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.
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.
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.
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.