It’s a Big, Big Island
Get a Front Row “Hot” Seat
This year, Madam Pele, the legendary volcano goddess, decided it was time for a little housekeeping and changed things up at her favorite volcano, Kilauea. Things may have changed by the time you read this, but flows have been heading into new directions, a new eruption has started and there was even a collapse of the crater floor. Lava flow updates can be found on the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park site and at http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/hvo/ activity/kilaueastatus.php or by calling (808) 961-8093.
There are several ways to get in on the excitement of Kilauea’s activity. Lava boat tours have become a popular attraction; boat companies like Lava Ocean Adventures will be ready to ferry passengers to a front-row seat. Meanwhile, alternate tours are available.
When fiery-hot lava, sometimes boiling at 2,100 degrees Farenheit, collides with cool seawater, the impact is staggering. Picture a powerful grenade that explodes into a fountain of steam and hurls volcanic debris every which way. Safe viewing is possible via several options, including hiking, biking and nocturnal helicopter flights.
A 15.5-mile bike ride will get you to the show. BikeVolcano. com has designed a tour that provides sunset views of lava hitting the sea and includes a stop in Kalapana, a village ravaged by earlier lava flow. Take to the sky for a panoramic view of molten lava burning and oozing over black lava fields. Big Island Air conducts night flights and Paradise Helicopters flies over the volcano in a chopper without doors.
• Big Island Air (808) 329-4868 • BikeVolcano.com (808) 934-9199 • Blue Hawaiian Helicopters (808) 961-5600 • Lava Ocean Adventures (808) 966-4200 • Paradise Helicopters (808) 969-7392 • Safari Helicopters (808) 969-1259
Horseback riding is unquestionably one of the Hawai‘i Island’s premiere attractions. The Big Island’s diverse terrain, eyepopping vistas, and wealth of working cattle ranches make it an exciting location for horseback adventures. Paniolo Adventures, located on Ponoholo Ranch, specializes in open-range rides on its 11,000-acre working cattle ranch. Situated on Kohala Mountain, the views, particularly at sunset, are stunning. If you’re up for a workout, try a four-hour, open-range trot through high country terrain with fabulous panoramic views.
Parker Ranch, in Waimea, was founded in 1847, and is one of the oldest and largest cattle spreads in the United States. Expect to come across plenty of historic sites on a ride over this 150,000-acre working ranch.
Waipi‘o Ridge Stables is well known for its horseback tours of Waipi‘o Valley. The beauty and rugged terrain of this valley is probably best seen on the back of a horse. One tour heads along the rim of the valley and then follows a stream in the rainforest to a hidden waterfall that can be viewed only on horseback.
Another company, Wapi‘o on Horseback, transports riders into the valley in four-wheel-drive vans, where they saddle up for a narrated journey through the history, legends and wild beauty of this revered Hawaiian valley.
• Na‘alapa Stables (808) 889-0022 • Paniolo Adventures (808) 889-5354 • Waipi‘o Ridge Stables (808) 775-1007
Let Yourself Go on a Zipline
Somewhere in the gap between helicopter tours and hiking has come a rainforest adventure called ziplining.
At treetop level, a zipliner, strapped to a harness, races over a cable like Matt Damon in a Jason Bourne flick. The harness is attached to a trolley that rides on the cable. Once you’re buckled up, you’ll dip through leafy topped, old-growth trees, fly over unique volcanic terrain, and waterfalls—lots of them.
On the Big Island, you’ll find two tours on the Hamakua coast and another operating in the North Kohala Mountains.
Umauma Falls Zipline Experience has a lock on an exclusive waterfall view. Expect to come face-to-face with a dozen spectacular falls (including a stunning three-tiered cascade) and, for good measure, a lava tube. This course features a 2,000-foot line that’s the longest zipline on the island. The course is located on the Hamakua coast off of Highway 19 near Hakalau.
Big Island Eco Adventures, the island’s original zipline tour, has constructed its course in the Kohala Mountains. This is gorgeous country, populated by small villages like Hawi (where this outfit has its headquarters). Vast stretches of open space give way to tracts of wild, breathtaking terrain and provide the backdrop for the eight-line run.
Perched amongst the trees of Halawa, Kohala Zipline’s Kohala Canopy Adventure features elevated suspension bridges, soaring tree platforms and thrilling ziplines. Exclusive features, such as twin WhisperLinesSM and smooth stop braking, ensure your safety and comfort.
Skyline Eco-Adventures’ awe-inspiring new zipline tour has you soaring directly above world-famous Akaka Falls, a 250-foot waterfall. Skyline Eco-Adventures—the first zipline operator in the United States—directly above multiple waterfalls.
You’re hooked up. You take a few steps. And leap off the 70-foot cliff! As you safely land hundreds of feet away you can’t wait for your next “flight” on the seven zip lines and suspension bridge at Zip Isle Zip Line Adventures, located at World Botanical Gardens. Nighttime zip rides are also available. Zip Isle and World Botanical Gardens are located north of Hilo, off Highway 19, at mile marker 16. Open daily, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Each of the courses offers its own distinctive characteristics, but all give safety a high priority. Before harnessing up, zipliners are given thorough instructions and are safely outfitted.
• Big Island Eco Adventures (808) 889-5111 • Kohala Zipline (808) 331-3620 • Skyline Eco-Adventures (808) 270-8753 • Umauma Falls Zipline Experience
(808) 930-9477 (ZIPS) • World Botanical Gardens (808) 963-5427
or (888) 947-4753
If you think “ditch tour” means you’ll be splashing around in few feet of muddy irrigation water, think again—the Kohala Ditch Adventures is a multi-part adventure that involves kayaking, ATVs, and a number of stunning views.
The tour starts with an off-road excursion on Pinzgauers to a jungle setting high in the Kohala mountains. From here, guests hike over a 150-foot flume bridge overlooking a waterfall to get to the beginning of the kayak segment of the trip. Then, tour guides lead adventurers along 2 1/2 miles of Kohala ditch system, which weaves through the Hawaiian rainforest lush with island flora and fauna (birds), 10 tunnels and water flumes. Finally, after paddling to shore, visitors finish their tours with ATV rides through Kohala’s macadamia nut orchards that overlook the ocean.
Tour guides spice up the tour with local history and Hawaiian lore. Located just past mile marker 24 on the left of Highway 270.
• Kohala Ditch Adventures (808) 889-6000
Pick A Beach
White, black and even green sand beaches abound along the Big Island’s 266-mile coastline. Check out some of the most popular spots below:
Kauna‘oa Beach at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Hapuna Beach popular for walking and body boarding Anaeho‘omalu Beach known as “A-Bay,” great for windsurfing and kitesurfing Ka‘upulehu Beach at the Four Seasons Resort White Sands Beach Park, near the Keauhou Resort, also known as “Magic Sands” because the beach can quickly disappear during high-surf months only to return in the spring Kahalu‘u Beach Park Kona’s most popular snorkeling beach Punalu‘u Beach Park a well-known black sand beach Mackenzie State Park in Pahoa there’s a lava-lined pool heated to 95 degrees Fahrenheit by a volcanic stream nearby Coconut Island Park, near the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, a local favorite for fishing and swimming Laupahoehoe Point Park created by a lava flow from Mauna Kea, it has a large grassy area great for camping Waipi‘o Valley’s Black Sand Beach accessible only with four-wheel drive or on foot from the overlook
Remember: Water conditions at Big Island beaches can be tricky and unpredictable. Whether swimming or surfing, follow these basic aquatic rules: Watch the ocean for at least 20 minutes before entering—take caution if you notice water moving rapidly or swirling, or if you see waves breaking far offshore; Never swim or snorkel alone; Always supervise children; Strong currents near shore are the most frequent and dangerous hazards. Areas near river mouths are particularly dangerous; Obey warning signs. If lifeguards are unavailable, ask other beachgoers about potential hazards; Locate the lifeguard station, emergency phone or rescue surfboard when you arrive at a beach; and never turn your back to the ocean.
Relive Mission History
Nearly 180 years ago, a New England missionary couple in their early 20s arrived in Hilo. It was here that they spent the next 50 years of their lives. The Lyman Mission House is now the oldest wood-frame building on the Big Island. Built in 1839 by David and Sarah Lyman, the house is constructed partly of the local hardwoods, koa and ‘ohia, and is furnished with original and period décor. Take a guided tour to see this historic home and hear the Lymans’ story.
The Mission House is adjacent to the only general Hawaiian history museum on the island. The Smithsonianaffiliated Lyman Museum has natural history exhibits on volcanoes and Big Island habitats and world-renowned collections of seashells and minerals.
The museum is located at 276 Haili Street in historic downtown Hilo and is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Visit www.lymanmuseum.org for tour times.
• Lyman Museum (808) 935-5021
Ride an ATV from Mountain to Sea
North Kohala is a sparsely populated, wildly beautiful region—an ideal place for off-road exploration. Behind the wheel of an All-Terrain Vehicle and with a guide that knows the area’s terrain, history and culture, be prepared for a ride into parts unknown.
ATV Outfitters Hawaii is owned by long-time North Kohala residents. They’ll ride with you on ATVs specifically designed for rugged off-road travel. Experience the real Hawai‘i on an unforgettable ride over private ranchlands, spectacular 200-foot sea cliffs and through lush, tropical rain forests. Knowledgeable, fifthgeneration native Hawaiian guides lead you to a hidden waterfall and secluded beach that King Kamehameha once favored. The only company to offer double-seat and side-by-side ATVs, it’s an adventure for the entire family. But this is more than a rugged ride through gorgeous terrain; it’s a remarkable opportunity to learn from experts about a place barely touched by time. Located just past mile marker 24, on the left of Highway 270.
• ATV Outfitters Hawaii (808) 889-6000
Swim with a Manta Ray
Dinner with manta rays is an awesome experience. Though related to sharks, these amazing sea creatures have no teeth and no tail stingers, making them harmless to humans, but intriguing to watch. In Hawaiian, they are called hahalua.
The Kona Coast, with its resident manta ray population, is one of the best places in the world to get close to them. Many Kona Coast diving and snorkeling companies conduct night manta ray runs.
You can also hope for a peek from the shore. The water off the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa are a regular feeding spot for anta rays, and a good place to see them is from the lanai off the Crystal Blue cocktail lounge. The resort will turn on its outdoor lights when the manta rays appear.
Dive shop owners say that the manta rays can be found most days, from as far north as waters off the Keahole-Kona International Airport to Keauhou Bay. Divers are instructed to stay near the bottom and snorkelers on the surface, to allow the manta rays room to maneuver.
• Aloha Kayak Company (808) 322-2868 • Fair Wind Cruises (808) 345-0244 • Kamanu Charters (808) 329-2021 • Manta Ray Dives of Hawaii (808) 325-1687 • Neptune Charlies (808) 331-2184 • Ocean Eco Tours (808) 324-7873 • Sunlight on Water (808) 896-2480
Hike with a Guide
The Big Island is too big and too full of secrets to imagine grabbing a hiking stick and heading into the wilderness on your own. If you want to get the full experience of this island’s wild and beautiful landscape, take a guided tour. Hawai‘i Forest & Trail, an award-winning eco-tour company, offers innovative and informative nature adventures and is known for designing hikes that combine exceptional tours with environmental integrity.
The company’s playlist changes frequently. Choose from a 12-hour trek that culminates in a twilight view of erupting Kilauea Volcano and its sizzling lava flow. The company will take you to Waipi‘o Valley, a largely inaccessible destination known for its natural beauty. HF&T gets you there on a trek that follows a path 1,000 feet above the floor of the valley. HF&T offers a variety of other outdoor adventures including hikes in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and Kilauea Volcano, the Mauna Kea summit, several waterfall hikes, and a culinary and farm tour. Birding and wildlife treks also are available.
Hiking Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is not your gardenvariety wilderness trek. This is lava land, a national park that features a live volcano with all the daily uncertainties of nature unleashed. The 333,000-acre park, on the slopes of Mauna Loa, is a trekker’s paradise. Pick a trail through a lava field,
around the smoldering Kilauea caldera, on the hot seacoast of Puna and Ka‘u, or at the 13,677-foot summit of Mauna Loa. The longest loop is the Crater Rim Trail, the grand tour of Hawaiian volcanism. The 11.6-mile trip takes about 8 hours on a fairly level path past lava, cinders, steam vents, rifts, craters, tree molds, a lava tube, and views of past devastation and struggling new life.
Check with the Park Service for hiking information about active lava flows as well as areas that may be closed due to dangerous conditions. Park rangers also can provide information about the more challenging overnight hikes in the coastal region and Southwest and East Rift Zones.
The Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (808-985-6000), the Hawai‘i Division of Forestry and Wildlife (808-974-4221) and the Hawai‘i Division of State Parks (808-974-6200) all handle the administration of Hawai‘i Island’s many public access trails. Contact these agencies for permits, reservations and current information concerning hiking.
• Hawai‘i Forest & Trail (808) 331-8505 • KapohoKine Adventures (808) 964-1000
Entertain the Family
Let’s face it, there’s only so much “touring” a family can do before the kids get stir-crazy. Let the keiki burn off some steam while the adults unwind in this ultra-modern, high-tech family entertainment and bowling center at KBXtreme.
There are 16 lanes of bowling and video games in the KidZone Arcade. Singers might want to belt out a few tunes at Parrots Rock karaoke lounge or enjoy fresh popcorn and cotton candy while other Idol- wannabes try their luck. Watch sports on 55 big-screen TVs, shoot some pool or throw some darts at the XFactor Sports Club & Lounge or grab a bite to eat at Chubby’s Avalux Café, where they’re serving burgers, milkshakes, salads, local favorites and breakfast all day.
Another family friendly, out-of-the-sunshine option is The Great 4D Movie Ride experience in the Shops at Mauna Lani. Picture a movie theater that puts you in 3-D glasses, yet in addition to multi-sensory imagery, guests experience moveable seats, air blowing through their hair, water spritzes, and other “teasers” to help put you in the scene, literally. The small, 24-seat theater makes for an intimate yet giggle-filled afternoon. Films range from SpongeBob SquarePants to National Geographic’s Sea Monsters.
• KBXtreme (808) 326-2694 • The Great 4-D Movie Ride (808) 885-9501
Take a Land or Ocean Farm Tour
Don’t be misled by the Big Island’s barren lava fields. The majority of the state’s agricultural products are grown and processed here.
Hawai‘i Forest & Trail conducts a unique tour of local farms
that are using sustainable agriculture methods. First, the tour heads to Kahua Ranch in the Kohala Mountains, where cattle and sheep are ranched (not to mention you’ll get to see a great view of the coast from its 3,000-foot elevation). The next stop is Honopua farm, where organic vegetables, lavender and cut flowers are farmed. After these stops, attendees will be served dinner at the award-winning Merriman’s Restaurant in Waimea, where chefs prepare gourmet dinners using fresh, local ingredients.
To appreciate the Polynesian agricultural heritage, visit the Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden, where you’ll see more than 200 varieties of plants cultivated by early Hawaiians. The 15-acre garden is landscaped to reflect plant life in the Kona area before foreign contact. It is the only garden in Hawai‘i solely devoted o Hawaiian ethnobotany, a discipline that combines the study of human culture with the plants that support it.
• Hawai‘i Forest & Trail (808) 331-8505
Dive Hawai‘i’s Waters
Mauna Loa—the world’s largest active volcano and one of two volcanic peaks that dominate the Big Island—spreads over half of the island. It rises 13,680 feet above sea level and 30,080 feet from its base at the ocean floor. The rest of its great bulk lays fathoms below the ocean in a scuba divers’ fantasy of lava flows, submerged caves, canyons, cliffs and colorful coral reefs.
Diving the ocean off the Kona/Kohala Coast is a world-class experience. The Kona Coast stands out for its relatively young lava formations, with walls, archways, lava tubes and abundant marine life.
Charter dive companies offer guided tours and courses in certification. Some include scuba specialty courses like photography and videography. Many local dive shops also offer more advanced courses, ranging from rescue and dive master to specialty classes and open-water checkouts. If you’ve got the time and the inclination, you can work toward full certification, or C-card, which is good indefinitely and honored worldwide.
• Big Island Water Sports (808) 326-7446 • Lava Ocean Adventures (808) 966-4200 • Ocean Eco Tours (808) 331-2121
Bike Volcano Country
On a guided bicycle tour through Volcano Country, you’ll get close enough to feel the heat and witness the fury of Kilauea.
For the complete bike tour experience of the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, there’s Bikevolcano.com’s all-day trip that takes cyclists on a mostly downhill, paved 15-mile course through the park. The daily 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. tour ends with a complimentary wine tasting session (optional). For those who don’t have time for the full-day tour, there’s the Summit Tour, offered 10 a.m.-1 p.m. daily. Both tours offer pick-up at the Port of Hilo, making them the perfect activity for cruise ship visitors. The mostly downhill course runs 8.5 miles and takes guests from the Kilauea Overlook along the rim of the caldera to the steam vents, through a Hawaiian rainforest and to Thurston Lava Tube.
Riders can get a first-hand view of Kilauea’s fiery lava on the 10-mile bike course for the Bike to Pele tour. The tour runs Mondays, from 1 to 8 p.m. After the bike ride, there’s a mile hike to a black sand beach where one can catch glimpses of the lava flow. This tour includes an interesting side trip where you’ll have dinner in Kalapana, an old Hawaiian fishing village that was buried in 1990 under a relentless lava flow. Bicyclists can plan on a tour that will end where superheated lava collides with cool ocean water and explodes into plumes of steam.
Tours include mountain bikes, helmets and other provisions.
• Bikevolcano.com (808) 934-9199
Soak in a Natural Hot Tub
Pele also deserves kudos for her pioneering work with thermal ponds; long before anyone invented hot tubs, the Big Island was gurgling and steaming with naturally heated models fueled by warm, thermal springs.
Formed when ground water heats as it moves through magmahot rocks on its way to the sea, it then mixes with cold water to create a naturally heated hot tub.
Kapoho Tide Pools are a series of interconnected thermal tide pools, which sometimes extend up to 200 yards into the ocean. Nearby Isaac Hale Beach Park also is the site of a series of hot springs. This site is found on Poho‘iki Bay at the juncture of Poho‘iki Road and Kamu-Kapoho Road.
‘Ahanalui Pool, in the beach park of the same name, is a spring-fed thermal pool where the temperature tends to hover around 90 degrees Farenheit. The pond, a mixture of hot water from thermal springs and ocean water, is crystal clear and generally safe enough for small children. The park has restrooms, showers and a picnic area, but there are no drinking water or camping facilities.
Get Your Hands Dirty
Travelers are finding that one of the best ways to discover the “real” Big Island is to sign up for a volunteer project and get their hands dirty working with local residents on conservation assignments.
Sign on for afternoon or multi-day trips to help with a variety of projects, such as trail building and maintenance, planting native plants, controlling invasive species or clearing coastlines of marine debris.
“Volunteering on Vacation” is an idea that’s catching on worldwide. Get started by calling one of these agencies:
• Hawai‘i Forest & Trail (800) 464-1993
or (808) 331-8505 • Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i (808) 939-7171 • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
(800) 344-WILD (9453) • Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (808) 985-6000
Discover King Kamehameha Country
While South Kohala attracts most tourists, just 11 miles upslope is a land that developers forgot. North Kohala is lush and green, sparsely populated and unpretentious; it is South Kohala’s country cousin—a breath of fresh mountain air in a landscape barely touched by contemporary influences.
The region’s neighboring hamlets of Kapa‘au and Hawi, comprising the most densely populated area in the district, retain a country feel and merchants take an inventive approach.
And nowhere is King Kamehameha the Great, who united the Islands in 1810, more revered than in North Kohala. His birthplace, marked by a simple plaque, is west of Hawi on a dirt road near the ruins of Mo‘okini Heiau. To get there, take the turnoff to Upolu Airport, then turn left at the airfield.
For another Kamehameha view, check out a more than century-old, nine-foot statue of Kamehameha that commands a hill in Kapa‘au and is easily visible from Highway 270.
When heading back south, consider driving the Kohala Mountain Road along Route 250 to Waimea instead of taking the coastal Akoni Pule Highway. Route 50 is a picturesque drive through cattle ranches and largely unpopulated countryside. On a clear day, you can see three of the Big Island’s five mountains: Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Hualalai (and you might even catch a glimpse of Haleakala on the island of Maui).