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Big Island Itinerary help/feedback

San Mateo...
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Big Island Itinerary help/feedback

We recently booked a last minute trip to the Big Island and are a bit unsure about our itinerary. We have never been to Hawaii before and we only have 5 days (My SO could not get off work for any longer unfortunately). We could really use some advice/feedback on our itinerary!

About us: We are a couple in our very late 20’s, and we both love hiking (we take days hikes regularly around the mountains here in the SF Bay Area). Must sees for him: volcanoes, lava (if possible), and star gazing at Mauna Kea. Must sees for me: Snorkeling, waterfalls, black/green sand beaches, rain-forests, botanical gardens, and farmer's markets. We are both obsessive foodies, but that is not the main purpose of this trip other than coffee (I haven’t started researching restaurants yet; however, any recommendations are appreciated). When we travel we try to avoid huge crowds/tourist traps and large group tours. We prefer to do things on our own if possible; however we do make exceptions (especially for boat tours… I love boats!).

Here is an itinerary that we are considering:

8pm Feb. 10th - Arrive at KOA and pick up a rental car

Night 1 – Stay somewhere on the north west Coast not too far from KOA

Day 1: Thurs. Feb. 11th

- Start really early at Pololu Valley – perhaps hike down and back up real quick

- Waipio Valley – I am not sure if we should just go to the lookout or try to do a tour (I have read about all reasons we should not try hiking here alone). Can you see Hi’ilawe Falls from the lookout? Are there any hiking tours (I haven’t read about any)? I have read about the Waipio Valley Shuttle tour, but I am skeptical about how well you can see the valley from the tinted windows of a van. Do they let you out at all? Personally, I would love to see the valley on horseback, but my SO has never been near a horse and is very apprehensive about this. Is Na’alapa stables good for complete novices? Also is there any way to see the black sand beaches?

- Hamakua Coast Drive

- Akaka Falls

- HTBG if we have time (this will probably depend on if we do a tour at Waipio valley or not)

- night time – Lava viewing area (if there is anything to see)

Night 2 – Stay on the West coast – DH says that we should stay area Hilo; however, there are some really nice sounding B&B’s available in Pahoa area (around the Leilani estates area). Which would be best?

Day 2: Fri. Feb. 12th

- Volcano National Park

Night 3 – same as Night 2

Day 3: Sat. Feb. 13th

- Morning farmers markets

- HTBG if we haven’t been there

- Mauna Kea - star gazing at the visitor’s center – it is a new moon and my SO is super excited

- Drive down to Kona – my SO has driven lots of narrow mountain roads in the Santa Cruz Mnt. area and the Amalfi coast in Italy, so he is not concerned about this drive. Is it really bad?

Night 4 – Stay somewhere on the West Coast. I am not sure where on the west coast we should stay… Also, I am torn between staying at a resort like place on the beach or staying at a B&B at a coffee plantation or something similar. We would love to stay at the beach, but crowded resorts with lots of kids are not our thing… we normally prefer the atmosphere of B&Bs.

Day 4: - Sun. Feb. 14th

- Morning/Afternoon - Snorkeling – I am looking at doing a tour since we have never been snorkeling before…. and as I mentioned: I love boats!

- Evening - ??? a nice dinner somewhere perhaps ??? It will be valentine’s day (which IMO is unfortunate), so I would need to book right away.

Night 5 – Same as night 4.

Day 5 – Mon. Feb. 15th

- Tour a coffee plantation if we do not stay at one

- The southern part of the island – green/black sand beaches

- fly out of Kona at 9pm

I know this is a lot for our short trip…is it too much? Are there any blatant flaws in our timing? Also, is there anything that we should skip or add (should we do a typical Luau?)? Any advise would be greatly appreciated! I hope to book all the hotels/B&Bs this weekend and the V-day restaurant (the flight is booked already). We are extremely excited!

Thanks in advance!


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Maryland, USA
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1. Re: Big Island Itinerary help/feedback

I never recommend starting out driving, but if this is really what you want then maybe?

I'm just a fellow planner and the experts will figure this better and fill in when they get up. But here are some thoughts.

day 1 Tuesday

Drive up the 190 beautiful drive, see Hawi, Kapa'au, Pololu, Waipio( hike down to the bottom if it's safe). The Tsunami memorial is near here some where heading down 18 I believe.

See Akaka Falls, Botanical Gardens and Umauma falls, Rainbow Falls and Pepe Falls. Stay In Hilo See Coconut Island and the gardens here.

Mac nut Factory if time.

Not sure if anything else will fit, maybe.

Day 2 Wednesday

Hilo has one of the best Farmers Markets, So start here early

Do Lava Tree state park and the beautiful drives here.

Maybe some hiking?

Do a helicopter ride or Kalapana look out or what ever is available to see the the lava.

In the Late afternoon.

Maybe Go the VNP and see the films and begin education on the park. Maybe a little touring of the Park.

Day 3 thursday

Entire day VNP see everthing you missed and hike.

Head out to Black Sands Beach and Sunset at Place of Refuge.

Spend the night in Kona Area.

Stay somewhere where they'll keep your luggage on day 5 until time for the Airport.

Day 4 This is a challenge if you want to see Mauna Kea and the sunset then take a tour, it will use up your entire day.

If you are early risers you could sit on a beautiful beach in the morning.

Day 5

Early Am Snorkel tour take one that goes to more places like Dolphin Discoveries.

Relax on Hapuna Beach or Mauna Kea Which ever is safe, Big waves in February.

Nice dinner fly home.

This is pretty break neck. You can fit it in, but you'll be exhausted.

Get a good tour book. I love Big Island Revealed but it's controversial. It's filled with Hikes and maps and such. Like a having a tour guide.

If the experts will fill in restaurants and hotels you could do this.

They will tell you not to. It's not relaxing. You will see a lot though.

They will say pick a few things of most importance.

However, I think this is a little better laid out than your original one. I'll post you some web sites. You can browse glean what you will.

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2. Re: Big Island Itinerary help/feedback










Maryland, USA
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3. Re: Big Island Itinerary help/feedback

This a great Puna Scenic Dr.

Realize I've collected this here on the boards, none of this info. is mine originally.

The experts here are awesome and knowledgeable and will recognize their work.


Should we do the 130 to the 132 to the 137?

Does the 137 connect to the 130 in Kalapana?

What about Pahoa-Pohoiki Rd. is this a beautiful drive?

And Opihikad-Kamaili Rd.? Is hwy 137 the "Red Road"?

Here's a Puna good drive guide:


Yes this is a nice scneic dirve start out by noon from Vlocano or Hilo and stop at Lava Tree, Kopoho Tide Pools, Hot Ponds, Isaac Hale, Mckensie State Park, Star of Sea Painted Church before going back to end of road 130 for lava viewing at Kalapana area (note end of 137 is dead end).

137 used to have red payement but its mostly black asphalt now but drive is really pretty thru the tree tunnels (leave your lights on).

If going lava viewing arrive before sun down and bring flash light, hiking shoes, umberella, zoom lense for camera. Maybe head into Pahoa for dinner. Several nice restaurants like NIng's Thai restaurant.

Please note on this route never ever leave your car keys unattended and take all of your valuables with you when leaving the car especially at hot ponds keep an eye on your keys.

Yes, 137 connects to 130 in Kalapana.

Pahoa-Pohoiki is very scenic, especially after you turn off Hwy 132 (right after Lava Tree State Park, bear right. In fact, you'll be going straight while Hwy 132 is making sort of a left turn. Instead of 130 to 132 to 137, I'd suggest 130 to 132 and then the Pohoiki Road. After a while it becomes a one lane road. That's TOTAL one lane. Can't be widened because there are hundreds of large protected mango trees on both sides of the roads. Drive carefully and pay attention to oncoming traffic. From Pohoki make a detour to the hot ponds a mile away (towards Kapoho) and then come back the same way, and then proceed on 137 (which indeed is known as "Red Road").

The Opihikao Kamaili Road is very scenic and one of my favorites when we have guests here. Another one lane road. In order to combine it with the above you'd have to go back the same way you came, though. If you have plenty of time you could do: 130 to 132 to Pohoiki, then 137 to Opihikao. Kamili Road to Kalapana and then 137 from Kalapana past Kehena to Pohoiki. Or maybe all the way to Kapoho. 137 is very scenic.

Lesson learned, avoid weekends. (Doubt Saturday is much better than Sunday, although the market does bring more people out).

I love driving both 130 and 132 going towards the ocean. IMHO 130 is not nearly as pretty going away from the ocean. 132 is pretty either way although better with the ocean view. hawaiipalms has given you some ways to get creative and turn the loop into more of a skein.

Definitely go to the end of the road at Kalapana. Definitely drive the part of 137 from the 130 intersection to past Kehena and up to Pohoiki - whichever direction you go.

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4. Re: Big Island Itinerary help/feedback

I'm giving you so much, because you're talking about this February which isn't far away. You don't have a good feel for where things are and how far away from each other they are.

I've saved a lot of things for my own planning.

I do make mistakes. So, hopefully the experts won't let me.

Good luck

Edited: 23 January 2010, 13:35
Pahoa. HI
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5. Re: Big Island Itinerary help/feedback

Wow...you're all over the map here - I don't even know where to begin! Stay on the West coast, stay in Hilo, stay in Pahoa area etc...?!

I think you need to make a list of the places you want to visit and then sort things out in order of priority, in order to have a more coherent plan. For one thing, since you're arriving into KOA at night, it would make sense for you to spend the first few nights on the Kona side. And then move over to the Hilo side for the last few nights. On your very last day with an evening departure from KOA you can easily check out from a Hilo location in the morning and make your way over to KOA that day, stopping here and there along the way. I live in Leilani Estates and as you already know there are a few B&Bs in this area. You would be reasonably close to all of Puna as well as Hilo (half an hour away), but the Hamakua coast (north of Hilo) is obviously further away and would be easier/quicker to reach from a Hilo location. HVNP is a 45 min. drive from Leilani and about 35 mins from Hilo. Based on your interests you may just find Puna more interesting to stay in. This is more or less in the middle of a rainforest, and there are a few blacksand beaches nearby. Can easily give you more info even though most of it is already in the posts above.

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6. Re: Big Island Itinerary help/feedback


As I see from your post, you are arriving on a Wednesday night and leaving on a Monday night. So the time is limited...but it is what it is...

First thing to do if you haven't already is Reserve a Vehicle!

That time period is busy on the Island and some of the companies have already sold out.

Your stated interests should be well suited for the Island......Your love of Hiking, star gazing, snorkeling, Botanical Gardens will make for a terrific adventure.I can tell from your original post that you have been doing some reading/research.

Certainly have your accomodation all booked prior to Departure and a plan in mind. My advice would generally be to try explore the island at a reasonable/enjoyable pace. The Big Island is indeed a fascinating destination.

Try not to let the trip turn into an episode of "The Amazing Race"

Have Fun!

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7. Re: Big Island Itinerary help/feedback

Only had a few minutes earlier. Now I have a bit more time. If it were me, this is how I would plan it (and still be somewhat flexible):

We 10 Feb: arr KOA. Drive to hotel nearby.

Th 11 Feb: Drive up to Hawi and Pololu Valley. Possibly Waipio later same day. All depends on how much time you spend at Pololu and if you hike down to the ocean. And about Waipio - you can certainly hike down into the valley and then out to the ocean, walk across to the opposite side and for instance hike up the Z trail for a great view. Give it a couple of hours.

Fr 12 Feb: Check out from hotel and drive to Hilo side (northern route). You could easily do a side tour to Akaka (just be aware of potential breakin problem at parking lot since you'll have your luggage), as well as HTBG that afternoon. Security not an issue here. Dinner either in Hilo, or Pahoa, all depending on your timing and where you'll be staying.

Sa 13 Feb: Farmers' Market in Hilo (Mamo Street - the earlier the better), then to HVNP for the better part of the day.

Su 14 Feb: Maku'u Farmers' Market in the morning. This is on Highway 130, about 3 miles north of Pahoa. Very very different from the Sat market in Hilo. This is a farmers' market but also the social event of the week for many people in lower Puna. Explore the Puna coastline (Highway 137) in the afternoon, and if the lava has resumed, then get there by sunset. You could also do that Sat evening, all depending on exactly where you stay. And obviously if there's any lava! Cafe Pesto in Hilo has a very nice special Valentine's Dinner (usually around $50 total for appetizer, entré and dessert). I'm sure there are other Valentine dinners as well. I just don't know! You would definitely need to make a reservation, and presumably ASAP (=before you leave on your trip).

Mon 15 Feb: check out of accomodation and head back to Kona the southern way. Punalu'u Bakery in Na'alehu, Pu'uhonua o Honaunau (City of Refuge) on the Kona side.

Drawback 1: you'll have your luggage in the car on two of these days, but considering your short time here and what you want to see, don't see any real good alternatives.

Drawback 2: lots of driving in a short period, but apparently you're fine with that!

Edited: 23 January 2010, 19:13
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8. Re: Big Island Itinerary help/feedback

You're getting good advice. I was overwhelmed by Day one. Pololu and Waipi'o is a day, don't even think about doing HTBG and getting to Hilo. Instead, enjoy the late afternoon on the west side near the ocean.

Mauna Kea trips leave from the west side.

Good advice to do more west side stuff before you relocate.

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9. Re: Big Island Itinerary help/feedback

Thanks for all the advice!

I figured we are trying to do too much... I wanted to come for 10 days! We will just have to come back (fortunately CA is not that far a flight!).

We narrowed it down and decided that the main 3 things we want to do are VNP, Snorkel tour, and Mauna Kea star gazing at the visitor's station (the next time we come might not be during a new moon).

hawaiipalms, I really like your suggestion of spending the first 2 nights on the Kona side and the last 3 in the Hilo area. Unfortunately my SO (who is completely fine doing a ton of driving during the trip) is not willing to do a lot of driving any day that we are flying and insists on staying on the Kona side the day we are arrive and leave... I don't understand why, but I am lucky enough to get chauffeured around, so I suppose I can't complain.

Anyway, I am glad to hear that we can hike down to Waipio valley; although I was wondering if it may be too slippery this time of year. I believe on our first day we will just sort of play it by ear and enjoy ourselves, but still try and wind up in Hilo around sunset via the north coast. Whatever we don't have time for, we will just have to see next time.

There won't be much time for sitting/laying around and relaxing, but I don't like to do much of that on my vacation anyways (I figure I can sit around at home).

I'm still trying to figure out the snorkel tour and the exact places to stay... so much more research to do! I'm sure I'll have more questions as the details come together.

Thanks! Robin

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10. Re: Big Island Itinerary help/feedback

Sea Quest and Dolphin Discoveries would allow you to see the most. They have two stops and do sea caves. Many do Fairwinds. It simply goes to Kekeakalua Bay, I'm sure I'm spelling that wrong. It provides lunch and has all the equipment and has a slide and lots of fun and a bathroom, but many more people.

The other two are a little different their smaller boats, less people, snack only. Web sites are very good. You could stay your first night near the pick up area for which ever of these tours you choose.

Hawaii Forest and Trail does the Mauna Kea tour, I believe you can do that out of either side of the Island.