To Rent a Car or Not?

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So, you’re a backpacker on a budget stoked to explore the Big Island. You want bang for your buck, without sacrificing glorious tales of adventure to take back home. You want more time lounging on white sand beaches, enjoying good eats, and cooling off under waterfalls… not stressing about how on earth you’re going to get there. As you plan your trip, you may be wondering if you should rent a car. What are the best ways for you to get around Kona and the Big Island? First, there’s a few key questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. What do you want to do?

  2. How much time do you have?

  3. What’s your travel style?

Car Rental

If you’re short on time, or have a specific itinerary of places you absolutely must see, then having the freedom of your own wheels is likely your best bet. If you’re on a tight budget, renting a car for a portion of your trip can be a good compromise. If you don’t want to rent a car at the airport, the car rental app Turo - like the Airbnb of car rental - is a good alternative. Pickup and drop off can be arranged in town, or some owners offer pickup and drop off to your exact location for an extra fee. See our Getting Here and Getting Around sections on our website for more information on car rental options and airport transfers.

Carpooling Is Cool

One of many perks about staying in a hostel is the opportunity to meet people and carpool for day trips. If you have time and some flexibility as far as places you’d like to explore, then this option may be right for you. Ask around to other hostel guests to see who already has a rental vehicle who might need some company in exchange for chipping in on gas and fees. The best adventures tend to happen this way.  

Kona Without a Car  

Kona Town can be explored from My Hawaii Hostel without a car. We are located about 3 miles from town center, and nearby by several beautiful beaches. Many people enjoy walking along scenic Ali’i Drive which hugs the coast. We rent bikes for $5 per day. Moped rental is available starting at $40 per day. Big Island Mopeds offers delivery to the hostel. The Kona Trolley is another option. The Trolley stops right in front of the hostel, at Kona Bali Kai and will take you north into town or south towards beaches. The fare is $2 exact change per ride. One thing to note about taking the trolley is that its schedule is not frequent. While it stops at a variety of locations around Kona, departures from each location are 2 hours apart.

There are choke good spots for shopping, eating, and sightseeing in Kona that can be found at stops along the Trolley route. Gypsy Gelato located at the Coconut Grove stop has delicious Italian style Gelato. Hop off at the Kailua Pier stop for the King Kam Hotel, which has an incredible display of Hawaiian artifacts and an extensive gallery of paintings depicting Hawaiian culture in the rear lobby. This is also a good starting point to explore shops on Ali’i Drive. The Kona Coast Shopping Center is home to Kona Coffee and Tea (mentioned in our coffee shops blog) a great place to grab a cup of Kona Coffee and chill out with the local crowd. This is the town center with the post office, grocery stores, restaurants, and a surf shop - Oshima Surf all nearby. Kona Commons offers more shopping and cheap eats. Kona Commons Vendors offer a travel voucher for the trolley if you spend $25 or more.

On Saturdays, take the trolley to Keauhou Farmers Market, 8am - 12pm where you can get your hands on a fresh coconut to drink. The market is located in the Keauhou Shopping center, which is home to an excellent crepe and coffee place, Peaberry and Galette. Nearby is Kahalu’u Beach Park which has surfboard rentals and lessons. One of our favorite Kona beaches, Magic Sands beach park is just a 1 mile (1.5 km) south from us and can be accessed via the Trolley.

Big Island by Bus

Hele On Bus is the Big Islands Public Transportation system. If renting a car isn’t an option for you, but you want to get out of Kona, you can Hele On to some pretty awesome places. Keep in mind, the bus does not run Sundays and public holidays and the fare is $2 exact change each way. Popular routes are from Kona to Hilo and Hilo to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Kona to Hilo

Bus stops are on Ali’i Drive in front of the King Kam Hotel in Kona and at the Mooheau Bus Terminal in downtown Hilo by the bay front. The drive is a scenic one, taking you up through Waimea and along the rural Hamakua Coast. Due to the 3 hour travel time, taking the bus from Kona to Hilo is not viable as a day trip. An option is to reserve a place to stay for one or two nights in Hilo - the Big Island Hostel and Hilo Bay Hostel are centrally located. Downtown Hilo is very walkable with plenty of shops and restaurants to explore. There is an all day Hilo Farmers Market with 200 plus food and craft vendors on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Hilo Town Tavern has a good nightlife and music, and the Palace Theatre has an interesting lineup of movies, concerts, and events. Check out the Pacific Tsunami Museum for some history. Coconut Island, Queen Liliuokalani Gardens, and Rainbow Falls are reasonable walking distance (under 2 miles) from Hilo town center. The best beach parks like Richardson’s Beach Park are about 5 miles south of town in Keaukaha.  Another good hostel, Arnott’s Lodge is located in this area.

Hilo to Volcano

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park can be accessed by bus from Hilo. The bus drops you off at the visitor center inside the park, which is centrally located to the Crater Rim Trail, an easy day hike with spectacular views. The trail also takes you by Thurston Lava Tube. Keep in mind to pack plenty of water and snacks if you are going to take the bus to the park, there are no concessions inside the park with exception of the Kilauea Military camp store, which is not easy to access on foot. Travel time from Hilo to the park is about an hour.

Additional bus routes exist between Naalehu, South Kona, and Kailua-Kona, and Kailua-Kona north to the Resorts, but it’s tougher to access areas of interest in these places by foot.

A Note on Hitchhiking

It is common to see people hitchhiking around Kona and the Big Island. We do not advocate hitchhiking as a mode of transport for our guests due to obvious risks. However, if you find yourself in a position where it’s your only option and you’re stuck, don’t panic. Here’s a few tips - stay local, don’t attempt to hitchhike long distances. Make sure you are positioned in a well lit area with plenty of room for your ride to pull over without causing an accident. Be clear about where you are going and get confirmation from the driver about where they will drop you off. Be courteous and polite. Make a mental note of the license plate number.

We hope you enjoy your time exploring the Big Island. Whether you choose to stay put in our lovely little beach town, or venture farther afield, don’t forget to tag us in your travels at #myhawaiihostel. Stay tuned for upcoming blogs on some of our favorite road trips from Kona around the island, and remember to drive with Aloha!