The Best Tips for Driving on the Island of Hawai’i

If you’re visiting the Island of Hawai’i, you’re probably going to be doing some driving. But I’ll let you in on something that really shouldn’t be a secret: Driving in Hawai’i is so different than driving on the Mainland! And that’s a good thing. You will, however, need to know a few things before you start your journey. Here are the top tips for driving on the Island of Hawai’i in particular!

You Will Definitely Need a Car

Number 1: The Island of Hawai’i, also known as the Big Island, is BIG! As in, you can fit all seven of the other main Hawaiian islands inside the Island of Hawai’i… TWICE! That’s why you will definitely want to rent a car. Whether you rent with a company like Alamo, Budget, or Hertz, or a service like Turo, you should definitely take advantage of all the Island of Hawai’i has to offer all the way around… and in the middle!

Akaka Falls is best visited by driving there!
Need to read: Everything You Need to Know for Your Island of Hawai’i Road Trip

Cut Through the Middle on Saddle Road

If you want to go from one side of the island to the other without going all the way around, or if you want to visit the observatory and Mauna Kea summit, take the Saddle Road. This will save you time, and you’ll get to see a whole different side of the island. Each island is different, but the Island of Hawai’i has the most variation within the same island!

The Island of Hawai’i has more miles of roads than any other Hawaiian Island!
More here: The Ultimate Island of Hawai’i Bucket List

You Can Drive All the Way Around…

…But you won’t want to rush through it all in one day! Plan to take two or three days to go all the way around. Or, split your time between multiple sites of the island, and plan to stay for a few nights in each location. When Steve and I visited, we drove all the way around over the course of a week and spent four nights in Kona, then three nights in Hilo!

If you want to see “everything,” you will want to drive all the way around!
Keep reading: 7 Essential Steps to Plan Your Island of Hawai’i Vacation

Look Out for Wildlife

The Island of Hawai’i has kind of a lot of wilderness, y’all, and that means it’s also home to a lot of critters! Be on the lookout for mongoose, wild boar, goats, native Hawaiian nene, and more. Nene being hit by cars is especially problematic because these Hawai’ian geese are designated as a “threatened” species. Many are hit inside Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, so please be aware as you drive in and around the Park.

The animals you see roaming around Hawai’i are truly wild, so don’t try to pet them or get photos with them. They may not like it if you try to get too close, so remember to use the zoom function if you do want to get photos from the safety of your car.

A critter could run across in front of you at any moment!
Read on: What to Know Before Your Visit the Island of Hawai’i

Look Out for Pot Holes

Island weather seems like paradise in a lot of ways, but the salt air and other elements can be rough on the roads! Your rental car, and the rental car company, will thank you for slowing down and looking out for pot holes. Even if it looks shallow from a distance, it might be deeper than you think. Go around if at all possible!

Where the blacktop ends!
More here: The Best Tips for Driving in the Hawaiian Islands

You May Want 4-wheel Drive

My husband and I were not able to rent a 4-wheel drive (4WD) vehicle on our trip (there are only so many cars on the island!), and we didn’t feel like we needed it. We enjoy hiking, so if we wanted to go somewhere off-road, we hiked there. But if you want to drive into the Waipi’o Valley, drive to Papakolea (Green Sand Beach), or visit some off-the-beaten-track beaches or historic sites, you will need 4WD!

4WD Tips

Do a little 4WD research if you’re not used to using it. Here are a few things to know:

  • 4WD is not synonymous with manual or stick shift. You can rent an automatic vehicle that also has 4WD!
  • Don’t leave it in 4WD mode. Use it sparingly, only when you need it. Never use 4WD on smoothly paved roads. 
  • Go slow. 4WD is also not synonymous with race mode. 
You have to have 4WD to drive down into (and up out of!) Waipi’o Valley.
Read on: 5 Things You Forgot to Pack for Hawaii

Don’t Leave Your Valuables in the Car

Hawaiians and locals are overwhelmingly kind, helpful, and honest. But no matter where you go in the world, you’ll find people willing to break into a car when they see luggage in the backseat with no people in sight. Don’t leave your valuables (or luggage!) in your car, and especially not within view of the car’s windows. Be smart!

Papakolea (Green Sand Beach) is worth the hike, but its faraway parking area is notorious for car break-ins!
Read next: The Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Island of Hawai’i

Want more? Get everything you need to plan your Hawaiian trip of a lifetime on my dedicated Hawaiian Islands Page!

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2 responses to “The Best Tips for Driving on the Island of Hawai’i”

  1. What does Quick Whit have to say about travel to QATAR?

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