How To Spend 36 Hours On The Big Island Guide
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.
Get A Flight To The Big Island
We flew out of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport with one carry on bag each on a direct flight at 10:45 a.m., 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 visit. 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.
Wake Up Sunshine For It's Time To Go
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 beach, located in the Pauoa Bay.
The Bay is protected from large waves and is a perfect spot for snorkeling. Within 5 mins of snorkeling, we had some Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia Mydas) swimming right under us. In fact, this area is great for seeing ocean wildlife, within a short amount of time.
Go Take A Drive
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.
The Rainforest Awaits You
Continue the drive along the Mamalahoa Hwy 19 towards the Akaka Falls State Park. It will cost you $5 per car for entrance. 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. Additionally, the trail is paved with a view steps, so most individuals should be able to walk it.
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.
Next Stop Is Volcanoes National Park
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 visit their official website before making your drive, it can always change at a moments notice. Some parts of the park are closed still due to hazardous conditions.
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. The visitor center can help guide you on what you would have time for. So make sure to stop by first.
Start To Head Back To Kona
The drive will take about 2 hours to get back to the Kona International Airport for the 10 p.m. flight back. Conditions can always change the time frame, so always be updated.
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.
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The information on this website has come from research and by experiencing it ourselves. Opening hours, closures, prices, etc. are always subject to change. We try to keep up to date on any new information, or tips to help make your adventure more enjoyable.