03 Aug Hawaii Big Island biking adventure
Six days cycling and hiking in paradise
Martin surprised me with a six-day cycling trip to Hawaii’s Big Island for my 60th birthday. What a great way to start a new decade – riding a bicycle in paradise!
Why we chose Backroads active travel
Founded in 1979, Backroads claims to be “The world’s #1 active travel company” and offers worldwide trips with biking, walking, hiking, camping, cruising and combinations of multiple sports.
If you research activity-based tour companies, they are among the more expensive. But it’s because Backroads sets the standards bar very, very high. This was our first Backroads experience, and they hit the mark every day, with every activity and everything, period. I truly feel the cost was very much worth it.
Cycling selling points for Backroads:
- Quality bikes
- E-bike option for the same price
With my asthma, I would never have been able to do this trip without a pedal assist electric bike. There are a lot of long steep hills on Hawaii for sure.
- Comfortable but challenging activity levels and climbs
- Varied mileage and well-planned routes
Each day, they offered different routes with a range of mileage for the different levels of riders. They equipped us with a Garmin computer with the routes loaded and paper route sheets daily.
Hawaii bike tour details
Hawaii’s Big Island bike tour
The Big Island: Coastline, craters, coffee
Lodging: Casual and Premiere
Activity level: 2-5
- Level 2: Riding 2-4 hours, 18-32 miles, up to 2,200 feet elevation gain
- Level 5: Riding 5-7 hours, 48-70+miles, over 4,400+ feet elevation gain
Our group was smaller than expected, but with many different riding levels. We had eight folks, including three couples and two solo travelers. Everyone got along beautifully. Most people were repeat Backroads travelers, and several had been on trips in the U.S. and aboard. Repeat clients is good sign of a great tour company. We had three excellent trip leaders and two vans for support.
The guides were amazing! I’m sure they get the same questions all the time from guests, but you would never know it. They were all excellent bike riders, who could give tips and hints on how to tackle the long steep hills. Backroads did an outstanding job hiring and training our three leaders. And each one added a good vibe to the trip.
We give our trip leaders a 10+ out of 10! Gillian, Tyler and Maureen were outstanding on all fronts: leadership, cooking, driving, loading bikes, bike mechanics and more. They were very knowledgeable about the local areas and shared tips. Our guides were also very personable, enjoyable and professional.
They were very good at dealing with the different personalities, needs and biking levels of our group. Our guides handled all the quirky things that would come up with ease. We always felt that the leaders knew what to do and how to help a variety of riders enjoy the routes. In one case, they pulled us off our bikes for safety due to high crosswinds.
Generally, we rode on roads with wide shoulders or little traffic. Going through towns a few times, there was traffic, but I never felt unsafe. Before we headed out, our leaders would give us a heads up of any possible issues, and we were always welcome to ride in the vans as needed. We experienced many of the different climates on the island of Hawaii. Desert, lava fields, rain forests, hot, cold, wet, dry – and we were well prepared for it all.
I love to learn about the history of the places I travel to. Hawaii has a rich history, including power struggles and conflicting values that are still felt today. Before being annexed by the United States, it was an independent nation with a strong native culture. I appreciated how this Backroads team truly respected the native Hawaiian beliefs.
Day by day experiences
We started in Kona, meeting up at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay for one night. This is a big, busy resort with beautiful views of the Kona coast. Everyone met, got lots of information about the week’s activities, and had dinner together for the kickoff.
After breakfast the next day, came bike orientation and routes. And then off we went, riding at our own pace, and meeting up at a coffee plantation for a tour and tasting. Martin and I are both coffee drinkers and enjoyed learning a lot about our brew. Then we rode to a beautiful beach for a picnic lunch. But not your average picnic lunch, it was quite the spread of fresh, lovely Hawaiian fruits, vegetables, salads and fish. The temperature was hot, and there were plenty of fluids for the afternoon ride. We rode to the black-sand Panaluu Beach, where a couple of green turtles were hanging out on the sand!
Days 2 and 3
We stayed at the Kilauea Lodge in Volcano Village. Backroads described this lodge as fairly rustic, but if this is their “fairly rustic,” then I will take it any day! The grounds were full of lush plants. We had a beautiful small three-room cottage. The lodge was originally built as a YMCA Camp in 1938. The dining room did remind you that it was once was a camp, but still it was a fine place to eat and the food was outstanding.
Backroads had a volcano expert meet us at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for a hike in the Kilauea Crater. She was quite a colorful character – fascinating to listen to about the volcanoes, plants and fauna and a hoot telling stories about life on The Big Island. It was a perfect day for a hike. We started and finished in lush green forests. Photos can’t do it justice. It was a very unique experience, and such a neat thing to feel the heat rising from cracks in the hardened lava.
One night, we dined one night at the National Park restaurant overlooking the crater. The crater glowed in the dark after the sunset. It was quite the sight!
A few months after our visit, the Kilauea Volcano erupted and hot lava is still flowing into the sea. Check with the park service for updates.
That afternoon, there was biking, shopping or just relaxing at the lodge. This was one of my favorite riding days, with old plantation roads, no traffic, beautiful fields and forest.
We headed over to the wet side toward Hilo, and it was downhill most of the way! Wet it was, but no problem, we knew to be prepared for rain. Everyone had good raincoats and the bikes handled very well on the wet roads. Our group met up at restaurant for lunch on the other side of Hilo, which has a beautiful downtown overlooking the bay and was a neat town to ride through.
Martin had a flat tire, but it was no problem. Our guide rode up, quickly took her tire off, put it on his bike, and we went on our way while she changed out the tube on the flat to use on her bike.
There was an outstanding distance rider in our group who wanted to ride further, and the leaders could accommodate that. The distance rider and a leader set off, and they loaded the rest of us and our bikes in the van. They crested the hill, and we all cheered them on when as they rode our way. And, may I add, the distance rider was the oldest in calendar years, but the youngest in spirit of our group!
Then we all rode through grassy highlands and cattle ranches, and on down to the desert and lava fields.
Days 5 and 6
We stayed at the Fairmont Orchid, which is a beautiful resort with spectacular views, beaches and sunsets. It is a huge resort, but the grounds are so sprawling that never felt crowded. There are several beach areas to enjoy. You could even snorkel right off their beaches, which was a true treat so I could keep snorkeling and Martin could head back to his shady chair for a nap.
We got to ride on part of the famous Kona IRONMAN Triathlon course! There were incredibly high winds, so we opted to ride in the van and enjoy the Pololu Valley scenery. We enjoyed our visits to the communities of Puako and Hawi on the return van ride. And the galleries and shops in Hawi were neat.
Incredible Big Island bike tour
It was quite the Hawaiian biking adventure on The Big Island. I probably used way too many adjectives writing this, but it was a great experience, from beginning to end!