The Big Family Island Cheats of Hawaii’s beauty is legendary and it has the most diverse landscape on earth-but it can be as challenging to explore as it is charming. From the icy heights of snow-covered volcanoes, to steamy jungles and tropical beaches, to flowing fields of lava, flower choked canyons and wide-open tropical grassland, its scenery is unsurpassed. By and large the quality of your trip to the Big Island will depend on how much of it you choose to see and how you set about discovering your own Big Island adventures. Below are some ideas on the options for getting to Hawaii and for getting around Hawaii, once you are here.
Another key to the quality of your time on the Big Island has to do with the spirit of aloha. The people you meet in Hawaii, by and large, tend to be more open and friendly-quick to help or befriend-than elsewhere. This is the tradition of “Aloha”. When you meet local residents, whether to ask for directions and advice or to hire services or just in casual conversation, treat them with respect, humor and openness-return their spirit of aloha and you will find your journey, and yourself, deeply enriched for it.
In Hawaii, your smile is your passport.
Getting To Hawaii
The standing joke among residents of Hawaii when dealing with the time, inconvenience and hassle of traveling to the mainland is: “This used to be so much easier before the bridge blew down”! Of course, there never was a bridge spanning the roughly 2500 miles between the Big Island and mainland USA, but the humor tends to underline the commitment, planning and time it takes to travel to and from Hawaii.
Flying to Hawaii: Certainly the most common, quickest and least expensive (note I didn’t say “inexpensive”) way to get to Hawaii is to fly. Many major US and international carriers fly to Honolulu on Oahu and and a host of local and international carriers offer flights from there to all the other Hawaiian Islands, including the Big Island. Kona’s airport is the only one on the Big Island that has direct flight connections to the US Mainland, Canada, Japan and Australia. Despite styling itself as “Hilo International Airport”, flights to and from Hilo ONLY connect to other Hawaiian islands.
Although both airports have similar facilities and services, including onsite rental car agencies and access to public transportation, shuttles and taxis, it makes a big difference to the traveller where they land. By far the vast majority of visitors to the Big Island stay in either Kona or the Kohala Resorts which are all on the west side of the island and are between 20 to 45 minutes from the Kona airport. If you are staying in Hilo, it’s fine to fly in there; however, Hilo doesn’t have the resort facilities, fine beaches and great weather of the Kona side and few tourists opt to stay there anymore. Many people booked into resorts on the west side mistakenly take flights into Hilo, due to the misleading airport name, unaware (or even misinformed by ignorant but well-meaning travel agents) that they now, at the end of an exhausting day of travel and in the fading twilight of the early tropical sunset, face a drive of almost 3 hours, across high mountains and on narrow, winding, unfamiliar roads to get to their resort. They just better hope it doesn’t start raining, too.
So-know where you are staying, fly into the appropriate airport.
Whether you are flying directly into Kona or flying to Honolulu and getting a connecting flight into Kona or Hilo, you want to be sure to reserve a seat so that you see as much of the incredible scenery as you can. Since 90% of the flight is over open ocean (which just isn’t as riveting as one might expect) you want to wring the most enjoyment out of those portions of your flight which do feature scenery. If you are first stopping in Honolulu, sitting on the port (left) side of the aircraft for this leg of your trip affords the best views as the plane screams in past Koko Head and over the top of Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach, turns around directly over Pearl Harbor and settles in to land at Honolulu International Airport. Sitting on the starboard side is not as spectacular, however, it offers views of Moloka’i and Maui islands, as well as views of Pearl Harbor, the Wai’anae and Ko’olau Mountains of O’ahu and downtown Honolulu just before landing.
Flying into Hilo from O’ahu, one also wants to sit on the port side of the aircraft. The flight path crosses over the islands of Moloka’i and Maui, skims along the eastern margin of Hawaii Island presenting a rich, fascinating panoply of soaring sea cliffs, jungle canyons and volcanic mountains, jaw-dropping waterfalls and crashing surf along the coast. Flying into Kona either directly or from Honolulu is no less wonderfully scenic than flying into Hilo, but one wants to be on the starboard side. This offers the traveller great views of the islands of Maui, Molokini, Lana’i and Kaho’olawe, as well as incredible views of the Big Island, Kohala Mountain, Mauna Kea, Hualalai and, on clear days, Mauna Loa as the jet cruises in over the Kohala Coast, making land right over Makalwena Beach and on to Kona International Airport at Keahole.