Trip Coach: September 23, 2008
Conner Gorry, author of "Lonely Planet: Hawaii The Big Island," answered your questions about the Big Island.
Millersville, Md.: We would like suggestions for early morning activities (pre-dawn). We will be visiting Big Island Oct. 4th through the 7th and will be trying to adjust to 6-hour time difference. Staying in Captain Cook at a B&B. Two adults in late 50's. We are very interested in the volcano NP. Thank you.
Conner Gorry: It's great when needs and interest dovetail like this. The National Park is open 24 hours, so you can roll up there at any time that floats your boat. From 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. is a wonderful time to be in the park for many reasons. First, you'll likely have the place to yourself. I'm always amazed how late people show up to witness the spectacular. At this time you can catch the moon setting and the sun rising and you'll have the park all to yourself. I suggest driving to the end of Chain of Craters Road, finding a comfy piece of lava and breaking out a blanket, thermos of coffee and some of the sinful mini-poundcakes from the Kilauea General Store. Once you have some light, you can explore the Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs—there are more than 20,000 images pecked into stone here. Note that the Crater Rim Dr from Jaggar Museum to Chain of Craters Rd Junction is closed. see nps.gov.
Another option is watching the sky lighten from the top of Mauna Kea. From up here, you'll see more stars than you've ever seen at once (this mountain, sacred to native Hawaiians, has some of the world's clearest stargazing and the astronomical observatories to prove it) fading into the purple, pink, and blue of day as the sun rises over Hilo way.
Keep in mind that driving to either the park or the mountain from Capt Cook will eat time, so your first day you might want to take a quick ride down to Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Park, otherwise known as the Place of Refuge to watch daybreak over the 15-ft tall wooden statues guarding the heiau (temple) here. Bring your snorkel gear for a sunrise swim with turtles and more at Two Step.
Toronto, Canada: Hi, Conner. What would be the best rental option for staying on the Big Island for a month or two in the winter? —Ev
Conner Gorry: A month? Two? Ev, you're making everyone jealous, myself included! With this amount of time, you'll really be able to slow down, understand aloha and get to know people and this island in ways you just can't in a week or three. So congratulations! You don't give any indication of what you like to do or your budget, two of the main factors when it comes to deciding where to stay, so it's tough to give specific recommendations. If it's your first time on the Big Island, you'll probably want to split it up between several places so you can use them as homebases to explore and not spend burdensome amounts of time in the car.
The Hamakua Coast is, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of the Big Island. (Can I even say that? Oh well, I just did.) Secret spots, waterfalls gushing from orchid-clad ridges, old school aloha, and of course inimitable Waipi'o Valley are all found here. Plus, Honoka'a is a wonderfully funky town that somehow seems to combine Hawaiian tradition and contemporary lifestyles without fuss. Here you'll find organic goat cheese puerveyors and taro farms, hippie dance parties and old time rodeos. Plus there are many places to explore that aren't in any guidebooks. So try to rent a place for a while in this area, followed by some time in the South Kona area to get the beach and top snorkeling you're probably after, seeing you're coming from Toronto in the winter. If you're on a budget, try the Manago Hotel—an historic traveler's hotel run by the family's third generation, you can get a good, clean and safe room here for as little as $33 a night. Book now though, it's super popular.
One of my absolute favorite places on earth is Volcanoes National Park and if you like to hike, I highly recommend spending quality time in Volcano Village outside the park. I wish I was among the sulphur and tree ferns, craters and steam vents right now! The weather can be a bit mecurial—it rains and mists a lot up here—but that only adds to the charm. Artists studios, tea houses, the Volcano Winery, a phenomenal farmers' market where you're sure to make friends and the tight knit community make this a wonderful retreat. Don't miss the secret lava tube tour led by Park rangers (weds only) and the nighttime lecture series. There are many lovely vacation rentals here; try alternative-hawaii.com to see a selection.
If you're looking for sun all day, try a Kona condo—there are some terrific deals to be had. These websites should get you what you're looking for: konacondo.com, konahawaii.com, konahawaiirentals.com, hawaii-kona.com, and konarentals.com.