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Trip Report: the Big Island Loop de Wheels, Sept 07

Trip Report: the Big Island Loop de Wheels, Sept 07

Nov 20th, 2007, 03:14 PM
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Trip Report: the Big Island Loop de Wheels, Sept 07

Aloha from a Federal Election-frenzied Australia. By late Saturday evening, there will be champagne corks poppin’ and loser-tears droppin’ as The Land Downunder returns to every day routines of backyard barbeques and the general consensus that all politicians are expedient in their interpretation of truth. Nice way of saying they’re all – globally - bloody liars.

I’ve been drafting this TR for two months, but got sidetracked by sorting/printing/albuming over one thousand photos of our amazing rtw trip – this time, I’ve even added the extra feature of laminating the result, and henceforth I may be addressed as The Laminating Queen! Hard to believe, but the whole lot weighs over 3kg, so the Big Adventure document may well be known as The Hernia Inducer! Also hoping to have the end result professionally bound, so DH – my consort – may well become The Binding Prince.

Laminating Queen and Binding Prince are not into resort/luxury hotel/lazing on the beach type of tourism, so for us, Big Island was - like the Wheels - a compact area that offered the most amazing geological/climate areas to discover at leisure with the wealth of the abundant natural wonders a direct contrast to the low-budget spending. Although that was more by accident – we prefer slightly isolated, private b&bs or cottages, so both the lodging and cost of feeding of the adventurers was surprisingly low. Probably feeding the car was more pricey than feeding us

The Wheels

A compact four-door economy sedan, a Ford Focus, from Hertz at the car rental depot at Kona Airport. Unlimited free miles, cost approx U$250 p.w. including all those dratted add-ons such as tax, concession fees, and the ubiquitous rental surcharge. Our chariot de wheels served us well during our adventures, was very comfortable, economic in fuel consumption and very easy to park.

There’s a free shuttle bus running from the Keahole airport to the rental car depot, with all the various car hire companies conveniently housed in the one building; acquiring our wheels was without hassle, the most time being taken up by the Hertz assistant trying to convince us to accept the free upgrade to bigger, better and more luxurious (BP has some sort of gold card status) and we just wanted compact, ordinary and standard. He was convinced these tourists from Oz with their weird ‘Strine accent didn’t understand the word ‘free’ and kept repeating “But it’s a FREE upgrade, no extra money – you unnerstand?”

We named our compact economy sedan Bartie – as we would be spending a lot of time in his interior, we thought being on a first-name basis was prudent. And indeed, Bartie was loyal and trustworthy transportation, and only let down the side once – but rather spectacularly - a flat tyre on the Mauna Loa lookout track.

Security As there are occasional spates of theft and break-ins of cars, especially at parking lots near main attractions, we were careful to stow all our luggage and belongings in the boot, and when parking always made sure that there was absolutely nothing in view – even stowing shopping/dilly bag with water bottles, etc - under the passenger seat. We had absolutely no problems and by following this simple routine – which we do back home as well – we could put any concerns regarding the car security firmly to sleep. And the best sleeping aid – fully comprehensive travel insurance!

Mileage We drove a total of 555 miles (888 km) with seatbelts firmly fastened (it’s law); we only filled the tank once, as Bartie was fully-fuelled on delivery and hicking on empty when returned. We tanked at Waimea (Kamuela) Shell – U$30, 9 gallons @ U$3.40 pg

Right side driving We had no problems switching over, as the driver’s side also switches position with passenger side, and the best rule of thumb (whether left or right side driving) is to remember that the driver is always closest to the middle of the road. Driving in traffic it’s just a case of following the rear of the car in front, but it’s turning onto an empty road that will often cause ‘the drift’. So it’s a good idea for the passenger to pay equal attention – but no shouting Yer ona wrong side, drongo. No it’s Prince Binding dear, pull back to the right please. The windscreen wipers will get a good workout, however, every time a turn is indicated, but hay, we were doing a driving tour and a clean windscreen is de rigueur.

FurryTiles is offline  
Nov 20th, 2007, 04:03 PM
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The Accommodation

We had originally thought to spend two nights in the Kona area, two nights up north in the Hawi area, and two nights in Volcano. But as our flight to Sydney departed from Honolulu early in the morning, we followed Fodorite advice, and inter-island hopped in the evening (Kona-Honolulu) to spend our last night at the Ohana Honolulu Airport Hotel (U$140 pdpn - not recommended, btw). So that reduced our nights to five, and unfortunately most of the smaller lodgings have a minimum two nights stay. We booked the Kona and Volcano accommodation for two nights each well in advance, and left the one-night stand open. As it turned out, we were so delighted with our b&b at Kona, we extended our stay from two to three nights after our first day there.

Kona area: Hale Hualalai http://www.hale-hualalai.com/index.html
in the small village of Halualoa on the Mamalahoa Highway, just two private suites on opposite ends of the main lanai, in a lush green coffee plantation high in the hills overlooking Kailua-Kona town and the ocean. U$160 pdpn, incl tax.. We found this gem through the recommendations of Fodorite Samsaf, and all the great reviews on TripAdvisor http://tinyurl.com/336l9r

Highlight of this accommodation is without doubt the amazing breakfasts provided by host Lonn, an ex-chef who has not lost his culinary touch, and the sunsets from our private lanai.

Volcano Village: Kahi Malu, Kate’s Volcano Places http://www.volcanoplaces.com/kahi/kahimalu.html a two-bedroom cottage in the rainforest, fully equipped and self-contained, with all the comforts for a thoroughly enjoyable stay, including a little fireplace for chilly mornings and evenings. U$125 pdpn incl tax. And yes, at nearly 4,000 ft elevation, the change in temperature from polite sweating on the west coast in minimal clothing to bedsox, fireplace and coats on the same day is noteworthy. Excellent reviews on TripAdvisor as well, http://tinyurl.com/34t8pw

Highlight of this accommodation was the thoughtful attention to detail – including umbrellas, slippers, torches, hiking poles and protective gloves for night lava hiking. As well as the full version of the video shown at the VNP Visitors Centre, which we watched the evening before our visit, so we were erupting with full details and info,

The Weather
Although traditionally the western Kohala coast on the Kona side is considered ‘dry’ and the eastern Hamakua coast on the Hilo side as ‘wet’, we experienced afternoon darkening clouds and rain every day on the Kohala coast. Lasted just a few hours, and then the late arvo sun would shine through, but this was the daily pattern, according to Lonn. On the east coast, it rained more intermittently – often in the mornings, with afternoons clear and brilliant – and one day, not at all! Apparently the area around Hilo had actually been suffering an extremely dry period, and the locals were hopeful of more rain! Think they got their wish shortly before we arrived, as the Akaka Falls were in thundering glory, three times the volume of water as was shown in all the promotional photos.

The Guide As we only wanted a slim guidebook focussing on this one island, we used Lonely Planet’s Hawaii the Big Island for general info, and an AAA State Series Hawai’i roadmap.

To a lesser extent, we also used the maps in the Hawaii Drive Guide provided with the car rentals

Currency exchange At the time of our visit, the currency exchange was very much in our favour, with AU$1 = U$ .87 cents – so for us, very opportune. It’s now, in November 07, hovering around the .90 cent mark, and at the rate it’s going, holidays to Hawaii will be cheaper than going to Cairns

FurryTiles is offline  
Nov 20th, 2007, 04:27 PM
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The Roads

Our car rental contract stated unequivocally that "Hazardous conditions prohibit driving on Saddle Road" as previously advised by Fodorites, so was already excluded from our planned road itinerary.

We’re used to driving country roads, and to us the road system on BI was of good standard overall, with flashy bits like the main drag 19 – the Queen Kahahumanu Highway – to the resorts along the Kohala coastline, which then reverts back to country-road standard.

There were only two roads that we wouldn’t recommend and wouldn’t have attempted if we’d known.

No.1 in Kona area: a single lane with two-way traffic and lots of blind spots driving from Place of Refuge back to Halualoa – just looking at my map, I think it’s Napoopoo Road. Anyway, recommend sticking to the Mamalaloa Hwy.

No.2 in Volcano area: another single lane with two-way traffic, lots of blind spots and blind curves, climbing to the lookout on Mauna Loa Road at Volcano.

Although the scenery is gorgeous, this is a seriously dangerous road, 14 miles of it to the top with sections in bad repair and lots of potholes, and at every curve biting fingernails in case there’s traffic coming the other way.

This is where Bartie had a flat tyre, about 5 miles into this road. We think he was giving a warning in the only way he could! Lucky for us it was on a relatively flat stretch – there was no warning triangle in the boot, and it took nearly an hour to unweld the wheelnuts to replace the flattie. Think they’d been fused with lavadust after the Crater Rim and Chain of Crater drives. Apparently most hire cars these days only have a flimsy ‘temporary’ spare, instead of a fair-drinkum road-worthy one, and it’s just meant to take you to the closest garage indicated by the hire company.

After Bartie was ready to roll once again, we turned tail back to the main road – both quite relieved to say adieu to Mauna Loa road and so grateful we hadn’t ventured further.

And the ‘temporary replacement’ tyre took us safely from Volcano to Keahole Airport – although we did get a black mark from Hertz for not advising them immediately we had the flat; it was after-hours by the time we returned to Kahi Malu, Volcano is a pretty small village, and we had no intention of cooling our heels at some garage to wait for a replacement the next morning, as it was our last day and we wanted to be off early.

Night Driving Not really recommended outside the main towns, most roads are dark and badly lit – even the 15 minute drive from Keahole Airport to Hale Hualalai on the Mamalahoa Hwy late at night was a mission. Although there’s a B&B sign showing where to turn in, it’s not lit and we passed it twice in the dark.


FurryTiles is offline  
Nov 20th, 2007, 04:46 PM
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The Route There’s really only one road circling the island, the Belt Road, a combination of Hwy 19 from Kona to Hilo, and Hwy 11 from Hilo back to Kona.

West coast, northwards
Driving north from Kona is the only stretch where there’s a choice – the coastal 19 (or Queen Ka’ahumanu Hwy) to the Kawaihae area, or the inland 190 (or Mamaloahoa Hwy) to Waimea; the coastal 19 is a straight flat road through a lava desert with interesting coral graffiti along the sides, interspersed with clumps of green in the distance indicating resort plantings. On the other hand, the inland 190 to Waimea is through lush greenery, cattle ranches, and rolling hills.

The Kohala peninsula also has a ‘circular’ road, the 270 (or Akone Puli Hwy) along the coast up to Hawi, and then the 250 (or Kohala Mountain Road) back down inland to Waimea. At Hawi there’s a side road to Kapa’au and the stupendous Polulu Valley lookout.

West coast to East Coast and southwards
From Waimea, the 19 continues to the east coast to Honoka'a, with a side trip north at Honoka’a on the 240 to the magnificent Waipo Overlook. The 19 continues from Honoka’a all the way to Hilo, a truly beautiful drive curving through lush mountain ranges, amazing ocean views, and side-trips to, for example, the Kolekole beach on the left, and the Akaka Falls on the right. Hilo is absolutely charming, and we would have loved more time to explore this beautifully situated town.

From Hilo, it’s Highway 11 inland to Volcano Village and VNP. About 40 minutes drive, 28 miles or so, climbing to reach an elevation of nearly 4,000 ft.

Volcano National Park

As we were just a few minutes drive away, we were so early we almost had the Crater Rim drive (10 miles) to ourselves. Mind blowing, so fascinating we drove it twice in opposite directions, and were fortunate to see two of Hawaii’s national birds, the threatened Nene geese, strutting along the roadside.

Chain of Craters road (approx 20 miles) equally wonderful, all the way to the ocean and the Holei Sea Arch.

Since the July earthquake, lava is flowing in an inaccessible area visible by helicopter only, but VNP was an astoundingly wondrous place with the mind trying to grasp that you’re walking in a volcano area (Kilauea) that’s been constantly active since the 1980s.

Volcano and south-westwards to Kona
Hwy 11 continues from Volcano Village all the way to Kona (from there back to the 19 to Keahole Airport), a two to three hour drive with good standard of road; with side roads to, for example, the turtles at Punalu’u, the South Point Road to Ka Lae, and the steep, winding, narrow road to Hookena Beach.

Driving highlight was the east coast drive from Waipio Overlook to Hilo.

Big Island was my choice on the globe to celebrate Prince Binding’s Very Significant Birthday, and truly, I couldn’t have chosen a better location. What an experience!

Mahalo Big Island and Bartie,
FurryTiles is offline  
Nov 20th, 2007, 06:15 PM
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Great Report,FurryTiles, thank you.

Our Hawaiian adventure occurred taking the hire car (white convertible, for retired Aussie couple, which made us feel teenagers again) back from Honolulu to the airport for the midnight flight back to Sydney. Left plenty time, but somehow took the wrong turnoff in the dark and ended up on a superb freeway which went for miles and miles, right up and across the mountainous spine of the island, with no way at all to turn around or to get off the highway. This road would be fabulous in the day time, perhaps a military road. We saw no other cars. Still don't know how it happened - most American freeways are very forgiving. We made our flight, but were late back with the hire car by 10 minutes, and were charged an extra day for it. Ugh!!
We only had a day trip to the Big Island - after your report, I want to go again!
Carrabella is offline  
Nov 20th, 2007, 06:42 PM
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Oh my Carrabella, that "White Convertible on the Fifth Dimension highway", I can see it now Good title for a movie.

Not the best way to start a long-haul flight, lol.

We were in Oahu many years ago, with three anklebiters, and also took a wrong turn somewhere, and ended up on a military base. We couldn't figure out how to exit, the kids were hungry, so ended up in the military cafeteria. We felt very out of place and uncomfortable surrounded by uniforms, but whilst the kids slurped their nourishment, DH figured out how to discretely exit the place, as we were pretty sure we were 'unauthorised' and by asking would let the cat out of the bag.

Even then, I had my sights set on one day visiting Big Island, and though it took a few decades, it did happen! Highly recommended.

FurryTiles is offline  
Nov 21st, 2007, 01:57 PM
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Here's the reason we were not happy with the Ohana Airport hotel in Honolulu - just thought I'd add this as others travelling to the BI might need an overnighter if departing via Oahu. There's a raft of reviews on TA (including mine),

We had booked our one-night September stay back in May through the Ohana Reservation website, to take advantage of their special offer of U$129 (standard rate is listed as U$185). We submitted all personal and credit card details, and received full confirmation and hotel information, including the complimentary shuttle bus -. “Catch the convenient shuttle to and from H’lulu Airport Hotel.”

But nowhere in the info was the vital information that you need to phone the hotel to be picked up from the airport! After 40 minutes of watching all the other shuttle buses go round ‘n round ‘n round and the airport attendant reminding us to wave the Ohana bus to stop when it came, we phoned the hotel and they were quite abrupt that it was our responsibility to phone them – even though I explained that information was not included in Ohana Reservations documents. Just checked their website, and there’s still no reference to phoning the hotel for pick-up.

Checking-in was a nightmare. There was a line, so it took over 15 mins for our turn to roll around. We had a printed copy of our confirmed reservation with the Ohana Reservations link clearly visible. With a queue forming behind us – she kept asking aggressively who we had booked with. We kept pointing to the Ohana reservations website complete with logo. The receptionist acted like she had never heard of online bookings or the Ohana internet reservation website. Went off to the back room several times to phone. Apparently, they had no record of us or our reservation. Made us feel like imposters pulling a scam. After more visits to the back room, she returned and said begrudgingly that she had permission to "accept us as a ‘walk-in’”. Mmmmm. Then to give some credence to our ‘unacceptability’ to the line of guests behind us, she loudly proclaimed that our credit card had been REFUSED. Highly unlikely, we used it just 2 hours previously and again the next day without any problems. Luckily we had a reserve CC, and we did finally get our room, albeit almost an hour an a half later due to all the shuttle/check-in hassles.

As an interesting aside, I just checked the Ohana reservation website – and behold, it remembered and automatically filled in all our details!

The room itself was fresh, clean and adequate. Nice view of the carpark. Bed was comfortable with crisp linens. But I was not impressed with the four cardboard cups which had to do duty as coffee cups, drinking glasses and bathroom mugs. Gosh, a cute little coffee maker and then having to drink out of cardboard? Not impressed. No ice in the empty mini fridge, either. Nothing in the room information folder on where to get ice that we could find. So sundowners had to be enjoyed ice free and in cardboard.

A very disappointing, unpleasant experience on the last night of our holiday that was planned to be a relaxing sojourn prior to a long-haul flight home.

I should add here that this was the only negative experience with all our pre-booked rtw accommodations spanning the six weeks of our amazing holiday.

FurryTiles is offline  
Nov 24th, 2007, 10:04 AM
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Absolutely brilliant trip report, FurryTiles! You had me smiling throughout it all. It's especially helpful as I'm in the midst of planning my first trip to the BI for June 2008. Will take copious notes from your TR.

Do you have TRs on the rest of your RTW trip posted here at Fodor's? They would be worth the read!

One quick question for you: I completely understand what pdpn means, but I'm puzzled what the letters stand for. PaiD Per Night? Per Day Per Night? It's not an abbreviation I"m familiar with.
ejcrowe is offline  
Nov 24th, 2007, 11:13 AM
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Great report, Furry!

Sorry your trip ended at the airport hotel. a friend once made the mistake of staying there, and her experience was such that I've advised people against it ever since!

Glad you had such good experiences the rest of the trip though!
lcuy is offline  
Nov 24th, 2007, 01:16 PM
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Hi ejcrowe, glad you enjoyed the report Lucky you going to BI in June.
You will have such a great time!

The abbreviation pdpn = per double per night. So, price for two.

We had a truly amazing rtw, and I’ve posted TRs on Fodors of our visits to:

Beijing Impressions – Trip Report Aug 07 http://tinyurl.com/2dhkls

Boston, America’s “Pearl” – Walkers’ Paradise http://tinyurl.com/yphl8t

And working now on the last, our visit to Sweden.

Had a little chuckle, it looks like I never got past the Bs in the destination alphabet – Beijing, Boston, Big Island

And then caught myself, and jumped to Ss – in Sweden we stayed in Solna , an outer-suburb of Stockholm, and Sandviken area.

Travel is like alphabet soup
FurryTiles is offline  
Nov 24th, 2007, 01:29 PM
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And seeing the preamble to this TR is about oh my, off topic and a no no - politics and Australia in Federal election frenzy, I thought I’d just update that for the record.

It’s now Sunday morning, and dawn has broken to the trumpets of a new Government (Labor) and a new Prime Minister (Kevin Rudd), the Opposition gaining a very decisive win over the incumbent government (Liberal/National) of nearly twelve years with now ex-Prime Minister John Howard cemented at the helm.

And the burning question on everyone’s lips is ... who will be the next Minister for Tourism???

FurryTiles is offline  
Nov 24th, 2007, 01:47 PM
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Hi lcuy,

So true, the Ohana still attracts a lot of negative reviews in spite of renovation and new owners (Outrigger), but as we really only wanted a bed for the night, I was willing to take the chance.

And being our last night, the "post-holiday, now it's all over" blues were already lurking round the corner.

Plus all the amazing, positive and rewarding experiences of the rest of the trip made this one and only negative experience fade to speedy oblivion.


FurryTiles is offline  
Nov 24th, 2007, 05:53 PM
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Perhaps Peter Garrett, FurryTiles?
Now I'm off to read your Beijing report.

We have a Star Alliance RTW ticket for next year - great, aren't they? I love looking at the map and picking out stops around the world. This time, we've chosen Johannesburg, Istanbul, Frankfurt and Vancouver. I thought China would probably be worth a whole holiday on its own, so I'm eager to see what you thought.
Thanks again for a thoughtful and informative report.
Carrabella is offline  
Nov 24th, 2007, 08:30 PM
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Carrabella, sounds like a fab trip in the making for next year!

This trip we used OneWorld, but have used StarAlliance in the past - there's a lot of wading through the various airlines' routes and times, and then crossing fingers there are FF seats available, but having the entire 'alphabet soup' for consumption, itineraries can be changed accordingly, which adds to the excitement!

Originally we had hoped to visit Vietnam, but couldn't get an onward connection. So we got to submerge ourselves in the delights of Beijing instead!

A few trips ago, we really enjoyed Vancouver, and Vancouver Island even more so, where we spent five days. That trip we actually flew into Seattle, stayed there for three days, and then took the ferry to Vancouver Island (amazing scenery) and after five days there, the hydrofoil to Vancouver for a few days, before onward travel.

And oh my, Peter Garrett as a tourist magnet? At first I just lolled, but on second thoughts the idea has great merit. He could feature in promos - singing and dancing of course - to show how laid-back and unconventional we Aussies are. If California can have an Austrian actor as Governor, then of course we can go one better and have an old rockstar as Federal Minister for Tourism.

And Mr. Midnight Oil will never ever claim "but I did not inhale!"

Sorry, off topic - please excuse.
FurryTiles is offline  
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