Travel

Big Island Activities

Establishment neighborhood
Analakai Adventures
78-7138 Kaleiopapa St., Kailua-Kona
Some of the best water adventures on the Kona coast are with Analakai Adventures. And the most amazing of the adventures that the company offers is what they call the Manta Ray Night Snorkel, and what we call insanely cool. Once it’s dark out, a guide paddles you out in a double-hull canoe and uses a light to draw in the manta rays. The creatures are extraordinary—like graceful aliens (aliens that can grow to have a fifteen-foot wingspan.) Then it’s up to you: Slip into the water and snorkel among the rays or enjoy them from the canoe. Either way, it’s probably the most serene experience you can have before going back to your hotel and going to sleep for the night. Impressively, the company uses no motors and is completely harmless to the environment.
Paradise Helicopters
73-341 Uu St., Kailua-Kona
There is no way to describe the feeling of looking inside a volcano except to say, “!!!” It’s like looking back in time, and it’s as overwhelming as it is…overwhelming. The only way to do it is by helicopter, and the best helicopter operation on the island is Paradise Helicopters. The pilots are friendly and skilled. The helicopter is comfortable and roomier than you’d think a helicopter would be. The headphones are crazy fun for the kids. And the views of the island are impossible to believe. If the idea of a few hours in a helicopter terrifies you, get over it. You will remember this trip for the rest of your life.
The Mauna Kea Luau
62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Dr, Waimea, HI 96743
If it’s Tuesday, it’s luau night at the Mauna Kea. Will you feel like a tourist with a capital T? Of course you will. But it’s entirely worth it: The kids will lose their minds this event is so exciting. Starting at 5:30, walk down to the cliffs of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel (whether or not you’re staying there), grab dinner from the endless buffet tables, and settle in for the show. The evening’s program includes a dynamic history of the kings of Hawaii, theatrical reenactments of the islands’ legends, and plenty of hula dancing. The highlight for the kids is a toss-up between getting up on stage to learn how to hula dance and watching the fire dancers at the end of the night.
Mauna Lani Beach Club canoe tour
68-1400 Mauna Lani Dr., Waimea
The Mauna Lani Beach Club is an Auberge Resort property, which is to say it’s incredibly luxurious and beautiful. And if you come with kids, you’ll want to head straight to the beach. This is where you’ll meet a young Hawaiian man named Bullet. You’ll jump into a canoe, paddle out to the ocean, and take in a view of Hawaii you can get only from the water. But Bullet is a lot more than a knowledgeable guide—he’ll free dive to the bottom to pick up baby sea urchins for the kids to hold (and then release). He’ll tell the kids about the history of the island. And perhaps most important of all, he’ll teach his guests about all the ways visitors can help the island’s sustainable initiatives.
Manta Ray Night Dive
Honokohau Marina, Kailua-Kona
Hawaii might be the only place where it’s cool to do a manta ray night dive—and this outfit is a good choice, as they do a variety of public tours as well as private charters. The best option is taking a boat out at sunset and then snorkeling (or scuba diving, if you’re certified). Even if you know how big manta rays are (average wingspan here is five feet eight inches, and up to to a whopping 20 feet), it’s wild to see them swimming right alongside you.
Waipi’o Valley
Hamakua Heritage Corridor Dr., Waipi'o Valley
What’s cool about the Big Island is that you can be driving past black volcanic rock one mile and then looking at an insanely lush, green valley—like Waipi’o—the next. Beyond its breathtaking looks, Waipi’o is a culturally significant region: also called the Valley of Kings, this is where King Kamehameha I lived, along with other Hawaiian rulers; and, at one point, thousands of Hawaiians. Today (after more than one devastating deluge), it’s all but deserted, save for a small community supporting the taro fields. You can get an expansive view of the valley and the river that threads it from Waipi’o Valley Lookout, which may be worth the drive itself. From here, if you’re up for some adventure, you can hike down to a black sand beach and better explore the valley on foot. (The water is known to be rough, so it’s not necessarily a spot for everyone to swim.) Along the cliffs in Waipi’o, which climb nearly 2,000 feet, you'll see hundreds of rushing waterfalls. (Depending on where you’re coming from or driving to after Waipi’o, you might pass through the town of Hawi—there's an adorable collection…
Kua Bay
Hwy. 19, North of Mile Marker #88, Kailua-Kona
There are a lot of awesome beaches on the Big Island; those on the Kona side can be tougher, as they tend to be rocky. That said, if you're willing to walk a bit of rocky stretch to get down to Manini'owali Beach—locally known as Kua Bay—the beach itself is spectacular. The sand here is soft and white, and the water is the clear, aquamarine color that you want to find in Hawaii. The tide is generally calmest at Kua Bay in the summer, when it's perfect for swimming and snorkeling. The waves are stronger in the winter—better suited for surfing. Kua Bay is no longer a secret, but it’s still somewhat remote—on that note, remember to pack a picnic lunch.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
1 Crater Rim Dr., Hawaii National Park
Two of the world’s most active volcanoes sit on the Big Island: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. And they are both encompassed in the national park in the southern half of the island, which you can visit by car. Check before you go to see what the latest is, but recently, Kīlauea has been erupting in two places. One of the vents (within Halema'uma'u Crater) can be seen from an overlook at Jaggar Museum—best view is in the evening, on a clear night, when the fire from the crater lights up the sky. If you want to spend more time in the park, there are a number of trails that you can explore on foot; the park has a pretty cool landscape in part because it spans from the summit of Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet down to sea level, and therefore a diverse range of ecosystems.