Becoming ever popular on the Big Island of Hawaii is the rental of a four-wheel drive Jeep Wrangler. Though more expensive than a sedan rental, Jeep now makes the Wrangler with four doors and (arguably) easily retractable cloth tops for a family of five to take in the sights and the sun. And with more couples and families opting for a Jeep upon arrival to the Big Island, why not get your money’s worth and see the Big Island in a way that most rental cars won’t allow?
In no particular order…
Just 2.6 miles north of the Kona International Airport at Keahole is the turn for Kekaha Kai State Park. Test out the suspension (and your tolerance for the rough ride) by crossing over an ancient lava field. Though the driving is slow and rugged, there’s an easily traceable path over the jagged metamorphic rocks. At the end, you’ll find miles of the sandy Kona coast to explore. Bring your towel and bathing suit. Depending on the time of year, you may have one of the beaches to yourself.
On the northeastern side of the Big Island is the tourist frequented Waipi’o Valley. An iconic valley with green cliffs and a black sand beach, most only drive to the top, stand on the edge, snap a picture and leave. But locals with trucks, those with Jeeps and the occasional ambitious hiker can brave the more than 25% slope of the winding road to the valley floor. It’s only in a vehicle with a first gear and 4 wheel low setting that you could drive to the bottom, but this trip alone might be worth the cost of the Jeep rental. A black sand beach met by a rocky river from the middle of the valley and the crystalline blue surf of the Pacific waits. Camping is not permitted, but upon arrival, you’ll instantly begin dreading the departure from this Hawaiian paradise.
Drive for more than an hour south of Kona and you’ll only have reached the turn for South Point, Hi—the straight, flat drive to the southernmost tip of the island and therefore the most southern point in the United States. Turn right at the end and stand on the cliffs at the official southernmost point. Turn left and reach the beginning of a three-mile drive to one of the world’s four green sand beaches. Just to be able to clear the pointed rocks and pass the washed ruts of former visitors you’ll need something with as much ground clearance as a Jeep. Stay to the left, following an old cattle fence, until you reach the questionably green, though noticeably yellow tinted sands.
The most scenic drive on the Big Island runs for 22 miles from Waimea to Hawi and doesn’t technically require four wheel drive. But along Kohala Mountain Rd you’ll appreciate being able to toss back the top and take in the views of Hawaii’s farm country. Honk as you pass your local beef grazing in green fields and a Pacific background.
Running southeast from Waimea, the opposite direction of Kohala Mountain Rd is Saddle Road. Take Saddle Road winding to the Weather Observatory at the top of Mauna Loa. To continue to the summit of the 11,141 foot mountain, get out of your car and hike. Or, just continue driving. Four-wheel drive vehicles can get most of the way to the summit, depending on conditions. After all, you’re high enough for a snowball fight and need to zip your jacket along with the sides of your Jeep’s retractable top.