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    Tips for Visitors to the Big Island of Hawai'i

    Topics Discussed
  • What To Pack
  • Getting Here
  • Where To Stay
  • Driving Around
  • Talking Local
  • Safety In Hawai'i
  • What To Pack

    When most people think about Hawai'i they tend to think only of lazy tropical days on beautiful beaches - about all you'd need is your bathing suit. However, to really experience Hawai'i you will need to bring much more.

    First, a really important point: we have Wal-mart, Target, etc. So, anything you forget, you can get at our local stores.

    To figure out what to bring, you need to figure out what you want to do. Assuming you're not a sit-around-all-day person, you will probably want to visit as much of the island as possible.

    The Big Island is rather different from the other Hawaiian islands. We have one of the tallest mountains in the world (Mauna Kea, as measured from it's base) that rises over 13,800 ft above sea level and has snow in the winter. Even Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, at 4000 ft, can get chilly at night. Since the park goes from 4000 ft all the way to sea level, visiting the park can mean you might change clothes a couple times a day.

      For the beach:

      • Swimsuit(s) and a beach towel.
      • Reef slippers or other shoes you can get wet.
      • Snorkel or scuba? You can either rent locally or bring your own.
      • Sun Screen - Sun Screen - Sun Screen

      Hiking trails:

      • Long pants - lava is unforgiving and very sharp.
      • Hiking shoes or boots.
      • Walking stick (or you can make your own out of a guava branch when you get here).
      • Canteen (or buy bottled water here).
      • Compass or GPS (for extreme hiking - yes, you can get lost on an island).
      • Short sleeve shirts with collars (collar helps keep the sun off your neck).
      • Hat with brim (for sun protection).
      • Dark Glasses.
      • Bug Spray (for the wet areas).
      • Backpack (for extreme hiking).
      • Small first aid kit.
      • Sun Screen - Sun Screen - Sun Screen

      Playing In Hot Lava:

      Going To The Observatories:

      The astronomy observatories are at the top of Mauna Kea, at 13,800 ft. There is snow on the mountain during the winter and temperatures can get below freezing. Even the visitors center at 9000 ft can get very cold at night during the free public stargazing.

      • Long pants
      • Sweater or heavy jacket
      • Thick socks, bring two pairs...wear one on your feet, the other pair can double for mittens

    Of course you will want to also bring some nice dinner clothes, lots of short sleeve shirts and shorts. Don't forget your camera and film (or you can pick up disposable cameras here on the Island - a nice alternative).

    Most people, visitors and locals alike, tend to wear rubbah slippahs around the island (flipflops). You can buy them just about anyplace here, or bring your own.

    If you end up having too much to bring to the islands, one trick is to pre-ship much of your luggage to your first hotel room. Identify yourself in the shipping information as to your name and date of stay and the hotel will hold your package for your arrival. This is also a great trick for bringing things home. Instead of lugging them on a plane, simply ship them.

    Getting Here

    One problem with booking a trip to Hawai'i is simple name confusion. The Big Island's official name is Hawai'i, which is the same name as the entire chain. Most people refer to this island as The Big Island, but it is also known as The Orchid Isle as well as Hawai'i. When you are booking a trip here many times people think you are going to Oahu (where Honolulu and Waikiki are).

    There are a few airlines with direct flights to the Big Island, mostly into the Kailua-Kona airport. However, most visitors book a ticket to Oahu (Honolulu) and then take an inter-island flight to either Hilo or Kailua-Kona airports.

    There are several airlines that offer regular inter-island service between the Islands (some of these airlines also offer mainland service to certain cities):

    You can book your ticket straight through from the mainland to Hilo or Kailua-Kona. In this situation your travel agent (or airlines) will automatically put you on one of the Aloha or Hawaiian airline inter-island flights. Alternatively you can book only to Oahu and purchase your own inter-island flight.

    One word of caution about booking the flight: depending on what time the plane arrives in Oahu you may not be able to catch a same-day flight to the Big Island. You will want to double check that your Oahu flight arrives in plenty of time to get a flight to Hilo or Kailua-Kona. If your flight is delayed, you may have to spend an evening in Honolulu. The airport itself has sleeping rooms and there are a number of hotels across from the airport.

    Where To Stay

    The Big Island has many hotels and resorts to select from. Since there are so many diverse areas on the Big Island, first time visitors may wish to circumnavigate the island, staying a day or two at each spot. However, most repeat visitors tend to stay only one or two places to avoid having to move around frequently.

    This website offers lists of hotels along with our opinions and the features the hotels have. However, we do have a soft spot for one hotel in the Hilo area... the Dolphin Bay Hotel. The Dolphin Bay Hotel is owned by the Alexander family, and is currently managed by John Alexander. John has lived on the Big Island for much of his life and his knowledge of things to do and places to go is wonderful. The hotel itself is small and quaint, with a wonderful tropical garden. All the rooms have full kitchens and are very reasonably priced.

    Driving Around

    Unless you plan on sitting on the beach all day, you will need a vehicle in order to see the island. Remember, there is a reason it is named the Big Island - it is very, very big. It takes about an entire day to drive around the island - and that is with minimal stops.

    The Big Island is fairly easy to navigate. The entire island is encircled with a highway. The island is also split down the middle by another road (saddle road). From the main highway side roads lead to local villages, beaches, parks and sites. By simply driving towards the ocean you are bound to hit the highway - so getting lost in a car is rare.

    Most of the island is accessible by regular rental cars. You can pick up a rental car at either the Hilo or Kailua-Kona airports:

  • Alamo at 808-961-3343
  • Avis at 808-935-1290
  • Budget at 808-935-6878
  • Dollar at 808-961-6059
  • Harpers at 808-969-1478
  • Hertz at 808-935-2896
  • National at 808-935-0891
  • For the more rugged individual who would like to visit some of the more remote spots on the island, 4-wheel drive vehicles are available from Harper (808-969-1478) as well as a few of the other rental companies listed above.

    Note: Any tours, drives and hikes on this website that require 4-wheel access will be marked with the spinning truck icon.

    Talking Local

    Hawai'i is the Aloha State - and that means the people are friendly - very very friendly. You will often be greated by a smile and a warm hello or aloha.

    Locals are almost always happy to give you directions, or their advice on places to go or things to see. Just about anyone is approachable, anywhere. The island is, if nothing else, highly diverse - but aloha is everywhere.

    Hawai'i is the only American state that has two official languages - Hawaiian and English. One problem for visitors in navigating the island is the use of Hawaiian words just about everywhere. Place Names are very important to the Hawaiians and the entire island is Hawaiian from one end to the other.

    Hawaiian names often sound similar to themselves - and there can be more than one location with the same name - so getting directions might be confusing if you mispronounce the name or are not clear as to where in general you expect it to be.

    You don't need to learn Hawaiian to get around Hawai'i, but learning a bit about the language can help you greatly in reading and pronouncing Hawaiian words correctly. We have prepared a small and simple language tutorial that you can find here that will help you with basic pronunciation.

    Safety In Hawai'i

    Safety in Hawai'i involves both safety in the environment (e.g., falling into lava), safety on the road (a lot of nutty drivers out there) and personal safety (your belongings and yourself).

    The following section outlines most of the safety issues in Hawai'i.

    Environmental Safety

    The Big Island is a landmass that is still forming. Thousands of acres of new land are created each year, only to drop off into the ocean. The island has just about all the natural disasters: hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tsunami, lava flows, and even tornados all can happen here.

    The Island is also completely lava. Especially in the still-forming areas, the lava is very sharp and very hard. I often joke with new visitors that if they don't have scrapes and scratches they aren't seeing enough of Hawai'i.

    Let's not forget the ocean - the ocean in Hawai'i can be unpredictable. Turning your back on the ocean (or the lava) can be very dangerous.

    The basic rules of thumb are this:
    • If you want to look at something, stop walking. Looking and walking at the same time means you'll probably stumble.
    • Never take a step backwards without first looking behind you - there might be a crack in the ground that you forgot about.
    • When at the shore, don't turn your back on the ocean.
    • When at an active flow, don't turn your back on the lava.

    There are additional safety issues surrounding the hot lava. We cover those in the various hikes and trails section as well as the sections on the volcano.

    Driving Safety

    Until recently (a few years ago) Hawai'i did not require drivers training for new drivers. Sure, you had to take the test, but there was no official training that was required. Couple that with the fact that the island is made up of people as well as visitors from a huge diverse world-wide area - each with their own driving habits, and you have an interesting driving experience.

    Island driving habits may be a little surprising to some. In places where it is marked slow traffic keep to right you will see just about everyone going slow in the left lane. Often road signs are ignored - people will go slow on fast roads and fast on slow roads. Also, in the towns and cities, local drivers often give pedestrians the right-of-way, so be careful not to rear end the car in front of you.

    There is very little road rage in Hawai'i - you just go with the flow. However, on some highways it is customary for slow traffic to move into the shoulder (if space allows) to let people behind them go around. Generally a wave to the slower vehicle shows them your appreciation, as you pass them.

    Police cars in Hawai'i may be regular cars - but most of them have a single blue bubble light on the top. Police are friendly and helpful but the speed limit is enforced - as well as having your seat belt on, and making full stops at stop signs.

    Be careful as you drive the island. It is very easy, while driving, to be lost in some spectacular scene. The island has many curves and not everyone stays in their lanes. Also, many places of the island lack guard rails and have steep falls or very deep ditches.

    Personal Safety

    In general the state of Hawai'i is a pretty safe, low crime, state. The Big Island is even more so. The most reported tourist crime on the Big Island would be rental cars being broken into. Visitor robbery is very low as are other crimes. Being an island has its advantages since just about everyone knows, or is related to, everyone else.

    There are a few things you can do to make your stay safer however. Outlined below are some suggestions:

    • Do not leave valuables in plain sight in your rental car. Do not put valuables away in view of other people. If a hike or trail or scenic view spot on this website has a known problem with rental car theft it will be pointed out in that section.
    • You can 'local-up' your car a bit to make it not look like a rental by wrapping a lei around your rear view mirror, and making the inside a bit messy. You will notice that just about every local car here has something around their rear view mirror.

    If you have a problem, any telephone can summon police by dialing 911.


    Big Island Revealed
    Hawai'i the Big Island Revealed: The Ultimate Guidebook

    Snorkel Hawaii
    Snorkel Hawai'i The Big Island, Second Edition

    The Big Island Trailblazer
    Hawai'i: The Big Island Trailblazer: Where to Hike, Snorkel, Surf, Bike, & Drive

    Lonely Planet Hawai'i the Big Island
    Lonely Planet Hawai'i the Big Island (Hawai'i the Big Island, 1st Ed)

    Hidden Big Island of Hawaii
    Hidden Big Island of Hawai'i: Including the Kona Coast, Hilo, Kailua and Volcanos National Park

    The Rough Guide to the Big Island of Hawaii
    The Rough Guide to Big Island of Hawai'i

    Moon Handbooks Big Island of Hawaii
    Moon Handbooks Big Island of Hawai'i: Including Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

    Beaches of the Big Island
    Beaches of the Big Island (A Kolowalu Book)

    Frommer's Portable Big Island of Hawaii
    Frommer's Portable Big Island of Hawai'i

    Paradise Family Guides Big Island of Hawai'i
    Paradise Family Guides Big Island of Hawai'i: The Most Complete Guide to Family Fun and Adventure!


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