Trip Coach: September 23, 2008
Conner Gorry, author of "Lonely Planet: Hawaii The Big Island," answered your questions about the Big Island.
Minnetonka, Minn.: We are getting married on Oahu the third week of June 2009. We are then planning on traveling to the Big Island and possibly Kauai, if time permits. How much time would you suggest we plan on to see the Big Island and its sites without being too rushed? Also, which side of the island would you suggest we fly in to, Hilo or Kona? It looks like the nicer hotels and resorts are on the Kona side. Is that correct—are the sites better on one side or the other? What would you suggest as the "can't miss" sites or unknown sites? Any suggestions you can share with us would be great. —Curt
Conner Gorry: Congratulations, Curt and significant other! I always say there's only one place for a honeymoon: the Big Island. OK, so Im biased. But really, I would choose either the Big Island or Kauai—trying to squeeze in both will shortchange both. I've spent months on the Big Island and still haven't seen all the sites, so, that's a loaded question. I think a week as a minimum is best. And everything depends on what you want to do. Kona side is for beaches, diving, resorts and unlimited sun. Hilo side is for Hawaiian culture, dense forests run through with waterfalls gushing from the cliffs, black sand beaches, easy access to Volcanoes National Park, plus the unknown sites you mention (and that you'll have to find for yourself, otherwise they wouldn't be unknown)! The overwhelming majority of visitors fly into Kona, which is slightly more economical than flying into Hilo. You can fly into one, rent a car and fly out of another for a $50 drop-off fee which works for some people. Hilo side has some phenomenally romantic places to stay with views that will stay in your memory "until death do you part." try the Hamakua Coast area or Volcano Village.
Can't miss sites (in no particular order): Waipi'o Valley; Mauna Kea/stargazing at night; Volcanoes National Park; lava flowing into the sea in Puna (see response to South Lake Tahoe for map link); night dive or snorkel with manta rays; Place of Refuge; Captain Cook Monument (see response to Barb about snorkeling there); Makalawena Beach; Kiholo Bay; Hawi.
Phoenix, Ariz.: Is it OK to drive the Saddle Road from coast to coast? I've read conflicting reports on the subject. This question is coming from someone who on Maui drove all the way around the end after Hana to get back to Wailea. Thanks. —Kurt
Conner Gorry: Oh, the much maligned Saddle Road! So much has been made of this US army-built road (rental car companies used to prohibit traversing the Saddle; most now allow it), but you should have no problem crossing in a regular rental car. Things to watch out for however: gas up both you and your car before you go since there's no gas/food fill-up possible en route. They're fixing the road, so obey all signs and go slow through construction zones. Around the 45 mile marker heading towards Waimea, the road turns rutted and uneven, with big potholes the size of tank treads. That's because they are: you are now in the Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA), the largest military training area in the state. This is where US Stryker brigades are trained for Iraq. Obey all signs in this area and no pictures please!
En route, you must stop at the Onizuka Visitors Center several miles up from Saddle Rd on Mauna Kea—best time is after dark for the free, nightly stargazing through powerful telescopes. It takes about an hour to get here from Hilo, 2 from Kailua-Kona. Note that you can't drive "coast to coast" on the Saddle Rd, but will have to connect to 250 or 190 outside Waimea to continue to Kohala and the Kona Coast.
Sherwood, Ore.: We are going to the big island in March. Where are the best places to snorkel? When I visited Hawaii in the mid-seventies, we were able to get close to the lava flowing into the ocean. Where is the best place to see the lava flow? Where do the locals golf?
Conner Gorry: Hi there. For snorkeling, see response to Barb. Lucky for you, the lava is currently flowing into the ocean near the Royal Gardens subdivision in Puna. But that can change! For the current map and conditions, see: lavainfo.us. Locals love to golf at the "muni," the municipal course in Hilo and the Volcano Golf and Country Club, where Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa loom over the greens.
Minnetonka, Minn.: We're planning a trip to the Big Island in June 2009, staying approximately 6 days. We would rent a car. In order to make the most of our vacation, is it better to stay in one hotel/resort and make it our home base to see all there is to see on the island or would it be better to book a few different hotels on different sides of the island to get it all in? Is 6 days going to be enough?