While this article may be applied to many of the Hawaii Islands, it is geared specifically to Hawaii (also known as The Big Island).
1. Rent a four-wheel drive vehicle-Not all of Hawaii is well-developed, and not all of the roads are maintained. If you would like to confidently get to some of the coolest places and not worry about getting stuck in gravel or bottoming out on a rough, steep road, a four-wheel drive vehicle will definitely be a good idea. Most rental car companies strongly advise against travel to places like South Point Road and Mauna Kea Access Road and will put a clause in that if you get stuck, it’s on your dime and can be about $1,700. I traveled on both these roads (and others) and saw that those with four-wheel drive vehicles had very little trouble, whereas the ones with cars were having a difficult time. You don’t want to travel all the way to Hawaii only to limited by the vehicle you rented.
2. Plan your activities well-Even though Hawaii is less than 100 miles across (even at its widest point), it can take a couple of hours to get to the other side because of the road conditions. To minimize the driving, plan your activities by location. Unless you get a really good deal, it might be a good idea to divide your Hawaii vacation with two hotels or resorts, giving yourself a home base in Hilo and then Kona.
3. Visit the national parks over the state parks-The national parks are completely worth the trip. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Pu`uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park are especially fascinating places to explore. I would visit the state parks only if you have plenty of time. Some of them are only a picnic table with a restroom and a few hiking trails that don’t seem to go anywhere worth going.
4. Pack with diverse weather in mind-While Hawaii temperatures are usually in the 80s during the summer, the island can get quite windy. Plus it does get chilly as the elevation rises. Another reason to bring pants is that some activities (like going on the zip line) are more comfortably done in pants. If you bring only tank tops, you might be quite sunburned and sorry you didn’t cover up. Bring a hat and sunglasses. The glare from the sun is really bad, especially when driving. Good hiking or walking shoes will also serve you well on the Big Island.
Also, bring an umbrella even if you only use it for shade. Hawaii is much closer to the equator than most people are used to, and most people need a break from the Hawaiian sun. Some areas of the Big Island have a complete lack of shade.
5. The state parks make good rest stops-The good thing about these state parks is that they are not too far off the side of the road and make for excellent rest stops. (If Hawaii has actual rest stops, I missed them.) Most of these do not have soap, and some run low on toilet paper, so it is a good idea to bring your own supplies. However, it is just good to know that when you are on one of those long roads (like Hawaii Belt Road) that there is a place to go!
6. Bring binoculars-If you would like to more closely see some of the volcanic craters and calderas, the birds high up in the trees of the rainforest, or the dolphins swimming in the distance, you will be glad you remembered some binoculars.
7. Save up and stay at a nice resort-It takes a really long time to travel to Hawaii. When you get there, you will want excellent service and a nice place to stay where you can be waited on hand and foot, trust me. Also, the resorts on the Big Island are some of the prettiest places on the island. For example, the Waikoloa Beach Resort (which includes a Hilton and Marriott resort) is in an area that is mostly surrounded by black lava rock. The area itself isn’t very pretty, but the resort grounds are breathtaking. There are at least 3 Hilton resorts here actually. Ours, the one we stopped at, and then the one with the train.
8. Pay attention to where the tour buses are stopping-Not all places of interest are well marked by signs. For example, on Queen Kaʻahumanu road, maybe five miles north of the Kona airport is a sink hole, a cave formed out of lava rocks. I did not see a single sign for this, but once I parked on the side of the road, I saw the arrows pointing out the safest route to see the sink hole from the top. Otherwise, you can go straight into the cave from down below. Had I not seen the tour bus stopped in the area, I wouldn’t have noticed this natural wonder.
9. Get an early start-Many of the local restaurants close by 3 p.m., especially on the weekends. Even in the summer, sunset is fairly early (about 7 p.m.).
10. Bring your own snorkeling gear-There are many places to go snorkeling. While there are plenty of places to rent, there are also many places without a nearby vendor. And let’s be honest: renting a snorkel is actually pretty gross. Having your own will ensure that you do not miss out.