Renting a 4-Wheel Drive SUV

Driving a 4x4 into the Waipio Valley

Driving a 4×4 into the Waipio Valley

When choosing your Big Island rental car, we strongly recommend considering a four wheel drive sports utility vehicle.  Although not the absolute cheapest rental car available, it does provide you the most flexible means of transportation on the Big Island. 

Not only is this the biggest island in the Hawaiian chain, there are also many areas of unimproved roads, and many of the attractions are in hard to reach locations that without a four wheel drive vehicle would be otherwise inaccessible.  Check out our best deals - Kona Rental Cars from $65

When requesting a sport utility vehicle from the rental car agency, you’ll likely either end up with a four wheel drive Jeep Wrangler, or four wheel drive full-sized SUV such as a Ford Explorer.  Either vehicle will do just fine off-roading on the big island.  While the Ford Explorer will offer you a roomier interior and more storage space, the Jeep will allow you to remove its soft top and drive as a convertible.  Additionally, make sure you secure your valuables in your rental car vehicle.  The best thing to do is to not had anything at all in plain sight, specially if you’re renting a Jeep which offers only minimal protection against anyone trying to break into a vehicle.

The main reason to rent a four wheel drive SUV on the Big Island of Hawaii is to reach places the normal rental cars cannot.  Renting a four wheel drive will allow you to drive to the bottom of the Waipio Valley and explore the wonderful waterfalls and black sand beach below; otherwise you would have to hike the very steep trail down and back.  The beaches at Kekaha Kai State Park in Kona are barely accessible via a dirt road in very poor condition.  An SUV will make this trip easy, and help you avoid damaging your rental car.

Another out-of-this-world destination on the Big Island only accessible by four wheel drive is the towering summit of the Mauna Kea volcano, standing at over 13,000 Onizuka Visitor’s Center at 10,000 feet in elevation, the road from that point to the summit is a treacherous one unless you’re in a four wheel drive SUV.  There are also several choose along the Kona Coast that are only accessible by a true four wheel drive vehicle.  These beaches, although obscure, are very pretty and well worth the journey, such as Kiholo Bay.  Another stunning beach that is only accessible by a true four wheel drive SUV with plenty of ground clearance, is the Green Sand Beach near south point.  This magnificent beach is located at the bottom of a steep ravine in a cove, approximately 2 1/2 miles down a very rough trail.

Another fantastic place to go Four-Wheeling is on the Mana Road.  This is a 44-mile long road that connects Waimea town to the Mauna Kea Road, cutting through the very scenic rolling pastures of the Parker Ranch.  The road starts as a paved road bisecting large fields of grazing cattle - then eventually turns into a dirt trail offering great views of the Big Island’s central highlands.

There are many other four wheel drive opportunity’s on the big island, we’ve just mentioned some of our favorites in this article.  In addition to the access provided, a full-size SUV will also offer a roof rack on top of your vehicle to store things such as the kayaks and surfboards you may rent, or any other large sized gear.  Make sure you to read your rental car agreement, when renting a four wheel drive SUV on the Big Island, there are certain places that the rental car companies forbid you from taking your vehicle due to liability, a safety, or other reasons.  Always remember to keep plenty of gas in your gas tank, carry plenty of fresh water, and know that there are many places on the Big Island and have little or no cell phone coverage.  Check out our best deals - Kona Rental Cars from $65

4-Wheeling near the Green Sand Beach, South Point


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  1. Scott says:

    This article is misleading. Very few if any rental companies will allow you to take their vehicles (even four-wheel drive vehicles) off-road in Hawaii. If you break the rental contract and do it, you forfeit the loss-damage waiver, and you pay for towing yourself.

    • letsgo-hawaii says:

      Sorry if you found the article misleading… Ultimately, we recommend every visitor review their rental car contract agreement. Although most conventional car rental companies frown upon you taking their 4WD vehicles “off road”, Harpers Hawaii rents 4WD trucks and SUVs for your off-road adventures (including access to the Saddle Road and the Mauna Kea summit).

      While we don’t recommend anyone breaking rules (or car-rental agreements), taking your 4WD Jeep off the pavement commensurate with your driving abilities (we are long-time 4WD owners) is just not that big of a deal.

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