Help me plan my Big Island trip!
February 12, 2017 9:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii and I'm trying to figure out how many nights to spend on each side. Most people say you shouldn't spend more than 3 nights in Hilo but it seems like we might want more -- is this enough time?

We arrive in our B&B in Volcano at about 4pm, and currently plan to spend 3 nights. Is this enough? We currently plan to spend 6 nights in Kohala, I'm trying to figure out if I should switch one of those nights to the Hilo side.

What we definitely plan to do in Hilo: Volcano National Park; hiking to see the active flows (this starts at 2-3pm and you get back at ~9pm); seeing the lava from a boat (we'd leave for it around 3pm and you get back around 8pm); Akaka Falls; Hilo Botantical Garden; Peepeko Scenic Drive. Can we fit this all in during the time that we have? Is any of it actually not that great? I feel that with half of two days being eaten up by tours, and half of the first day by travel, that we might not have enough time. But maybe some of these things are quicker than I think they might be, especially I wonder if we need to spend that much time in VNP if we're already doing a bunch of lava viewing elsewhere.

(I tried asking this question on the TripAdvisor forums but I just got a bunch of answers that said that seeing the lava from a boat is tantamount to jumping out of an airplane with no parachute and not a lot of answers that addressed the actual question. Please assume that I am comfortable with the risk level involved in the boat tours, thanks.)

P.S. Any other can't miss activity recommendations welcome.
posted by phoenixy to Travel & Transportation around Hawaii (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Volcano National Park; hiking to see the active flows (this starts at 2-3pm and you get back at ~9pm)

Do you have a specific package deal or something that's told you this schedule? I'm not sure it's realistic and I really doubt it's realistic on your own, as opposed to going with a guide. You should always check the lava flow status in the couple of days before you go to get specific directions; based on that link as of now it looks similar to when I was there last. That entry site is a long, long walk from the nearest parking, it's very exposed so you'll get wind-whipped and sun burned quickly, and it is pitch black after sundown. Which is all to say, unless you have a guide with pre-arranged transit, I would leave for your lava flow hike as early as you can on a given day and allocate the whole day for just that. If you get done early have a relaxing dinner in Hilo or something. I certainly wouldn't start the hike at 2pm.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:19 PM on February 12, 2017

Response by poster: Do you have a specific package deal or something that's told you this schedule? I'm not sure it's realistic and I really doubt it's realistic on your own, as opposed to going with a guide

Yes, I should have clarified that in the original post -- this is based on the itinerary for a specific guided tour we plan to take.
posted by phoenixy at 10:27 PM on February 12, 2017

Best answer: When we were on the Big Island, we had planned to do the hike to see the active flows, but it kept getting postponed due to the wind blowing the smoke in the wrong direction (towards the hikers). Ultimately it got cancelled three or four times and we did the boat instead, but if that's something you really want to do, an extra day's cushion might be worthwhile. Your schedule otherwise sounds tight but doable. Whether you want to devote more time to the Hilo side depends on how much you like snorkeling and lying on the beach.
posted by peacheater at 5:04 AM on February 13, 2017

We didn't do the Peepeko Scenic Drive. I think Akaka Falls is skippable, though granted that may be because we'd just come from Ithaca, NY, with its waterfalls around every corner.
posted by peacheater at 5:06 AM on February 13, 2017

The thing is that you have no idea what's going to be happening with the lava, and also with the volcanic fog, aka vog, which is toxic. The lava could stop flowing, and/or the park can be closed because of vog, and you're really not going to know until each morning.

I have family members on the Hilo side, and every time we go to the island we just sort of have to make a plan for X number of days there, X days on Kona side, and then ride with it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:38 AM on February 13, 2017

P.S. Any other can't miss activity recommendations welcome.

Um...the biggest group of the worlds largest telescopes is on top of the big mountain there (high enough to want to pack some warm clothes)...IIRC, they do tours but only certain times and you gotta book in advance...but worth it (for me anyway YMMV) to see some 8-10 meter(!) primary mirrors.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:34 AM on February 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The Hilo farmer's market is pretty neat - fruits/veggies/crafts.

We enjoyed stopping at one of the kona coffee plantations in the area. Neat to see the coffee cherries, and taste a number of different brews, as well as pick up gifts to bring home.

I could have spent all our time hiking at Vocanos NP, honestly. We did go to one of the black-sand beaches (that was about 5 miles from VNP, Punalu'u, and we did see the turtles there).

And yes, going up the observatory -- we went just to the visitors center (didn't do the tour all the way up), and went to see the sunset from there, and then look through all the amateurs who brought up telescopes (I think it's a weekly, or monthly event, volunteer sponsored etc). FYI -- It's COLD up there, moreso when the sun goes down..
posted by k5.user at 9:20 AM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Absolutely go up to the visitors center at the observatory. Some (most?) nights they set up telescopes in the parking lot after sunset. One of my favorite parts of our trips. Also make sure to allow time for distractions. Some of the best parts of our trips have been just driving around and turning off randomly at little beaches, small towns, etc.
posted by skycrashesdown at 10:42 AM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My now-boyfriend and I went to Hilo for four days about six years ago. It went something like this:
- Day 1: explore Hilo (which is pretty small), checkout the farmers' market, get settled.
- Day 2: Drive down the east coast to explore the black sand beaches and Pahoa. Snorkeled. I don't know if you can still go to Pahoa now due to a lava flow a couple years back.
- Day 3: spent the whole day in Volcanoes Park. Hiking, lava tubes, the works. We saw some lava flow on land but couldn't get close. On the way there is the buried village (forgot the name, sorry).
- Day 4: Drove up north to Akaka Falls and beyond that. Can't remember how far north we went.

We didn't go to the botanical garden or the scenic drive.

The trouble with your itinerary is that, besides the volcano part, the rest is all north of Hilo, which is something like an hour's drive from the park, from what I remember. If you were staying in Hilo, it would be easier to get around.

If 3 days is all you have, then maybe, to minimize driving:
- Day 1: just the volcano park. It's big. And cool.
- Day 2: Half a day or less in Hilo, depending on how much you care about little towns, and the botanical garden
- Day 3: the scenic drive and Akaka Falls
posted by curagea at 12:38 PM on February 13, 2017

Have you picked up the Hawaii Revealed book? I highly recommend it. It might help you nail down your itinerary and make sure there's nothing of interest to you that you miss.
posted by FireFountain at 2:10 PM on February 13, 2017

As a Big Islander, I COMPLETELY disagree with Joey. It's a significant hike to get to the lava, but, flowing into the ocean, like it is right now, is totally worth seeing at sunset/night. Just go in from the Kalapana side, and there's a lovely gravel road. Take a flashlight or headlamp (and snacks and water) and you'll be fine.

However, since you're on a tour, it should be no worries on that front.

Of course, as noted above, it may have stopped being super-exciting by the time you're here. Which reminds me that I should go back down before it does.

Definitely get the Revealed book, the most recent edition. Some of the restaurants might be closed (the turnover's pretty fast, especially in Kona), but it's a great resource.

Drive either up from or down to Hilo via the coastal road on the east side of the island, assuming there aren't mudslides. And stop at Tex's for malasadas.

Feel free to MeMail me.
posted by DebetEsse at 10:09 PM on February 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback so far, it's been very helpful and helping me frame how to think about it. I think that since there are more must-do things for me on the east side I'll probably book another night there to avoid being stressed. For the west side I don't care about shopping, don't surf or scuba dive, and don't drink coffee, so the only things I definitely don't want to miss there are getting in some snorkeling, a manta ray night dive, and Mauna Kea.
posted by phoenixy at 10:51 PM on February 13, 2017

Mauna Kea is pretty great, and they have THESE AMAZING STICKERS that will delight and confuse all of your friends.

I grew up on O'ahu, so I don't have a whole lot of Big Island specifics to recommend, but I used to go to the Big Island every year with a club that I was in and we always made it a point to stop by Big Island Candies before we went home for all of the amazing coffee and shortbread goodies. Obviously skippable if that's not your jam, but the candy factory is pretty neat to peep at if you have a bit of time.

Also, I don't have any specific recommendations, but the black sand beaches were always one of my favorite parts of visiting the Big Island, so that might be something fun to check out if there's any near you in Hilo.

Otherwise, I'd say to play it by ear. You're gonna be on "aloha time" when you're there anyway, and I wouldn't worry too much about FOMO. If you're having a great time in Hilo, you can probably extend your B&B by an extra night, and if not, you can stick with your original plan. :) It's all g. Have fun!
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:12 AM on February 14, 2017

Response by poster: All right, having thought through all this a bit, I think I have a plan. I think I'll keep the three nights at the B&B in Volcano but move one of my west side nights to Hilo instead. That way, on the third day we can catch up with VNP and anything we missed on the west side south of Hilo, then if we have extra time visit Mauna Kea in the afternoon/evening. We'll drive back to Hilo afterwards, spend the night there, and then do the items north of Hilo on the way to the Kohala Coast. If we don't have time to do Mauna Kea because we're seeing destinations in and around Hilo or the VNP, no problem, we'll hit it from the west side later on since it's pretty much equidistant between our west side hotel and Hilo.

Thanks all for your advice!
posted by phoenixy at 9:19 PM on February 14, 2017

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