The Island of Hawaii Drive Itinerary | Go Hawaii

Island of Hawaiʻi Drive Itinerary

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The Island of Hawaiʻi is the largest of all Hawaiian Islands making it the best island for renting a car and hitting the open road! There’s so much to see, do and experience, not to mention eleven out of the world’s thirteen climate zones to discover. Follow this custom itinerary and spend six days ticking off the islands top attractions.

Day One - Explore the Lava Fields

Upon arrival to Hilo International Airport (ITO) pick up a rental car and let your Island of Hawaiʻi adventure begin! With Big Island Candies only five minutes drive from the Airport it would be a crime not to stop and sample their sweet treats. Spend the morning getting acquainted with Hilo, Hawaiʻi’s second largest town after Honolulu. Take a beach-cruise out to Richardson Ocean Park, drive along the hotel-lined Banyan Drive, explore Japanese-style Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens, and stop for a photo at Rainbow Falls. Park the car by Hilo Farmer’s Market and wander through the local fruit and vegetable stands and art and craft tables. Shop along Hilo’s main street, Kamehameha Avenue, before settling in for lunch at Cafe Pesto.

Set the GPS to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and enjoy the scenery as you travel towards Kīlauea volcano. Make Kīlauea Visitor Center your first stop for the latest information on volcanic activity. Talk with Rangers, view the exhibits and pick up a park map. Don’t miss the educational video! Pop into Volcano Art Center across the street before heading out to see the Steam Vents. Check out Volcano House, a cosy lodge overlooking Kīlauea caldera and Halemaʻumaʻu Crater. Dine on fresh local cuisine this evening, at The Rim Restaurant.
Roadside lava fields with Maunakea in the background

Day Two - Meet the Goddess of Fire

Spend this morning in the great outdoors on a designated hike in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. For example, join the Ranger-led Exploring the Summit experience, a 45-minute walk on a paved trail to the crater. You’ll learn about the local plants and birds in the area and hear about Hawaiian culture, history and stories of Pele (the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire), the creative energy that formed these volcanic islands.

Grab a quick lunch back at Volcano House before setting off on an afternoon trip to see one of Hawaiʻi Island’s unique black sand beaches. Drive south towards Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach taking a detour to Kaʻū Coffee Mill, a coffee plantation offering 100% Hawaiian estate grown coffee tastings. Once you’ve reached Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach keep your eyes peeled for Hawaiian green sea turtles sunbaking on the sand. Take a dip in the ocean and relax on the beach before returning to Volcano House. Dedicate tonight to fine dining at the nearby Kīlauea Lodge Restaurant

Where to stay 

Overnight for days one and two at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. This area in the southern region of the Island of Hawaiʻi, dominated wet rainforest and volcanic landscapes next to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes.
Accommodation options: 
Walkway to Akaka Falls

Day Three - Hike to hidden waterfalls

Today, make your way around the top of the island. Drive back towards Hilo stopping for a break at the Panaʻewa Rainforest Zoo, the only natural tropical zoo in the United States. Highlights include the endangered Io (Hawaiian Hawk), Pueo (Hawaiian Owl), Nēnē (state bird) and two Bengal Tigers! Continue north taking the Onomea Bay Scenic Drive for a full immersion into Hawaiʻi’s lush rainforest. Carry on to ʻAkaka Falls State Park stopping for a short walk through rich vegetation to see the cascading Kahuna Falls and plunging ʻAkaka Falls.

By the time you get to Honokaʻa, you’ll be ready for a bite to eat. Gramma’s Kitchen is a local favourite dishing up delicious homestyle cooking. Next up is the picturesque Waipiʻo Valley Lookout, a stunning vantage point to view most of the valley, its tall sea cliffs and beautiful black sand. Keep trekking on towards the Kohala Coast soaking up the changing landscapes. Make a quick stop in the country town of Waimea posing for a photo by the giant cowboy boot before navigating to Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. After checking in, stroll down to Kaunaʻoa Beach, one of the few white sand beaches on the island and wait to watch the sunset. Dine at the hotel’s oceanfront restaurant Hau Tree on the Beach. 

Where to stay

Overnight in Supersized resorts on the Kohala Coast in the north-west region of the Island of Hawaiʻi. You’ll find plenty of white sand beaches, golf courses, luxurious spas and high-end dining. 

Accommodation options: 
Aerial View of Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and Kaunaoa Bay

Day Four - Swim with gentle giants

Soak in the sunshine and take a dip in the crystal clear waters of Hāpuna Beach Park or lap up the luxuries of your hotel. Journey south to Kona right on time for a late lunch at the Kona Brewing Co. Kona Pub & Brewery. There is no better place to try local Kona beer! Depart the brewpub bound for Kona-Kailua. You can laze the afternoon away by the hotel pool of explore the quaint town of Kaliua-Village

As the clock approaches 4:00pm, you’ll want to head back to your room to get changed for your Manta Ray Night Dive with Jack’s Diving Locker. The boat tour departs at 5:00pm from the harbour shop, it’s a 20-minutes walk (5-minute taxi ride) from the hotel. This is a once-in-a-lifetime ocean swim. Tour participants are given torches to hold onto while floating on the surface of the water. This tunnel of light illuminates plankton and attracts giant mantas to come and feed beneath you. 
Manta off of Kona

Day Five - Sunsets and stargazing

Take off early in the morning for Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, sacred Hawaiian grounds rich in history and culture. You’ll pass The Coffee Shack en route, it’s perched at the top of a hill overlooking the Kona’s coastline, and it’s the perfect place for breakfast and a fresh cup of 100% Kona coffee. Once you arrive at the park, spend quality time exploring the archaeological sites on a self-guided walk. Uncover a reconstructed heiau (temple), kiʻi (wooden images), hālau (thatched structure), ancient fishponds and more. Spot for Hawaiian green sea turtles around the lava stone shoreline.

Return to the hotel to prepare for your afternoon activity, a Sunset & Stargazing Tour with Mauna Kea Summit Adventure. Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world when measured from sea level. It’s one of the best places on the planet for astronomical observation due to the islands low humidity, clear skies and lack of light pollution. Enjoy a magical evening stargazing and searching for shooting stars. If you’re travelling in Hawaiʻi’s winter months (November-April) prepare yourself for the possibility of snow!

Where to stay 

Overnight for days four and five in Kona. This charming coastal town is highlighted by palaces, churches and museums. It’s located on the west side of the Island of Hawaiʻi, renowned for dry and sunny weather.

Accommodation options:
Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

Day Six - A hui hou Hawaiʻi

Kona is a walkable seaside village, so allocate the early hours to exploring every inch of the town on foot. There’s plenty of shopping opportunities, an excellent farmer’s market and key attractions such as Mokuʻaikaua Church, the oldest Christian church in the Hawaiian Islands. Check out of the hotel and bid a hui hou (until we meet again) to this special Hawaiian Island. Take an afternoon flight out of Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keāhole (KOA), referred to as Kona Airport.

Download a PDF driving map of the island of Hawaiʻi

View an image file of the island of Hawaiʻi map
Ashlee Galea is an Aussie living in Hawaiʻi who enjoys sharing Hawaiʻi insider knowledge and travel advice on her blog The Hawaiʻi Admirer (