When my wife told me to pack for a quick trip, I didn’t think a 6 hour flight from Phoenix to the Big Island would start our 36 hours on Kailua. Honestly, it was one of the best trips we have had.
We started out in the Kona airport area, but the island is small enough that you can easily adjust what attraction/site to do first if you start your drive on the Hilo side.
We flew out of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport with one carry on bag each on a direct flight at 10:45 am heading to the Kailua-Kona airport. Arriving at 2:20 pm makes for a perfect time for most travelers, since you can grab your rental car and head to normal check-in hours like we did.
If you choose to fly into the Kona airport, then it is wise to have a hotel close to this destination. A few places we recommend are The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, The Fairmont Orchid, The Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, or The Royal Kona Resort. All of these are a short drive from the airport and have some great views.
If you decide to go the luxury route, then the Fairmont Orchid is one of our favorites and offers some of the best options for a short time. From the airport, after getting a rental car, it will take you about 30 mins (22.4 miles) to drive to the hotel. This will have you arrive at the required check in time.
After check-in, head to the Hale Kai Restaurant where you can grab a bite to eat, a drink and enjoy the view of the ocean. Afterwards, is a perfect time to relax in by the pool or cuddle in a hot tub. It’s always nice to sit back and enjoy the views that this island has to offer.
Start your day by grabbing some snorkel gear from the hotel or get yours out. Check with your hotel, sometimes it is included in the resort fee. The Fairmont Orchid has a wonderful private area of beach in the Pauoa Bay for snorkeling. Within 5 mins of snorkeling, we had some Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia Mydas) swimming right under us. This area is great for seeing some wildlife within a short amount of time.
This next part is where your rental car comes in handy. Next, its time to start driving and head back to the Queen Ka’ahumanu Hwy 19. This hwy will take you past other parks and places that could easily be part of your schedule or substituted for another activity.
Continue on hwy 19 and stop by the W.M. Keck Observatory. If you really want to see the top of the 14,000 foot summit, then a 4×4 vehicle is needed and is something that needs to be planned in advanced. Otherwise you can visit the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center at an elevation of 9,200 feet.
Temperatures can change from one side of the island to the other. The Kona side is hot/dry, the middle mountain areas are colder, and the Hilo side is more of a rainforest ecosystem. Bring appropriate clothing for the weather.
Continue the drive along the Mamalahoa Hwy 19 towards the Akaka Falls State Park. It will cost you $5 per car. The trail is only a 0.4 mile loop, where you will have views of the Akaka Falls (422 feet high) and the Kahuna Falls. The trail is paved with some steps.
Another place to stop by is the Wailuku River State Park where they have two attractions to see: Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pot. If your in the area around 10 a.m. and it’s a sunny day then look out for the rainbow that is formed in the mist of the 80 foot waterfall. Unfortunately for us it was a cloudy on this side of the island when we were visiting.
Since May 2018, the Kīlauea volcano has had activity where most of the Volcanoes National Park had to be closed. It has since reopened as of September 22 of 2018. The Kīlauea Visitor Center will have up to date information on road closures or any other current conditions, as well as exhibits on the formation of the island and its history. Make sure to vista their site before making your drive, it can always change at a moments notice. Some parts of the park are sometimes closed.
The entrance fee for a car is $25, while a individual will cost $12. These passes will last you 7 days, so if you have more time, then try to spend it hiking and exploring this park. The park is open 24 hours, but the visitor center closes around 5 p.m. so plan to visit it first. If you only have a short time, then it is possible to see some of the sites in this park, before leaving to do the 2 hour drive back to the Kona International Airport for the 10 p.m. flight back.
Beware that it could take longer to drive to your desire destination, due to traffic or road conditions.
This guide is based off of having only 36 hours on the island. If you have more time then try to spend a few days working your way around the island. Here are some other points of interest: Kula Kai Caverns , Hawaiian Vanilla Company , Tropical Botanical Gardens , or one of the many Eco Tours are great things to try to see or do.
Have you been to The Big Island or are you planning on going? What did you think of it? Was it worth it? Leave a comment or suggestions and let us know.