The vast majority of tourist resorts on Hawaii Island (aka Big Island) are around Kona, rather than near the administrative centre of Hilo, and Kona is also where the majority of flights to Big Island arrive.
- Big Island, big roads – a hire car gives you the freedom to explore without being tied to a tour schedule.
- Very poor public transport (transit buses).
- Buses are easier to use if starting in Hilo, rather than Kona.
- Despite the spectacular scenery, there is only really one circuit around the island.
- A rental car could be an expensive option if it is only used for 1-2 days.
- Plenty of guided tours are available, especially for Volcanoes National Park.
Big Island Hawaii Buses
The bus system on Hawaii Island is the sort of setup that is going to take any visitor a little bit of time to get used to, because routes are divided into different sectors in a circular pattern around the island. This means that longer journeys might need to be broken down into several different stages, rather than the more conventional pattern of major bus routes between cities being fed by more local routes. The buses are organised in a way that makes it possible, for example, to visit Volcanoes National Park in a day trip from Hilo, but not from Kona.
Naturally, it’s also possible to visit Volcanoes National Park as part of some sort of organised trip, but as with any such service, you will be travelling on their terms not yours. Yet of course there’s far more to Hawaii Island than just its most famous attraction, and again, even though this “big” island only has a relatively small number of roads, you can still cover some serious distance in a day, so a rental car is the best way to do it justice.
Given that the main resorts in Kona tend to be reasonably close to the airport, you might want to consider renting a car for a short period, perhaps a day or two, and then using local buses and taxis in resort.
Do you need a car in Kona? Yes!