Mommy Needs A Mai Tai

Last Updated on January 7, 2024 by Florabeth Coble

A young boy sitting in the back of truck with a graphic that reads "Do you need a rental car on the Big Island of Hawaii?"

If you’re mapping out your Big Island itinerary and wondering whether to rent a car or rely on those cute flip-flop-clad feet, you’re in the right place. As a mama of two living in Hawaii, I’ve learned a thing or two about Big Island transportation.

It’s important to understand that the Big Island is, well, big. In fact, it’s the largest in the Hawaiian archipelago, and it’s not just its size but also its diverse landscapes that make it unique. From the lush rainforests of Hilo to the stark beauty of Volcanoes National Park and the sun-soaked Kona coast, there’s a lot of ground to cover here. And so much to eat!

Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of transportation on the Big Island so you can make the best choice for your ohana (family).

Some of these links are affiliates, meaning I may earn a small commission at no cost to you. Your trust is always my priority. Without it, this wouldn’t be any fun.

A man giving shakas while standing in front of a truck and and aloha sign in Hawaii.

Do You Need a Rental Car on the Big Island?

In short, yes. I do recommend renting a car while visiting the Big Island. Especially if you have kids. Here’s why.

Freedom to Roam: With a car, you have the freedom to explore at your own pace. Want to spend an extra hour watching the waves at Hapuna Beach? Go for it. Kids fascinated by the lava rocks? No rush. The day is yours.

Wide-Open Spaces: Unlike the more compact urban areas on Oahu, the Big Island’s attractions are spread out. Public transportation exists, but it’s limited and may not align with your dream itinerary.

Family Logistics: Let’s be real—traveling with kids means traveling with stuff. Snacks, strollers, snorkels, and the occasional sleepy toddler. A car is like your mobile base camp, keeping everything you need within arm’s reach.

The Adventure Factor: Some of the most magical spots on the Big Island are off the beaten path. A car can take you to those hidden gems that aren’t accessible by bus or foot—like that secret waterfall you’ve heard whispers about.

A photo of the lagoon at Hilton Hawaiian Village on the Big Island of Hawaii
Lagoon at Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikoloa Village

A (Good) Reason to Pass on the Car

Listen, I’m a busy mama. And the older my kids get, the crazier our lives get. While I still consider us an adventurous family, I am seriously starting to understand the appeal of hunkering down at a resort for the entirety of a vacation. Mommy also needs to REST.

If you don’t have much interest in exploring the Big Island, renting a car might be unnecessary. On top of the rental car fees, most resorts charge $20-$50 to park overnight.

It’s easy enough to get a ride from the airport to your hotel via taxi or Holoholo, Hawaii’s local ridesharing option. And if you only want to venture out for one or two excursions, many tours (like this one to Volcanoes National Park) will pick you up and drop you back off at your hotel. 

If you’re not renting a car, I recommend staying in Waikoloa Village, a resort community on the Kohala coast. This is one of those places with just about everything you need: world-class resorts, restaurants, golf courses, and activities. The Hilton Hawaiian Village feels like an island all its own. I’ve never seen anything like it!

Note: While Hilton Hawaiian Village does have beautiful views of the ocean (and even a man-made lagoon), there is no easy beach access here. The opportunity to sink your toes into some white (or black!) sandy Big Island beaches might be reason enough to grab some wheels.

Two boys in car seats on the Big Island of Hawaii

How Much Does it Cost to Rent a Car on the Big Island? 

The average price of renting a car on the Big Island is around $60/day (plus hotel parking fees). However, costs can double around peak holiday season, so do your research and book far in advance. 

I recommend using a local agency for car rentals to get the best deal. We use Discount Hawaii Car Rental every time we island-hop. I like them because they offer reasonable rates, no prepayment, and no cancellation fee. They also allow an extra driver and reduced young driver rates. 

Is There Public Transportation on the Big Island? 

The Big Island offers free public transportation via the Hele On (Let’s Go) Bus. They have stops around the island and travel from Kona to Hilo Monday-Saturday. 

While I don’t recommend relying on public transit while on vacation, especially with littles in tow, this is an excellent option for someone pinching pennies with ample time to roam. 

A man with his hand on the steering wheel, concentrating on the road while driving around the Big Island of Hawaii.

Is Driving Around Big Island Easy? 

While Big Island’s terrain is pretty rugged, the roads are well-paved and maintained. Driving on the Big Island is probably not much different from what you experience anywhere else (except for the volcanoes in the distance). 

There are two main roads on the Big Island, highways 11 and 19, creating a loop around the island. It would take 6-8 hours to drive it in a day. Saddle Road (highway 200) cuts across the middle of the island, making it possible to travel from Kona to Hilo in about an hour and a half.

Tips For Renting a Car on the Big Island

-Bring that Costco card to fill up your tank and save money! There is a Costco located about 10 minutes from the airport in Kailua-Kona.

-Even with a rental car, some places are off-limits. Most companies will make you sign a waiver stating that you won’t take your rental to Mauna Kea’s Summit or Green Sand Beach

-Most locals on the Big Island drive Toyota Tacoma trucks. Renting one of these not only makes it easy to transport all of your beach gear but helps you blend in, possibly making it less likely for your vehicle to get broken into (this is rare but can occur at popular tourist destinations like beaches and waterfalls). 

-Because Hawaii is part of the United States, there’s a good chance that the same car seat rules apply as they do back home. Most airlines allow car seats to be checked for free, so we always bring our own. (Cheeky tip: grab some car seat bags with backpack straps and stuff the extra space with diapers! I’m confident this is not allowed, but we’ve never been caught or told not to do so.) 

A mom and son holding hands and smiling while standing on lava rock in the Big Island of Hawaii.

Slow it Down 

The most significant piece of advice I have while visiting Hawaii is always to slow it way down. If you’re in a rush, you’re only going to piss locals off and stick out like a sore thumb. Instead of bolting to your next destination, take a deep breath, set the cruise control, and try to enjoy everything the Big Island has to offer. Island time, baby. 

Helpful Resources

Big Island With Kids: The Ultimate Guide

Flights: Expedia

Rental Cars: Discount Hawaii Car Rental

Baby Gear Rentals: BabyQuip

Big Island Babysitting Service: The Nanny Connection

Follow us on Instagram to see our Hawaii-based adventures in action!

"Bookmark this page to revisit when you're here" graphic.
Picture of Aloha, I'm Florabeth Coble

Aloha, I'm Florabeth Coble

Most people call me Flo. I'm a busy mama raising two young boys in Hawaii. We share our adventures, travel tips, itineraries, and honest reviews so that you can plan your own family-friendly trip to Hawaii.