Is there public transport on Hawaii?

Imagine you are sitting in your nice resort, and after a few days of lazing by the pool, you somehow get restless – and so you should! the Big Island of Hawaii has 11 of the 13 climate zones in the world, and the scenery is otherworldly beautiful, especially if you are from Western Europe and are not used to the amazing seascapes in close range to bare mountains, and that you have to fly for five (!) hours over water from the nearest mainland to reach these tiny specks in the Pacific Ocean.

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Sadly, a lot of mainstream travel to Hawaii is geared towards package tours, and even on the Big Island with its diversity, most accommodations are in condos in Kailua-Kona or in resorts on the Kona and Kohala coast in the west of the island.

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And to get out and about, you need  car. Any tourist rep ( or shop assistant) will laugh you in the face if you say you have no car. Cars are pricey to hire, and so is parking. So, what to do?

The good news is, there IS public transport on the Big Island! It is comfortable buses, and cheap – you can ride halfway round the island for 2USD.

But….

  1. It is centred around the Eastern part and Hilo, where most locals live. There is also a shared taxi service centred around Hilo. So, if you plan not to hire a car Hilo would make a more suitable base – its more laid back anyway, cheaper, and there are a string of lovely beaches for both swimming and surfing within  Hilo city limits.
  2. It runs very infrequently, and rarely calls at any resorts or the airport.
  3. It certainly does not take you directly to the natural beauty spots, beaches, and sights

Is it still worth trying! Yes, definitely! The public transport is called Hele-On and their website is  up to date – and buses generally operate with military precision!

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After two days of lazing by said pool and looking at expensive shops in the Kings Shops and Queens Marketplace in Waikoloa, I wanted to see a bit more of the island. The concierge at the Hilton told me, no, absolutely no public transport here, but the Hele-On website said otherwise… there is currently one bus in the morning and one in the afternoon  going from the Hilton to Kailua, and one bus going back to Waikoloa (though not the Hilton)

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So, yes, day trip to Kailua! At first, I pitched up at the Hilton entrance only to find no bus stop. An employee finally enlightened me: the bus stop was at the service entrance, and indeed, there were some people waiting, all hotel employees returning to Hilo after work – thats a two-hour ride! Four hours commuting every day! Eventually, my bus turned up, chilled to a freezing chamber, and after paying 2USD (the first cheap thing in Hawaii!) within 45min with just one other passenger, I was dropped off at the sea front in Kailua-Kona.

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To stay with the cheapskate theme, I sampled some free Kona coffee (I am really not sure why it is so hyped, seriously! Though I admit I bought some), strolled along the seafront, looked at the shops – rather unassuming touristy stuff, honestly, went one block up for some slightly more useful shops , had a shave ice and a pedicure though not at the same time, strolled along the sea front, took the bus back!

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Bear in mind the bus stops on that side of the island are not really signposted. So I was advised to get myself noticed, otherwise the only bus would pass me by, and I would be taking a not-so-cheapskate ride for about 100 USD back to the resort. I asked a few people, just to be sure… one man finally knew about the bus and advised me to stand by a traffic light, not far from the Mokuaikaua Church, right beside Big Island Jewellers, and one could see the bus approaching from far, I waved about, boarded and was asked to sit right in front with the driver –  looks like a drivers life is a lonely one! If you ask, they will drop you off on the highway where its safe, and I walked back to the Queens Marketplace, bought lunch, and took the lazy persons trolley back to the Hilton. Not exactly high adventure, but a nice diversion and a leisurely trip browsing charity shops, fabric shops, and getting out into a real town of sorts.

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We had car hire ( arranged back in Germany online with one of the large hire companies, so I cannot advise whether its cheaper to rent locally, but I htink not)  a few days later to cross over to Hilo and Volcanoes National Park, and I fully enjoyed those five days, going wherever we pleased, stopping wherever we wanted, and being independent. So you could plan on renting a car for a few days for the National Parks and some more remote beaches.

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Have you been to a place where public transport is a challenge? Would you still use it or just rent a car?

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