater dirive since you will have seen what there is in the way of panorama and lava and concentrate on sights up top.

I'd get an early helicopter tour and not backtrack. Getting to VNP super early and doing the heli later sounds appealing but I think the weather can close in in the afternoon.

Florida
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5. Re: Driving on Big Island

Which is the best route to get to the park and back from our hotel? (The Fairmont Orchid) I thought there was only one way. After reading the last few comments we will definately not be driving back in the dark. We will be there with our 10 yr old son. What is the best things to do in the park?

Phoenix, Arizona
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6. Re: Driving on Big Island

I'd recommend early helicopter rides in general. The air is much calmer in the cooler part of the day. The rising warmer air can really bounce you around - my experience is limited to four passenger, single engine planes, not helicopters, but I think it would still apply.

Lexington, South...
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7. Re: Driving on Big Island

Route 19 (Belt Highway) through Waimea to Hilo (aka the Northern Route). Then take Hilo to the park as you had planned. Expect traffic in Waimea, especially if you are around it during rush hour. It's been really bad there lately. Hilo can get busy around 4-5pm too.

Lexington, South...
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8. Re: Driving on Big Island

Not to get off topic, but konainjune, which companies have you flown in HI with? I'm looking to catch a flight for photography purposes in a few months, and I'm thinking a plane is the way to go. Helicopters are just too expensive to charter and you can't shoot through the bubble glass.

Mahalo.

Island of Hawaii...
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9. Re: Driving on Big Island

What JC said about driving in the dark.

It's easy enough to find your hotel at night, once you get there!

You are driving 2 lane road for 2-3 hours, staring at headlights, going over narrow old bridges and around deep gulches. There is no light whatsoever other than any moonlight, no streetlights, no ambient glow, and not always very good reflectors or center line.

Then add rain and water on the road reflecting the headlights.

Also the occasional branch or rock in the road, the possibility of an accident in your path. Fog. Rain can come down so hard it's like white out.

What else? No cell phone reception if you get in trouble, no shoulder on most of the road, difficult for anyone to pull over and help you if you needed assistance. Not patrolled very well.

I know the road very well; I still don't like driving it at night.

Staying at the Orchid is lovely. It is not the best choice for fully experiencing VNP as it's as far away as you can get. There's a reason there are so many B&B's and rentals in Volcano, because people who really want to explore the park opt to spend the night.

Driving from the Orchid, the VNP is the only thing you should put on one day's itinerary in order to get back by daylight. No diversions other than quick lunch. Perhaps consider taking the circle island helo tour leaving from Waikoloa?

Florida
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10. Re: Driving on Big Island

Thanks for all the help. I'm so glad I asked before we went. How long do we need in the park? Is 3-4 hours enough?