Trip Report: 29 Jun – 2 Jul Big Island of Hawaii
Hi everyone. A big thank you to the TA experts and other posters for all your help in planning our family, budget holiday to Hawaii. Your advice really added to the quality of our trip. My husband and I and our two children (16 and 11 years) spent 4 nights on the Big Island and 7 nights at Waikiki. It was an amazing trip. Hope you find some useful tips here in planning your upcoming trips.
29 Jun – Day 1 We flew Jetstar, Melb to Sydney and then onto the Honolulu. This was our first time flying Jetstar internationally and it all worked well. Flights were on time, food was good, no problems and our fares were about $200 per person cheaper than booking with Qantas so we were happy. From Honolulu we flew Hawaiian airlines to the Big Island, nice quick 45 minute flight on a good sized plane. We picked up our Alamo rental car at the airport. I had posted a few questions about car insurance on TA as I was unclear initially about what Australians required in Hawaii. I found the Alamo website very helpful as it has a drop down menu where you select the country you are from and it then works out your insurance needs (collision damage waiver and extended protection). We paid $55 USD per day for a full size car which we thought was pretty reasonable.
We stayed at the Kona Seaside Hotel in the newer renovated tower section. This was a great choice for us. Our room was on the top, fifth floor and had a great view of the ocean and Kona town. We don’t normally get a sea view on our budget holidays, so this was an added bonus. We paid around $140 USD per night for one room with two double beds including hot breakfast. The room was a good size, nice balcony and bathroom. I wouldn’t recommend staying in the older motel-style (garden view rooms) part of the hotel, it looked a bit drab with low ceilings. Breakfast was served at Tante’s restaurant which is right on the beach front, again great sea views over breakfast. A lovely Hawaiian lady played the ukulele while we ate and gave us a lot of interesting history about Kona town and the hotel. Apparently the Kona Seaside Hotel and Uncle Billy’s (more budget version) are owned by the same family.
We didn’t do a lot on our first afternoon in Kona, went for a drive down the coast to test out the car and husband’s driving (wrong side of road for us). Driving was good, not much traffic, just a bit of confusion as to who to give way to at stop signs (every one seems to stop?). We found drivers on the Island to be very polite and considerate not like some of the crazies here in Melbourne and petrol/gas is about two thirds of the price we pay in Australia.
I selected Rapanuii Indonesisan restaurant for our first night and it was a great choice. The food was very tasty and moderately priced. We ordered spring rolls, a seafood dish and the shrimp/macadamia stir fry. This was enough food for the four us. I loved walking along the Kona beachfront, passed the shops and restaurants and the historic church, palace and the pier. It was really lovely in the evening. Nice warm nights with a sea breeze, no nasty insects, no flies or mosquitoes or even spiders (that I saw). We enjoyed listening to the free entertainment from Bosco the amazing one man band in the court yard on the beach side of the main shops.
Day 2: We had brought our daughter’s snorkel set from home so we just needed to hire another set at Snorkel Bob’s which is located on the main beach road to the south of the Kona shops. I paid $4 for the day for a cheap snorkel set with flippers, worked perfectly fine. We snorkeled at Kahalu’u Beach just south of Kona. This was a great spot for us with easy access from the sand to some good snorkeling. We saw lots of fish, one turtle sunbaking on the rocks and another swimming. We took TA advice and got to this beach before 10 am so we were able to find parking….just. It’s a very popular spot.
From there, we continued further south to the Captain Cook monument, the painted church and the Place of Refuge. All were worth seeing and were easy to find. By this time the family were getting pretty tired. We had a quick lunch at McDonalds (cheap and easy) and then I coaxed them into more sightseeing. We drove north of Kona to Hapuna Beach. Wow, this beach is lovely, similar to North Queensland beaches, with very soft, spongy fine sand and good waves. We spent a few hours here and then continued on north to Kings Shopping Centre. The lava petroglyphs are located right next to the shops so this is a nice easy sight to visit. We had dinner at Island Fish and Chips in the shopping centre. It has nice views of the lake and the coconut fried shrimps were very tasty. We then drove directly over the road to the Queens Marketplace shops where we were just in time to see a great Hawaiian dancing- hula show. What a wonderful end to our second day.
Day 3: We took the road south to visit the Volcano. I had planned to be out the door by 8 but it was more like 9.30 am when we left. Try and get up early (earlier than us!) if you are doing this day trip. We stopped at Punalu’u bakery and bought some nice bread rolls (pretty sweet though) and doughnuts to eat in the car. We also walked across the road and bought some lovely papaya – 50 cents each from one of the local shops. We reached the volcano around 12 which is a bit on the late side and did the crater rim drive and stops at the various look out points. There was plenty of steam coming out of the crater. The ranger told us that if we were to come back at night we would see a lovely red glow from the crater but we didn’t want to be driving back to Kona in the dark. By the time we had finished the crater rim drive it was already nearly 3pm so we decided to head back to Kona stopping off at the black sands beach on the way.
There was one turtle on this beach surrounded by at least 20 tourists! I was a little annoyed that some of the tourists were less than a metre away from the turtle, but the turtle didn’t seem to mind. We were back at Kona by 7 and had dinner at the Thai restaurant on the beach side of the main shops. The food here was also nice and moderately priced. As others have commented, the ABC shops which are everywhere seem to be the most convenient places to buy alcohol and snacks, and we made regular stops here. Husband wanted to try out all the local beers (he brews his own back in Melbourne).
Day 4: The kids wanted to spend our last day snorkeling or relaxing at Hapuna Beach but we talked them into the drive to Hilo. We drove through Waimea and down the Hamakua Coast. It was a nice relaxing drive although I had expected more scenic ocean views. We visited the Akaka Falls which were really spectacular. The rainforest surrounding the falls is lovely to walk through. We spent at least an hour here and then another half an hour admiring the large Banyan Trees located just outside of the falls area back on the main road.
We took the 4 mile Pepeekeo scenic drive detour just off the main highway which was also well worth doing, lots of lovely scenery and a chance to drive at a slow pace. We reached Hilo around lunchtime and wandered through the Saturday Farmers market. We had an assortment of foods for lunch. The kids wanted burgers from Ma Burgers? next to the Farmers market but the wait was too long so we ordered subway for them. We had a lovely takeaway lunch from Puka Puka kitchen next to the Market as recommended by the TA experts. I really liked this lunch of falafel, garlic flavoured rice and salad.
We drove to Onekahakaha Beach which is about 10 minutes out of Hilo. This is a lovely spot for a picnic with plenty of shade, toilets and nice safe swimming for younger children. After a few hours at this beach (where does the time go??) we decided to skip the Rainbow falls and headed back to Kona taking the Saddle mountain road. The road was well sealed apart from just a few km of roadwork on the Hilo side. For our last dinner in Kona we ate at Seiji Sushi Restaurant in the laneway near Tante’s Restaurant. We enjoyed our selections of sushi, California rolls and tempura all moderately priced.
Day 5: It was time to make our way back to the airport. The car rental return went very smoothly. We simply parked the car at Alamo took our bags out of the boot, signed a form and went straight onto the shuttle bus to the airport. Our Hawaiian airlines flight to Honolulu was on time and before we knew it we were off the plane and ready for our next lovely 7 days. I’ll hopefully post the Honolulu report on the Oahu website soon….
My main tip for the Big Island would be to try and allow at least 4 full days. We loved the beaches and would have liked an extra day to spend snorkeling and lazing around, 3 full days really wasn’t enough. Although we snorkeled and swam at beaches on Oahu Island, I found the Big Island’s Hapuna Beach to be the best of the ones we visited, and we preferred the snorkeling on the Big Island. It’s a great place and we hope to get back there soon. Thanks again for all your help.