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Renting and driving a car on Hawaii Island

Big Island back road
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Hawaii Island is, as its nickname implies, a big island. It’s easy to cover miles and miles of road while exploring the Big Island of Hawaii. From the stark lava fields of west Hawaii to the lush rainforests of Hilo, you’ll want to stop often for photo opportunities or to dip your toes in the water. Renting a car is the most sensible way to see what island has to offer.


In order to rent a car, you must provide both a Chinese driver’s license and a credit card. Your credit card information will be kept on file in case of any damage to the rental vehicle. An international driver’s license is not mandatory, but having one can expedite the process by eliminating the language barrier.


Rental cars are available at both the Hilo and Kona International Airports; reservations are recommended.


On the road:


Pay close attention to the posted speed limit signs. Legal speed limits tend to change frequently and are often lower than you’d expect.


It’s illegal to use handheld mobile electronic devices like cell phones, iPods, or text messaging devices while operating a vehicle in Hawaii.


Buckle up. Wearing seatbelts is mandatory.


Honking horns is generally considered very rude in Hawaii.


Islanders will give directions that confound many visitors. Makai means toward the ocean and mauka means toward the mountain.




Most rental car company agreements require you to drive only on paved roads. They should provide a map highlighting some of the current routes to avoid. The ridiculously steep, narrow road into Waipio Valley is the most notable “off limits” area on the Big Island. Unless you join a guided tour of the valley, you’ll have to content yourself with the breathtaking views from the overlook.