In this second installment about Hawaii’s Big Island I want to share with you my take on some of the best adventures you can have while on this island paradise. While it would be easy to while away the near-perfect days on the beaches of the Kona Coast, here are my three favorite adventures to get your blood pumping and see more of the island.
Horseback ride in the Valley of the Kings
The huge sign at the top of the plummeting road warns that you cannot go down without a four-wheel drive vehicle. And, now that I see the dirt road careening down I am amazed that the woman driving our jeep used to walk up and down it every day to go to and from school. But, all of this is overshadowed by the simply awe-inspiring view of the Valley of the Kings laid out before me. The valley’s walls are sheer cliffs soaring over 2,000 feet high, lush with vegetation and thick with cascading waterfalls. The mouth of the valley opens up onto a black sand beach and dark blue ocean. We are headed down into this Eden-like valley to spend a few hours exploring on horseback.
The Waipi’o Valley was the favorite retreat for the Hawaiian royalty and home to over 15,000 between the 13th and 17th centuries. Now, however, the valley is one of the most isolated places in the state. Hiking into it is not impossible, but to really get back into the valley taking the trip on horseback is the way to go. Our guide, a beautiful young woman, used to live in the valley with her father and her family still owns and operates the Na’alapa Stables (www.naalapastables.com). Once we complete the harrowing trip down the dirt road, the travels get easier. The stables are well run and the beautiful horses offer a gentle ride through the lush valley floor past taro fields, through clear bubbling streams and dozens of waterfalls.
Sea Rocket snorkeling
“I like this area because it is so far away almost no one comes down here,” said Capt. Kurt as he maneuvers the high speed pontoon-style boat into a quiet bay known as a home to octopus, eels, and dozens of beautiful, brightly colored fish. Capt. Kurt has been doing boating tours for years and knows the special, off-the-beaten-track spots for the best snorkeling on the island. The Hula Kai, which is one of two boats owned by the family-run Fair Wind Cruises (www.fair-wind.com), is the more adult ride of the two and because of its speed can cruise into areas most others can never get to. The Hula Kai comes complete with a built-in kitchen where the captain cooks a delicious lunch and has Sea Rockets on board you can rent.
Sea Rockets are like having a mini motorcycle attached to you as you snorkel. These tube-like structures with a powerful fan built into it can propel up to five miles an hour or give you a gentle glide through the waters. The speed is fun, but also can help you dive deeper and move quicker to the best snorkeling spots. The speed rockets add $50 to the cost of the trip, but are really worth it. The snorkeling trip is the perfect way to see the coastline of the island and get to places that would be impossible without this sort of a speed boat and the knowledge of the island.
For some added adventure Fair Winds also offers a night swim with the manta rays that live in these waters. They will swarm around you like dark angels on big wings and let you feed them. Watch out for your fingers.
Hike the volcano
There is nothing quite like hiking around the lunar-like landscape of one of the world’s most active volcanoes. There are five volcanoes that formed the island of Hawaii over half a million years ago and Volcano National Park encompasses two of them, including the youngest one, Kilauea. Since 1983 the volcano has been quiet, but in 2008 it sprung to life once again and is still active, so now is the time to see this ancient island maker. Hiking here is other-worldly as this area is a rain forest and often misty with steam vents shooting hot vapor from the Earth’s core, massive black lava flows that plummet into the ocean, and signs from earlier eruptions like Devil’s Throat, a massive old volcano tube now extinct and covered in ferns going down deep into the earth. Hiking here is easy with over 150 miles of trails or drive along the 11-mile Crater Rim Road. And, at night, the volcano puts on a show as hot molten lava glowing red in the dark spits and steams as it falls into the surf. Bring a picnic dinner and enjoy Mother Nature’s show.
If you want to hear more about the volcano, taking a tour of the park makes it easy to get around and the guides at Hawaii Forest and Trail (www.hawaii-forest.com) really can give you a lot of in-depth information on the area that you won’t get on your own. The price of the tour is $169 for an adult and includes a nice lunch sitting on an old lava flow looking out over the ocean.
Dan Dawson is a travel journalist and dedicated world traveler who has written articles for many publications on adventures abroad. He is also the marketing manager for the Big Blue Bus. Tell him about your favorite vacation spot at www.WonderlustTravel.com