KONAWEB - Kona Hawaii

Driving on the
Big Island of Hawaii

  • Kailua-Kona to Hilo via Hwy 19 = 2 hours,15 min.(north)
  • Kailua-Kona to Hilo via Hwy 11 = 3 hours,15 min.(south)
  • Kailua-Kona to Hilo via Saddle Road = 1 hours, 20 min.
  • Kailua-Kona to Volcano via Hwy 11 = 2 hours,30 min.
  • Kailua-Kona to Waimea via Hwy 19 = 45 min.
  • Kailua-Kona to Hawi via Hwys 19 & 279 = 1 hour,15 min.

No one was injured in the one car accident involving a "B-52" cockroach near Pahoa, seen above. Insecticides were not involved. While rare, such incidents point out the unusual obstacles faced by drivers in the tropics.


  • If you don't like to drive at night, remember, the sun sets quickly in the tropics! Sunset in December is about 6:00 p.m. and in July is about 7:00 p.m. Plan for it!
  • Fair Warning - Cell phone use, etc. is prohibited while driving an car engine should be turned off if using a hand held cell phone in a parking lot, side of the road, etc.
  • Gasoline is higher than the mainland price per gallon here, and the price drops almost 10 cents as you reach Hilo. Hilo is where the fuel is shipped in. There are parts of the Island where you don't want to run out of gas, such as Saddle Road, Hwy 11 between Oceanview and Volcano, Waipio Valley, and Hawi Town on a Sunday after 2:00 PM. Don't say I didn't warn you!

  • Sudden Downpours will almost surely mean trouble for drivers. Several places around the island you may see highway warning signs about rocks washing onto the road, or places where the water gets deep enough to swim comfortably. Don't ignore the signs!

  • People often ask if they will need a 4 wheel drive when they visit the Big Island. The answer is no. A rental car will take you almost everywhere you might want to go. There are lots of places you can get to in a 4 wheel drive, such as Green Sands beach, Waipi'o Valley, and the top of Mauna Kea, for example, however there are usually other ways to reach these destinations.

  • The Saddle Road (Hwy. 200) is a "shortcut" between Kona and Hilo. The county has made many improvements on the highway, however, there may be delays where construction is under way, or when army convoys are traveling on the road. You should check your rental car contract before driving the Saddle Rd., as some companies just say "no". The road does get snow or sleet once in a while, and fog can make visibility poor, especially at night. Other "hazards" may be wild pigs. Should you decide to drive it, here are a few suggestions:
    • 1. Have half a tank of gas in the car (no stations up there).
    • 2. Take your time, and watch for one-lane bridges, sharp turns, army tanks, low flying helicopters, and pigs on the road.
    • 3. Please have respect for those who commute via this road and pull over if you get a line of cars behind you.
    • 4. You can drive a regular car to the Mauna Kea Visitor Center (9200 ft. elevation), but you must have a 4 wheel drive to go to the Summit (13,700+ ft. elevation) because of the incline. You should stop at the Visitors Center (at 9200 ft.) for at least one hour on the way up to acclimate, because if you drive directly to the summit you can experience symptoms of altitude sickness. (There is 40% less air/air pressure at the summit than at sea level.) Small children should not be taken to the summit of Mauna Kea, as they are more sensitive to altitude than adults, and the trip could make them feel ill for a few days. No one pregnant, severely overweight or with any heart or respiratory problems should go to the summit either, because, due to its remoteness, it takes 2 hrs. to get an emergency vehicle up there.
    • 6. There is only 1 restroom between Waimea and Hilo on Hwy 200. It is located at the Mauna Kea State Recreation Area, east of the Army base.

  • South Point Road takes you from Hwy 11 down to the extreme southern end of the Island. It is a beautiful drive, but take it slow and enjoy the view. Very windy. Also, remember to slow down and pull off the road when other vehicles approach because it is pretty much a one-lane road for most of its length. There are several interesting historical sites and some rugged cliffs which drop straight into the sea. A large blowhole near the end of the road is said to have been the demise of at least one rental van, so watch it! The road to Green Sands eats cars for breakfast. As you walk along, look for rocks soaked with motor oil.
  • Waipio Valley access is now encouraged via tours only. The road is very narrow and very steep, and residents of the valley are tired of saving clueless tourists from danger or the aftermath of accidents, and having them drive or walk thru private or protected areas. Also, there is no public restroom in the valley, so that led to big problems...

Car Rental Information

When you arrive at the airport in Kona, have your partner wait for your luggage while you proceed directly to the car rental offices. By doing this, you can often avoid a long wait in line.

When returning your car to the airport, do as the locals do, and fill up at Costco. Their prices are consistently lower than other stations in Kona.

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