Budget trips around the Big Island, Hawaii from Hilo and Kailua Kona
The largest of all the Hawaiian islands, the Big Island of Hawaii is geared more toward the adventurous type with hikes, mountains, snorkeling and scuba opportunities and a few great roads trips that will take you through many of the world’s possible climate zones all within an hour or two. Because of this, many who visit plan at least one or two road trips during their stay instead of just choosing one place to stay for the entirety of their trip.
Though Hawaii is known for being an expensive place to live and travel to, that doesn’t mean that everything has to be expensive. This is especially true of road trips around the island, no matter what town you choose to stay in. As long as you choose an economically friendly small rental car, you’ll find that outside of fuel costs, you really won’t pay much for a day out and about exploring. To help you get started, here’s our budget trips around the Big Island of Hawaii from both Hilo and Kailua Kona.
Taking road trips around the Big Island of Hawaii
When staying on the island, most visitors choose to stay in either Hilo (the wet side) or in Kailua Kona (the dry side). Hilo is known for its Wednesday and Saturday farmers market as well as its close proximity to several beautiful waterfalls and rainforests. On the other hand, Kailua Kona offers a completely different type of experience with crystal clear waters to snorkel in and dolphin watching. When flying into your chosen town, the best way to get started is to get your rental car straight from the airport. In Hilo, you’ll find your car at the airport while in Kailua Kona you’ll be shuttled to another location to pick up your car.
The towns are about 1 and a 1/2 hours away from each other and there are three different routes to get from one to the other, making inter-island travel extremely easy and relatively quick. Below we’ll touch on budget friendly road trips from both towns in order to help you plan the best trip possible.
Budget road trips from Hilo, Hawaii
Centrally located between numerous popular attractions, the seaside town of Hilo is a great option for those who don’t mind rainy tropical days and who don’t plan to venture into the ocean snorkeling everyday. Some great road trips from Hilo are:
Volcano National Park
Located on the eastern side of the island, Volcano National Park is an internationally famous park experience that brings you close to a lava lake as well as takes you through a fern covered lava tube, a rainforest and over a black lava field covered in vents. This is where you’ll want to make sure you bring your camera as there are lots of different and unique characteristics at this park that you may never see again. Though it is free to park, there is an admission fee of US$15.00 per vehicle meaning that if you are traveling with a group, you’ll want to ride in the same car to save money.
There are two different ways to enjoy the famed Waipio Valley, from the viewpoint above or by a walk into the valley to explore the black sand beach and country road. If you decide to venture into the valley, you’ll need to prepare yourself for a steep hike down and back up again. Though the hike may be what gets your heart pumping, it is well worth it as Waipio Valley is one of the last remaining parts of the Hawaiian islands that truly represents what Hawaii used to be. In this valley you’ll find a small group of quiet farmers that believe in the beauty and preservation of old Hawaii. In addition, you’ll find the added bonus of wild horses, some of which are tame enough to touch.
Also, on the way to Waipio Valley, you’ll drive past Akaka Falls, which is a great stop that should be checked out. Here you’ll pay a small parking fee (usually about US$5) for a short 30 minute hike to a beautiful waterfall.
Situated between Hilo and Volcano National Park, the Puna district is made up of windy roads, farms, nurseries, overgrown trees, small shops and cafes and a few beautiful shade filled beaches. Along with black sand beaches backing up to a lush background, visitors will find a few warm water springs fed by volcanic steam. These springs are a joy to those seeking an hour or two of relaxation surrounded by nature after a car ride or meal out. Just remember that rains comes and goes in Puna, so it’s best to keep an eye to the sky above to avoid getting soaked while enjoying a beach or two.
Black Sand Beach
Just south of Volcano National Park and on the same coast line, rests a famous natural attraction outlined by many travel guides- Black Sand Beach. This beach is popular for a few reasons with the first being its intensely black sand. Throughout the world, you’ll find black sand beaches everywhere, most of them made up of fine sand. This beach however, is made up of thousands and thousands of tiny pieces of lava rock that have been smooth down by the ocean, making for a pleasant walk. The other reason that this beach is so popular are the numerous green sea turtles that frequently pop up on shore for a rest after a morning of feeding in the swallow water right off of the beach. Though this attraction is very popular, there are no entrance or parking fees. Just remember that the best time to visit is in the morning before all of the crowds show up.
A small town of about 1,000 residents in the North Kohala district, Hawi is a great road trip destination for those who love viewing a similar way of life. Surrounded by ranches, this historical town may look a little run down and even abandoned on certain days, but it really is filled with old country charm and friendly locals. This stop is great for foodies who have a taste for local and authentic dishes. Driving to and from this town, you’ll experience a few different climates as well, making for a very interesting drive with lots of different photo opportunities.
Budget road trips from Kailua Kona
Located on the complete opposite side of the island is Kailua Kona. Known for its whale watching, plentiful reefs, lava fields and water sports, Kailua Kona is perfect if you’re looking for endless sun, sand and surf. However, when you’re looking to venture out of town, great road trip options are:
The Big Island of Hawaii holds the southernmost point of the United States and to keep things simple, itis named South Point. This ‘point’ is actually a cliff side view point where you’ll enjoy incredible photography opportunities, cliff jumping and hiking. Another bonus is the drive over. Just before you reach South Point, you’ll find yourself driving through open farmland populated with horses and cows, making for an unexpected Hawaiian sight. This road trip is great for those who are looking for more scenic views rather than anything else.
Green Sand Beach
Found just to the north of South Point, Green Sand Beach is a must see, and a rare one at that. With only a few known green sand beaches in the world, only a few lucky individuals can say that they’ve ever seen one in person. To reach this beach, you’ll drive down the same farm road as you would to South Point but instead of turning to the right, you’ll continue forward to the sea where you’ll find a dusty parking lot. From here you can either hike over to the beach or catch a ride with a local for a fee. It’s important to bring a good pair of sunglasses and lots of water with you on this hike as winds are strong and will certainly blow sand into your eyes and the sun is almost always out. This beach can easily be joined with South Point for a single day road trip or it can be enjoyed by itself another day.
A town situated just to the southeast of Kona, Caption Cook offers a variety of things to do from snorkeling at the Caption Cook Monument reef (one of the best on the island), to shopping, dining and various water sport rentals such as surf boards, paddle boards and kayaks. If taking a snorkel down at the Caption Cook reef, you’ll have two options, to hike down or to rent a kayak to cross the bay. Both are great choices as you’ll witness fantastic views each way.
This town is cooler in temperature than Kona and higher up, allowing for some amazing views of the ocean below. If you’re a coffee lover, you’ll find coffee tours and shops to enjoy as well, making this a very well rounded short, budget friendly road trip.
Found about halfway between the two towns, Waimea is cowboy town and is a great stop for those who are looking to experience a different side of Hawaii that’s not normally advertised. Here you’ll find shops, restaurants and countless fields with farms, horses and other livestock. Due to elevation, this town is almost always cooler in temperature than Kona, meaning you’ll want to bring a sweater or at least a long sleeve shirt with you. This town is also a great jumping off point if you’re planning to go to Waipio Valley.
All in all, every single one of these destinations can be easily reached from either town, making the Big Island of Hawaii an excellent choice for road lovers. Just remember that each and every road trip listed above is more than the destination as Hawaii always has something to explore around the corner, whether it be a beautiful beach you drive past or a waterfall at the end of a hike.