Trip Coach: September 23, 2008
Conner Gorry, author of "Lonely Planet: Hawaii The Big Island," answered your questions about the Big Island.
• volcano.wr.usgs.gov: for the last 24 hours' activity on the volcano
• lavainfo.us: current conditions plus a detailed map showing where the current lava flow is entering the sea
• hawaii.gov: shows detailed, dated reports on air quality, including SO2 and particulate levels
Jackson, Wyo.: Hiya! My girlfriend is a travel nurse & is thinking about going to the Big Island of Hawaii next year. She wants me to come visit her, but after searching for flights, I noticed they are very expensive! I would stay with her in Honolulu for about 3 weeks to a month & would have to fly out of Jackson Hole Wyoming in April. Any thoughts on how to score a low-price flight? Someone told me once that Wednesday morning at about 1am EST is the best time because everything resets. Is there any truth to this statement?
Conner Gorry: Hi, Rose. From your question, I think you may be making the mistake many of us have made before visiting Hawaii: Honolulu is on the island of Oahu, not the Big Island—two worlds apart! But your question about affordable airfare is oh so valid these days for anywhere in Hawaii, so to it: airlines do reset fares as you mention, but it's hard to work that system when you're talking about a destination like Hawaii, serviced by only a handful of carriers, and a departure point like Jackson Hole, which will require a connection or two (usually Phoenix, Denver and/or LA). I'll assume you've tried sites like Orbitz and SideStep which compare all carriers and prices.
San Clemente, Calif.: How bad is the "VOG" right now in the Kailua/Kona area of the Big Island? I've heard that two new vents have opened up at Kilauea and the air-quality along the west side is pretty poor.
Conner Gorry: Vog stands for volcanic fog and it's created by the 275 tons of sulfur dioxide pumped out daily from Kilauea when it mixes with water vapor and carbon dioxide. Since the Big Island receives a reliable northeasterly tradewind, when vog levels are up, it tends to hang over the Kona Coast and as far south as Kau. As San Clemente points out, that can make for lousy air quality and you'll hear locals complaining about it.
For current air quality, see the sites recommended to South Lake Tahoe.
Nashville, Tenn.: When visiting the Big Island of Hawaii, I find the white lava rock graffiti placed on the black lava flows very unattractive, unnatural, and defacing of something I paid to travel many miles hoping to enjoy. Am I the only person who feels that the graffiti destroys the experience? Are there any programs to undo and end this modern tradition?
Conner Gorry: Howdy, Nashville. I see where you're coming from and I personally wouldn't waste my precious vacation time pulled over by the side of the road on a blazing hot lava flow to write CG + JS in coral. But to each his own. But look: there are miles and miles and miles of lava flows without a speck of graffiti—many more flows without graffiti than with, in fact. What you're referring to is only on the North Kona-South Kohala stretch of Hwy 19 (Queen Ka'ahumanu Hwy). For graffiti-free flows, head to the national park, ka'u, or the saddle road. you'll see plenty! As for programs to get rid of the graffiti, I don't know, but I'd say the Big Island has bigger fish to fry including garbage disposal, marine conservation and clean up, invasive species, preserving traditional culture and land use issues.
Milwaukee, Wisc.: Hello! Thanks for taking my question. We're traveling to the Big Island on Feb. 27 and leaving Mar. 10. We're taking our two kids, who will be 5 and 3. Part of the time (4 days) will be at the Fairmont Orchid for a conference and we've rented a house in Kailhua Kona for the remainder. The kids are great travelers. What should we see and do? We're thinking of seeing the volcano, taking a helicopter ride, snorkeling, seeing the tropical regions, etc, etc. There's so much to do and see! What do you recommend for worthwhile side trips and experiences given the ages of the kids? Thanks for your insight.
Conner Gorry: You're going to love the Fairmont! Don't miss the spa without walls—yum. The helicopter ride will stay with them and you forever—if you've got the $$$, do it. Make sure your helicopter has all window seats and wait for a crystal clear day if you can. The volcano is also a must. Start with the Junior Ranger program at the visitors center to get them into the swing of things. The gift shop has cool kids' stuff too. Then onto the thurston lava tube and pu'u loa petroglyphs, keep your eye out for the nene geese walking around (but please don't feed them!). The 2400 degree F glass blowing studio near Volcano Village is also a fun kids activity near here. A trip into Waipio Valley at the end of the road on the Hamakua Coast—by covered wagon with the wee ones would be a great option. The river/beach at the base of the valley is tons of fun, but watch the undertow. Just above Kailua-Kona is the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary; Hawaiian Walkways—one of the island's premier tour outfitters—does a great 3-hour tour here. Also see if the phenomenal Three Ring Ranch Animal Sanctuary is offering tours again. Here the kids will delight in meeting David & Goliath (giant African tortoises), Zoe the blond zebra and the rest of the menagerie. Snorkeling for kids is recommended at: Kahalu'u Beach (also known as Turtle Beach for obvious reasons!), the tide pools at Kapoho in Puna, and Kukio Bay (accessed through the Four Seasons). A catamaran trip to Kealakekua Bay for snorkeling near the Captain Cook Monument (the fish are beautiful even at three feet depths here) is another option. Have fun!