I have a confession — I’ve never been much of a beach person. I get restless when I lounge in the sun for too long, even in a stunning setting like Hawaii. In fact, I’ve discovered that I appreciate the beach more when I balance cabana time with adventurous outdoor activities.
On Hawai’i Island (also known as the Big Island), that’s easy to do. It’s the perfect place to get active amid scenic tropical landscapes — and work off all those calories from delicious poke and frozen drinks. My favorite activities on Hawai’i Island will take you from the mountains to the ocean and the rainforest. Try these adventures, and you’ll really earn your lazy beach time!
Hike in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
Volcanoes National Park is one of Hawai’i Island’s biggest attractions and one of the most unique areas on the island. Pack some water, snacks and sturdy hiking shoes, and set out on one of the park’s many hiking trails. I chose the Crater Rim Trail, a route that begins in a lush, shady forest and descends into a moon-like landscape riddled with dramatic cracks, steaming vents and huge craters. Typically an 11-mile loop, about a third of the trail is currently closed due to recent volcanic activity. Still, hiking the open section of the trail is a strenuous challenge that will reward you with stunning sights and a feel for the area’s volcanic power.
For a shorter outing, I also enjoyed the four-mile Kilauea Iki Trail, which takes hikers down into a still-steaming crater. On this trail, you’ll see the charred vent that erupted spectacularly in 1959, as well as a lava lake. The hike is relatively short, but it does include a steep and rocky descent and ascent that will get your heart pumping.
Kayak in Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park.
I love to pair kayaking and snorkeling when on Hawai’i Island. The best snorkeling I’ve found is at Kealakekua Bay, a small, sheltered bay about 10 miles south of Kona. Start at the bay and paddle the calm one-and-a-half miles across the water to the Captain Cook Monument. Rising from the shoreline, the white spire commemorates the death of British explorer Captain James Cook.
Along the way, you’ll likely see other snorkeling groups. But once you hop into the cool, deep blue water, you’ll feel like you’re in your own marine world, swimming among the colorful fish and ocean vegetation. Even my husband, who tends to be leery of vast bodies of water —“We’re the slowest things in the water,” he insists — was inspired to get out of his kayak and swim among the beautiful marine life.
To minimize stress on the area’s ecosystem, only three local companies are licensed to rent kayaks at Kealakekua Bay — Adventures in Paradise, Aloha Kayak Co. and Kona Boys, Inc.
Tour the island by bicycle.
Hawai’i Island hosts the annual World Championship Ironman triathlon, so it’s no wonder it’s a great place to bike. Cycling enthusiasts will love the gentle terrain and ocean views from Kailua-Kona to Hawi, a 50-mile, one-way route on Highways 19 and 270. I went during whale season and was lucky enough to catch glimpses of the magnificent creatures during my ride. Even if you only bike part of this route, it’s incredibly rewarding. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll be traveling alongside a highway, so you should be comfortable riding on the shoulder of the road and prepared to change a flat tire.
For a shorter but no-less-challenging ride, start outside the town of Hilo and head up the 17.5-mile climb to the Mauna Loa Observatory. The route will take you through a stark landscape and end at nearly 11,000 feet. Make it to the top, and you’ll enjoy stunning aerial views and other-worldly scenery.
Whichever adventure you choose, take pride in the fact that you actively enjoyed this outdoor paradise and saw places you’d never see from a car. The beauty of this island is that you’ll find activities for every level, and you can make your trip as ambitious or relaxed as you want. After all, you’re on aloha time.
Hawai’i’s climate can be very humid, and you may find strenuous activity more moisture-zapping than usual. Always bring plenty of water and be aware of signs of dehydration.