Frommer's Shortcut Hawaii Big Island by Jeanne Cooper and Shannon Wianecki by Jeanne Cooper and Shannon Wianecki - Read Online

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Frommer's Shortcut Hawaii Big Island - Jeanne Cooper

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Larger than all the other Hawaiian Islands combined, the Big Island truly deserves its nickname. Its 4,028 square miles—a figure that’s growing, thanks to an active volcano—contain 10 of the world’s 13 climate zones. In less than a day, a visitor can easily traverse tropical rainforest, lava desert, verdant pastures, misty uplands, and chilly tundra, the last near the summit of Mauna Kea, almost 14,000 feet above sea level. The shoreline also boasts diversity, from golden beaches to enchanting coves with black, salt-and-pepper, even olivine sand. Above all, the island home of Kamehameha the Great and Pele, the volcano goddess, is big in mana: power and spirituality.



The Big Island has two major airports for interisland and trans-Pacific jet traffic: Kona and Hilo.

Most people arrive at Kona International Airport (KOA; in Keahole, the island’s westernmost point, and can be forgiven for wondering if there’s really a runway among all the crinkly black lava and golden fountain grass. Leaving the airport, the ritzy Kohala Coast is to the left (north) and the town of Kailua-Kona—often just called Kona, as is the airport—is to the right (south).

U.S. carriers offering nonstop service to Kona, in alphabetical order, are Alaska Airlines (;


), with flights from the Pacific Northwest hubs of Seattle, Portland, and Anchorage, and from San Diego, San Jose, and Oakland, California; American Airlines (;



) and Delta Air Lines (;



), both with flights from Los Angeles; Hawaiian Airlines (;



), with summer flights from Oakland and Los Angeles; United Airlines (;



), with year-round flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, and seasonal flights from Chicago; and US Airways (;



), scheduled to merge with American, but at press time still offering nonstop flights from Phoenix.

Air Canada (;



) and WestJet (;



) also offer nonstop service to Kona, with frequency changing seasonally, from Vancouver.

Only United offers nonstop service from the mainland to Hilo International Airport (ITO;, via Los Angeles.

For connecting flights or island-hopping, Hawaiian (see above) is the only carrier offering interisland jet service, available from Honolulu and Kahului, Maui, to both Kona and Hilo airports; its Ohana by Hawaiian subsidiary also flies from Kona and Hilo to Kahului on 48-passenger, twin-engine turboprops. Mokulele Airlines (;



) flies nine-passenger, singleengine turboprops between Kona and Kahului and Kapalua, Maui; between the Big Island upcountry town of Waimea and Kahului; and between Hilo and Kahului. Note: Mokulele discreetly weighs passengers and their carry-ons before boarding to determine seating; those totaling 350 pounds or more are not permitted to fly.

Coast of Kailua-Kona.

Visitor Information

The Big Island Visitors Bureau (;



) has two offices: one in the Kings’ Shops in the Waikoloa Beach Resort, 250 Waikoloa Beach Dr., Suite 15




); the other at 250 Keawe St., No. 238, Hilo





The free tourist publications This Week ( and 101 Things to Do on Hawaii the Big Island ( offer lots of useful information amid the advertisements, as well as discount coupons for a variety of island adventures. Copies are easy to find all around the island. has an extensive event calendar and handy links to sites and services around the island, not just the Kona side. Those fascinated by the island’s active volcanoes should check out the detailed daily reports, maps, photos, videos, and webcams on the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory website (, which also tracks the island’s frequent but usually minor earthquake activity.

The Island in Brief

The Kona Coast

Kona means leeward side in Hawaiian—and that means hot, dry weather virtually every day of the year on the 70-mile stretch of black lava shoreline encompassing the North and South Kona districts.

North KonaWith the exception of the sumptuous but serenely low-key Four Seasons Resort Hualalai north of the airport, most of what everyone just calls Kona is an affordable vacation spot. An ample selection of midpriced condo units, timeshares, and several recently upgraded hotels lie between the bustling commercial district of Kailua-Kona , a one-time fishing village and royal compound now renowned as the start and finish of the Ironman World Championship, and Keauhou, an equally historic area about 6 miles south that boasts upscale condominiums, a shopping center, and golf-course homes.

The national historic park at Honaunau.

The rightly named Alii (Royalty) Drive begins in Kailua-Kona near King Kamehameha’s royal compound at Kamakahonu Bay, which includes the off-limits temple complex of Ahuena Heiau, and continues past Hulihee Palace , an elegant retreat for later royals that sits across from the oldest church in the islands. Heading south, the road passes by the snorkelers’ haven of Kahaluu Beach and sacred and royal sites on the now-closed Keauhou Beach Resort, before the intersection with King Kamehameha III Road, which leads to that monarch’s birthplace by Keauhou Bay. Several kayak excursions and snorkel boats leave from Keauhou, but Kailua Pier sees the most traffic—from cruise-ship tenders to fishing and dive boats, dinner cruises, and other sightseeing excursions.

Beaches between Kailua-Kona and Keauhou tend to be pocket coves, but heading north toward South Kohala (which begins near the entrance to the Waikoloa Beach Resort), beautiful, uncrowded sands lie out of sight from the highway, often reached by unpaved roads across vast lava fields. Among the steep coffee fields in North Kona’s cooler upcountry, you’ll find the rustic, artsy village of Holualoa.

South KonaThe rural, serrated coastline here is indented with numerous bays, from Kealakekua, a marine life and cultural preserve that’s the island’s best diving spot, down to Honaunau, where a national historical park recalls the days of old Hawaii. This is a great place to stay, in modest plantation-era inns or bed-and-breakfasts, if you want to get away from the crowds but still be within driving distance of beaches and the sights of Kailua. The higher, cooler elevation of the main road means you’ll pass many coffee, macadamia nut, and tropical fruit farms, some with tours or roadside stands.

The Kohala Coast

Also on the island’s Kona side, sunny and dry Kohala is divided in two distinctively different districts, although the resorts are more glamorous and the rural area that much less developed.

South KohalaPleasure domes rise like palaces no Hawaiian king ever imagined along the sandy beaches carved into the craggy shores here, from the more moderately priced Waikoloa Beach Resort at Anaehoomalu Bay to the posher Mauna Lani and Mauna Kea resorts to the north. Mauna Kea is where Laurance Rockefeller opened the area’s first resort in 1965, a virtual mirage of opulence and tropical greenery rising from bleak, black lava fields, framed by the white sands of Kaunaoa Beach and views of the eponymous mountain. But you don’t have to be a billionaire to enjoy South Kohala’s fabulous beaches and historic sites (such as petroglyph fields), all open to the public, with parking and other facilities (including restaurants and shopping) provided by the resorts.

Keck Observatory.

Several of the region’s attractions are also located off the resorts, including the white sands of Spencer Beach ; the massive Puukohola Heiau , a lava rock temple commissioned by King Kamehameha the Great; and the excellent restaurants and handful of stores in Kawaihae, the commercial harbor just after the turnoff for upcountry Waimea. Note: Despite its name, the golf course community of Waikoloa Village is not in the Waikoloa Beach Resort, but instead lies 5½ miles uphill from the coastal highway.

Waimea (Kamuela) & Mauna KeaOfficially part of South Kohala, the old upcountry cow town of Waimea on the northern road between the coasts is a world unto itself, with rolling green pastures, wide-open spaces dotted by puu (cindercone hills), and real cowpokes who work mammoth Parker Ranch, Hawaii’s largest working ranch. Sometimes called Kamuela, after ranch founder Samuel (Kamuela) Parker, to distinguish it from Kauai’s cowboy town with the same name, Waimea is split between a dry side (closer to the Kohala Coast) and a wet side (closer to the Hamakua Coast), but both sides can be cooler than sea level. It’s also headquarters for the Keck Observatory, whose twin telescopes atop the nearly 14,000-foot Mauna Kea , some 35 miles away, are the largest and most powerful in the world. Waimea is home to shopping centers and affordable B&Bs, while the recently expanded Merriman’s remains a popular foodie outpost at Opelo Plaza.

North KohalaLocals may remember when sugar was king here, but for visitors, little-developed North Kohala is most famous for another king, Kamehameha the Great. His birthplace is a short walk from one of the Hawaiian Islands’ largest and most important temples, Mookini Heiau , which dates to a.d. 480; you’ll want a 4WD for the rugged road there. Much easier to find: the yellow-cloaked bronze statue of the warrior-king in front of the community center in Kapaau, a small plantation-era town. The road ends at the breathtaking Pololu Valley Overlook .

Once the center of the Big Island’s sugarcane industry, Hawi remains a regional hub, with a 3-block-long strip of sun-faded, false-fronted buildings holding a few shops and restaurants of interest to visitors. Eight miles south, Lapakahi State Historical Park merits a stop to explore how less-exalted Hawaiians than Kamehameha lived in a simple village by the sea. Beaches are less appealing here, with the northernmost coves subject to strong winds blowing across the Alenuihaha Channel from Maui, 26 miles away and visible on clear days.

The Hamakua Coast

This emerald coast, a 52-mile stretch from Honokaa to Hilo on the island’s windward northeast side, was once planted with sugarcane; it now blooms with flowers, macadamia nuts, papayas, vanilla, and mushrooms. Resort-free and virtually without beaches, the Hamakua Coast includes the districts of Hamakua and North Hilo, with two unmissable destinations. Picture-perfect Waipio Valley has impossibly steep sides, taro patches, a green riot of wild plants, and a winding stream leading to a broad, black-sand beach, while Akaka Falls State Park offers views of two lovely waterfalls amid lush foliage. Also worth checking out: Laupahoehoe Point , with its mournful memorial to young victims of a 1946 tsunami; and the quirky assortment of shops in the plantation town of Honokaa.


Hawaii’s largest metropolis after Honolulu is a quaint, misty, flower-filled city of Victorian houses overlooking a half-moon bay, with a restored historic downtown and a clear view of Mauna Kea, often snowcapped in winter. Hilo catches everyone’s eye until it rains—and it rains a lot in Hilo, with 128 inches of rain annually. It’s ideal for growing ferns, orchids, and anthuriums, but not for catching constant rays.

Yet there’s a lot to see and do in Hilo and the surrounding South Hilo district, both indoors and out—including visiting the bayfront Japanese-style Liliuokalani Gardens , the Pacific Tsunami Museum , the Mokupapapa Discovery Center , and Rainbow Falls —so grab your umbrella. The rain is warm (the temperature seldom dips below 70°F/21°C), and there’s usually a rainbow afterward.

Hula dancer at the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival in Hilo.

The town also holds Hawaii’s best bargains for budget travelers, with plenty of hotel rooms—most of the year, that is. Hilo’s magic moment comes in spring, the week after Easter, when hula halau (schools) arrive for the annual Merrie Monarch Hula Festival hula competition (, where hula troupes perform chants and dances before the Merrie Monarch festival; the park is 30 miles away, or about an hour’s drive up-slope.

Puna District

Pahoa, Kapoho & KalapanaBetween Hilo and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park lies the Wild Wild East, an emerging visitor destination with geothermal wonders such as the ghostly hollowed trunks of Lava Tree State Monument , the volcanically heated waters of Ahalanui Park and the Kapoho warm ponds, and the acres of lava from a 1986 flow that rolled through the Hawaiian hamlet of Kalapana and covered a popular black-sand beach. The rough ocean has carved a new beach at Kalapana, where the county opens a site to view lava flowing into the ocean when conditions are right. With or without active lava, Kalapana’s Wednesday-night farmer’s market and live music on Friday nights attract a large local crowd, and you’re welcome to join. On June 27, 2014, a new lava flow from Kilauea’s East Rift Zone began oozing its way toward the part-Hawaiian, part-hippie plantation town of Pahoa, the region’s funky gateway. The flow consumed miles of forest before stopping in early 2015 within 550 yards of Hwy. 130, the only road in and out of lower Puna; the flow remained stalled at press time, although active breakouts were still occurring up-slope.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park This is America’s most exciting national park, where a live volcano called Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983. Depending on where the flow is, you may not be able to witness molten lava—or have to walk across miles of rough lava rock to do so—but there’s always something else impressive to see. A towering plume of ash, which at night reflects the glow of the lava lake below it, has been rising from Kilauea’s Halemaumau Crater since 2008, while steam vents have been belching sulphurous odors since long before Mark Twain visited in 1866. Ideally, you should plan to spend 3 days at the park exploring its many trails, watching the volcano, visiting the rainforest, and just enjoying this spectacular place. But even if you have only a day, get here—it’s worth the trip. Bring your sweats or jacket (honest!); it’s cool up here. Note: The vast park, most of which straddles the Puna and Kau districts, includes the separate, 116,000-acre Kahuku Unit, 43 miles west of the Kilauea Visitor Center in Kau. The former ranchlands and trails are open three to four weekends a month.

Volcano VillageIf you’re not camping or staying at historic, 33-room Volcano House inside the park, you’ll want to overnight in this quiet hamlet, just outside the national park entrance. Several cozy inns and B&Bs, some with fireplaces, reside under tree ferns in this cool mountain hideaway. The tiny highland community (elevation 4,000 ft.), first settled by Japanese immigrants, is now inhabited by artists, soul-searchers, and others who like the crisp air of Hawaii’s high country.

Kau District

Written variously in Hawaiian as Ka‘u¯ or Ka¯‘u¯, and typically pronounced kah-oo, this windswept, often barren district between Puna and South Kona is one visitors are most likely to just drive through on their way to and from the national park. Nevertheless, it contains several noteworthy sites.

Ka Lae (South Point)This is the Plymouth Rock of Hawaii. The first Polynesians arrived in seagoing canoes, probably from the Marquesas Islands, around a.d. 500 at this rocky promontory 500 feet above the sea. To the west is the old fishing village of Waiahukini, populated from a.d. 750 until the 1860s; ancient canoe moorings, shelter caves, and heiau (temples) poke through windblown pili grass today. The east coast curves inland to reveal Green Sand (Papakolea) Beach , a world-famous anomaly that’s best accessed on foot. Along the point, the southernmost spot in the 50 states, trees grow sideways due to the relentless gusts that also power wind turbines. It’s a slow, nearly 12-mile drive from the highway to the tip of Ka Lae, so many visitors opt just to stop at the marked overlook on Highway 11, west of South Point Road.

Ka Lae.

Naalehu, Waiohinu & PahalaNearly every business in Naalehu and Waiohinu, the two wide spots on the main road near South Point, claims to be the southernmost this or that. But except for delicious malasadas (doughnuts) or another pick-me-up from the Punaluu Bakery or Hana Hou Restaurant , there’s no reason to linger before heading to Punaluu Beach , between Naalehu and Pahala. Protected green sea turtles bask on the fine black-sand beach when they’re not bobbing in the clear waters, chilly from fresh springs bubbling from the ocean floor. An ancient fish pond and temple ruins are among historic sites within the beach park, well worth a detour on the way to the volcano. Pahala is the center of the burgeoning Kau coffee-growing scene (industry might be overstated), so fans of caffeine should also allot at least 45 minutes for a side trip to the Kau Coffee Mill .

Getting Around

The Hawaiian directions of makai (toward the ocean) and mauka (toward the mountains) come in handy when looking for unfamiliar sites, especially since numbered address signs may be invisible or nonexistent. They’re used with addresses below as needed.

By TaxiTaxis are readily available at both Kona and Hilo airports, although renting a car (see below) is a more likely option. On the Kona side, call Kona Taxicab (;



). In Hilo, call Ace-1




). Set by the county, rates start at $3 plus $3.20 each additional mile—about $25 to $30 from the Kona airport to Kailua-Kona and $50 to $60 to the Waikoloa Beach Resort.

By CarYou’ll need a rental car on the Big Island; not having one will really limit you. All major car-rental agencies have airport pickups; some even offer cars at Kohala and Kona resorts. For tips on insurance and driving rules, see Getting Around Hawaii





The Big Island has more than 480 miles of paved road. The highway that circles the island is called the Hawaii Belt Road. From North Kona to South Kohala and Waimea, you have two driving choices: the scenic upper road, Mamalahoa Highway (Hwy. 190), or the speedier lower road, Queen Kaahumanu Highway (Hwy. 19). South of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Belt Road continues on Mamalahoa Highway