Big Island FAQ
Frequently Asked Questions for the Big Island of Hawaii
Q: Can I scoop up a handful of steaming hot lava?
A: First of all, we wouldn't recommend that unless you want to burst into flames. Second, Madame Pele, the Goddess of the Volcano, aka Kilauea is basically unpredictable. You could just as easily witness lava flows chewing on Chain of Craters Road as you could view a steam plume from afar. It is a living, breathing volcano with a mind of its own. Check THIS for updates on lava flows. Plus, even if you don't see any flowing lava, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and the Big Island are well worth the time. Another great option is to take a helicopter tour over Pu'u O'o for a look into the bowels of the earth. But, that could change tomorrow. Lava has a mind of its own.
Q: Should we stay on Hilo or Kona side?
A: This is a big debate among locals and visitors alike. We say, never knock something until you try it, but here are a few observations. Kona side and its northern brother Kohala are made for tourists. All the high dollar resorts and hotels are on this side of the island because of its long stretches of sunny days. Kona is the place to be for upscale shopping and dining as well as what limited nightlife exists. Hilo, on the other hand, is a greater representation of the 'real Hawaii.' Many of the residents of Hilo make the pre-dawn drive to work at the resorts in Kona. Some say that Hilo isn't very friendly but we just don't believe it. Follow the golden rule and you'll discover that you get more smiles than frowns. On the downside, Hilo is the wettest city in the U.S. It also doesn't have the same pricey hotels as Kona but some nice bed and breakfasts can be found. So, you do the math. Sight-wise both sides of the island have something to offer, so you may consider splitting your time based on what you want to see. Hilo is an ideal location to visit the volcano, the Hamakua Coast, and Mauna Kea. You do not want to make the late night drive back to Kona after a long day at the volcano - trust us. Kona is a prime location for all the Kohala beaches, Waimea and Place of Refuge.
Q: Do I need a 4x4 vehicle?
A: You should be fine with a normal rental car unless you plan to do some off-roading in which case that would probably be prohibited by your rental agreement anyway. Nearly all of the must-see sights on the Big Island can be reached in a normal car. The exceptions are the summit of Mauna Kea and Green Sand Beach. Harper's Rental in Kona and Hilo has four-wheel drive vehicles at reasonable prices for excursions. We can't emphasize it enough: do not take your normal vehicle off-roading no matter how good of a driver you think you are. Visitors who thought they could drive to the summit of Mauna Kea in a Neon are no longer around to tell the tale. If you don't want to mess with a 4x4 rental, there are many tours that will guide you off the beaten path.
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Q: Can I drive into Waipio Valley?
A: About halfway down Waipio Road off the side of the cliff is a crumpled bit of rubble that used to be a pickup truck. It is the greatest testament to NOT driving the road into Waipio Valley in anything but a 4x4 vehicle. This road drops 900 ft in 3/4 of a mile at a 25% incline. Think Hawaiian amusement park without the safety bars. It will fry your brakes on the way down and stall your motor on the way up. The road, which is frightfully close to the edge of the cliff as it is, also narrows to a one lane portion in several places. Not for the novice driver. In fact, no visitors should drive down the valley road period. Only about 50 people live in the valley, but they fiercely defend their right to privacy. There are three ways to enjoy Waipio: view it from the lookout, take a van or horseback tour or hike down to the beach. If you choose to hike, make sure you bring plenty of water and do not hike into the back of the valley.
Q: Is it safe to drive on Saddle Road?
A: You might be looking at your map of the Big Island thinking... that big swath they cut across the island looks like a really convenient way to get to Hilo from Kona. After many improvements in this area the past couple of years, you should have very little, if any at all, trouble getting from one side to the next. If you plan to drive this road, always do so with caution, as the weather can affect the driving conditions. Also, please check with your car rental company to make sure you are allowed to drive this road as some may prohibit it.
Q: Where can I swim under a waterfall?
A: Before we give you the long list of gorgeous waterfalls on the Big Island, a few words of caution. The image of people frolicking under a cascading waterfall looks great on a visitor's brochure but there are inherent dangers in standing underneath a natural feature. Streams feed waterfalls which means that what is coming downstream is also coming down the waterfall. That includes rocks, logs and other things that could bonk you on the head. Another danger is microscopic but extremely dangerous. Leptospirosis is a wicked bacterium which seeps into streams from animal waste. If you do decide to wade in creeks or swim in waterfalls, do not drink the water and cover up open wounds. You can check out a few of the Big Island's best waterfalls on our Best Hawaii Waterfalls page (details and ratings of each fall included).