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The Big Island (officially named Hawaii Island), the youngest and largest in the Hawaiian chain, offers more adventures than you can probably do in one trip. This island is alive with active volcanoes, world-class snorkeling, and colored-sand beaches. Whether your family prefers a laid-back beach vacation or one filled with thrilling adventures, Los Angeles TravelingMom introduces these unique Hawaii Island Adventure Tours.
Exploring Unique Hawaii Island Adventure Tours
There’s simply something magical about Hawaii Island, at nearly twice the size of all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined. Commonly referred to as the Big Island for its massive size, Hawaii Island (the proper name) contains 10 of the world’s 14 different climate zones. And if you’re looking for unique Hawaii Island adventure tours, you’ll find them here.
To best experience the island’s diversity, from black sand beaches and active lava in Hilo to the golden sands in Kailua-Kona, it’s a good idea to rent a car. The drive from one side to the other is beautiful, filled with waterfalls and ocean views. Tubing through irrigation ditches and walking on lava fields are among unique adventure tours on Hawaii Island.
The island has two airports, Hilo International Airport and Kona International Airport. On this trip, we flew in through Hilo and out from Kona. This gave us an opportunity to spend a week exploring both Hilo and Kailua-Kona.
Hilo’s Top to Bottom Adventures
The gateway to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hilo is a destination in itself. There’s a charming downtown with good restaurants and a farmers market. We always stay at least two days in Hilo. This allows us to take our time visiting the volcanoes area, one of this area’s many unique Hawaii Island adventure tours.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The last time I visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Hilo with my son, we walked through a lava tube and hiked to the bottom of the Halemaumau crater. At sunset, we gathered with others at the Jagger Museum to see the crater’s flume glowing red from the lava lake beneath. On this trip with a group of journalists, I stood inches away from the active lava.
Late one afternoon, we took an Active Lava Flow Hike Tour with Hawaii Outdoor Guides. It was a long hike (about 12 miles round-trip) on a flat gravel road that led to lava fields. Here the dark terrain was uneven and crunchy, as we carefully followed our guide in search of active flowing lava.
After an hour hike as the sun was setting, we witnessed the glow of lava streaking the black rocks. We rushed over, felt the heat even before we were close enough to see the orange lava pushing its way out through cracks in the hardened lava. It slowly oozed out balloon-like before growing bigger and flowing down toward the ocean. The bottoms of our shoes were hot and smelled like burning rubber. Now you know why we always include this as one of our favorite unique Hawaii Island adventure tours.
I experienced zip lining many times over the years, but not the thrill of soaring through a rainforest in Hawaii. A short drive from Hilo in the town of Honomu, we geared up to zip on seven lines. Our friendly guides, Gabe and Dustin, pointed out things to look for as we glided through the lush forest with ocean views and over two waterfalls. The second was the majestic 250-foot Kolekole waterfall. If zip lining is a little too adventurous for you, others in our group visited (and raved about) the Hilo Farmers Market.
Akaka Falls State Park
We bought sandwiches and drove to nearby Akaka Falls State Park. I love this park, which has easy walking trails that get fairly close to the falls. Park amenities include picnic tables and restrooms.
Traveling Mom Tip: Hilo Shark’s Coffee is a great place to buy sandwiches for a picnic.
Culture & Snorkeling in Kona
The sunny side of Hawaii Island, Kona has white sand beaches, coffee farms, and historic landmarks. It’s where King Kamehameha spent his final years. It’s also where you can find the Kona Pub & Brewery!
Kona Coffee Living History Farm & Portuguese Bread Making
Kona has several coffee farms, like Greenwell Farms and Mountain Thunder, where you can tour the grounds to learn about the coffee growing process. At this living history farm, its focus leaned more toward Kona’s coffee pioneers during the early 20th century. We walked through a typical 1920s farmhouse. Costumed interpreters demonstrated several traditional crafts, agricultural activities, and the everyday tasks of people from the past.
In the kitchen, we learned that a typical farmer’s lunch in the 1920s consisted of Ume, rice topped with Japanese pickled plum. Children used coffee leaves and beans to make dolls and games.
If you happen to visit on a Thursday, it’s worth stopping by the nearby Greenwell Store Museum to watch the traditional art of baking Portuguese bread in a large wood-fired forno.
Traveling Mom Dining tip: For a truly local dining experience, go to the full menu, no-frills Manago Hotel restaurant, specializing in pork chops.
Flumin’ Kohala Tour
Don’t miss kayaking through tunnels and ditches, once used as an irrigation system to carry water to vast fields of sugar cane and local residents. Flumin’ Kohala offers tours that begin with a short video explaining how hundreds of men drilled and blasted ditches out of solid rock over a century ago.
After the video, we drove through private property high into the Kohala Mountains. There, we got into four-person kayaks for a three-mile guided journey. We cruised through long tunnels dripping with spring water, and open ditches through a forest canopy. It was relaxing, scenic and educational.
Body Glove Cruises: Snorkel & Dolphin Adventure
Snorkeling is one of my favorite activities and, in my opinion, Hawaii is the best place for this fun activity. The water is clear, a comfortable temperature and there are a lot of different fish to see. Body Glove Cruises offers several tours, among them, the half-day snorkeling excursion we took.
Outstanding features include a clean and spacious 65-foot catamaran, friendly crew and good quality snorkel gear. Dig into the delicious breakfast and a BBQ lunch, served by the crew. A guide swam with us, pointing out colorful fish and taking photos for us.
Where to Stay
When experiencing the unique Hawaii Island adventure tours, location near all these great excursions is important too.
Hilo Hawaiian Hotel
I love the oceanfront Hilo Hawaiian Hotel for its views and proximity to the airport, Hilo town, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Nothing fancy, but you’ll enjoy its congenial amenities. These include a freshwater swimming pool, good family restaurant and guest rooms with balconies overlooking Hilo Bay.
Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa, Kailua-Kona
It’s a joy to stay at the beautifully-landscaped Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay. Situated on black lava rocks overlooking the intensely blue ocean, the resort has meandering swimming pools with a 200-foot lava waterslide and hot tubs. Listen to the ocean while experiencing the Ho’ola Spa in its outdoor treatment rooms. Rays on the Bay says it all. You may see manta rays in the ocean from this lovely restaurant.
Take time to view its historical sites, including a kahua hale, remnants of a home’s foundation. We learned about the significance of the archeological sites on a free, hour-long cultural land tour led by Lily Dudoit. She discussed Hawaiian values and traditions, and the importance of respecting the land and ocean.