Trip Coach: September 23, 2008
Conner Gorry, author of "Lonely Planet: Hawaii The Big Island," answered your questions about the Big Island.
Conner Gorry: Aloha, folks! This is Conner Gorry and I'm thrilled to be talking to you about Hawaii's Big Island. Away we go!
Philadelphia, Pa.: I will be on the Big Island for 3 days in November with my parents, who are in their 80s. We are starting in Hilo for one day, and then I am hoping that I can in one day drive from Hilo to Kona and have enough time to spend looking at Volcanoes National Park. Is that a good one-day activity?
Conner Gorry: Hello, City of Brotherly Love. What you have in mind will be rushed and tiring, with most of your time spent in the car. While you can drive to Kona from Hilo in one day and stop at the National Park en route, it's not ideal. Nevertheless, as I'm sure you've heard, the park is awesome and not to be missed so if a day's all you have...however, one of the the star attractions—Crater Rim Dr—is closed from the Jaggar Museum to the Chain of Craters Rd junction due to high levels of sulfur dioxide chuffing from Halema'uma'u Crater. See the response to S Lake Tahoe for info about air quality. I figure it probably wouldn't be wise (and certainly won't be enjoyable) for your parents to breathe in all that toxic air. If it's in your budget, Id recommend a helicopter tour instead—that way you can see the forest, beaches and lava for which the island is famous.
For park closures, see nps.gov
Phoenix, Ariz.: I have heard there is a small company on the Big Island that rents a mini-van out and gives you a map—you can see the Island on your own, camp in the van and have a leisurely trip vs. the resort experience. My husband and I are fit and cheerful, in our 50s—would just be the 2 of us—are the vans comfy? Are mosquitoes a problem? What's the best time to go? Summer? May is a good travel month for us. Is anyone familiar with this company? We love to hike and visit waterfalls and beaches...snorkeling is important too.
Madeline and Ken
Conner Gorry: Oh, you are after my own heart, Madeline & Ken. I actually considered researching the guide in one of these babies (and did end up renting a VW pop top van parked on a lava flow for a lot of the write up at a great off-the-grid place called lova lava land) but didn't in the end for logistical reasons. I think the company you're referring to is GB Adventures which rents out VW Westfalia vans for cruising and camping around the island.
The good: you can get to all the waterfalls, hiking, beaches and snorkeling spots the little van will take you. You can sleep where you park and will meet many people this way—whether you want to or not! Speaking from experience, V-dub pop tops are comfy in their way. Unless you're really tall, you can stand up in them with the top popped and there's ample room to store stuff, move around, etc. There's one double bed that fold up for storing during the day. Again, if you're tall, you'll probably hang off the bed. Im 5'6" and had no problems and loved sleeping "under the stars" but where the critters couldn't get to me. These campers are in good condition and most have stove, frdge and a mini-fridge for total independent exploring.
The not so good: gas prices on the Big Island are among the highest in the nation ($4.30 a gallon in Hilo at last check; see hawaiigasprices.com), so consider that when working out your budget. More important, even if the van is in tip-top condition, it probably won't have much pickup or speed and will complain if you go off paved roads (many of the best sites on the Big Island are up hills or down dirt or lava roads). The Saddle Road passing between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, for instance, will probably be knocked off your itinerary in the van.
GB also rents tents, sleeping bags and pads, coolers and other stuff to make your trip fun and comfortable. I say go for it, I wish I had! Mosquitoes are rarely a problem on the Big Island, except at lower levels like in the Ka'u district. May is a great time to come because you'll beat the summer rush. Have fun!
Colorado Springs, Colo.: We want to spend a week on the Big Island with my parents, our son and his wife, and our daughter. We would like to rent a house. What is the best way to find a place and what area would be best for us? We want to be able to get to the beach although we don't have to be on the beach. Our children (mid 30's) want to do some diving. —Jo Anne