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Touring on the Big Island, Hawaii

Old 10-31-17, 10:10 AM
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Touring on the Big Island, Hawaii

Hello!

My partner and I are planning a bike tour on the Big Island in December. We have about 12 days to bike around the island. If anyone has done a tour on Hawaii before or is a local, I'd love to hear your advice! Here are some questions that I'd like input on:

We are flying into Kona. Is there a preferable direction to bike around the island in terms of shoulders and head/tailwind? For example, we rode the 101 south in Oregon and California instead of north because there is a more defined shoulder and a much less intense headwind going south.

Any recommended campgrounds or places to stay?

Any recommended routes or day trips?

Thanks for any pro-tips or recommendations!
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Old 10-31-17, 10:19 AM
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Originally Posted by annarose
H
We are flying into Kona. Is there a preferable direction to bike around the island in terms of shoulders and head/tailwind?

Any recommended campgrounds or places to stay?

Any recommended routes or day trips?

If you're riding straight out of the airport, hanging a right and going south would probably be more ideal in terms of headwinds. The trade/crosswinds you'd hit going left/north from there can be pretty bad sometimes. The roads get pretty narrow in some stretches once you pass Kailua, so bring a mirror and be ready to pull over and let people pass. Google earth/maps will give you a pretty decent idea of what some of the roads are like. Asking on strava would be a good idea too, since people there are going to be more familiar with traffic conditions on whatever part of the island they usually ride on.

Check the Hawai'i DLNR and Hawai'i county websites for parks you can camp at. Most need permits.


Not sure what an ideal day trip would be, considering that I don't know how you plan on trying to do things, or what kind of bicycles you're gonna be running.
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Old 10-31-17, 11:06 AM
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Check out this thread: Planning a Tour in Hawaii
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Old 10-31-17, 11:09 AM
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The Volcano House has reopened in Volcanoes National Park and we stayed there two nights a couple of years ago. If you're on the Big Island you really should see Kilauea. There's a nice museum of Hawaiian culture in Hilo in the park with the Kamehaha statue near the waterfront.

Keep in mind that on that island, inland is uphill. Sometimes waaay uphill. In local real estate ads it's common practice to state the elevation of the property.

Last edited by thumpism; 10-31-17 at 11:13 AM.
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Old 10-31-17, 12:52 PM
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I replied to the 2009 thread and it has been 20 years (yikes) since I circumnavigated the island but a few quick thoughts:
- I went counter-clockwise. This meant I was on right side of the road with the ocean to my right
- Shoulders were narrow, getting off the main road was nice including near Hilo and also Pahoa. The place I wanted to go but didn't take time was Waipo valley.
- Pay attention to elevations, ~4000ft at Volcano and ~6500ft if you take the road across the middle. There used to be a campground on the saddle road, but I believe that was closed for overnight camping not long after I visited (both January 1997 and Thanksgiving 1997 and closed when I visited some years later). The road over the middle is rough in parts and has steep sections (rental cars not allowed), but was otherwise an interesting place.
- If you want a real challenge, travel from sea level to top of Mauna Kea (13,768ft); my brother and I did this but split over multiple days. We also had assistance as my brother and family live on the Big Island.
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Old 10-31-17, 04:10 PM
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Probably best to go clockwise, because the mountains will block the wind on the leeward side and the trades mostly come from the NE...but in winter you never know. Check windy.com and take a look at sailflow.com as well. A few degrees in the angle of the trades can equal a 180 degree change in the direction the wind takes around the island.
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Old 11-01-17, 01:03 PM
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I toured around the big island in 2012, and here are some recollections that may help you with planning. Some of these may have changed in the last 5 years, so be sure to verify.

First, as manapua man said, you need to have camping permits at state and regional parks at least a week in advance, and you can't change the dates, so if you are camping, you need to keep to a pretty strict schedule. There are (or were) good hostels in both Kona and Hilo, not sure about other locations.

Second, I recommend bringing your own bike rather than renting, especially if you'll be camping. The bike shops are better in Kona than in Hilo, but they tend to cater to road cyclists and triathletes - I was not able to find a shop in Kona that would rent me a bicycle with a rack on it. There was a shop in Hilo that would rent me a bike with a rack, but the bike was in really bad shape, and I had to do my own tune-up on it before I left Hilo to make it tolerable.

Third, definitely plan to stay in Volcanos NP. There are some good day hikes in the park; bring real hiking shoes because hiking on lava is hard on the ankles. Riding down to where the coast road ends under lava is pretty cool. The Kilauea overlook at night is definitely worth seeing. The campground in the park is (or was) free and didn't require reservations, and was also pretty nice for tent camping. Just remember that the campground is near the park entrance around 4000 feet, so you'll have a nice uphill ride at the end of the day for any day trips in the park.

Mad props to mev on riding to Mauna Kea - I took a motorized tour to the summit while I was there, and that road is steep and unpaved. Plus the summit is right in the jet stream, so it's really cold and windy.
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Old 11-01-17, 02:51 PM
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Originally Posted by gorshkov
Mad props to mev on riding to Mauna Kea.
Note, I didn't ride it entirely and certainly didn't ride it all in one day. Instead, my experiment was traveling from sea level to summit and back under my own power over a Thanksgiving week. Here is how we broke things up:

Day #1 - arrive in Kona, cycle up to my brother and sister-in-law's place @ 1500ft.
Day #2 - cycle from Kona to the saddle @ 6500ft. We stayed at a cabin belonging to Hawaii state government because my brother had connections (in 1997, I did cycle to this location as well fully loaded, but that was when the campground was still open)
Day #3 - day trip, cycle from the saddle to the astronomer lodging area @ 9200ft. The route is entirely paved, but sections are very steep - signs say 18% grade and I believe them. The evening of day #3, my brother showed us around one of the telescopes on the summit. If one were going to cycle to the summit - this is the place I'd explore for possible accommodations...
Day #4 - day trip - hiking not cycling; from the astronomer acclimatization area to the summit @ 13,768ft and back. We hiked up the road and down the trail. Except for the last 1.5 miles, this route is gravel.
Day #5 - cycle down from the saddle road back to my brother and sister-in-law; eat Thanksgiving
Day #7 - cycle down to the Kona airport and depart.

The saddle road itself was entirely paved but had some pretty rough spots. There were some steeper 8-10% grades but nothing extreme. Similar to rest of the island, there is a wet side and a dry side.

I had seen accounts of people cycling it entirely in a day as well as people splitting it into two days by staying at the lodging area at 9200ft. Some of that info is dated, so it would be important to check for the current situation as well.
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Old 11-01-17, 03:15 PM
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Some friends & I biked from Hilo counterclockwise to Kona. All of us preferred the windward (wet) side to the dry leeward Kona side because of the lush vegetation and waterfalls. Before heading north along the coast from Hilo, we biked up to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and spent a couple of days there. Even though it's a 4,000 foot climb, it's a very gentle grade the whole way.

We crossed over to the west coast passing through Waimea in the north of the Big Island. The town is built along the divide between the windward & leeward sides. The east side side of town is wet, and the west side of town is much drier. You can really see the difference over a short distance.
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Old 11-01-17, 07:17 PM
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Old 11-02-17, 08:51 PM
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Originally Posted by gorshkov
Third, definitely plan to stay in Volcanos NP. There are some good day hikes in the park; bring real hiking shoes because hiking on lava is hard on the ankles. Riding down to where the coast road ends under lava is pretty cool. The Kilauea overlook at night is definitely worth seeing. The campground in the park is (or was) free and didn't require reservations, and was also pretty nice for tent camping. Just remember that the campground is near the park entrance around 4000 feet, so you'll have a nice uphill ride at the end of the day for any day trips in the park.
There's also a small campground on the Chain of Craters Road about halfway down to the coast but it has very little in the way of facilities; flat spots for tents, no water that I saw, etc. I did not see the campground uphill near the village (just off route 11) but the map legends make it look much more welcoming.
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