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4 days on Big Island in Sept Solo

Asheville, NC
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4 days on Big Island in Sept Solo

This is my 4th trip to the Hawaiian Islands (Omaha once, Maui 3 times, Kauai once using splitting time between 2 islands) and I never thought I would be able to go even one time. This will not be my last. I am trying to get a taste of each island. This year I have booked a condo in Kauai for 10 days (last yr I did 6 days to get a feel for the island and totally fell in love with th pace and people) This year I want to get a taste of the Big Island. I will be staying in Pahala for 4 night so I will only have 31/2 days to see the island from there. Would love to go to Mauna Keabut sounds like weather is tricky and i think I would have to stay closer due to the drive. Would love to see lava flow IF it is flowing in September. Looks like a lot of quaint towns. I can do the beach in Kauai so sunbathing is not high on the list on the BI, although the green sand beach sounds cool.

I am pretty open to ideas. While I am going to Hawaii to relax at the slow island pace i want to see some things that just can't be missed on the BI and get a feel for if I want to return for a longer stay there another time. What's safe to do solo or with a tour? What could I do from Pahala and have time to enjoy? I love to hike, enjoy waterfalls and magnificent views. Suggestions? Should I fly in toone airport and out of the other as some suggest? How do I embrace the BI in those few days and not be on the run every minute? Thanks!

Island of Hawaii...
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1. Re: 4 days on Big Island in Sept Solo

Well, I don't know what to say. I think Pahala is honestly right up there competing for worst base on the island. Not only does it have no infrastructure for tourism or good restaurants, or a swimmable beach, but it is hours away from the biggest draws on the island other than VNP. And the drive is boring to go around the south to the west side, long and tedious, IMHO.

But that is not all. Pahala has horrible air quality. It gets hit with the worst of the volcanic fumes, it is directly downwind from the vents.

four days will not give you a taste of this island from Pahala. You can explore maybe one region, or two, or you can see a whole lot of highway time and not experience much else.

This island is 9 times the size of Kaua'i, NINE.

At the least it deserves a 7-7 split.

I don't know what to say, because your states style of taking time to breathe and feel the pace, which I like, is completely at odds with any plan to sample the main areas of this island in 3 1/2 days, which can only be done at whirlwind pace.

If you do decide to stay in and close to Pahala and take it slow, it will certainly be slow enough, as I doubt anything is open after 9 PM. It used to be it was all dark and shut down shortly after sunset, but that must have changed by now.

Driving at night is no good here, so unless you have friends there it will be very solitary at night.

Unless you are staying at Punalu'u timeshares, which I don't consider to be Pahala exactly but they are close.

I certainly wish you luck, but it is tough to give advice for a first time visit when a very odd lodgings base is set in stone before you ask if that will work. I just think it is a gigantic mistake.

Island of Hawaii...
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2. Re: 4 days on Big Island in Sept Solo

As a PS, I realize that lodgings in Pahala tend to market themselves as off the beaten path and the real old Hawai'i -- which is true. However, the Big Island has so much less density than Kaua'i that you do not need to go stay in the middle of nowhere to attain that type of feel.

You could for example have stayed in Hawi or Honoka'a and been a short drive to beautiful scenery and major attractions. Ideally you would do a split stay to take in the east side as well. You should not get your hopes up about seeing lava. Anything can happen with the eruption, but it will need to shift its plumbing around to send any lava to where it can be viewed other than by air.

As for safety, you are as a solo female at higher risk and just need to use the same standards you would at home. Don't accept invitations from strangers or hang out at night gatherings. It is not safe. It only takes one person who is bent inside and charming on the outside to make things go very wrong.

Try to meet other visitors and I would have said to stay at a B&B to have both hosts and fellow guests for extra opportunities to do things with people.

Asheville, NC
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3. Re: 4 days on Big Island in Sept Solo

Thanks for the frankness and quick response. I have booked a timeshare in Punaluuas you guessed but the address says Pahala. I can still cancel without a fee but I am also a budget traveler and this timeshare came as part of an annual timeshare, which is why there. It is actually completely booked except for this 4-day window. I couldn't find much about the area and I guess your reply explains why.(THANKS) From someone who has not been there it did look like it was fairly close to VNP and mid-way between Kona Coast and Hilo. Without your comments I would have thought it was a great location from my research (just booked this week). If I cancel there I will need to locate and pay for another place so can you recommend the 'right' area for a short visit? I certainly want to have a good experience and then plan a longer trip next time and further in advance. This is why I love travel forum...unless you are there it is often hard to know what to expect.

Thanks--

LA
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4. Re: 4 days on Big Island in Sept Solo

You do NOT want to use this place as a base from which to explore The Big Island. It is not at all convenient and it's location does not convey any special atmosphere, unlike Hanalei or Hana would.

As KK mentions, you need more time on TBI. A week would be better. A couple of nights on the east side in Hilo or, better, Volcano, to enjoy Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park and the Hilo sights.

Then the rest on the west side closer to beaches and historical sights.

Kona
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5. Re: 4 days on Big Island in Sept Solo

I'm going to go against the grain LOL and suggest that as long as you understand that the Pahala/Punalu'u area is not at all a convenient base from which to explore the entire island, you can create a unique and rather wonderful Hawaii Island experience by spending your time exploring the areas within an hour or so drive from your Sea Mountain condo - something very few visitors ever have a chance to do.

The other caveat is, as mentioned above, that the air quality can be bad due to vog.

But there are upsides. You will have a chance to spend some time on the beautiful, rugged shorelines of the area, and get to know the area around the black sand beach at Punalu'u, which is a deeply spiritual, mystical place that most tourists just see on the fly as they stop to take a photo and look for honu (green sea turtles) before continuing on their drive.

You'll be able to explore the wonderful Ka'u coffee country, visiting farms and talking story with old-timers about the sugar plantation days. And the Wood Valley Buddhist Temple is a wonderful place to visit, especially if you meditate.

Volcanoes National Park is only 45 minutes away, and you are well positioned to check out some of the Ka'u Desert Trail sections, which are fascinating but rarely visited by tourists. Also, the Kahuku section of the park, which is opposite direction from Punalu'u than the main part of VNP, is very close to you. It's only open on weekends, but there are a number of great hikes there, from 1/2 mile to 4 miles long, that will give you a completely different perspective on the topography and flora of the flank of Mauna Loa than anything you will be in the main part of VNP. You won't see waterfalls in this area, but there are magnificent views everywhere.

Your 4 days would fly by very quickly! You will only have explored a tiny part of our island, but you'll have had an experience that few people every get a chance to enjoy.

Edited: 15 February 2014, 19:20
Big Island, Hawaii
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6. Re: 4 days on Big Island in Sept Solo

With four days I would just pick one part of the island. It's really not enough time to try to see both the west coasts and Volcano. You don't mention snorkeling...that's not very good on Kauai and excellent on the BI including the worldclass manta ray night snorkel. If that's a priority I'd stay on the Kohala Coast which will also give you easy access to Mauna Kea (in September the weather will be good for a Visitors Center visit), and North Hawaii and Hamakua which have great hiking. If snorkeling isn't a priority, I would look over in Hamakua and/or Hilo area. That would also put you close enough to do a day trip to Volcanoes National Park. If you tell us your nightly accommodation budget we can suggest some specifics.

While I agree in general with wahineokewaa about the Sea Mountain area, for your purposes of wanting to get a sense of the BI to hopefully visit again, I would absolutely not stay there.

Island of Hawaii...
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7. Re: 4 days on Big Island in Sept Solo

It is great to hear more from you and see you have a lot of perspective. I apologize if I was overly negative last night, but good to hear you took the comments in stride.

I also see what wahine is saying, but Iʻm not convinced that a first time visitor can access the area in this deep way. I feel this area is not warm to visitors. Unless someone has a business, they made me feel like they would prefer I just pass through. On my first visit, I was staying in rural Honaunau, which was quite non-touristy and off the path, so it wasnʻt like I was shocked by leaving my comfort zone.

I mostly did not like the ever-present wind and the inhospitable shoreline, and the volcano-stunted vegetation. I grew up and went to junior college in the desert, and I do have an appreciation of desert spirituality (Kaʻu District is desert, though not Southwestern US style with succulents everywhere). But as a resident I knew how to find the places to tap into that; it was not obvious on first look.

When the residents of Kaʻu come out for a festival, you can see what a cool place it is, but going by what you see on a regular day, you wonʻt see much. And itʻs very hot and very windy. Punaluʻu was and is a loathed development by many who live there, who protested its proposed expansion. If I were going to stay there, I would want some darling cottage up in beautiful Wood Valley, were the air not so bad.

As for Punaluʻu beach, the vibe is not particularly welcoming from locals if you go on a weekend when there are big family parties. It is not hostile, but there is a sense of us and them that is understandable, but can be off-putting. As a visitor, finding other visitors who are on a similar journey is to me more fun than wandering around trying to explore local places and getting treated as the outsider I am.

Will do a second post with more ideas on what you can do.

Island of Hawaii...
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8. Re: 4 days on Big Island in Sept Solo

So, the Big Island is like two islands, east and west. The Hamakua Coast is essentially west from say Kalopa (east of Honokaʻa) to Waimea, and east from Hakalau to Hilo. I consider Punaluʻu east but Ka Lae (South Point) more west. Note though that rental car agenciess currently do not allow you to drive into Ka Lae or to the trailhead for Papakoloea (green sand beach). They used to allow it, but in the last couple of years they have made South Point Road a prohibited roadway.

If you look at this as two still very large islands (Puna alone is larger than the island of Oahu), then see you are proposing less than two days per "island." The things is, if you pick one or the other, then you will not see all the different climatic and terrain changes of the island. You will be picking wet side or dry side, neither of which gives you a sense of the whole.

If you can take 2-3 days from Kauaʻi, then you could fly in one airport, tour around, then relocate, tour, and fly out the other side. This would be much better for your quick survey. Also consider that rental car rates are best for 5-7 days. A 10 day rate is going to include a weekly rate + 3 daily rate days, and a 4 day rate will only be good if you cover a weekend just so.

You could indeed use the price break at Punaluʻu to cover VNP and take a day trip up to Hilo and just north. It is simply not practical at all to visit the west and north of the island from there. (That is my favorite part.)

If you do end up splitting the stay, you might look at Waimea. September would be a good time to stay there. Waimea is not a major lodgings place, but it has some B&Bʻs. The Jacaranda Inn has a room or two that are quite economical. (This is a historic inn. I believe Jackie Kennedy stayed there long ago.) From there you can easily drive to North Kohala, South Kohala, Waipiʻo (Overlook, need a tour for the Valley), and Hamakua Coast, or even Kailua-Kona. It is a very good hub for touring in four directions.

Waimea is unpleasantly cold, wet, and windy in winter, but September is our hottest month and I would think the cooler temps would be refreshing. Punaluʻu is going to be quite hot at that time.

Jacaranda Inn (the trees will not be in bloom in September, but itʻs still a pretty site)

http://www.jacarandainn.com/

The Hibiscus Room is the affordable room:

http://www.jacarandainn.com/hibiscus.html

September is the lowest season of the year, so wherever you stay I would try to negotiate something better than rack rate. As one person using it lightly at the time of lowest occupancy, you have a good position.

As far as beaches go, I think it is fine to forego sunbathing (but then I never sunbathe any more) for Kauaʻi, but I think you definitely should find time to visit the beaches and compare them to Kauaʻi. The lack of crowds in the parking and on the beach are special to this island, and each beach is unique both here and on Kauaʻi. Much of ancient Hawaiian life was lived along the fruitful shoreline, so the shoreline is archaeologically rich.

Asheville, NC
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9. Re: 4 days on Big Island in Sept Solo

Thank you so much KK, Shea, and Wahine for your ideas. They have given me a lot to think about. Last year I was able to extend my time to 6 days in Kauai and 6 in Maui which was a huge advantage to stupidly splitting 7 days between Oahu and Maui on my first trip and 10 days in Maui the second time (3 days of that in Hana). I was hesitant last year to go to Kaui but heard it was beautiful (true enough). 7days /6 nights there was just not enough to relax and also see the island. As you say, it is pretty small and I still felt rushed. I made it out to Hanalei twice but it was a trip from Poipu. I like Maui and could do that trip again,. but am fascinated by the Big Island and want the new adventure. I can't rebook Kauai because of availability and my work schedule but am looking to see if I can expand at least 1-2 more days and still have a job when I come back to NC. I haven't cancelled Sea Mtn YET and now have a couple of ways to look at it. Wahine, I love your positive outlook of making the best of what could be a very bad situation and If I can't make other plans work budgetarily then you have given me some great ideas. But, KK, your comment about first time visitors really hit home and reminded me how much I loved Hana but how very much I felt like an outsider my three days there. I went to a local baseball ballgame and to the general store and talked to locals, but it was very much an alone feeling I wouldn't take back the experience at all and the locals were very nice, but I am not sure I would do it again. I have been both glad to hear about my 'poor' selection but also bummed a bit since none of my other timeshare options on the BI have any availability.

Shea, thanks for the thought about snorkeling. I did some snorkeling and paddle boarding in Maui last year. It was fun and thanks for the tip on the best place to do it if time allows. I love a beautiful sunrise and sunset and a good 'safe' hike to see waterfalls, beautiful beaches, and unusual sites. I love small , quaint towns. With that in mind, could you have a bit more patience with me as I start pulling this together based on your help so far?.

Please see if this makes more sense. Fly into either Hilo or Kona and out of the other (although car rental is more expensive that way and yes fewer days is more costly). I'd love to star gaze at Mauna Kea if that makes sense to do but it sounds like driving around at night is a bit risky not knowing the roads.. Sounds like the lava flow is a hit or miss but VNP is a must. I could keep Sea Mtn for VNP as you suggest but did find some B&Bs in Pahoa, Keaau, or Volcano that are reasonable. They are look inland so no ocean views. Maybe two nights in that area to do VNP and Hilo? Then, does it make sense to head north -northwest and staybalance of days I can get (2-3 nights) in the Waimea area (Jacaranda Inn looks cool) or drive on around to Kailua Kona? It still looks like a lot of driving and I haven't checked mapquest for driving between areas. Where would I catch the best sunrises and sunsets without traveling to the peak of Mauna Kea every night? Since I am traveling from NC, I see a lot of sunrises and am pretty pooped shortly after sunset. Also, if I can see any of the best spots by horseback, is there one you recommend? I am still trying to pack too much in, but maybe I can get a taste of the BI. You have all helped so much and I appreciate the honesty and frankness. Having an active forum is very helpful especially when I am traveling from so very far away. Thanks

Island of Hawaii...
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10. Re: 4 days on Big Island in Sept Solo

Hi! I love your thoughtfulness. The fact you are open to us means I will have patience and keep going after fine tuning this trip.

On the one way rental -- there is a lot of wiggle room on the drop fee and even on which direction costs more. Look at Hawaii Discount Car Rental; there is a page listing drop fees. Always go through to the whole cost estimate as no drop fee might go with a higher rate.

If you are a Costco member, you can book Alamo with no drop fee. I find Alamo comes in lowest. YMMV.

Small villages -- some are so small that you canʻt see the community by looking at the commercial businesses, so I will mention some that have enough presence to visit and feel like you are in a village.

Hawi and Kapaʻau in North Kohala.

Honokaʻa in Hamakua.

Laupahoehoe, North Hilo.

Honomu, South Hilo (which is still north of Hilo).

Hilo itself, the old downtown and the Bayfront, feels very small town in these areas.

Pahoa (but seedy characters loitering)

Naʻalehu

Pahala

the coffee towns of Honaunau, Captain Cook, Kealakekua, Kainaliʻu, Honalo, and then Holualoa up the hill above Kailua-Kona.

Waimea, although it has a strip layout that can make it feel like it exists for highway traffic, but thatʻs not true.

Horseback riding:

Waipiʻo Valley, absolutely, very hard to see if not horseback, mule wagon, or van tour. Allow half a day not counting transit to the pickup point.

Great sunsets -- Hilo Bay and north, Puna coast.

Great sunsets - Kohala beaches, North Kona beaches, Mahukona in North Kohala, anywhere on the west side is good.