Home Traveling Adventures Hawaii: How to Tour the Big Island Without a Car

Hawaii: How to Tour the Big Island Without a Car

by bromptoning

As people who enjoy cycle touring, we admit that Hawaii wasn’t top of our bucket list. Sure, it’s beautiful and hosts the Ironman World Championships every year, but The Big Island Hawaii is not a place where people regularly get around by bike unless they’re in spandex. However, a good friend is getting married there, so we’re going — and of course we’re taking the Bromptons!

I immediately started researching cycling on The Big Island. One of the best resources I found was Path Hawaii, which is a non-profit advocacy organization like our own Cycle Toronto. Under the Trails, Paths & Projects section of their website is a subsection called “Bike Routes” where they map out routes all over The Big Island that include warnings about road conditions such as no shoulders, blind curves and high traffic. After reading all this very useful information, I realized two things: 1) we didn’t have time to cycle all the way around the island, and 2) most highways outside the main areas do not have shoulders. 

So how are we going to get around the island during our short eleven day trip? 99% of the advice out there insists that you must rent a car to tour Hawaii. But as the only one of us with a license, I (Heather) don’t want to spend my vacation with my eyes on the pavement while Pier gazes at the scenery out the passenger side window. So I researched public transit…

Yikes. Hawaii has very few transit options. There is one bus company, Hele-On Bus, and buses are infrequent and most don’t run on Sundays. On the plus side, it is cheap (just $2 a ride, plus $1 for luggage and $1 per bike). Because the Hele-On is mainly for locals going to work, the buses leave early in the morning and late in the afternoon. It’s a lot like Ontario’s insufficient Go Train system; except for the Lakeshore line, you can only travel during regular commute times. 

The Hele-On website looks up-to-date but is otherwise pretty terrible. You have to download PDF files of the route maps and schedules, and NONE of the pick-up spots are actually on the map in a way that would let a non-local know where the bus stops. Sometimes the bus stop is a business, like a store name or a specific resort, but sometimes it’s just a street name without the actual intersection! For example, there’s an Ali’i Drive stop in Kona, except that street is 12 miles long! 

The result? I spent hours pouring over route schedules and researching possible bus stop locations with the help of Google Street View. 

But I think we can do this. The plan is to get from Kona to Hilo by bus, then make Hilo our home base for a few days. Close sights, like Akaka Falls, we’ll cycle to, but farther sights, like Puna and Volcanoes National Park, we’ll take the bus there then bike around. 

So that’s the plan. We’ll let you know how it works out!

Coming up next… A time lapse video of packing our Bromptons for the flight to Hawaii.

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