Live Talk Transcript: Aloha Hawaii

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Writer Matthew Link answered your questions on the Hawaiian islands

Hawaii: you may think of it as travelers' heaven, or tourist hell. One of the first and most highly commercialized mass market tourist destinations in the world, somehow the 50th State still retains its timeless allure and its spiritual sense of "Aloha." I lived on the Big Island of Hawaii for five years, and published my own guidebook to the islands, Rainbow Handbook Hawaii. So fire away about travel to "paradise," and mahalo for your questions!

Matthew Link answered your questions on Tuesday, October 19, at noon ET.

Matthew Link is Editor in Chief of The Out Traveler magazine (outtraveler.com), the world's first upscale gay and lesbian travel glossy publication. Matthew was destined to be a travel writer, having grown up on his father's 52-foot sailboat during his teenage years, cruising around Southeast Asia and the Pacific. He has at various times called Hong, Kong, the Philippines, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand home (not to mention more hum-drum spots like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and London). His last stint was on the Big Island of Hawaii for five years, where he wrote and published his own guidebooks to the islands, Rainbow Handbook Hawaii. Link has produced award-winning social documentaries which have shown in film festivals and on PBS stations, and he is also an avid kayaker, hiker, snowboarder, and skin diver. Africa is his all-time favorite travel destination, and he has visited Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, Egypt, and Ghana.
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Matthew Link: Aloha! I see a number of questions here, so let's jump into it. Looks like Hawaii is a popular as ever from the number of inquiries . . .

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Detroit, MI: Matt -- We are a family of 4 (2 adults, 2 children 17-year-old boy & 15-year-old girl). We are staying in Maui from 3/27/05 departing for Oahu 3/1/05 through 3/1/05. Any ideas on activities and accommodations (low cost) for this short stay in Oahu? Do you recommend the Queen Kapiolani Hotel? Any special activities that you recommend for the children?

Matthew Link: There are plenty of reasonably-priced hotels in Waikiki (Outrigger being the best-value chain), but a smaller-known fact are the bevy of cheap vacation rental condos in the area. Aloha Waikiki Vacation Rentals (800/655-6055, waikiki-condos.com) should be your first stop, since their units in a large number of high-rises scattered throughout Waikiki go for as little as $59 for two people a night, $413 a week, are within walking distance to the beach, and often include a separate bedroom.

If you'd rather be out of the city and by the beach, try Beachside Bungalows (877/640-0990, beachsidebungalows.com), a collection of six rentals, from one-bedroom, one-baths at $695 per week, to two-bedroom, two-baths starting at $850. The best part is that they are only one block from gorgeous Kailua Beach on the Windward (eastern) Coast of Oahu -- and use of snorkels, fins, boogie boards, and kayaks is included.

And what could be more Hawaiian than taking the kids to the world's largest pineapple maze?? The Dole Plantation in the rich red earth of Wahaiwa in Central Oahu is a fun, free-of-charge destination. Started as a roadside stand in 1950, the large center has history displays, gift shops, free samples, demonstrations on how to properly cut pineapples, even the said maze (according to Guinness) for just $5 a head. $7.50 gets you on the two-mile train ride through the plantation. Info: 808/621-8408, dole-plantation.com.

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Conyers, GA: Can someone traveling solo find a great deal to Hawaii? Are there some islands better suited to solo travelers than others?

Matthew Link: I travel along a lot, so I "feel your pain." I actually prefer traveling alone -- you can do what you want when you want, and you're more open to adventures and meeting people.

The dreaded single supplement is a way of life for nearly all Hawaiian air/hotel packages, I'm sorry to say. Thus, I would recommend getting a cheap flight (suntrips.com is good, although they only leave from Oakland and Denver) or using miles (although many mileage programs charge more for Hawaii than for other states), and then book your own hostels as you go. They make great places to socialize and hang out, and some have private rooms and baths so it's not all bunk-bed hell. Go to hawaiihostelreview.com/Oahu_Hostels.html for a complete list.

And the "neighbor islands" (meaning all except Oahu) are often filled with honeymooners and families. I would suggest Oahu as the most single-friendly island, since it has more of a younger, hipper population with a friendly, mellow scene to meet single travelers. It also has the most decent hostels of any of the islands, even on the fabled surfer-heavy North Shore.

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Atlanta, GA: We will be snorkeling at Molokini off of Maui in January. Will the water be warm or should we wear light wetsuits?

Matthew Link: For the most part, a bikini is fine anytime of the year in Hawaii for swimming! However, if you are going to be in the water for an extended period of time (especially deeper water like that off the atoll you mention), you may get slightly chilly. But an old t-shirt will usually suffice -- and is a good idea even if you aren't cold, since sunscreen can still come off in the water, and most tourists get wicked sunburns on their backs first as they innocently spend time snorkeling. Remember, the tropical sun in Hawaii is much stronger than on the Mainland.

January is also bigger wave season, but the protected western shores of Maui where you will be are normally calm, even in winter. And it will be whale watching season so keep an eye out!

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Tampa, FL: This December we are staying on Oahu, Kauai and Maui, can you please tell us the name of a place to eat on each that are frequented by the natives. Thank you!

Matthew Link: So you want me to divulge local secrets! Well, travel writers have been doing that for Hawaii for years, so I guess I'm no different.

Everywhere in Hawaii, you can find cheap "plate lunch" eateries where mounds of pork, cabbage, chicken, beef, and/or macaroni salad are served on plastic plates for less than $8 or $9. They are the best deal in the state, and a great way to sit on benches and meet the locals! Whatever you do, stay away from expensive hotel restaurants in general that serve imported Mainland food for the tourists.

If you like a waiter with your meal, than try: On Oahu, Irifune (563 Kapahulu Ave., 808/737-1141) with snapshots of friends and Kibuki masks cover the walls, fishing nets and glow in the dark stars hang above diners, and there's a TV fish tank in the bathroom. Huge Japanese meals of fish and meat with all the trimmings go for under $10.

On Maui, try A Saigon Cafe in Wailuku. Deliciously absent of tourists (and even lacking a sign), this no-frills diner is always packed to the gills with hungry islanders scarfing down beef noodle soup (for $6.95), chicken and vegetable clay pots (for $7.95), and other low-cost Asian yummies in Jennifer Nguyen's family-style eatery (1792 Main Street, Wailuku, 808/243-9560).

On Kauai, try Aussie Tim's BBQ in Wailua. I know, it sounds weird to be eating Outback food in Hawaii, but this place is great. Owned by an Australian and a Yank, this small, cozy restaurant offers slow-cooked Texas barbeque with homemade sauces. Stop by and say Howdy, the fellas are friendly. 4-361 Kuhio Highway, Wailua Shopping Plaza, Wailua, HI. (808) 822-0300.

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Hartford, CT: Any interesting spots on the island of Kauai for gay travelers?

Matthew Link: At first glance, rural, quiet Kauai is not particularly gay in any way. But a closer look reveals a tight-knit gay community that welcomes visitors. The local group Lambda Aloha (lambdaaloha.org) puts on all kinds of casual beach parties and pot lucks throughout the year, and you can also check out gayonkauai.com is lovingly hosted by local residents Loyd and Roy, who give web surfers info on gay events, businesses, reflections, trivia, and personal pages.

One don't-miss is the Friday Night Men's Bonfire (call 808/822-7171 for location), a super fun event where locals get together for a beach weenie roast and to chat about life on the island. It's Kauai's creative equivalent to a gay bar.

If you need a place to crash, Aloha Dude Vacation Rentals are the perfectly-named, gay-owned (by none other than Mike-dude and Jeff-dude) vacation cottages just north of Kapa'a, "50 steps away" from Baby's Bath Beach. The two rentals in question are named Aloha Dude (two-bedroom with full kitchen, living room, vaulted ceilings, and lanai), and Surf Dude (one bedroom apartment with amenities like a bamboo sofa and private deck). Don't miss this chance to live like a bona fide beach bum, albeit in comfort! The dudes also run a small internet café in Kapa'a (next to the Olympic café) with high-speed DSL lines. 4442 Makaha Road, Kapa`a, HI 96746. 808/822-DUDE, alohadude.net

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Albuquerque, NM: My girlfriend and I are going to Molokai this Thursday for 9 days. Which activities would you consider a must see or must do. Thanks.

Matthew Link: Good for you! Molokai is one of the most interesting islands in the chain -- it just got its first traffic light a few years ago! It's very "local" meaning you'll want to be very respectful of the people living here in terms of taking photos, tramping across people's property, or being impatient about "Hawaii time." Molokai is like rural Hawaii in the '50s -- a special treat, but not for everyone.

The Moloka'i Mule Ride into the old leper colony of Kalaupapa is, despite the steep price, the traditional tourist outing on the island. Lepers still live there (they are treated with modern drugs), and it's a very soul-stirring outing as you learn how they were cast out of society, and treated by Father Damien, a loving Belgian priest who also died of the disease. You sit on your ass as it makes its way down perilous cliffs and precarious switchbacks to the quiet village, where you board a Damien Tour bus and see the sights. Although it was briefly closed down for awhile, Moloka'i without the mule rides is like San Francisco without the cable cars. P.O. Box 200, Kualapu'u, HI 96757. (800) 567-7550, muleride.com.

Also swing by the Big Wind Kite Factory - an incredible kite store featuring Hawaiian designs by owners Jonathan and Daphne that include tropical fish, cows, hula girls, and different island scenes. There are also boat kites, dragon kites, kites shaped like birds, and more. Ask for a tour of the crafts room in the back. The jam-packed gift store carries everything from Indonesian wood carvings, scrimshaw from local deer, pottery, quilts, and the island's largest selection of books on Moloka'i. 120 Maunaloa Highway, Maunaloa, HI 96770. 808/552-2364 molokai.com/kites

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Worcester, MA: What is the best time of year to plan a trip to Hawaii, and how many islands should you plan to visit in a 2-week trip? Thanks.

Matthew Link: It's a bit of a complicated answer, since it varies so much from island to island. Each island has a wet side and dry side, and each side has an opposite rainy season to the other! The Big Island itself has something like 12 micro-climates. So weather-wise, it's a tough call, but generally winter is better since it is cooler than summer (which can be pleasant too). However, holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's are packed, so I would suggest the quieter seasons of early spring or late fall as your best choices. Hawaii on a whole doesn't have such a refined "high" and "low" season for prices  -- it's more about if all the cheaper hotels and flights get booked up. Summer break and school holidays are other times of year to avoid planning a trip to Hawaii.

I wouldn'take on more than two islands in a two-week period. You could spend two weeks on even smaller islands like Kauai and not get to do everything. Yes, many travelers want to rush around and see the whole state, but Hawaii is all about slowing down to Aloha Time, so why stress yourself out on vacation?

If it's your first trip, plan on spending a few days on Oahu, mainly to see the famous sites like Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach, the North Shore. Tourists feel like they haven't been to Hawaii without checking these off their lists. However, be warned that Honolulu is a bona fide city, with traffic and a rush-rush urban feel. To get that it out of your system, I would recommend the Big Island as your second island. Why? Because it has the satisfying Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you can often witness lava flows crashing into the sea with steam clouds, and it has an otherworldly primordial Polynesian feel to it. The Big Island is huge (nearly five times the size of Rhode Island and the largest islands in the U.S.), so it's easy to get away from other tourists too. So Oahu and the Big Island make for a perfect yin/yang combo so you can get the taste of both modern and ancient Hawaii.

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New York, NY: Aloha Matthew: My husband and I run digital photo workshops on The Big Island and we've had a number of inquiries from the gay/lesbian market. We have a number of gay friends in Hawaii, but we don't know where to direct inquiries to gay/lesbian friendly hotels/inns/B&B, etc. Do you have a comprehensive list that we can refer folks to? Mahalo.

Matthew Link: Oh, I hate to plug my products, but you asked! ;-) Yes, I publish the only gay guidebook to Hawaii, the Rainbow Handbook (rainbowhandbook.com), which I originally wrote when I lived on the Big island, so it has a lot of local gay and lesbian secrets to it. It has tons of listings of gay businesses, B&BS, everything, and you can download the whole thing or individual chapters right over the web. Just click on "Order" on the home page. There's no other resource like that out there, that's why I keep updating it. Tell me what you think!

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Grosse Pointe Woods, MI: We are traveling to Maui with our 5-year old daughter next March. Where is a great place to stay with a 5-year old?

Matthew Link: The best place for kids (although it is far from budget) is the Grand Wailea Resort, Hotel, and Spa with 40 acres, 767 rooms, 5 restaurants, 12 lounges, 50,000 square-foot health spa, and a 15 million-dollar water playground. Oh, and every minimum 640-square foot room has three telephones. This addition to the Wailea resort area is as grandly extravagant as America gets (only outdone by the ostentatious Hilton Waikoloa on the Big Island with its water slides and monorail and boat system). 3850 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, HI 96753. (800) 888-6100, 875-1234.

For more reasonable digs, try the Royal Lahaina north of Lahaina in Ka'anapali. Over 500 rooms sit in a twelve-story tower and surrounding cottages, with tons of swimming pools and tennis courts on twenty-seven acres. Although echoes of Waikiki ring through its corridors, it's still a pleasant, if somewhat enormous affair. The place is also known for its popular nightly lu'au, run by the notable kumu hula (hula teacher) Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewitt. You can also book the hotel as a cheap air/room/car package through Hawaiian Hotels and Resorts at (800) 22-ALOHA. 2780 Keka`a Drive, Ka'anapali, HI 96761. (800) 447-6925, 808/661-3611

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New York, NY: How reasonable is it to move to Oahu and open a small business? What are the key considerations you would recommend someone examine, and how would these differ with respect to the mainland?

Matthew Link: I get a lot of questions about Mainlanders wanting to move to Hawaii. It sounds great -- a foreign, tropical environment with no language, currency, or health issues (like Mexico for instance). But there are things to think about. The economy in Hawaii is good at the moment, but this was after a decade-long depression during most of the '90s. Hawaii's history is full of booms and busts, as well as starry-eyed Mainlanders packing their bags and heading back after a couple years once reality set in. Jobs are not super plentiful in Hawaii, so many skilled white collar types can even have a hard time finding restaurant work! Locals are rightly possessive of their job market, where wages are not great. Prices for goods are higher than the Mainland. Plus, Hawaii has some of the highest taxes across the board of any state, and its state government is known for its corruption.

Having made all those ugly statements, it's still a great place to move to! The people are sweet, the weather perfect, the lifestyle healthy, and the crime extremely low (despite the history of TV cop shows set here!). If you are retired with a nest egg, it's a good place to land, but for "worker bees" with not much to fall back on, it can be a big challenge. But then it can be a challenge in other states too -- the ones with snow!

Just know that living in Hawaii is not the same as vacationing in Hawaii. Discuss your move with a resident before coming over - they can give you tips and contacts that will prove invaluable.

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Camano Island, WA: My 24-year-old daughter is in Maui on vacation right now. Could you name a couple of not to missed places for her to see? Thanks!

Matthew Link: Whenever I land on Maui, the first thing I do is take a drive up the 'Iao Valley Road from the town of Wailuku, just 15 minutes from the airport. Yep, as you may have guessed, there's a valley called 'Iao up here and what a valley it is. Sheer walls of green drama slice into this deep gorge, where King Kamehameha drove the Maui armies up into the valley during his conquest of the island in 1790. It is said the battle that ensued choked the streams red with blood and bodies. The scene is a lot prettier now. You will pass the Heritage Gardens and Kepaniwai Park with Chinese and Japanese pavilions, a New England missionary home, a Polynesian hale, and a Portuguese garden (sounds like Hawai'i to me!). The state park at the end of the winding road will literally take your breath away. Towering sheets of rock drip down around you, with thin waterfalls making their way to the beautiful stream below. It feels as though you are actually inside an artist's painting. Take the walkway across a small bridge to view the 1,200-foot tall 'Iao Needle (Kukaemoku). There are further hiking trails up the valley from here is your daughter is into that.

Since your daughter is of drinking age, another fun thing to do is the Tedeschi Winery in the cool upcountry. You will see the winery's tasting room in what used to be an old jail (the colorful King Kalakaua held killer parties nearby). Their pineapple, grape, or passionfruit wines are enticing to repulsive, depending on where your palate happens to be. For more info, go to mauiwine.com.

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Matthew Link: Well, mahalo (thank you) for all the great questions! I enjoyed going back to the islands in my mind as I answered them. If nothing else, Hawaii is a great and important place to recharge your batteries in this stressful world, and its spiritual legacy of loving Aloha is vital in our day and age as well.

Have a great trip!

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