Tips and Tricks for the Traveler
At the size of Hawaii’s Big Island, the adventures that await you are as diverse as its landscape, climate, and culture. Before you pack your bags for Aloha land, however, there are a few important things that you should keep in mind. To make the most of your trip, create a checklist of the things that you must see and do on the island, especially if it is going to be your first time in Hawaii. You wouldn’t want to waste any of your precious minutes there trying to figure out where to go next. It is, after all, a big island, and it’s your holiday of a lifetime.
Before you go
Before you buy your ticket or make any arrangements where an advanced payment is needed, you need to check the visa requirements that apply to you, unless you’re a citizen of the United States. Do make a call to the US Embassy in your country. Who knows? You might be entitled to the Visa Waiver Program, and even if you already know that your country is included in the program, inquire whether or not there have been any changes to it.
Bookmark and book
Whether it’s for accommodations, events, or tour packages, it will be to your advantage to make a reservation in advance. The Big Island has around 1.5 million tourists coming in each year, and you can’t let competition get in the way of your dream vacation. You can’t risk not getting the type of accommodation that’s just perfect for you and your budget—located in your kind of neighborhood—just because someone else booked the place months ago. Plus, establishments that provide lodging always give discounts to early birds; sometimes, you can even get as much as 35% off the regular rates.
Bookmark the island’s official website (http://www.bigisland.org), as well as the state’s official tourism site (http://www.gohawaii.com), on your computer so you can get updates on new events and services that are available. Doing so will get you ahead of less meticulous travelers. You should also do this to learn about the island and its culture even before you get there. That is the mark of a wise traveler.
The best time to go
You can go to the Big Island whenever it feels right for you, but to be completely honest, the best time for you to go to Hawaii is now. They say that one man’s loss is another man’s gain, and that holds true during these hard times. The recession has dampened the island’s tourism statistics, and as a result, the Big Island Visitors Bureau (BIVB) has been working hard to keep the tourists coming despite a period of economic bleakness. Together with the Hawaii Visitor and Convention Bureau, the BIVB launched a marketing campaign to encourage visitors with travel packages to the Big Island and the rest of the Hawaiian archipelago at big discounted savings. The campaign was launched late in 2008 under the theme, “Discover more of Hawaii for less than you imagined.”
In coordination with major international carriers, hotels, and resorts, the campaign allows tourists to enjoy a week in any of the Hawaiian Islands for less than you would have spent if you went there in the previous years. There are many vendor-partners, such as Hawaiian Airlines, the Marriott, Sheraton, and Hilton hotels and resorts, which are all part of the travel bureau’s program. Depending on the package that you choose, you can get from 40% to 50% off inclusive of roundtrip airfare, tours, and car rental throughout your vacation. Because of competition, hotels give more “free” nights and meals, as well as room upgrades for no additional charges. It is like the Hawaii Islands has gone on sale, and you’re the lucky shopper who’s getting more value for your hard-earned money. If the idea of staying an entire week at a luxury resort seems a bit intimidating to you, don’t worry. It isn’t just the brand-name hotels that are included in the campaign. You may book your preferred flight on your own and rent a cottage at a 50% discount, all thanks to the campaign.
Blocking the calendar for the Merrie Monarch Festival
Summer in Hawaii is from April to November, so it’s the best time to be on a tropical island paradise. To have the ultimate Big Island experience, why not go there when the Merrie Monarch Festival is on? Usually held in Easter, the next festival will be from April 4 to 10, 2010. The week-long celebration kicks off with a musical festival and ends with the annual hula competition, which is acclaimed internationally as “the Olympics of hula.” All of the events, except for the hula competition, are free of charge. You can reserve tickets as early as December 26, 2009. However, don’t make a ticket request before then; otherwise, your request will simply be returned to you. To allow more tourists to watch the performance of dancers from the world’s finest halau (hula schools), each person may only buy 2 sets of tickets. If you’re going in a group and opting for arranged seating, tell those who are traveling with you to make their reservations on the same day that you are making your ticket request. The Merrie Monarch Festival Office processes the requests in the order they are received, so there would be a bigger chance of you getting seated close to each other.
Your “must” list
The island’s vast topography and diverse climate zones make the Big Island experience one of a kind. Dip in the warm waters of the Pacific with your choices of white or black sand beaches, meet the paniolo in the cooler hills of Parker Ranch, or watch the heavenly bodies on top of Mauna Kea with its wintry air against your face. But if it is your first time on the Big Island, what you should never go missing in your itinerary is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Be awed by the view of the formidable Kilauea. You may even see the glowing lava and steam coming out of its crater onboard a helicopter. If that seems too scary for you, you can opt for a 400-feet trek through the Thurston Lava tube. If you’re coming in from Kona, you should consider spending a night in lodging places around the volcano park, as a day trip won’t give you enough time to explore. After an adrenaline-pumping adventure, your next stop can be Hapuna Beach State Park, where you can bask in its white sand beaches. Allot a day for a taste of ancient Hawaii in the Puuhonoa o Honaunau National Historic Park, and then make sure to enjoy the panoramic view as you take a drive to the Hamaukua Coast.
Tourist etiquette and safety
Locals welcome visitors with the spirit of aloha and ohana (family), so you can show your gratitude by keeping with their philosophy of malama aina (care for the land) and malama kai (care for the ocean). Many of the world’s endangered species are among the locals in the island, so both locals and visitors are expected to care for them and keep them against harm. Don’t get too excited during your hikes to the point of stepping on plants. Stay on marked trails and make sure that you don’t disturb any of the island’s historical features. Resist the urge to take rocks, shells, or plants as trip souvenirs. You may only take pictures and gifts you can buy at souvenir shops as mementos of your Big Island experience, so keep your camera in handy, and make sure you have enough batteries and memory space to document your holiday.
Over a fourth of Hawaii’s marine life is not found anywhere else, so these are as precious to the island as its historic sites. So whenever you go snorkeling and taking a dip in its waters, follow this rule: “swim and see, don’t touch.” Yes, you’ll see plenty of amazing aquatic creatures, and no matter how close they get, maintain a safe distance from them.
As you embark on your one-of-a-kind getaway, always have a guide with you. There are plenty of guided tours on the island with guides who are multi-lingual, so avail of their services. Apart from ensuring your safety on the island, this will also guarantee that you see and experience the best that the island has to offer. Tour guides know their way around the island, so the only thing that you’ll be losing is time.
Looking for the perfect bring-home present
With all the fun that you’ve been having on the island, make sure that you bring a taste of the Big Island for your loved ones. Why not bring home a bag of chocolate-coated macadamia nuts which the Big Island is famous for? Better yet, bring ones that you picked yourself. Macadamia nut farms, like the Macadamia Meadows Farm on Kamaoa Road in Waiohinu, allow visitors who stay at least 3 days in their B&B inn to pick their own macadamia nuts. The hostess will have them dried and packaged in time for your trip home. You may also purchase a bag or two of Kona coffee beans, for which the island is also known. Another top choice among tourists are bottles of Hawaiian Guava Wine. You can purchase a bottle for less than $20.