Getting Around the Big Island

Kona Road with Mauna Kea in Background

Kona Road with Mauna Kea in Background

Arriving the Big Island
Unless you are arriving by cruise ship, more than likely you are arriving by airplane.  There are two commercial airports on the Big Island of Hawaii, Kona Keahole International Airport and Hilo General Lyman International Airport.  Both airports are open-air, quick to arrive and depart, and all the major rental car companies are available.  Additionally, depending on which Big Island Hotel you are checking into, an airport shuttle bus may be provided.  The Kona Keahole Airport is located 7 miles to the north of the town of Kailua-Kona and about 17 miles south of the Kohala Coast resorts.

Arrange for the spirit of Aloha to meet you at the airport - check out the Big Island Airport Lei Greetings.

Taxis are readily available at both Kona and Hilo airports. In Hilo call Ace-1 (tel. (808) 935-8303). In Kailua-Kona call Kona Airport Taxi (tel. (808) 329-7779). Taxis will take you wherever you want to go on the Big Island, but it’s prohibitively expensive to use them for long distances.


 Hiking the Big Island of Hawaii

Onomea Bay, Hamakua Coast Hawaii

Rental Vehicles

Unlike the island of Oahu, the Big Island is vast, the attractions are spread out, and the island lacks any significant public transportation.  We highly recommend you rent a car when visiting the Big Island.  You can rent a car, a convertible Jeep, an SUV, a motor scooter, and even a Harley Davidson motorcycle on the Big Island.  Motor scooters are convenient in and around the town of Kailua-Kona, but I wouldn’t venture any farther than that.  If you rent a car you will be able to travel around most of the island.  However, there are several locations and attractions that are only accessible by rough, barely-paved roads, such as Kekaha Kai State Park, South Point, and a few other beach parks.  Additionally, you should consider renting a 4-Wheel Drive SUV on the Big Island - there are 4×4-only roads that lead to the summit of the Mauna Kea Volcano, down the rugged road to South Point, and descend into the Waipio Valley - note that all rental car agreements are void on many trails and off-road, and you should not take a rental car or SUV there (even if you think you can make it)!

Other vehicles that are available for rent include motor scooters and Harley Davidson motorcycles.  the motor scooters are very convenient to get around Kailua town and the nearby beaches, however, you won’t be able to ride them any further than that.  Driving around the Big Island is scenic and enjoyable - and makes for a perfect Harley ride.

How to Get There

The road system is easy to navigate on the Big Island.  Unlike Oahu, you won’t find large highways congested with rush-hour traffic.  Instead one road takes you all the way around the perimeter of the Big Island (Route 11/19) and one road cuts across the center of the island between the two volcanoes (Saddle Road) - see map.  Since the Big Island is so large, depending on how active you are, you will likely find yourself driving great distances each day.  On a recent trip to the Big Island we put on more than one thousand miles on our car in ten days!  Driving is easy here and the speed limit never exceeds 55 mph.  However, there are many places that are not well marked by signs.  Before you head out to discover a remote beach or hiking trail, make sure you double check a good map.  GPS receivers are much more prevalent nowadays, and we find ours invaluable on the Big Island.

It will take you approximately 2.5 hours to drive from Kailua-Kona to Hilo (Waimea town is a good stopping point for food and gas), about 45 minutes to get from Hilo to the Volcano and 2.5 hours to get from Kona to the Volcano.  Check out our Big Island Driving Guide for the best scenic drives on the island.  View our chart below for approximate drive times around the Big Island, click on the “view map” link to see driving directions and printable online maps:

Kona to Hilo 2 hours, 30 minutes view map
Kona to Waimea 1 hour view map
Kona to Hawi/North Kohala 1 hour, 20 minutes view map
Kona to Volcano 2 hours, 30 minutes view map
Kona to Na’alehu / South Point 1 hour, 40 minutes view map
Hilo to Kona 2 hours, 30 minutes view map
Hilo to Waimea 1 hour, 30 minutes view map
Hilo to Hawi/North Kohala 2 hours view map
Hilo to Volcano 45 minutes view map
Hilo to Na’alehu / South Point 2 hours, 15 minutes view map
Waimea to Kona 1 hour view map
Waimea to Hilo 1 hour, 30 minutes view map
Waimea to Hawi/North Kohala 40 minutes view map
Waimea to Volcano 2 hours, 10 minutes view map
Waimea to Na’alehu / South Point 2 hours, 40 minutes view map


Parking is at a premium in the town of Kailua-Kona.  There are some free parking areas in town, but most lots are pay-for-parking.  There is a nice large public parking lot behind the Coconut Grove Marketplace on Kuakini Hwy (see map).

Travel Planning Advice

Budgeting your time when planning your Big Island vacation can be difficult based on time to drive to all the attractions. Check out our handy Big Island Trip Itineraries article that gives you sample itineraries for 1,2 and 7-day trips.


Maps and Advice
When traveling to the town of Hilo, make sure you bring along a map.  In the old downtown area, there are a lot of one-way streets, take caution.  Additionally, parking can be hard to find here.  There is a strip of free public parking along the waterfront on Bayfront Hwy.

There are plenty of Big Island maps on the tourist pamphlets at the airport, hotels, and visitor kiosks.  In these pamphlets you will find detailed maps and driving guides for Kona, Kohala, Hilo, Waimea, as well as the rest of the island.  Grab a few of these and keep them in your car for easy reference.

No matter where you drive to on the island, make sure you secure your car.  Do not leave any valuables in plain view, and if possible do not leave anything at all in the vehicle (nothing on the seats, nothing on the console, nothing on the dashboard).  Petty car theft is popular on the island, especially at isolated parking locations near beaches and hiking trails.  The best thing to do is not offer any temptation - lock the doors and empty the car.

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Travel Planning Articles

Planning your Trip - When to come, how long to stay, books

Vacations for Families - Best family beaches, activities for youngsters, infants, teens

Hawaiian Cruise Passengers - Information about port calls in Hawaii

Sample Travel Itineraries - Suggested itineraries, 1-2 day, 1 week

Island Activities Guide - Guide to the activities & tours

Tips for Traveling with Kids - Packing and flying with kids

Island Hopping - Visit more than one Hawaiian island

Regions of the Big Island - Geography and climate descriptions

Big Island Transportation How to get there, plan your driving

Rent a 4-Wheel Drive SUV - Off-roading on the Big Island

Top 5 Attractions (You Might Miss) - You’ll never hear about these…

Packing for your Trip - Big Island scenery & weather is diverse

Big Island Wedding Planner How to plan your wedding in Hawaii

Accommodations Articles

Where to Stay - Three different parts of the island to stay - which is best?

Vacation Rentals - Big Island Vacation rentals are a deal

Bargain or 5 Star Hotel - Stay at a resort or a bargain hotel

Discount Big Island Hotels Check out the latest rates

Shopping in Hawaii

Big Island Shopping Guide - Guide to the shopping destinations

Hawaii Souvenirs - The best souvenirs to buy in Hawaii

Gear & Equipment Articles

Gear for your Trip - Get outfitted with the right gear

GPS Points of Interest (POI) - GPS Coordinates for Points of Interest


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