Big Island Hawaii: A budget travel guide

Adrift in the Pacific, Hawaii is expensive. It costs more to get there, it costs more to ship goods there. It just costs more. Looking at the websites of the many luxury hotels on the Big Island, you might think you can’t afford it. But you can visit the Big Island of Hawaii on a smaller budget. Here are a few tips to help you do it.

Forget the luxury hotels.
At $300, $500, or even more per night, staying in a luxury hotel will add up quickly. Try VRBO or Home Away to score a rental home on the cheap, or Couchsurf and stay with a local for free. For cheap accommodations, try a backpacker’s lodge like Arnott’s where private double rooms are $70 and dorm bunks are $25. You can even camp at ten locations around the island for a permit fee of $5 per adult per night.

If you still want some degree of luxury without the accompanying price tag, stay at a hotel off the beach. A one bedroom cottage with kitchen at Nancy’s Hideaway near Volcanoes National Park will run you just over $100 per night. If you want to be closer to the action, check out the Kona Tiki Hotel, a mile outside of town. It’s definitely “no-frills” but costs only $72 per night and is a short taxi ride from the beach. Across the island in Hilo, the Hilo Bay Hostel offers dorm beds for $25 and private doubles for $65, one block away from the ocean.

Use the public beach.
Your hotel will be the biggest cost of your trip to the Big Island. Save money here and you can spend more on activities, experiences and meals.

Of course nothing sounds more luxurious than walking from your private lanai just a few feet to the beach. But the ocean is the same whether it fronts a hotel beach or not. In fact, many luxury hotels share the beach with public parks. Hapuna Beach State Park, for example, is considered one of the Big Island’s best, and you don’t need to stay at the Hapuna Prince Beach Resort to enjoy it. On many of Hawaii’ public beaches, you’ll find food vendors, picnic areas, restrooms and showers. In both Hilo and Kona, there are several beaches you can easily access even without a rental car.

Drive yourself. . .
There are countless tour operators offering tours all over the island – to Volcanoes National Park, through the Waipi’o Valley, and up to the heights of Mauna Kea. But you don’t need a tour guide to see any of these sights. And you don’t need a fancy 4-wheel drive vehicle either (except for visiting the top of Mauna Kea). Sure, tooling around the island in a convertible or open-topped Jeep would be fun, but really the cheapest, most basic compact car will do.

If you plan wisely, you can actually drive around the entire island, making several pit stops for sightseeing, in one day. If you are leaving from Kona, stop at the Waimea Farmer’s Market to fuel up and buy snacks for the road, then spend the morning at Parker Ranch, the island’s oldest cattle farm. From there you’ll pass through the verdant forests and rolling hills of the Hamakua coast to Hilo. Stop for a view of ‘Akaka Falls and the continue on the two hour drive to Volcanoes National Park. Just past Hilo, you can also stop for a tour of the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory, Monday through Saturday from 8:30am to 5pm.

It’s easy to drive yourself through Volcanoes National Park without a guide. Just stop off at the visitor’s center first to get a lay of the land and a map and to learn about the day’s conditions and any road closings. The cost for the park is $10 per vehicle for seven days, but really you can see most of the Park in a few hours. Driving down to Puna, where the hot lava hits the ocean, will add a few more hours to the journey.

From Volcanoes National Park, you can head back the way you came or continue around the island. If you do, be sure to stop at Volcano Winery for some free samples (from 10am to 5:30pm every day) of sweet, fruity wine made from ingredients like guava and macadamia nut. Venture down to South Point, the southernmost spot in the US, and then on to Green Sand Beach. As you come back around the southern end of Kona, you’ll find yourself in coffee country, where signs every few miles beg you to stop off for a coffee plantation tour and tasting.

Be sure to bring a few CDs with you if you plan on making the drive all the way around the island. From Volcanoes National Park to south Kona, you’ll be lucky to find a single radio station. Be careful driving at night on the island – you may be surprised how dark it is in areas with no streetlights – and don’t drink and drive.

As you make your way back to Kona, detour to Mauna Kea just in time for sunset. Once it’s dark, you’ll find that you are in one of the best spots in the world for stargazing. The mountain’s elevation, plus the lack of light pollution on the island, make for an exceptionally clear sky.



. . . and then ditch the car for a few days.

If you are staying in the towns of Hilo or Kona, you really won’t need a car every day. Most shops and restaurants will be within walking distance and while you do need a car to get out and explore the island on your own, you really won’t need one to get around in town, so save money by renting a car only for the days you will need it. Get a little exercise while you get around by renting a bike from Kona Bike Rentals, where rentals start at $15 a day for adult bikes.



Stock up at the farmer’s markets and eat on the cheap.
In Hilo, the Farmer’s Market is located on Mamo Street and Kamehameha Avenue and is open all year round, every Wednesday and Saturday, “from dawn ’til it’s gone.” In Waimea, the market is located in the center of town, along highway 19, and is open most of the day on Saturdays. In addition to sweet Portuguese Bread, creamy macadamia nut pesto goat cheese, and gigantic breadfruit, lemons, and avocados, you can get freshly prepared treats like spicy huevos rancheros, gooey sweet Nutella crepes, and sinfully rich glazed cinnamon rolls.

For the best beer on the Big Island, head to Kona Brewing in Kona. Take a brewery tour (daily at 10:30am and 3pm) or just settle in for some good pub grub and tasty beers. Pints aren’t super cheap at $5, but the Pipeline Porter, made with 100% Kona coffee, is worth the price tag. Appetizers are reasonable at $7-12 and delicious and huge large pizzas (which can easily feed three people) are $16-26 and come with toppings like Thai chicken, Andouille sausage, and shrimp. Grab a growler of your favorite beer for $22 to stock in your hotel room. Buy it from 5pm – 7pm and save 20%.

This trip was paid for by the Kohala Coast Resort Association, but the views expressed are my own.

Head to the hills for the meteor shower tonight!

Here’s to hoping the Orionid meteor shower puts on a show tonight! Weather permitting, this annual meteor shower will pass through the night sky in the pre-dawn hours tomorrow morning. Those in cities and suburbs will see fewer meteors, but regardless, star gazers should head to the hills (or country) between 1 a.m. and dawn local time Wednesday morning. Peak activity is expected around 6 a.m. Eastern Time.

The Orionids have been quite visible in recent years, with about 15-20 meteors within the peak hours, so find a comfortable spot with as wide a view of the sky as possible, allow about 10 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkeness, and let the show begin. The meteors will come from pretty much anywhere, but supposedly are concentrated around the Orion constellation (you know, the dude with the three-studded belt). There’s really no use for a telescope or binoculars because these things fly too quickly through the night sky to catch them through a lens.

Depending on where you are in the States, it might be a chilly night, so wear extra warm clothes (or bring layers) — even a sleeping bag or blanket would be a good idea.

Enjoy the show! And if you feel so inspired, upload your meteor photos to Gadling’s Flickr pool.

Meteor Showers at Their Peak Tonight

Wherever you are tonight, unless you’re in a city with too many lights, look up. This is the peak of meteor shower gazing. I remember lying in a field in Maine between my junior and senior years of high school watching meteors streak across the sky, one right after another. It was glorious. August is the busiest month for these fireballs and because there isn’t a full moon this year, the show is easier to see.

The Web site total escape gives tips for where to go for the best viewing. If you’re in a desert, on a mountain or in the countryside away from the coast, you’re particularly lucky. Coastal areas are more prone to have moisture in the air which can fog the sky. For the fullest viewing pleasure, look after midnight. There may be up to 60 Perseid meteors an hour doing their thing.

GADLING’S TAKE FIVE: Week of October 29

Gadling LogoThe moment you have all been waiting for has arrived at last. An unforgettable week… The most amazing things in blogging history, right here, now… It’s Gadling’s Take Five!!! A little too dramatic? I agree. Let’s just get to what you missed.

5. Star Locator:
Here’s a gear piece for all camp-loving individuals who like to stare off into starry nights, but have trouble finding popular constellations like Orion’s Belt. Maybe you just want to take a glimpse at Mars… Now you can do so with this handy dandy gadget, but you’ll have to visit this one yourself. It’s really rather cool!

4. On Stebastopol:
I’ve never heard of Stebastopol and if someone had asked me prior to reading this piece I would have told them it was in Estonia somewhere. Who says travel bloggers know it all? Stebastopol is mentioned here by Erik who passed through not too long ago and also mentioned by Outside Magazine. They say it’s one of the great towns to live in… Hmm…

3. Get Paid to Travel to Iran:

Someone please sign me up for this promotion! How bad I want to travel to the country of Iran I cannot say, but it looks as though they are making more efforts to bring tourists from the West on in to show them they aren’t as dangerous as the media makes them seem. Travel agents – encourage people to travel to Iran and you could be making some extra cash.

2. Bad English:
This is a book all of us might want to pick up, because in my mind bad English is everywhere, including in English speaking countries. Get your quick laughs about goof-ups found across the globe, but I urge you to spell check yourself and make sure your grammar is on point. You’ll probably find that some foreigners are better at grammar usage than you. I have from time to time.

1. Most Dangerous U.S. Cities:
Pack a glock if you find yourself headed to St. Louie, Flint, or Detroit anytime soon. These three just ranked tops in most dangerous U.S. cities. Okay, don’t pack a glock or any kind of weapon, but do look at the list to see why all the violence. You may be surprised where your own city ranks.

Searching for Hollywood’s Real Stars

Griffith ObservatoryIn Los Angeles, the stars are everywhere. They line the pavement on the famous Hollywood Blvd. strip, they sit disguised in overly cramped cafes on Melrose and you can even find them in the eyes of some young hopeful, aspiring actor or actress looking for their chance to appear on the silver screen. However, the hardest place to find stars is straight up in the night sky where you’d expect to see billions. Sigh. Sad, sad, sad… With all the light pollution from the city itself, real star gazing can be a tough hobby to take up in the City of Angels without the use of tools, but there is good news my true star gazing pals.

On Friday, November 3rd, a newly restored Griffith Observatory is set to reopen to the public after four-years of work and expansion. The observatory has long given people the opportunity to view the real stars resting over and directly above the city as well stars over places unimaginable. CNN dishes the details on what Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory now has to offer the public. The Zeiss telescope in the Eastern dome and the solar telescope in the Western dome both remain, but should the night become chilly or you just need to step inside the observatory building, you’ll notice the big, new changes. The building which expanded 40,000 square feet is the house of plenty new attractions which include scale models of planets, exhibits on tides, optics and electricity, and other natural phenomena according to CNN.

It is said that some 7,000 people are expected to swing by the observatory when it reopens next month which is quite heartwarming. It helps me think people are trading in those silly Star Maps (guides for stalking down famous folk) for the real deal.