The island of Hawaii, aka The Big Island, offers diversity. It has the state’s only active volcanoes, the highest peaks and the largest open spaces. There are lush green valleys and waterfalls, but also lunar-like landscapes of black volcanic rock. Luxury resorts fronted by championship golf courses are tucked away on the calm western shore, cattle ranches cover the north shore and the south and east offer abundant backdrops for outdoor pursuits. Here are just some of our favorite things to do when on Hawaii.
1 Drive Up Top
Take a drive to the top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s highest volcano. At nearly 14,000 feet, the thin air at the top may take your breath away, while the views most certainly will. The summit is home to the world’s largest collection of optical telescopes, placed there to take advantage of the clear night skies. For those who can’t take the high altitudes, a good option is a stop at the Visitor’s Information Station, which sits at a still lofty but more breathable elevation of 9,000 feet. Those who don’t want to make the drive themselves can opt for a tour that includes sunset views and stargazing.
2 Ride an Outrigger
The Hawaiian people once traveled from island to island using oceangoing outrigger canoes. You can get a taste of this seafaring tradition aboard a modern-day rendition of this traditional craft. From the harbor at Kailua- Kona, you can paddle along the island’s calm western coast and explore Kailua Bay. Along the way, make sure to keep an eye out for the spinner dolphin that often make an appearance boat side, and for whales breaching out in blue water. Canoes typical hold 4 to 6 paddlers and an experienced guide, who will set the pace according the guests’ abilities.
3 Bike a Volcano
Kilauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and the island’s most popular attractions. To get beyond the usual visitor center and overlook tours, sign up for a bike tour of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This half-day, 15- mile ride follows an easy and often downhill course, and there’s a support van for those who want to take a break from pedaling. The guided tour begins at the Summit Caldera and passes through a wide range of environments from rainforests to stark lava flows, craters and steaming vents.
4 Go Below
Scuba divers consider Kona’s clear waters to be the best place in the islands to dive. You can take in many of the same undersea landscapes without getting your hair wet. In Kona, Atlantis Submarines operates Hawaii’s only truly submersible passenger vessel, reaching depths as great as 100 feet. The sub is fitted with a series of large view ports that provide every occupant with an unobstructed view of coral-encrusted slopes. The waters are home to hundreds of species of fish, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.
5 Meet a Manta
Giant manta rays are frequent visitors to the waters of Hawaii. Along the island’s west coast, several resorts use underwater spotlights to attract these plankton-feeders to feast on the tiny creatures attracted by the light. Guests of these resorts can take an after-dark swim with these impressive but harmless giants. These nocturnal gatherings are also accessible by boat, with trips departing from Kona at dusk. The mantas, which can range up to 20 feet in length, will often come within mere feet of snorkelers or divers, but veer off before making actual contact. Close encounters happen year round.
6 Go Nuts
Though not native to Hawaii, macadamia nuts thrive in the rich volcanic soil. There are a number of groves and processing facilities on the island that open their doors to tours and offer bargains on factory-direct purchases. One of the favorites is located in the coastal settlement of Kawaihae, a 45-minute drive north of Kona. Here, in addition to a range of interpretive exhibits, you can sample delicacies such as coconut glazed nuts and macadamia nut ice cream.
7 Land a Trophy
The Kona coast is world renown among big game fishermen, who come in pursuit of blue and black marlin that can reach weights of well over 1,000 pounds. But you don’t have to be after a world record to enjoy the angling action. Charter fishing boats ply the calm waters on the island’s leeward western shore, which means there’s no long trips out to blue water, and no big waves to contend with. Memorable catches are often made within a mile or so of land, and include not only trophy fish, but also fine table fare such as mahimahi and yellowfin tuna.
8 Indulge your Tastes
Spend an afternoon in the shops and galleries of Holualoa, a village of artists and artisans located in the heart of the island’s upland coffee growing region. You’ll find a wide range of locally made paintings, ceramics and woodworking. After perusing the artwork and handicrafts you can treat your taste buds to some culinary artistry as well by visiting one of the area’s numerous coffee farms, where tours and samplings provide opportunities to indulge in a fresh-brewed cup of the local beans. For the total experience, plan on visiting during November’s annual Holualoa Village Coffee & Art Stroll.
9 Take an Aerial Trek
They don’t call it mere zip lining, through you will glide along nine different aerial guy wires as part of an elevated tour of the Kohala woodlands. The trekking part of this canopy tour involves crossing a series of treetop suspension bridges that provide an opportunity to pause and set your own pace and observe the smaller details of the forest canopy. There’s also a vertical descent line at the end to add one more element of excitement, though the entire adventure is said to be suitable for all ages.
10 Paddle the Ditch
In the early years of the 20th century, a series of ditches, flumes and tunnels were excavated to bring water from the mountains to the sugar plantations of Hawaii’s Kohala coast. Though no longer used for irrigation, kayakers now float portions of this 18-mile waterway. The adventure begins with an off- road excursion into the highland rainforest, where boats are launched into the slow-flowing channel. The route passes through forest and field, and through tunnels of up to a quarter mile in length.