Outdoor Adventures in Hawaii

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Outdoor Adventures in Hawaii
Mountain trails and placid beaches engage all visitors; adrenaline-seekers can dive beneath the sea or view the islands from a hang glider. In Hawaii, it doesn’t matter if you’re at sea level or at altitude, as long as you’re outdoors.
By Andrea Rip, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Kyle Ellison
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    Hawaii by Sea
    To truly understand Hawaii, you need to approach the islands from the water. Maui-based Blue Water Rafting offers trips that hug the lava-hewn coastline, threading through arches, poking into caves, and encountering dolphins and whales. At Port Allen Harbor on Kauai, deep-sea fishing charter vessels jostle to lure eager sportsmen aboard. Numerous tour operators cruise perilously close to the Kilauea volcano’s lava, which bubbles into the ocean off the shores of the Big Island; Big Island Hawaii Sailing Tours can schedule trips to view the angry red flow during the day or, eerily, at night.
    Photo by Kyle Ellison
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    Wild Hawaii
    There's plenty of interesting wildlife on and around Hawaii, but you have to seek it out. Hike Oahu’s Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail for a chance to see humpbacks breaching offshore, then head to the North Shore to observe sea turtles basking on Laniakea Beach. You may encounter shaggy mountain goats along Kauai’s Napali Coast or in Waimea Canyon, and look out for the feral pigs who inhabit the islands' forests. (They are a considered a pest, and underneath the full moon, hunters emerge to control the pig population). Geckos abound, but if you hope to spot a three-horned Jackson’s Chameleon—introduced to the islands in the 1970s—you’ll need to do some searching at night.
    Photo by Vladimir Shulevsky/age fotostock
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    Surf the Big Island’s Skies
    The Big Island of Hawaii is larger than all of the other islands combined and home to 11 climate zones. (To put that in perspective, there are 13 on Earth.) Blue Hawaiian Helicopters takes visitors to the sky in a chopper to fully comprehend the island’s magnitude. The Kilauea volcanic crater—already intimidating at eye-level—is breathtaking from above; evening flights are illuminated from below by the crater’s glowing lava pool. In the winter, snow can adorn the summit of Mauna Kea volcano, while the exuberant greenery of the Island's Hamakua Coast on the windward side can trick travelers into thinking they’re flying over Ireland, not Hawaii.
    Photo by Andrea Rip
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    Chasing Waterfalls
    Eons of running water are responsible for Hawaii’s escarpments and canyons. After a rainfall, innocuous streams, pools, and waterfalls can swell to impressive sizes. For an easy hike, walk along the Maunawili Falls trail on Oahu to glimpse the 20-foot cascade. There’s a lovely swimming hole, but be careful if you scramble to a rocky overhang to dive into the pool below. On Maui, hike to the Makahiku Falls and climb to the overlook above to view two very different representations of water: the thundering 181-foot cataract below and the vast panorama of ocean beyond. Kauai, “The Garden Island,” is known for its spectacular waterfalls. The beautiful double streams of the Wailua Falls are easily seen from a roadside viewing point.
    Photo by Andrea Rip
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    The Fury of Pele
    Hawaii twists as the Earth’s surface glides over inner hotspots, and the result of this uneasy relationship between crust and core is the islands’ abundance of volcanoes. Only on the Big Island can you understand the fury of Pele, the ancient volcano goddess. Her temper is such that even taking volcanic rocks is considered bad luck: Staff at Volcanoes National Park regularly receive returned rocks in the mail! To get to know Pele from a distance, Lava Ocean Adventures carries travelers to the lava at its ocean entry point, and helicopter tours fly above the Kilauea Crater.
    Photo by Andrea Rip
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    Pelagic Playgrounds
    Some of Hawaii’s most astounding beauty is protected just offshore, accessible only to those who book a tour to these submerged gardens. After dark, Kona Diving Company equips guests with scuba gear, then lowers them to the ocean floor to meet the giant manta rays that glide along the Big Island’s coast. Advanced divers can descend 115 feet into the waters off Oahu to explore the wreck of the Corsair plane, which crashed in 1946. If you’d rather dip than submerge, Kauai’s Holo Holo Charters intersperse a seven-hour tour of the Napali coastal cliffs with a refreshing snorkel near the shores of Niihau (the "Forbidden Island"); on Maui, the Pride of Maui escorts passengers to the clear waters of the Molokini Crater to dive or snorkel.
    Photo by Andrea Rip
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    Scenic Golf Courses
    It’s not your hometown suburban country club. Golfers at any of Oahu’s dozens of open courses may be distracted by all the surrounding beauty—or the setting might inspire their game. Either way, there’s a course for all levels, from the nine-hole Moanalua Golf Club—the island’s oldest course—right up to the 18-hole Ko'olau Golf Club, flanked on one side by the 2,000-foot mountains of the Ko'olau Range. And at the Hawaii Kai Golf Course and the Turtle Bay Resort Arnold Palmer Course on the North Shore, the expansive views of ocean might convince all but the most ardent pros to relax their game and enjoy a sundowner at the club instead.
    Photo by Andrea Rip
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    Kiss the Day
    You are lucky the sun only rises and sets once a day on Hawaii—otherwise, you’d spend all of your time transfixed by the horizon. Hike to the leeward (western) side of any island on a clear evening and train your eye over the ocean in search of the “green flash,” an optic phenomenon in which a green sliver of light hovers in the wake of the setting sun. (On Oahu, the remote Kaena Point is a good spot to see the flash.) Sunsets on Kauai, “The Garden Island,” make the beauty of the coastal surroundings even more poignant. If you rise early and tackle the Lanikai Pillboxes trail on Oahu or summit the volcano at Haleakala National Park on Maui, you'll experience an unforgettable morning as the sun rises over the ocean for a new day.
    Photo by Andrea Rip
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    In Hawaii, the daily surf report is more important than the morning news. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Oahu’s North Shore, where surf legends gather to meet waves that, in winter, can draw up to a full height of over 20 feet. Here, barrels of water unfurl along the famous Banzai Pipeline. It’s a place of beauty, but the Pipeline is also one of the world’s deadliest surf spots, where even seasoned professionals have lost their lives. Nearby Waimea Bay also produces some of Hawaii’s tallest waves and attracts some of its most determined surfers. Although surfing is a huge part of Hawaii’s heritage, waves like those at the Pipeline and Waimea Bay are hazardous enough that the unskilled should stay restricted to the shore.
    Photo by Cloudia Newland/age fotostock
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    Brightly Lit Hawaiian Nights
    Pele—the Hawaiian goddess of fire, lightning, wind, and volcanoes—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 Kauai’s Napali coastline or Polihale Beach, the galaxy bursts overhead with wild displays. The Big Island’s Mauna Kea Observatory delights stargazers with glimpses of other worlds. For a spark of a decidedly more human kind, kick off the weekend with dinner at Rum Fire on Oahu’s Waikiki Beach. Here, over cocktails and pupus (appetizers), guests can watch Friday night fireworks at the neighboring Hilton Hawaiian Village. After the show, keep the night alight with the “God of Fire” roll at Doraku Sushi restaurant.
    Photo by Andrea Rip