Of course it is doable, it's a short flight from Maui. However, the question is is it really worth it? The Big Island is larger than all the other islands combined and there is so much to see and do here. Your 2-3 days will give you only a glimpse of the island and you will have to decide what attractions to see are the most important to you.
We own on Maui, but I love Big Island. It is HUGE, compared to the other Hawaiian islands. You will spend more time driving to see its many micro-climates. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a lot of nice places to stay and the nicest ones are clustered in the NW corner, while the volcano and Place of Refuge are south. You can do beaches on Maui, but there aren't many on Big Island -- a LOT of lava!
Right now there is inter-island airfare war as a new company seeks to become the third carrier.
Hey, a glimpse of the Big Island is worth it, since you will have enough time on Maui to experience its charms. Try to get your return flight home set up so that you can fly direct to the mainland from the last place you stay--United flies to SF and LAX from Kona, for example.
If you are in Clearwater, I know you are used to white sandy beaches--closest thing to that on the BI is up in Kohala--Kua Bay. Hapuna and Mauna Kea beaches are also lovely. I recommend staying at Mauna Lani because there are 2 beaches there, one of which (boat house beach) has GREAT snorkeling.
On the other hand, you might want to see the Volcano area instead of more beaches. You could fly to Hilo in the AM, see the waterfalls and such north of Hilo, and drive to Volcano Village for the night. Then you'd have a full day at the Volcano National Park. Leave the next morning and drive to stay in Keauhou (Sheraton, snorkleing at Kahaluu) or a Kohala resort.
If snorkeling is your thing, staying in Keauhou (shorter drive to boat trips than from Kohala) would let you go to Kealakekua Bay via Fair WInd, Sea PAradise's Hokuhele, or Dolphin Discoveries...you are also nearer to Two Step. Downside is no beach at the hotel--it is on a lava shelf with spectacular views but no "walk in" beach. That's Kahaluu, a few minutes' drive away.
anything under 4 days on the big island is going to leave you frazzled, frustrated and exhausted.....
The volcano takes 1 full 12 hour day considering driving
The snorkel trip to capt cook and place fo refuge will take another
Going to Hawi and the rain forest and black sand will take another
Driving the east coast and its waterfall and jungle drives yet another
Air fares will be between 29 to 90 one way, depending on what carrier you use and what time you fly morning and afternoon evening are the highest. Most all fly to Big Island via Honolulu rather than Maui-Kona.... Its the hub system figure the short hop is going to eat up 1/2 a day considering check-in and check-out, car etc
As others mention there are 6 international airlines tha fly Non-stop to Kona JAL, UAL, AA, Delta, USAir, Northwest all do nonstops from places like Phoenix,LA, San Fran, Seattle,Salt Lake, Denver, Chicago That can save you a half a day in travel
Like some of the others, I don't think it's a good idea to come here in that short time as you can't see much of it. The exception would be if you have some specific interest here that Maui can't offer.
But if you like driving and driving you could come to take a look i suppose. The thing is the days you fly will be pretty much useless, as it takes a half a day to deal with airports and flying.
Right now with the low fares, it's not the airfare money, it's the waste of vacation time that you should consider. Also you won't get a good rate on a car for that length of time.
If you must do both islands, do 7 so as to spend a week in one spot, and 4 on the BI, which is still almost nothing for exploring it.
ALoha Tee, sure do a quick trip for 2 or 3 days as this will give you an idea of how different the two islands are. Just to see the lava and the dryness in comparison to Maui is worth the trip.
Our first trip together to Hawaii, we spent 3 nights in Oahu, 4 on Maui, 4 on the Big Island (one at Volcano House, others in Kona), 3 on Kaui, and one last night on Oahu before the flight back to the East Coast.
Was this the "best way" to see any of the islands? Probably not, but we have never regretted the trip because it let us get a taste of the differences among the islands and whch we wanted to see again (Maui and Big Island). The first time we landed at Keahole, I thought we'd flown into H*ll...black lava, no lush greenery. Turned out the Big Island has become our spriritual home and we go back in 3 weeks for our 25th trip to Hawaii.
Point of all this? I say go see the Big Island, picking an aspect or two (e.g., Volcano, Kealakekua Bay) that you want to spotlight. That is IMHO better than not going because you "ought" to spend more time in one place. You won't be able to see all of it--Hawi, Waipio, Hamakua Coast, Volcano Nat Park, west side snorkeling--but you can choose one or two and savor those.
If you go to the Volcano, one issue is do you want to mostly drive around or do you want to hike? If the former, then it's workable to do the hour-plus drive down to the bottom of Chain of Craters and maybe try to see the active flow. (That is dangerous and not my recommendation.) If you want to hike, I think it is better use of time not to do the whole CofC road and spend time at Devastation Trail, Thurston Lava tube, Kilauea Iki, other trails.
If you have stayed in Volcano, you can go to Kona/Kohala via the southern route or the northern. If you go northern, you can leave early and book a helicopter tour that will show you the lava flow (to the extent it's on the surface) and the Hamakua Coast valleys. Then continue up thru Waimea to the coast. That works best for a stay in Kohala; going down to Kona/Keauhou can add 1-2 hours depending on time of day and traffic.
Whatever you choose, don't overschedule any more than you can help it and have a wonderful time!
We just returned from six nights in Maui and four on B.I. We left in the evening form BI home so it was another full day. We thought the itinerary was perfect for 11 days. BI is not as beautiful as Maui (nothing is) but is great to visit and we were all happy we didnt spend the entire time on one island. Sure theres some driving but its all scenic with many places to get out.The volcan is very memorable. We found it a piece of cake to leave form the hotel, see the major sights around the volcano and make it back for dinner. If you want to hike all the way down to where the lava hits the sea, that would add several hours because the car access is quite distant. We were satisfied with seeing the smoke plume and hitting the Volcano Winery instead!
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