I was excited to receive an email about the blog. It was Emma Powers, from Turo, wondering what my dream based US vacation looked like with a rental car in my possession! Turo is a peer-to-peer car rental service that connects renters with owners, and skips the car rental company.
As my regular readers will know, I am currently planning a backpacking trip to Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. I am especially excited about this because it is a chance to escape the frigid, blustery winters of central Ontario in January. And so it didn’t take long to decide that for me, a dream vacation in the United States would take place in beautiful, tropical Hawaii!
And since we’re dreaming, we might as well dream big people! Enjoy some of what would certainly be highlights for me on a trip to the Big Island.
Getting to Hawaii – the Aloha State
There are a number of options available when flying intoo Hawaii, but we are going to take the most common one. This involves
- Flying into Honolulu International Airport
- From there, we can catch a connecting flight to the smaller, Kona Airport – located on the western shore of the Big Island
Who is we, you ask? That would be myself, and my partner. We both love travel, road trips and food so he would be my first choice! He is an excellent driver, while I am on the other hand am the superior navigator and DJ (aka: co-pilot).
The Big Island is an ideal destination for a first Hawaiian vacation because it is the biggest island of the state, is the only island with active volcanoes, and a circular highway system connecting us to the coast, and Hawaii’s best!
To get the most out of a trip to Hawaii, the easiest way has to be to rent a vehicle! Enter Turo, the peer-to-peer car rental service that connects travelers with car owners that want to rent. This is an interesting service because it skips the car rental companies, which are usually expensive. When I started to plan my dream trip to Hawaii, I went online and found this little beauty in the listings.
This 2013 4×4 Jeep Wrangler would be the perfect vehicle for our Hawaiian road trip because
- It has cargo space to store any camping equipment, diving gear and road trip supplies we may need
- It as an all-terrain vehicle, so we won’t have to worry about rougher roads, rocks, mud, and so on
- It has a convertible top, enough said!
- Comes equipped with a GPS unit to help us navigate around the Big Island
The best part? We meet our sweet ride at the airport. You can also see where else Turo operates.
Road Trip! – Three weeks touring the shores of the Big Island
I have never been to Hawaii, and so I would want to take my time when exploring and really experience it. So instead of trying to island hop, we think a Big Island road trip is the way to go! There are good things to be said for managing your own time, and choosing your own destinations.
To keep the trip manageable yet exciting, plan for at least 3 weeks! Taking advantage of the Turo car rental service will mean ultimate flexibility when exploring the Big Island, and a more relaxed trip all in all. No need to rush when we are making our own timeline!
Hawaii Island is a good place for a road trip because there is so much happening! It is the largest island in the state and has the only active volcanoes (ongoing eruptions). There are also a ton of things to see and do, depending on who you are and what you’re into. My partner and I? We like driving around, taking pictures of things, and exploring! Relaxing, water sports and learning new things. Eating! So, what can we get up on the Big Island for 3 weeks?
Week One: Exploring Kailua-Kona, and acclimatizing to life on the Island
After arriving in Hawaii and picking up the Jeep, a 30 minute drive south through Kailua-Kona will bring you to the Ka’awa Loa Plantation – a guesthouse and coffee plantation. After the hectic pace of day-to-day worries and traveling, it’s town for a little down time.
The plantation doubles as a small bed and breakfast removed from the hustle and bustle of Kona, yet without being too far away for it to be a mission. The bed and breakfast would be excellent because it would provide somewhere peaceful to relax and adjust to life on the island for a few days. And drink copious amounts of fresh, Island coffee!
- The plantation boasts a mini spa, hiking trails, kayaking, a tropical fruit plantation and mini spa… yes please. That sounds like just what I need. And a view of volcanoes.
Even though we are relaxing, the first couple of days are not completely idle!
- Get in the first day of scuba diving with Big Island Diver’s – a nice and easy morning of diving off of the coast of Kona. Warm up for the Black Water dive, which makes use of lighting to draw rarely observed creatures from the deep.and unique rock structures
- Pick up any road trip supplies such as a cooler, snacks and a roadmap while getting your bearings
- Check out Splasher’s Bar and Grill. They offer free coffee (with the purchase of an entree) before 11am, are family-owned and operated, and have great reviews!
After a few days of being in one spot, it’s time to hit the open road in the Jeep and head towards Kilauea – just not too close right now, thanks. Getting onto Highway 11, we head south on the Hawaii Belt Road, or the Mamalahoa Highway. It is one part of three that makes up our circle route around the perimeter of the Big Island.
Destination: South Point (Ka Lae) and Papakolea Beach
An olive-green sand beach that was once a volcano.
This is the southernmost point in all of the United Statesm and I would like to stand on it. Other visitors also report amazing olive green, volcanic sand beaches that are well worth a days’ hike to find and do some beach combing on. Although excellent beaches in Hawaii go without saying, this one in particular seemed worth mentioning.
Continuing on the natural path of Highway 11 will take you to Naalehu, a close stop to spend the night.
- There are plenty of options available, but we like to go off the beaten path at times. A small ‘ Elegant Pohaku House’ caught my eye as a place to stay for the night. No website, I found this spot through a third-party booking website.
Before leaving in the morning, plan to stop at either the Punalu’u Bake Shop or the Hana Hou Restaurant for coffee, sandwiches and other necessary road trip supplies before heading for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Week 2: The eastern shore of the Big Island
Destination: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
I have never seen a volcano close up, and I want to. Now is an excellent time to go, as Kilauea has been experiencing ongoing eruptions since 1983. Either way, seeing volcanoes is certainly a highlight of any trip to the Big Island.
- The Park’s Visitor Center should be your first stop to get information on restricted areas, lava flows, possible routes and so on. That being said, a number of online resources point towards the Crater Rim Road Tour as an excellent place to start for views of the actively erupting Kilauea volcano.
Not a current shot – but still incredible.
Views are nice, but we also want to do a little bit of more active exploring on the Island, and make use of some that dream camping gear we have stored in the back of the Jeep. The park has many miles of trails and hikes to choose from, so 3 or 4 days of back country camping is on the table!
- You will need a permit to camp. It’s best to make arrangements beforehand, and check all route and park advisories before setting out to ensure lava safety.
- There are plenty of day hikes available if you would rather spend the night indoors
Destination: Hilo, a beach paradise
After a couple days of camping, relaxing on the beach in beautiful Hilo, on the eastern shores of Hawaii Island will be a nice change up. A stop at the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens on Highway 11 along the way would be wicked! Although I never have success in growing them.
- A wide variety of accommodations from hotel to hostel. We are choosing to investigate the Hilo Backpacker’s Hostel. Planning to do lots of exploring in Hilo, we are not in need a fancy hotel and would like the chance to meet other travelers.
- Visit the Hilo Farmer’s Market in Downtown Hilo for an authentic Hawaiin market experience, and to stock up on road trip supplies and snacks
There is also time to get in a second day of diving, this time from shore with the well-reviewed Nautilus Dive Center. Hopefully we would get to see sea turtles, coral, fish and some more unique lava formations.
We would also like to visit the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii! This is somewhere we would both be very excited to go! The observatory teaches visitors about Hawaiian culture and outer space through their exhibits, a native 4-level garden and a planetarium.
And to eat, check out
- Sombat’s Fresh Thai Cuisine – Winner of the Hawaii Heralds ‘Best Thai Food’ category since 2007
- Paul’s Place – a tiny breakfast/brunch café that specializes in benedict’s, waffles and other classes and has gotten rave reviews from customers
Week 3: Canopy Tours and Kicking Back
The beach paradise of Hilo has put is into relaxed pace, so it’s time for some adventure! Hoping into our Jeep and onto Highway 19 (still part of the Mamalohoa Highway), we head north-west along the coast. This is the scenic route.
Destination: Kamuela and Koloha
Free coffee, friendly looking staff, good breakfast… we are stopping.
I often choose the scenic route because it provides so many opportunities for picture taking, beach combing and general exploring. Hopefully it’s a nice day and we have the soft top off of the Jeep. After a slow day of travel along the coast though, I think a big juicy burger from The Village Burger in Kamuela would taste just right.
- These burgers boast organically and locally raised or obtained Big Island beef, pork and Ahi tuna
- Vegetarian options available
After spending the night in Kamuela, a stop at the Waimea Coffee Company is a must for a killer breakfast and the Island’s voted ‘Best Cup of Coffee’. Take it for the road and head onwards to Koloha.
The Kohala Zipline company offers zip line and canopy tours, that can be combined with other activities such as hiking, swimming and island tours. All in all they offer 9 distinct zip lines! There’s a different way to see a country.
Since we are in Hawaii but haven’t checked out a strict seafood restaurant yet, I want to check out Monstera – a Japanese noodle and sushi bar that gets rave reviews!
Destination: The Fairmont Orchid luxury hotel
And now I am just teasing myself.
To finish off a truly spectacular and awe-inspiring dream vacation, we will be concluding our visit with a 3-day stay at the Fairmont Orchid luxury hotel on the western Kona-side coast of the Big Island. The hotel boasts excellent restaurants, top-notch accommodations, and a spa. Go kayaking or snorkeling, or try your hand at something distinctly Hawaiian like basket weaving or canoeing in an outrigger canoe. Be pampered and get relaxed before having to return to real life? YES PLEASE!
- Even at the resort, having the Jeep still has its perks! There is just enough time to zip back to Kona for one last evening of diving – the much anticipated Black Water Night Dive where divers use lights to attract unique deep sea creatures
Sadly, a trip is always over too fast – even in just the planning stages.! Even in my vacation fantasy world, letting go of the Jeep is hard. Saying goodbye to beautiful, welcoming Hawaii is harder. Now I just have this great trip planned… someone’s going to have to take it.