With a few exceptions (mainly farmers markets), prices are fixed on the Big Island and bargaining is not an accepted practice.
- The leeward (western) side of the island is usually hot and dry, while the windward (northeastern) side receives abundant rainfall year-round.
- The mountainous upcountry is noticeably cooler and wetter. This elevation difference is most marked on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, where overnight temperatures dip below freezing.
- When you're most likely to see major storms and flooding, the winter wet season (December to March) is rainier than the summer dry season.
Dangers & Annoyances
For visitors who have an accident or become victims of crimes, the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii offers short-term non-monetary assistance.
- Vog Volcanic smog can make sunny skies hazy. Short-term exposure not generally hazardous except for people with respiratory and heart conditions, pregnant women, young children and infants.
- Coqui frogs Nightly mating calls can disrupt sleep; inquire with accommodations if you're sensitive to noise.
Hazards & Trespassing
Flash floods, rock falls, tsunami, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, shark attacks, jellyfish stings and, yes, even possibly getting brained by a falling coconut — the potential dangers in Hawaii might seem alarming at first. But like the old saying goes, statistically you're more likely to get hurt crossing the street at home.
Of course, that's not to say that you shouldn't be careful. First educate yourself about potential risks to your health and safety. This advice becomes even more important when you're engaged in outdoor activities in a new and unfamiliar natural environment, whether that's a snorkeling spot, a jungle waterfall, a high-altitude mountain or an active (and thus unpredictable) volcanic eruption zone.
Wherever you choose to explore, remember to mind your manners and watch your step. Hawaii has strict laws about trespassing on both private land and government land not intended for public use. Trespassing is always illegal, no matter how many other people you see doing it. Respect all 'Kapu' or 'No Trespassing' signs.
Always seek explicit permission from the land owner or local officials before venturing onto private or government land closed to the public, regardless of whether it is fenced or signposted as such. Doing so not only respects the kuleana (rights) of residents and the sacredness of the land, but also helps ensure your own safety.
Theft & Violence
The islands are notorious for thefts from parked cars, especially rentals (which are obviously tagged with bar-code stickers). Thieves can pop a trunk or pull out a door-lock assembly within seconds. They strike not only at remote trailheads when you've gone for a hike, but also at crowded beach and hotel parking lots where you'd expect safety in numbers.
As much as possible, do not leave anything valuable in your parked car. If you must, pack all valuables out of sight before arriving at your destination. Some locals leave their car doors unlocked with the windows rolled down to discourage break-ins and avoid costly damages (eg broken windows).
Stay attuned to the vibe on any beaches at night, and in places like roadside county parks, where drunks and drug users sometimes hang out. In rural areas of the island, there may be pockets of resentment against tourists, so be respectful as you explore off the beaten path.
Avoiding Car Break-Ins
For many, the Big Island's remote beaches and hikes are the main event – but they also make your rental car a prime target for thieves. Follow local advice: leave nothing of value in your car (yes, this includes in the trunk). It's smart to get all your gear packed up before arriving at your destination.
Another local tip is to leave your doors unlocked so would-be ne'er-do-wells know there's nothing of value in the car. In this way, you can avoid a smashed window – which, as the confetti of broken glass in beach and trailhead parking areas proves, occurs fairly frequently. Check your rental-car insurance policy before considering doing this though. This strategy can backfire, as it leaves your car wide open to stinky feral animals who may hop inside and make a huge mess that's impossible to clean up.
Hawaiʻi is always at risk of tsunami, which have killed more people statewide than all other natural disasters combined. Hawaiʻi's tsunami warning sirens are tested on the first working day of each month at 11:45am, using the yellow speakers mounted on telephone poles. If you hear them at any other time, head for higher ground away from the coast. Telephone directories have tsunami evacuation zone maps. Turn on the radio or TV and listen for news.
Children, students, seniors, state residents and active and retired military personnel usually receive discounts at museums and attractions. All but children need to present valid ID proving their status.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Emergency (police, fire, ambulance)||911|
|Local directory assistance||411|
|Long-distance directory assistance||1-(area code)-555-1212|
|Toll-free directory assistance||1-800-555-1212|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Non-US citizens and permanent residents may import the following duty-free:
- 1L of liquor (if you're over 21 years old)
- 200 cigarettes (one carton) or 100 non-Cuban cigars (if you're over 18)
- $100 worth of gifts
Hawaii has stringent restrictions against importing any fresh fruits and plants. Because Hawaii is a rabies-free state, the pet quarantine laws are draconian.
Before leaving Hawaii, make sure any fresh flowers or produce has been commercially packaged and approved for travel (else you'll be forced to surrender those pineapples at the airport).
Generally not required for Canadians or for citizens of Visa Waiver Program countries for stays of 90 days or less with ESTA pre-approval.
Double-check current visa and passport requirements before coming to the USA. See the 'Visas' section of the US Department of State website (http://travel.state.gov) and the Travel section of the US Customs & Border Protection website (www.cbp.gov).
Currently under the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) visas are not required for citizens of 37 countries for stays up to 90 days (no extensions) if they register online at least 72 hours before arrival with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, which costs $14. Canadian visitors are generally admitted visa-free for stays up to 182 days.
Upon arrival, the Department of Homeland Security (www.dhs.gov) requires that almost all foreign visitors (currently excluding most Canadian citizens) have their digital photograph taken and electronic (inkless) fingerprints scanned; the process typically takes less than a minute.
Hawaiians are friendly folk, but also protective of their land and culture.
- Kapu A 'Kapu' sign means off-limits or forbidden – respect these restrictions at all times.
- Island time While Hawaiians are sensitive to tourist sensibilities, they tend to operate on a more casual time schedule.
- Dress code People certainly wear sandals to business meetings, but on the flip side, they also dress up for church and a nice meal.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
The state of Hawaii has strong minority protections and a constitutional guarantee of privacy that extends to sexual behavior between consenting adults. Locals tend to be private about their personal lives, so you will not see much public hand-holding or open displays of affection. Everyday LGBTQ life is low-key, and there's not much of a 'scene' to speak of – with a few exceptions it's more about picnics and potlucks, not nightclubs.
- Wi-fi is now available at almost all accommodations; it's usually free at B&Bs, condos and vacation rentals.
- Bigger towns have at least one coffee shop offering free wi-fi.
If you are arrested, you have the right to an attorney; if you can't afford one, a public defender will be provided free. The Hawaii State Bar Association makes attorney referrals.
In addition to Hawaii's road rules, be mindful of the following laws:
- Bars, clubs and liquor stores may require photo ID to prove you're of legal age (21 years) to buy alcohol. You must be 18 years old to buy tobacco.
- Drinking alcohol anywhere other than at a private residence, hotel room or licensed premises (eg bar, restaurant) is illegal, which puts beach parks off-limits.
- Possessing marijuana or nonprescription narcotics, hitchhiking and public nudity are all illegal in Hawaii.
- Smoking is generally prohibited in all public spaces, including airports, bars, restaurants and businesses.
- Newspapers Major dailies include the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, West Hawaii Today and Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
- Radio About 25 FM and five AM radio stations; National Public Radio (NPR) is at the lower end of the FM dial.
- TV & DVD All major US TV networks and cable channels; DVDs coded region 1 (US and Canada only).
Credit cards are widely accepted by most businesses (except some lodgings) and often required for reservations. Traveler's checks (US dollars) are occasionally used.
Available in all major towns.
- ATMs are available in all major towns and 24/7 at most banks, convenience stores, shopping centers and airports.
- Expect a minimum surcharge of $2.25 per transaction, plus any fees charged by your home bank.
- Most ATMs are connected to international networks (eg Plus, Cirrus) and offer decent exchange rates.
- Hawaii's two largest banks are Bank of Hawaii (www.boh.com) and First Hawaiian Bank (www.fhb.com).
Out-of-state personal checks are generally not accepted, except at some privately owned lodgings (eg B&Bs, condos, vacation rentals).
Major credit cards are widely accepted. Typically they're required for car rentals, hotel reservations, buying tickets etc. B&Bs, condos and vacation rentals may refuse credit cards or add a 3% surcharge.
Rather archaic nowadays, traveler's checks in US dollars are still accepted like cash at bigger tourist-oriented businesses in Hawaii, such as resort hotels. Smaller businesses like grocery stores usually refuse them.
Tipping is not optional; only withhold tips in cases of outrageously bad service.
- Airport skycaps & hotel porters $2 to $3 per bag, minimum per cart $5.
- Bartenders 15% to 20% per round, minimum $1 per drink.
- Housekeeping $2 to $5 per night, left under card provided; more if you're messy.
- Parking valets At least $2 when handed back your car's keys.
- Restaurant servers & room service 15% for substandard service, 20% for good service, unless a gratuity is already charged.
- Taxi drivers 15% of metered fare, rounded up to next dollar.
A 4% state sales tax is tacked onto virtually everything, including meals, groceries and car rentals (which also entail additional state and local taxes). Lodging taxes total 13.25%.
Banks 8:30am–4pm Monday–Friday, some to 6pm Friday; 9am–noon or 1pm Saturday.
Bars and clubs Noon–midnight daily, some to 2am Friday and Saturday. Bars may close early if business is slow.
Businesses (general) and government offices 8:30am–4:30pm Monday–Friday, some post offices also 9am–noon Saturday.
Restaurants Breakfast 6–10am, lunch 11:30am–2pm, dinner 5–9:30pm. Smaller restaurants may have more flexible hours.
Shops 9am–5pm Monday–Saturday, some also noon to 5pm Sunday; major shopping areas and malls keep extended hours.
The US Postal Service delivers mail to and from Hawaii. Service is reliable, but slower than within the continental USA. First-class airmail between Hawaii and the mainland usually takes three to four days
On the following national holidays, banks, schools and government offices (including post offices) close, and museums, transportation and other services operate on a Sunday schedule. Holidays falling on a weekend are usually observed the following Monday.
New Year's Day January 1
Martin Luther King Jr Day Third Monday in January
Presidents' Day Third Monday in February
Prince Kuhio Day March 26
Good Friday Friday before Easter Sunday (in March or April)
Memorial Day Last Monday in May
King Kamehameha Day June 11
Independence Day July 4
Statehood Day Third Friday in August
Labor Day First Monday in September
Columbus Day Second Monday in October
Veterans Day November 11
Thanksgiving Fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day December 25
- All Hawaii phone numbers consist of a three-digit area code (808) followed by a seven-digit local number.
- To call long-distance from one island to another, dial 1 + 808 + local number.
- Always dial 1 before toll-free numbers (800, 888 etc). Some toll-free numbers only work within Hawaii or from the US mainland and Canada.
- To call Canada from Hawaii, dial 1 + area code + local number (note international rates still apply).
- For all other international calls from Hawaii, dial 011 + country code + area code + local number.
- To call Hawaii from abroad, the international country code for the USA is 1.
Pay Phones & Phone Cards
- Pay phones are a dying breed, though they are occasionally found at shopping centers, hotels, beaches, parks and other public places.
- Some pay phones are coin-operated (local calls usually cost 50¢), while others only accept credit cards or phonecards.
- Private prepaid phonecards are available from convenience stores, supermarkets, pharmacies etc.
International travelers need a multiband GSM phone to make calls in the USA. Popping in a US prepaid rechargeable SIM card is usually cheaper than using your home network. SIM cards are available at telecommunications and electronics stores, which also sell inexpensive prepaid phones, including some airtime.
Among US cell-phone service providers, Verizon has the most extensive network; AT&T and Sprint get decent reception. Coverage is good in bigger towns but spotty or nonexistent in rural areas.
- Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time is GMT/UTC minus 10 hours. Hawaii doesn't observe Daylight Saving Time.
- In midwinter, the sun rises around 7am and sets around 6pm. In midsummer, it rises before 6am and sets after 7pm.
- During standard time (winter), Hawaii time differs from Los Angeles by two hours, from New York by five hours, from London by 10 hours, from Tokyo by 19 hours and from Sydney by 21 hours. During daylight saving time (summer), the difference is one hour more for countries that observe it.
- Upon arrival, set your internal clock to 'Island time,' meaning slow down!
- Be careful where you relieve yourself outside. if you're by private property or land marked 'Kapu', you might seriously piss off a local (no pun intended).
- Beach parks tend to have free facilities; some are surprisingly clean, some, not so much.
- In more rustic eco-retreats, waste is often turned into fertilizer.
- Go Hawaii (www.gohawaii.com/big-island/) Official tourism portal for the Big Island.
- Big Island Now (www.bigislandnow.com) Updated news site on Big Island tourism.
- Kona 123 (www.kona123.com) Big Island tourism information curated by locals.
- Kona Web (www.konaweb.com) Maintains an exhaustive events calendar for the island.
- Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources Advance state park camping permits are required. Nonresident fees are $18 per campsite for up to six people ($3 for each additional person), $50 per A-frame shelter and $80 to $90 per cabin.
Travel with Children
With its phenomenal natural beauty, Hawaiʻi is perfect for a family vacation. Nā keiki (kids) can play on sandy beaches galore, snorkel amid tropical fish, zipline in forest canopies and even watch lava flow. Then get them out of the sun (or rain) for a spell at family-friendly museums.
Best Regions for Kids
Has the shopping goodness of Aliʻi Dr, plus good intro beaches for bodysurfing, stand-up paddling and snorkeling. Up the mountain, the Donkey Mill Arts Center has tons of children's programming.
- South Kohala
The resorts of this area all include family-friendly amenities and infrastructure. Kids have access to pools in case the water in the ocean is too rough.
- North Kohala
There are lots of educational programs, like the Kohala Institute and Kohala Mountain Educational Farm, aimed at children.
Many of the parks, museums and educational centers in this town are either aimed at kids, or accommodate their needs.
Some of the markets and weekly events in Puna are kid-friendly; the general hippie vibe is in line with the 'it takes a village' approach.
- Volcano & Around
The sheer natural beauty of the national park, plus many ranger-led activities, should wow older kids.
The Big Island for Kids
Mixing up natural and cultural sites and activities, as well as managing expectations, helps to maximize children's fun. The latter is especially important when it comes to lava: kids may be sorely disappointed, expecting the fiery fountains dramatically seen on the Discovery Channel. Check current lava flows with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/activity/kilaueastatus.php) before booking an expensive helicopter or boat tour.
Commercial luau might seem like cheesy Vegas dinner shows to adults, but many kids love the flashy dances and fire tricks. Children typically get discounted tickets (and sometimes free admission when accompanied by a paying adult).
Food & Drink
Hawaiʻi has to be one of the most food-friendly places for kids on the planet. Not only are all the favorites available but there are also tempting exotic tidbits like crack seed and Spam masubi. Wrinkly passion fruit, spiky rambutan and downright strange soursop are just some of the odd duck fruits you can find at farmers markets, which are a fun introduction for kids to Hawaiʻi's tropical bounty.
You'd be surprised how many restaurants – including upscale places like Brown's Beach House – warmly welcome children, and even have specific keiki menus. However, children are expected to behave – one screech and you'll be getting the 'stink eye' from other diners. One of our top picks for white tablecloth kiddie dining is Jackie Rey's Ohana Grill in Kailua-Kona, where the tablecloths can be colored in and kids are invited to check out 300lb fish hanging from hooks in the freezer. Aloha, Big Island style.
The island's many small-to-medium-size diners and plate-lunch joints are all sustained by repeat, family-oriented clientele; if you're ever in need of a spot where the food is clean, the portions are enormous and the price is right, you really can't go wrong with a plate-lunch establishment.
Three Ring Ranch Exotic Animal Sanctuary, Kailua-Kona More mature kids will be wowed by this incredible wildlife sanctuary.
Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm, Keahole Point Seahorses (which are always cute) are raised and reared at this conservation facility.
Panaʻewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens, Hilo The only zoo in the USA located within an actual rainforest.
Sea Turtles, Kiholo Bay There are areas on the northern side of this beach where sea turtles regularly bask.
Education & Exploration
ʻImiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaiʻi, Hilo A brilliant, immersive exploration of the universe and Polynesian culture.
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park Junior Ranger Program, Volcanoes National Park Learn about the raw power of nature – by an actual volcano!
The Kohala Institute, Kapaʻau Hosts programs that focus on sustainability and environmental education.
Donkey Mill Art Center, Holualoa A brilliant spot for Big Island arts education.
Kona Coffee Living History Farm, Captain Cook Older kids will appreciate this outdoor exhibition.
Choose accommodations based on your family's sightseeing and activity priorities. Resorts offer spectacular swimming pools, along with kids' activity day camps and on-call babysitting services. But some parents prefer the convenience and cost savings of having a full kitchen and washer/dryer, which many condominiums and vacation rentals offer. Smaller B&Bs may have a more familial vibe – and on that note, many Big Islanders have a big soft spot for kids – but you run the risk of limited kid-friendly amenities.
Children often stay free when sharing a hotel or resort room with their parents, but only if they use existing bedding. Otherwise roll-away beds may be available – sometimes free, but usually for a surcharge of up to $40 per night. At condos, kids above a certain age might count as extra guests and entail an additional nightly surcharge.
Because long drive times can make kids antsy, you may not want to base yourself in just one place on the Big Island. On the other hand, for that very reason you may want to find one area that has everything you need within quick tripping distance.
When to Go
When deciding when and where to visit, know that most families choose the sunny leeward side of the island, staying around Kailua-Kona or on the South Kohala coast. The windward side of the Big Island gets more rain year-round and higher waves in winter, which can nix swimming. Year-round, vog (volcanic smog) can be a factor island-wide. Sometimes the air pollution is negligible, but at other times its health effects can be hazardous, especially for young children and pregnant women.
What to Pack
Hawaiʻi's small-town vibe means that almost no place – apart from star chef's restaurants and five-star resorts – is formal, whether in attitude or attire. You can let your kids wear T-shirts, shorts and rubbah slippah (flip-flops) just about anywhere. When visiting Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and the island's windward side, rain gear and a sweater or fleece jacket will come in handy – those areas experience some wacky weather.
At tourist convenience shops, such as the ABC Store, you can buy inexpensive water-sports equipment (eg floaties, snorkel sets and boogie boards). In Kailua-Kona, Snorkel Bob's rents and sells all kinds of water sports gear for kids, from reef shoes to snorkel masks. If you do forget some critical item from home, services like Big Island Baby Rentals rent cribs, strollers, car seats, backpacks, beach toys and more.
- Travel with Children (Lonely Planet) Loaded with valuable tips and amusing tales, especially for first-time parents.
- Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com) Ask questions and get advice from other travelers in the Thorn Tree's online 'Kids to Go' forum.
- Go Hawaii (www.gohawaii.com) The state's official tourism site lists family-friendly activities, special events and more – just search the site using terms like ʻkids' or ʻfamily.'
Need to Know
- Baby food and formula Sold at supermarkets and pharmacies.
- Babysitting Ask your hotel concierge; some resorts offer day-care programs and kids' activity clubs.
- Breastfeeding Done discreetly (cover up) or in private.
- Car seats Reserve in advance through car-rental companies.
- Changing facilities Ubiquitous in public restrooms except at beaches.
- Diapers (nappies) Sold everywhere (eg supermarkets, pharmacies and convenience stores).
- Dining out High chairs and kids' menus are available at most sit-down restaurants, except top-end dining rooms.
- Hiking Keep hydrated and wear sunscreen. Be careful when hiking over sharp aʻa lava, which can be painful even through rubber soles. Be on the lookout for kiawe thorns, which can pierce rubber soles.
- Strollers Bring from home or reserve via Big Island Baby Rentals.
- Swimming The waters off of Hawai'i have incredibly strong currents and undertows. Tide pools are the safest spot for novice swimmers.
Feature: Is My Child Old Enough?
Although parents will find plenty of outdoor family fun for all ages on Hawaiʻi, some activities require that children be of a certain age, height or weight to participate. Always ask about restrictions when making reservations to avoid disappointment – and tears.
To learn to surf Kids who can swim comfortably in the ocean are candidates for lessons. Teens can usually join group lessons; younger kids may be required to take private lessons.
To take a boat tour Depending on the outfit and type of watercraft, tours sometimes set minimum ages, usually from four to eight years. Larger boats might allow tots as young as two to ride along.
To summit Mauna Kea Not advised for children under 16 years due to high-altitude health hazards.
To ride in a helicopter Most tour companies set minimum ages (eg two to 12 years) and sometimes also minimum body weights (eg 35lb). Toddlers must be strapped into their own seat and pay full fare.
To go ziplining Minimum age requirements range from five to 12 years, depending on the company. Participants must also meet weight minimums (usually 50lb to 80lb).
To ride a horse For trail rides the minimum age ranges from seven to 10 years, depending on the outfitter and if your child has riding experience. Short pony rides may be offered for younger kids.
Travellers with Disabilities
Major hotels are equipped with elevators, phones with TDD (telecommunications device for the deaf) and wheelchair-accessible rooms (which must be reserved in advance); most B&Bs and small hotels are probably not.
Guide and service dogs are not subject to the general quarantine rules for pets if they meet the Department of Agriculture's minimum requirements (see http://hdoa.hawaii.gov/ai/aqs/guide-service-dogs for details). All animals must enter the state at Honolulu International Airport.
Wheelchair-accessible vans can be rented from Wheelchair Getaways. Car-rental agencies may offer hand-controlled vehicles; reserve them well in advance. If you have a disability parking placard from home, bring it with you. Puʻuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park and Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park lend wheelchairs free of charge.
For Hawaii-specific info on airports, all-terrain beach wheelchairs, transportation, medical and other support services, visit the Disability & Communication Access Board website. Access Aloha Travel is a full-service local travel agency.
Weights & Measures
Weights & measures Imperial system (except 1 US gallon = 3.79L)
- US citizens can legally work in Hawaii. Short-term employment will probably mean entry-level jobs in the service industry.
- There are many work-for-food-and-board style internships offered at permaculture farms, which are thick on the ground in areas like Puna and South Kona.
- Specific outdoor skills (eg scuba diving) might land you a job with an activity outfit.
- Check the listings in newspaper classifieds and websites like Craigslist, which maintains an active Big Island page.