Note: The Hawaiian directions of makai (toward the ocean) and mauka (toward the mountains) come in handy when looking for unfamiliar sites, especially since numbered address signs may be invisible or nonexistent.
By Taxi and Rideshare
Ride-sharing Uber and Lyft came to the island in 2017, although at press time coverage was sparse outside of Kailua-Kona and Hilo, and drivers were not allowed to make airport pickups yet. Taxis are readily available at both Kona and Hilo airports, although renting a car (see below) is a more likely option. Rates set by the county start at $3, plus $3.20 each additional mile—about $25 to $30 from the Kona airport to Kailua-Kona and $50 to $60 to the Waikoloa Beach Resort. On the Kona side, call Kona Taxicab (www.konataxicab.com; 808/324-4444), which can also be booked in advance for airport pickups; drivers will check on your flight’s arrival. On the Hilo side, call Kwiki Taxi (www.kwikitaxi.wordpress.com; 808/498-0308).
You’ll want a rental car on the Big Island; not having one will really limit you. All major car-rental agencies have airport pickups in Kona and Hilo; some even offer cars at Kohala and Kona resorts.
The Big Island has more than 480 miles of paved road. The highway that circles the island is called the Hawaii Belt Road. From North Kona to South Kohala and Waimea, you have two driving choices: the scenic “upper” road, Mamalahoa Highway (Hwy. 190), or the speedier “lower” road, Queen Kaahumanu Highway (Hwy. 19). South of Kailua-Kona, the Hawaii Belt Road continues on Mamalahoa Highway (Hwy. 11) all the way to downtown Hilo, where it becomes Highway 19 again and follows the Hamakua Coast before heading up to Waimea.
North Kohala also has upper and lower highways. In Kawaihae, you can follow Kawaihae Road (Hwy. 19) uphill to the left turn onto the often-misty Kohala Mountain Road (Hwy. 250), which eventually drops down into Hawi. The Akoni Pule Highway (Hwy. 270) hugs the coast from Kawaihae to pavement’s end at the Pololu Valley Lookout.
Note: Saddle Road (Hwy. 200) snakes between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa en route from Hilo to Mamalahoa Highway (Hwy. 190). Despite improvements to its once-rough pavement and narrow shoulders, it’s still frequented by large military vehicles and plagued by bad weather; as a result, most rental-car agencies forbid you from driving on it. I’ve found the 29 miles from Hilo to the Mauna Kea Access Road to be very easy to navigate in good conditions, but be careful not to speed, especially close to Hilo.
By Bus & Shuttle
SpeediShuttle (www.speedishuttle.com; 808/329-5433) and Roberts Hawaii (www.robertshawaii.com; 866/570-2536 or 808/954-8640) offer door-to-door airport transfers to hotels and other lodgings. Sample round-trip, shared-ride rates from the Kona airport are $26 per person to Kailua-Kona, and $60 per person to the Mauna Lani Resort; Roberts agents meet you outside security and provide porter service in baggage claim, but be aware there may be up to five stops before your destination.
The islandwide bus system, the Hele-On Bus (www.heleonbus.org; 808/961-8744), offers a great flat rate for riders: $2 general; $1 for students, seniors, and people with disabilities; and free for children under 5. Yet most routes have limited value for visitors, other than the Intra-Kona line between Kailua-Kona’s big-box stores (Wal-Mart, Costco) and the Keauhou Shopping Center, which also stops at the Old Kona Airport Beach. Fares are cash only.
Travelers staying in Kailua-Kona and the Keauhou Resort can hop on the open-air, 44-seat Keauhou Resort Trolley operated by Roberts Hawaii (808/329-1688), running from 9am to 9:15pm daily along Alii Drive. It makes six stops a day at 29 locations from the Sheraton Kona Resort and Keauhou Shopping Center to Kahaluu Beach, Kailua Pier, and the shops of downtown Kailua-Kona. The fare is $2, free for those with vouchers from their hotel (such as the Sheraton) or stores in the Kona Commons Shopping Center, which give them to customers who spend $25 or more.
The Waikoloa Beach Resort shopping trolley runs from 10am to 10pm daily from Hilton Waikoloa Village and the Waikoloa Beach Marriott to the Kings’ Shops and Queens’ MarketPlace; it costs $2 adults, $1 ages 5 to 12 (younger free). Guests at Kings’ Land by Hilton Grand Vacations can catch a free van shuttle to Hilton Waikoloa Village and pick up the trolley from there. Hilton Waikoloa Village also runs beach and golf shuttles for guests.
Due to elevation changes, narrow shoulders (with the notable exception of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway between Kailua-Kona and Kawaihae), and high traffic speeds, point-to-point bike travel without a tour guide isn’t recommended. However, several areas are ideal for recreational cycling and sightseeing. See Biking under Active Pursuits for rental shops and routes.
By Motorcycle & Scooter
The sunny Kohala and Kona coasts are ideal for tooling around on a motorcycle, while those sticking to one resort or Kailua-Kona can easily get around by scooter. In Kailua-Kona, Hawaiian Adventure Rentals, 75-5669 Alii Dr. (www.hiadv.com; 808/445-6722), rents new and vintage Yamahas from $70 to $170 a day, including helmets and jackets, with discounts for longer bookings. Choose from a variety of heavier hogs at Big Island Harley-Davidson, 75-5633 Palani Rd. (www.bigislandharley.com; 888/904-3155 or 808/217-8560), with rates starting at $99 daily ($639 weekly), including gear and unlimited mileage, for qualified drivers. Big Island Mopeds (www.konamopedrentals.com; 808/443-6625) will deliver mopeds to your door for $40 day ($200 weekly; note prices rise to $100 daily/$500 weekly during Ironman week in mid-Oct).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.