For the active traveler, no location beats Hawaii for the amazing variety of outdoor activities. Let’s start with the easiest – relax! While there are dozens of activities, and a thousand places to involve yourself in those activities on the Islands, know first and foremost that its OK to do absolutely nothing at all. Hawaii’s beaches are world-class, its restaurants unbeatable and the Polynesian culture invites one to let go of all of the mainland tension and relax. No better place on the planet to do so.
What makes Hawaii so special? Easy. Six islands to explore, each one different from the last, and some islands sport multiple climate zones from sub-arctic (it snows in Hawaii) to tropical rainforest. Unlike some other destinations, Hawaii calls the visitor to explore the out-of-doors. On Hawaii, you miss the boat if you stay confined to your hotel’s property. On Hawaii, the people are warm and friendly and the culture encourages exploration of the islands. Dozens of tour companies on each island expertly guide travelers on their way, but self-exploration for many of the activities is perfectly acceptable. On Hawaii, you won’t find an “all-inclusive” unless you count all six islands as the boundaries of your property!
You will be truly astonished at the range of activities and venues on the Islands of Aloha. The topography lends itself to a variety of settings truly unequalled elsewhere. There are desert landscapes and lush rainforests that you can visit on foot, bike, ATV or by helicopter. There are beaches of black volcanic sand and high mountain tops to scale. Paved and unpaved roads circle and crisscross the islands, perfect for hiking, biking or driving. You can watch sunrises from the tops of volcano craters and sunsets from cliffs overlooking the Pacific. In small villages it is still possible to find “old Hawaii” and just off the trail waterfalls plunge into cool mountain pools perfect for swimming. And did we mention these are islands? Just off-shore are spectacular reefs for snorkeling and diving, and migratory routes for great whales.
Strongly recommended is the use of a good travel agent when booking your activities. The best tour guides on the Islands are often booked well in advance. When planning your Hawaii vacation, work with your travel agent to schedule the activities you most want to do in advance to ensure availability. Leave time open for spontaneous selections when you are on the Islands, but don’t risk disappointment by waiting until you arrive for whatever interests you most. A little planning ahead will help to ensure you get the time slots and tour operators of your choice. Here are some ideas for your active Hawaii vacation.
Hiking – If you love to explore on foot, there are miles and miles of hiking trails on the Islands through every possible landscape and terrain. Hiking along the rims of extinct volcanoes or through dense rainforests, there are both guided and self-exploration tours on every island. It is easy to vary the fitness level required, and it is important to ask well in advance about the degree of difficulty. Some hikes are level and easily accomplished, while others require near technical ability. In either event, good hiking shoes are a must. If you go on a guided hiking tour, your tour company will likely provide instruction on any necessary equipment or items to pack such as rain gear, water or hiking poles. If you choose to explore on your own, consult a good guide book on the specific route you intend to take. Conditions can change quickly both with regard to weather and terrain, and you want to be properly prepared. One of the most popular hiking activities on the Islands are the paths leading to some of the hundreds of waterfalls and natural pools in the mountains. Hikers can trek through the most beautiful rainforests and lush valleys to discover pristine pools perfect for swimming. Each Island offers up something different, and even on the same Island the terrain can vary dramatically.
Biking – Many companies offer a wide range of biking opportunities. Perhaps the most famous is the spectacular sunrise at the summit of the extinct volcano Haleakala on Maui. Bikers ride vans to the top of the 10,023 foot summit to experience the sunrise. Then they begin their self-guided biking descent. Just because it’s all downhill, don’t take the route for granted. Each year bikers over-estimate their ability and under-estimate the many curves on the mountain only to sacrifice themselves to the gods. But with proper caution the ride is an exhilarating ride surrounded by the vistas of Western Maui and the Pacific. Every island has terrific opportunities for biking expeditions that again range from easy to difficult and the same cautions with regard to preparation for hiking apply here. Know your limits and you will enjoy great two-wheel rides through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.
Horseback Riding – The farming tradition of Hawaii means that horses were used extensively on the vast ranges of land. Today, visitors can take one-of-a kind horseback riding experiences. Maui, Oahu and the Big Island all provide excellent opportunities to explore the Islands on horseback. Most are guided tours, headed up by “paniolos” – Hawaiian cowboys – who expertly provide instruction and who can answer questions about the sights along the way. Many also offer open range riding, a nice alternative to nose-to-tail trail rides. The horseback rides are an excellent example of tours that book up weeks in advance, so plan ahead.
Snorkeling and Scuba – Some of the best underwater reefs and terrain anywhere is available in Hawaii. The variety of underwater life is easily accessible even to snorkelers. More than 250 species of fish, some found nowhere else in the world, can be seen in these waters. For absolute novices, it is even possible to earn your PADI Open Water Scuba Dive Certification in only three days. Close-in reef snorkeling is available at many hotels right from the beach, and tank dives from boats available on every island. One of the most exciting opportunities is the Manta Ray Night Dive that has been featured by National Geographic off of the Kona coast of the Big Island. For beginners or snorkelers, the stunning atoll of Molokini off of Maui provides an excellent reef with exceptional underwater visibility.
Motor assisted exploration – For those wanting to explore more territory, there are a great number of tours that provide some type of exciting transportation options. ATV tours, helicopter tours and off-road jeeps and vehicles of all types are available for exploring the back roads and wide expanses of territory on each island. Guides provide information on the views and sights along the way and typically provide lunch and frequent stops to enjoy the scenery. Participants can journey from wide-open valleys surrounded by tall mountains to narrow trails demanding every ounce of attention. If self-exploration is your idea of fun, rent a car and drive the perimeter of one of the Islands – you will be amazed at the scenery.
There’s more. There’s also whale watching, sport fishing, surfing and wind-surfing, zip lines, para-sailing and kayaking, tennis and golf. There’s more to do than can possibly be done in a single visit, which is great because it means you will be back. If activity is your idea of relaxation, you will find plenty of it on the Islands of Aloha.
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