DELVING DEEP INTO THE ALOHA STATE
Get ready for thrilling, action-packed adventures in Hawaii.
While this trip took me way out of my comfort zone, my apprehensions were quickly allayed by seasoned adventure guides who assured us the agendas, while exhilarating, were not extreme. It also helped that our tour groups were populated by everyone from children to seniors. And while more thrilling versions and self-guided expeditions are available, I was quite content with how this trip played out.
Our guides—native Hawaiians or visitors who never left—included volcanologists, marine biologists, surfers and park rangers. All were passionate about the Aloha State and entertained us with backstories galore. Outfitters supplied everything from bamboo walking sticks and beach towels to backpacks and rain jackets for surprise downpours. The various excursions also came with picnic lunches, barbecues and wine tasting.
At the end of every day, we slid back into a comfortable oceanfront resort where we could swim, soak in a hot tub, sip local beer or exotic cocktails, and enjoy a gourmet spread of home-grown produce and protein.
HAWAII: THE BIG ISLAND
My first morning coffee on the bay at the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel put me into the laid-back aloha mood
in no time. My drinking partners were a 70something ukulele-toting surfer, two outrigger canoeists and a stylishly garbed runner. In the lee of Hualalai volcano and next to the Kailua Pier, the resort is walking distance from the town’s assortment of shops and eateries boasting local fare such as shave ice and poke (Hawaiian sushi). It is also home base for the annual Queen Liliuokalani outrigger canoe race and the rallying point for the Ironman Triathlon.
Climbing Mount Hualalai in an air-conditioned Kapohokine Adventures van was the first leg on our pilgrimage to volcano country. At an altitude of about 610 metres, we paused at the Mauka Meadows Coffee Farm for a tour, a view of passing cruise ships and a picnic among the mongoose and songbirds. Our guide Kent and the farm’s tasting room manager, Michael Possman, briefed us on the features and fame of the bean while we sipped unadulterated Kona coffee (from US$40 per pound).
Throughout the day, Kent (a former Chicago thespian) regaled us with theatrical narrative and song about scary volcano gods and goddesses such as Pele, and larger-thanlife folk heroes like King Kamehameha. As our van climbed past scattered settlements into cool rainy territory, he supplied us with cosy waterproof Patagonia jackets to keep us comfortable while we strolled the rainforest and explored an underground lava tube. One of his tales featured a friend who had converted a lava tube into a wine cellar.
At an elevation of some 1,200 metres, a barbecue dinner under tents at the Volcano Winery included a tasting experience that introduced us to curious blends of grapes, fruits such as yellow guava and jaboticaba berries, and estate-grown tea. Their newest was a specialty wine of “macadamia nut honey infused with estate black tea.”
The pinnacle of this trip was an evening visit to Volcanoes National Park, where from the patio of the historic Volcano House we caught the magma pyrotechnics emanating from the Halemaumau Crater. Sightseers can learn about all things volcano at the nearby visitor centre and Jaggar Museum.
A subsequent tour to the northern end of the island, led by Hawaii Forest & Trail guide “Uncle Danny,” took us past ancient lava fields to a former sugar cane plantation that is now a cattle ranch and tourist hiking venue. Armed with walking sticks and light backpacks, we trekked along the Kohala Ditch Trail that once brought water to the fields, learned about the plantations of yore and snacked on ripe guava in an orchard.
After a dip in the pool at the foot of a “secret” waterfall, Danny drove our Pinzgauer ATV to a lunch spot high on a cliff above a stunning black-sand beach.
The day was capped by a Sea Quest night swim with manta rays in the bay off the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa. Weighing up to 1,350 kilograms, the docile beasts rise up at dusk to dine on plankton, swimming effortlessly around snorkellers and divers. The resort and various tour boats shine strong lights into the water, allowing dozens of swimmers clinging to floating platforms to see the lovable creatures—and turning the bay into a festive scene.
KAUAI: THE GARDEN ISLAND
Since the dawn of the motion picture industry, Kauai has been a magnet for filming. Its lush scenery, secluded spaces and dearth of dangerous wildlife have attracted the makers of movies such as Jurassic World, Pirates of the Caribbean, Avatar and countless others. Our travels unveiled some of the locations.
A luxury 17-metre catamaran snorkelling trip organized by Captain Andy’s Sailing Adventures took us along the rugged Na Pali coast for some underwater viewing and on-board barbecue lunch. Along the way, we passed one of the caves used as a set in Pirates of the Caribbean and spotted flying fish, green sea turtles and spinner dolphins frolicking in the water. Back on land for dinner, we sampled an extravagant range of Hawaiian signature dishes—including local beef tenderloin—at the St. Regis Princeville Hotel’s Kauai Grill.
One of our most strenuous excursions was the Outfitters Kauai Wailua River kayak tour. It included two hours of kayaking and about a 90-minute hike through the rainforest and over a rushing stream to another secret waterfall. Our barefoot guide knew every root, rock and riverbed intimately; all we had to do was follow in his footsteps. He was also well-acquainted with the countless feral ducks, roosters, hens and chicks that are part of the entire state’s landscape. After the tour, we kicked off our hiking shoes and feasted barefoot in the sand at the Kauai Shores Hotel’s laid-back Lava Beach Club. A 20-centimetre-high Hawaiian Hula pie was the dessert of choice.
On our final day I simply basked in the luxury of our chic oceanfront retreat, Koa Kea Hotel & Resort. Sunbathing by the pool and a massage in the spa were the highlights of the day, while dinner at Red Salt starting with ahi tartare served as a fitting conclusion to a wide-ranging Hawaiian adventure.
OPPOSITE TOP: The pinnacle of this trip was an evening visit to Volcanoes National Park, where we caught the magma pyrotechnics emanating from the Halemaumau Crater. BELOW: The hula portrays songs or chants in a visual dance form. IHVB
ABOVE: Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai is known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” BELOW: Zip lining tours operate on the Big Island and Kauai. BOTTOM: On Kauai, tube down old sugar plantation irrigation canals and through tunnels hand-dug in the 1870s. IHVB