Getting to Hawaii's Big Island
A holiday in Hawaii’s Big Island is a trip of a lifetime, and getting there is not at all difficult. Once you’ve gotten your budget and schedule planned out, the next thing that you would need to do is to figure out how you’d like to get to the Orchid Isle.
Before you go
If you are not a citizen of the United States, you would need to have a valid passport. Check with the US Embassy in your country if you are entitled to the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of certain countries to travel to the US without a visa as long as the duration of their stay is not more than ninety (90) days. If you aren’t, then you would need to apply for a US visa for entry into Hawaii.
With two airports on the East and West of the Big Island, its accessibility and your convenience are doubled. On the western side of the island is the Kona International Airport at Keahole, which is the Big Island’s primary airport. It now hosts major airlines from Canada, Japan, and the US mainland, and there are international, domestic, and inter-island flights coming in daily. For those who would be coming from the US mainland, there are direct flights to Hawaii’s Big Island from Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Some carriers also offer seasonal chartered flights to the island.
The Hilo International Airport is located on the eastern side of the Big Island, right on 1363 Mokuea Street of Hawaii’s Big Island capital city. Quite interestingly, the airport—despite its name—is served only by inter-island carriers. If you can’t get a direct flight from your area to the Big Island, you may fly to Honolulu International Airport and then get a connecting flight to Hilo International Airport. From Oahu, the flight to the Big Island usually takes about 35 to 40 minutes.
Hawaiian Airlines (www.hawaiianair.com), the largest Hawaii-based carrier, flies in and out of the Big Island daily through both airports. Aside from its flights between the Hawaiian islands, it also connects tourists to and from the US West Coast, Tahiti, American Samoa, and Australia. Each day, the airline provides more than a hundred all-jet flights plus full cargo services. Another major regional carrier that flies to Kona and Hilo is Island Air (www.islandair.com). It flies passengers between the islands of Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii’s Big Island on its fleet of 37-seat Dash 8 aircraft. Other airlines that serve the two airports are Mokulele and go! (www.iflygo.com). United Airlines connects the Hawaiian islands to the US mainland, as well as to points of destination in European, Latin American, and Asia-Pacific regions. For international flights to Honolulu, do check which airlines can connect you from your country of origin at the Honolulu International Airport website (http://hawaii.gov/hnl). All airlines have at least 10 flights from Honolulu to both Kailua-Kona and Hilo each day. Because of the number of flights and carriers available, the intense competition has brought down inter-island ticket rates to $40 for a one-way route. Special offers may even price tickets to as low as $30.
Getting around Hawaii’s Big Island
The sheer size of the island can be intimidating even to the most seasoned traveler. Hawaii’s Big Island consists of six districts (or moku): Hilo, Kau, Kohala, Kona, Puna, and Waimea, each filled with sights and adventures awaiting first-time and returning tourists. You can choose from a wide variety of transportation modes. Your choice mainly depends on where you plan to go and what you want to do for a particular day. For meandering within a district, you can rent a bicycle. If you’re thinking of going around the quaint fishing village of Kona Town, perhaps the only transportation you would need is a pair of flip-flops (although it’s more popularly referred to as slippers by locals). But if you have a big exploration plan for the Big Island, the best way to get around the island would be to rent a car, although public transit is also available.
Cars and mopeds
If you opt for car rental, get a really good map of the Big Island from a tourist information center or a local bookstore before district hopping on the Orchid Isle. The Hawaii Street Guide Big Island Manini Map and Nelle’s Hawaii are highly recommended by both visitors and locals. You’ll find major car rental services at the airport, but there’s a better chance of getting a car at a discounted rate if you make an online reservation before coming to the island. Just make sure that you have the details of where to pick up the vehicle down pat. Also, inquire about drop off charges from the car rental company. To choose a vehicle and check its availability and rental fee, you may visit the Discount Hawaii Car Rental website (http://www.discounthawaiicarrental.com/). You can compare the rates of several car rental companies from there. If you want to raise your Big Island adventure to a higher level, you may want to rent a moped, or motorbike, instead. Mopeds are also available at almost all car rental companies.
Taxi, guided tours, and local transport
Metered taxis are available at the airports and hotels. For the upscale tourist in you, you can also pick up the phone and call for a limousine service. If you want to play it safe, there are also guided tours onboard cutting-edge coaches with a multi-lingual guide. But if you want an adventure of a lifetime, why not rent an RV camper instead? An Rv is transportation and lodging rolled into one. There are several bus stops for the public transit Hele On (which means “Let’s go”) around the island. It’s for free, but it may not be the most efficient ride for you. The Hele On is not available on Sundays, although their routes have been expanded. You may check the bus schedule and map at the county transit agency website (http://heleonbus.org/).
Transportation options mainly depend on what’s convenient for you or what addresses your needs. With the island’s size, you may even consider arriving at Hilo and leaving through Kona. On Hawaii’s Big Island, everything is a matter of choice.