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Driving the coast of the Big Island

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Driving the coast of the Big Island

Our family( son, wife, her parents) has booked a private home near Kona for a week, We will probably do fairly touristy things in that week. I'm normally more a single traveler who frequently avoids the tourist track. So....I'm thinking of going three or four days early, renting a jeep, driving the coast all the way around and hopefully find a few beautiful small places to stay that are quiet, beautiful, and off the beaten track. Does anyone have thoughts on a few places I could stay as I drive around the north, Hilo & then South side? I plan on following 19 up to either or to Honoka'a then 19 to Hilo then 11 South to Green Sand Beach or the tip (?) and back to Kona. Do you think this is do able in four days before I go back to Kona? Does anyone have some thoughts on places to stay as I drive around the East side? I'd really appreciate any advice, help!

Big Island, Hawaii
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1. Re: Driving the coast of the Big Island

You can't drive the coast all the way around, there are no coastal roads in many areas, the route you're contemplating to Honokaa goes inland through Waimea and down south cuts off lower Puna. In addition there's zero reason to rent a Jeep. The route you describe (except Papakolea.....not "Green Sand Beach" please) is basically mostly paved, wide lane highways in excellent shape. Plus all the major rental companies prohibit taking their cars, including their 4wds, off road. They now all also apparently prohibit the drive to Ka Lae but even if you get there, it's trespassing and therefore illegal to continue to drive on to Papakolea (plus a standard rental Jeep is unlikely to make it). You can hike to Papakolea a couple miles each way if you get to Ka Lae. Don't leave anything in your car, breakins and smashed windshields there are one reason the rental agencies have started prohibiting their cars down there).

It's in general a very bad idea to basically drive around looking for "off the beaten" path roads or spots (not that you said you would do so, just a general comment). Aside from the rental car legal issues many side roads are private and there are quite a few areas where tourists in their rental Jeeps are not welcome...to put it mildly. Residents are fiercely protective of their neighborhoods in many rural areas and don't appreciate tourist traffic on the side roads they use to get to and from work and home, or the looky loos stopping to take photos of their houses and yards. I've found tourists at my driveway snapping photos twice in the last year. I'm not along any major route and have no idea what prompted them to drive into our area except it is pretty, but that's just not cool. I'm pretty easy going but my neighbor who is a self appointed patriarch of the area, well, I had to hold him and his dogs back. Not saying you would do any of these things just giving you a heads up on how and why tourists cruising around randomly off the highways are often viewed. And rental Jeeps draw particular ire.

Really your best bet is to have one base west and one east and spend one day transiting between them via the Hamakua Coast and one day transiting back via the southern route. You could stay a couple of nights in Hilo and explore Hamakua and Puna and Volcanoes National park. But for your own safety and out of respect for residents, I would stick to the main roads or designated scenic routes.

I also encourage you to get out of Kailua Kona if you want to get away from tourist-ville and explore north Hawaii, the upcountry towns like Hawi, Waimea, Honokaa, and area heiaus and historical parks. Even the resorts and beaches of North Kona and South Kohala, maybe even *especially* those areas, have many preserved historic sites and features including petroglyphs, ancient fishponds, cultural centers, and historic trails.

There are many places to stay on the east side that are quiet and beautiful; either Hamakua or Hilo or Volcano. The Top questions on the right hand side of the forum on lodging describe many options in detail, including more unusual east side options. I also encourage you to read through the TQs on things to do and proper Hawaiian place names. Happy planning!

Healy, Alaska
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2. Re: Driving the coast of the Big Island

I am sure the Big Island experts will chime in but I can tell you that Hawaii doesn't work for driving and finding lodgings . . . no Motel 6's in little towns along the way. If I was joining family like you, here is what I would do . . . if you can, fly into Hilo, and stay in this area for a few days and/or perhaps a day or two at Volcano, so you can explore the east side. And then I would leisurely drive and stay either somewhere different like Waimea or Hawi . . .or along the Kohala coast for a few more days, and then join your family. If you can, try to stay as many days as you can - it is a bit place with so much to explore. :)

By the way, what is your nightly lodging budget? That way folks can make recommendations to help you out some. :)

Healy, Alaska
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3. Re: Driving the coast of the Big Island

When I first started my reply, no one else had written - glad to see Shea has a very informative post for you. :)

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4. Re: Driving the coast of the Big Island

Although Shea's and coalminer's itinerary ideas are the best way to go, if you want to stay at places around the island that are a little more hidden away, it can be done, but you'll really need to do some in-depth research.

There's no way to just drive around and discover accommodations en route, but you could create a facsimile of that by booking ahead of time. The biggest challenge to doing that is that very few B&Bs/vacation cottages will accept a one-night booking. We have a Top Question about one-night bookings in Volcano that is quite helpful, but there is no compilation (yet) of non-hotel accommodations in other parts of the island that will take one-night bookings.

VRBO probably has the most user-friendly way of tracking down your options, as you can use their map function to choose a few areas where you think you might want to stay, and then filter for a one-night stay on the date you think you'd be there. It'll be time-consuming, but I can't really think of another way to plan out the type of adventure you have in mind.

When you say you'll be renting a home "near Kona," do you mean near Kailua? "Kona" refers to two large districts that run from north of the KOA airport south almost to Ocean View.

Agree with Shea about the inadvisability of renting a Jeep. They're not that comfortable, and since you'll have your luggage with you during your holoholo, a vehicle with a trunk would offer much more security. There are no roads on this island that would require a 4WD where you can actually drive with your rented Jeep - the rental contracts prohibit it.

Island of Hawaii...
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5. Re: Driving the coast of the Big Island

Having observed the Jeep phenomenon for some years, I think they draw ire from residents because they people who rent Jeeps tend to be looking to go off the beaten path, which very often here means going where you have no business. I have noticed also that many Jeep-driving tourists display "it's all about me and my trip" behavior.

While nothing about you seems that way at all, when you rent a Jeep, you automatically and unintentionally associate yourself with all the inconsiderate selfish behavior done by the Jeep drivers who came before you, and people who live where there is a constant parade of strangers in the hood do in fact make judgments on sight.

As an example, I live on a designated scenic route, and have for years, and the drivers who stop in the middle of the one lane bridges are always Jeeps. Just blocking traffic both ways so they can look at a stream and take photos. Have yet to see a group in a rental sedan do that. It's like they catch some kind of selfishness virus when they get in.

Who heads up a private road? Jeeps.

You get the picture. Rental Jeeps start out with two strikes against them in terms of local reception.

Island of Hawaii...
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6. Re: Driving the coast of the Big Island

Re staying north of Hilo on the beautiful Hamakua coast:

I met a lady recently who I thought very nice and community minded, who offers off the grid guest suites up Kai'i'e road. (This is between Papa'ikou and Pepe'ekeo on the mauka side of the highway, qnd they are 11 miles north of Hilo.

Prices are well below $100 a night.

HamakuaHiloHilo.com and listed on HomeAway.com as #3488057 and #3671817 ...

Owners Christine and John Mingo, Christine is part of the Downtown Hilo Association that is responsible for many innovative events and works to keep historic Hilo looking good.

You would definitely be off the beaten path and seeing something authentic.

There are certain parts of the island where tourism (as in lodgings) in residential and agricultural neighborhoods puts an unwelcome burden on the other resitdents. This is not the sentiment on the east side of the island. The economy over here is very lacking, and I don't know of any disgruntlement in my area towards people who are renting separate suites and ohanas.

However, if you look at South Kona, there you can be stepping into issues unless you look at a licensed B&B or stay at Hotel Manago.

Healy, Alaska
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7. Re: Driving the coast of the Big Island

Thanks for sharing those KamaainaK - I like finding lodgings like that - and I thought that area was very beautiful! :)

Island of Hawaii...
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8. Re: Driving the coast of the Big Island

Great, coalminer, yes, I thought of you too!

I tried to edit that web link and couldn't due to the new post, but just find the listings under HomeAway. :)

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9. Re: Driving the coast of the Big Island

Thanks so much SheaG & Coalminer! Lived on outer island Fiji & get the tourist in the drive, yard. It's a different vibe there though. If a tourist actually found you they usually really needed help! So no, I won't be showing up for dinner SheaG...honest!!!!I By off the beaten track I meant more trying to stay in more small places near the coast or even more inland (East side) that may even be a room, a B&B, a cottage. Not super expensive.

While I don't want to be in neighborhoods, if I'm restricted to one paved road around the island, parking lots and five major tourist spots, I won't be happy. It's not how I've ever traveled. So are you saying if I drive inland on a beautiful road either that road will be all private or I'm not to do that in my car? I guess the picture I had of TBI was that you could actually find a few less traveled areas to drive into and perhaps take an hour or two hike & do some photography without running into either a private neighborhood, a restricted area or quite a few tourists.

Anyway, thanks for the good suggestions. Not sure what I'll do now. My NZ partner had a partnership with a Spirilina farm there in an area he said was not touristy at all and in a beautiful spot, so I'll check with him.

The last input sounds like I can find a few places so I'm back to computer & books. The issue will be the lack of one day rentals. I'm thinking of staying in Hawi, then near Hilo & maybe Volcano. Maybe I should pack my tent!

Good advice on the car.

Family rented a home 1,000 feet up mountain from town (Kona). They will do a helicopter over volcano I am guessing & possibly drive to Volcano Park.

As I said my idea of going early was to do the opposite of tourist, find a few quiet beautiful places, walks, do some photography, find some peace. While I live in Marin County, near SF, I am always traveling dirt roads up coastal mountains & to beaches to do my photography & find peace, which I did in Fiji as well.

Not going to happen with a rental car, is it? :(

Oh... and BTW, I do apologize if I have a name wrong or mAke a ridiculous assumption. I know how MY teeth grind when someone says "Frisco" or makes an assumption about Marin County!!! :)

Edited: 26 April 2014, 00:41
Healy, Alaska
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10. Re: Driving the coast of the Big Island

Oh, I really think you can find your peace and quiet even if you never encounter a dirt road. I live in a very rural place and I found much of the Big island to be that way. Even exploring Volcano national park, we didn't encounter hordes of tourists, except at the visitor center and Thurston Lava tube . . . many places we went during high season we had either by ourselves or with few other people. Even downtown Hilo reminded me of a small Midwestern type town . . . and the locals were so friendly. I need to get back to the Big island - so much I haven't explored yet and this conversation is really making me want to book a trip!! :) Your trip sounds like great fun - I would do it in a heartbeat! :)