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Outdoor Adventures in Hawai'i

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Outdoor Adventures in Hawai'i
Ancient Hawaiians had a deep reverence for the sea and mountain slopes that nourished them. Today visitors can dive into this world of extreme natural beauty, from world-class surf spots to stargazing on sacred summits!
By Amanda Castleman, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Kyle Ellison
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    The Aloha State by Sea
    Get in the Hawaiian flow by approaching the islands from the water. Start by going low with Atlantis submarines, which descend to 100 feet off O'ahu, Maui and Kona on the Big Island. Then catch a wave in an outrigger canoe. Waikiki Beach Services continues the almost 100-year 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
    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 O'ahu's North Shore. These gentle giants feed on the algae and seagrasses, abundant year-round there (though summer's best for spotting them, when the swells dwindle). Finish with a hike to Ka'ena Point, the island's western tip, where ancient Hawaiians believed souls leapt into the spirit world. The shoreline shelters monk seals, one of the world's most endangered species, found only in Hawai'i. They also lounge on the beaches of Ni'ihau, 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
    As the Pacific tectonic plate glides northwest—at 3.5 inches per year—a hotspot has bubbled up 82 volcanoes, which daisychained into 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 the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park: it's considered bad luck... and staff regularly receive rocks by mail from former non-believers! Save plenty of time for "the world's only drive-in volcano;" Mount Kīlauea has produced serious lava every day since 1983 with no signs of stopping.
    Photo by Andrea Rip
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    Surf the Sky
    The Big Island of Hawai'i shelters 10 of the world's 14 climate zones, as its 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 Kīlauea's crater. Aerial tours also loft guests over O'ahu's highlights, from the Waikīkī blonde 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 flight-seeing, alongside free aerial-photography tips on its website.
    Photo by Andrea Rip
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    Chasing Waterfalls
    Eons of running water have sculpted Hawai'i. Innocuous streams, pools and cascades can swell to impressive sizes after a rainfall. See this dramatic landsculpting in the gorgeous Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park on Kaua'i. 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 sitcom "Fantasy Island"—from the road or via a quick third-of-a-mile stroll. On Maui, check out the 200-foot "horsetail" Makahiku Falls, a half mile along the terrific Pīpīwai Trail.
    Photo by Andrea Rip
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    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 corals formations. Or range further afield with a boat tour to Molokini Crater or Ni'ihau, the "Forbidden Island." But the star attraction remains night swimming with the Big Island's manta rays, who do slow loop-de-loops, devouring copepods, mysid shrimp and arrow worms.
    Photo by Andrea Rip
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    In Hawai'i, the daily surf report is more important than the morning news. Head to O'ahu’s North Shore, where the sport's legends gather to meet wave faces that can tower over 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, even those dealing with fear, PTSD, physical challenges and mental disabilities.
    Photo by Cloudia Newland/age fotostock
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    Where the Wild Things Are
    Keep an eye out for shaggy mountain goats along the Nāpali Coast on Kaua'i and in Waimea, "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific." Hikers may spook feral pigs in the rainforests: they're considered pests and can be hunted with a $95 permit, one hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset. (Apply well ahead of time, as Hawai'i requires an education certificate to be completed at home.) Geckos abound, but search at night to spot a three-horned Jackson’s chameleon, a species introduced to the islands in the 1970s.
    Photo by Vladimir Shulevsky/age fotostock
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    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 Course, 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 the Plantation Course ranks among America's best: minimalist architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw featured jungled canyons, elevation changes and challenging shots onto fairways and greens.
    Photo by Andrea Rip
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    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 Kaua'i, the galaxy bursts overhead with wild displays. Get closer atop Mauna Kea, the 13,800-foot 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.
    Photo by Andrea Rip