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Outdoor Adventures in Hawaii

The Aloha State by Sea
Outdoor Adventures in Hawaii
Ancient Hawaiians had a deep reverence for the sea and mountain slopes that nourished them. Today, you can dive into this world of extreme natural beauty, from the world's best surfing to sacred summits perfect for stargazing!
By Amanda Castleman, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Kyle Ellison
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    The Aloha State by Sea
    The Aloha State by Sea
    Get in the aloha state of mind by approaching the islands from the water. Start by going low with Atlantis Submarines, which descend 100 feet off Oahu, Maui, and Kona on the Big Island. Then catch a wave in an outrigger canoe. The Waikiki Beach Services company continues the almost 100-year-old tradition of "Beachboys": watermen who share their vast knowledge with visitors. Soaking up some winter sun and vitamin D? Save time to commune with the 11,000-odd humpback whales who also bask in these warm waters from November until early May. The Big Island has the best whale-watching: Hop a boat with Captain Dan McSweeney's Whale Watch Learning Adventures, or scan the seas from vantage points like Holoholokai Beach Park.
    Photo by Kyle Ellison
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    The Life Aquatic
    The Life Aquatic
    Get an overview of the ocean and its animals at the Waikiki Aquarium or the Big Island's Mokupāpapa Discovery Center, which showcases the marine beauty of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Green-turtle fans should head to Laniakea Beach on Oahu's North Shore. These gentle giants feed on the algae and seagrass that are abundant all year round there (though it’s easiest to spot them in summer, when the swells dwindle). Finish with a hike to Ka'ena Point, the island's western tip, where ancient Hawaiians believed souls leaped into the spirit world. The shoreline shelters monk seals, one of the world's most endangered species and one found only in Hawaii. They also lounge on the beaches of Niihau, "the Forbidden Island," which can be reached by helicopter or catamaran.
    Photo by Nick Loewenstine of Hawaii Adventure Diving
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    The Fury of Pele
    The Fury of Pele
    As the Pacific tectonic plate glides northwest—at an average of around 3.5 inches per year—a geological hot spot has bubbled up more than 80 volcanoes in a chain, part of which is the Hawaiian Ridge. The uneasy marriage of crust and core gives birth to a spectacular basalt landscape, prone to very fluid lava flows and gentle-sloping mountains. Cyclists love to freewheel down Haleakalā, the mighty peak that forms more than 75 percent of Maui's landmass. But only on the Big Island can you truly understand the fury of Pele, the ancient fire goddess. Don't rile her by taking stones from Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park: It's considered bad luck! Save plenty of time for "the World's Only Drive-In Volcano"—Mount Kilauea has produced serious lava every day since 1983, with no signs of stopping.
    Photo by Andrea Rip
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    Surf the Sky
    Surf the Sky
    The Big Island of Hawaii shelters 10 of the world's 14 climate zones, as its collective landmass soars from the sea to the summit of Mauna Kea at 13,800 feet. Catch a chopper ride around its lofty heights, often frosted by snow in winter, or survey the glowing lava in Kilauea's crater. Aerial tours also loft guests over Oahu's highlights, from the Waikiki blond-sand beaches to the volcanic fang of Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor, and Kaliuwa'a (the Sacred Falls), closed to foot traffic since a tragic 1999 landslide. Makani Kai Helicopters offers terrific plane watching; check out the free aerial-photography tips on its website.
    Photo by Andrea Rip
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    Bright Lights, No City
    Bright Lights, No City
    Pele—the volcano goddess—may provide the Big Island with its fiery glow, but she can’t take all the credit for the illuminated Hawaiian nights. At remote stargazing sites like the Nāpali Coast or Polihale Beach on Kauai, the galaxy bursts overhead with wild displays. Get closer atop Mauna Kea, the 13,800-foot-tall dormant volcano where visitors can book time on the Subaru Telescope. Or skip the twisty 4WD drive to the summit and check out the NASA-funded 'Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, also on the Big Island.
    Photo by Andrea Rip
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    Chasing Waterfalls
    Chasing Waterfalls
    Eons of running water have sculpted Hawaii. Innocuous streams, pools, and cascades can swell to impressive sizes after a rainfall. See this dramatic land sculpture in action at the gorgeous Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park on Kauai. Don't fancy a trek? Gaze at the island's graceful 172-foot Wailua Falls—which starred in the opening credits of TV's hit show Fantasy Island—from the road, or via a quick stroll. On Maui, check out the 200-foot "horsetail" of Makahiku Falls, half a mile along the terrific Pīpīwai Trail.
    Photo by Andrea Rip
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    Pelagic Playgrounds
    Pelagic Playgrounds
    Some of the islands' most astounding beauty is protected just offshore. Strap on a snorkel at western Maui's Olowalu, where green sea turtles and baby blacktip reef sharks dart among 500-year-old coral formations. Or range further afield with a boat tour to Molokini Crater or Niihau, sometimes called the Forbidden Island. But the star attraction remains night swimming with the Big Island's manta rays, who do slow loop-the-loops as they devour copepods, Mysidae shrimp, and arrow worms.
    Photo by Andrea Rip
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    Where the Wild Things Are
    Where the Wild Things Are
    Keep an eye out for shaggy mountain goats along the Nāpali Coast on Kauai as well as in Waimea, "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific." Hikers may spook feral pigs in the rain forests. Geckos abound, too, but search at night to spot a three-horned Jackson’s chameleon, a species introduced to these islands in the 1970s.
    Photo by Vladimir Shulevsky/age fotostock
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    Banzai!
    Banzai!
    In Hawaii, the daily surf report is more important than the morning news. Head to Oahu’s North Shore, where the sport's legends gather to meet wave faces that can tower as high as 40 feet in winter. Here, barrels of water unfurl along the famous Banzai Pipeline and at Waimea Bay, which hosts the Super Bowl of surfing: the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational. Not ready for prime time? Book a lesson with the big-hearted team at Honolulu's Ohana Surf Project, experts at helping newbies hang ten.
    Photo by Cloudia Newland/age fotostock
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    Scenic Golf Courses
    Scenic Golf Courses
    Honolulu's Moanalua Golf Club has the state's oldest greens, but serious players should test their skills at Maui's Kapalua Golf, home to the PGA Tour's Tournament of Champions each January. Its Arnold Palmer–designed Bay Course has dramatic views and the island's only oceanside hole (the par-3 fifth). But its Plantation Course ranks among America's best: Minimalist architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw featured jungled canyons, elevation changes, and challenging shots onto fairways.
    Photo by Andrea Rip