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Trip Report Big Island (kind of brief and low budget)

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We were lucky to stay in a condo at Waikoloa beach resort gratis, due to the generosity of a relative. Tics via Priceline were $461 round-trip from Denver to KOA (!). Rental car (mid-size), $20/day (that's including everything; daily price was closer to $11, but taxes almost doubled the price!). Pretty good price through carrental.com, but very close to most other sites.
We stocked up at Costco: fresh fish (look for "wild caught Hawaii"), meat, wine, booze, and gas. Found prices higher, but not too much, than mainland. Gas started at $4.34 (Costco; $4.70 average elsewhere) when we arrived, but were down to $4.03 (Hilo and small town, not Tesoro in Kona; a bit more) by Memorial Day. Other necessities were from Safeway, and fresh fruit was reasonable at farmers markets (at Kings Shops, Kona, many other places) at various times; fresh fish at Kawaihae harbor and other places.
Some free activities besides snorkeling, swimming, and beach walking/reading/people watching?
Lava Tube caving: Thurston in Volcanos NP (tourist friendly), Kaumana County Park outside Hilo (parking, facilities, stairs in, no lights, rough floor, rock carvings ["Joe, 1909" and later, 25 miles long!] ), various "wild" finds on Old Mamalohoa road (Waimea to Honoka'a; just look for them or get a good map).
Clockwise, sort of, from north of Hilo:
Activities in addition to Waipio overlook, Akaka Falls, Onomea scenic drive, gorgeous Lapapoepoe Point (county park/memorial), Hilo city waterfalls (etc.):
Free(!) Pane'ewa tropical zoo (with white tiger refugee from Las Vegas on his own nice 1 acre spread, birds, some primates, etc.) with beautiful botanical garden-worthy grounds.
Chain of lovely beach parks on Kalanianaolo drive (south Hilo) with short walks to extravagant crashing surf views (end of road).
Volcano National Park ('nuff said); $10/car, not free, but if you are a U.S. senior and don't have your lifetime $50 unlimited park pass, you are foolish, indeed.
Lava Tree State Monument (Pahoa area park of incredible tropical lushness, short looping trails with terrific geological features).
South side beach parks, too many and too different to list (black sand, crashing surf, snorkeling warm pools at Kapoho, etc.)
Twain's monkey pod tree is a clone!
South Point; better road than expected, and beautiful scenery, but didn't hike to olivine beach.
North to Kona:
Place of Refuge, of course; and various heiaus all along coast.
Drive up into the cloud forest in Kona.
Coffee tours (ho hum). Kona coffee is good, but as an espresso fan, I find most a bit sweet and lacking in body. (Think I'm the only one.)
Kiholo Bay. Look it up. No, don't. Nevermind:)
North of Waikoloa:
Puukohola National Historic Site heiau, well worth a visit.
Lapakahi State Historic Site (fishing village) also interesting (you be nice to the bra, he be nice to you, regardless of tour book comments). Gorgeous views, and interesting, pretty easy loop walk to pristine cove and back.
Up to end of road, Pololu Valley overlook (wow), Kamehameha statue, lots of interesting side roads to ocean, 1800s churches, etc. Lunch at Bamboo in Hawi (havee) was our splurge (but a fresh ono sandwich and new waffle fries with a passion fruit margarita for ~$20 not such a great amount to spend!)
The upshot? We have our way of doing things, maybe not others' idea of a vacation: we don't pay to ride noisy ziplines, visit $15 private botanical gardens (even if they do have the lock on some waterfalls) when we're already in a tropical paradise, or pay for many meals out (infringing on my vacation time!). Preference is to pack a picnic lunch and follow our own schedule. But, tours can be worth the fees: such as a boat trip to Captain Cook (and beyond) for an easy snorkel (worth the $75 with coupons or bargaining); if you want to see a live volcano from above, a splurge on a helicopter trip might be worthwhile (you can get these in the low $100s); night manta ray snorkels (starting from ~$100); the folks we talked to who made their own sushi from their own catch of the day on a fishing tour were very happy about it!
We were thinking about an ATV Waipio Valley rim tour, but saw a tv commercial bringing the price down from $179 to $100 for locals (Kaimana? rates), and decided not to go. Nose out of joint issues, I guess. (I don't mind that there are discounts for lots of things in lots of places for local residents, but this one seemed an egregious gouge.)
Thanks for reading, if you did!

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