Ziplining Big Island
Image courtesy of Skyline Eco Adventures
Hawaii is pretty much heaven for outdoor adventurers.
Whether you choose to stay in simple campgrounds, swanky resorts or mansions in Hawaii, you won’t be able to say you’ve experienced the place if you don’t spend a good chunk of your trip outside.
All of Hawaii’s islands have so much outdoor adventure to offer, that even if you choose not to camp, you’ll be spoiled for choice.
“Nature is where it all begins for the Hawaiians. In fact, they call themselves ‘keiki o ka aina’ – children of the land”
– M.J. Harden (author of Voices of Wisdom: Hawaiian Elders Speak)
The first adventures that spring to mind for me when I think of Hawaii are the White Road Hike & Secret Waterslide, and the Haiku Stairs (aka. Stairway to Heaven). As incredible as they look, you won’t find either of them in this list since they’re both technically illegal to visit. You also won’t find everyone’s favourite Hawaii adventure, swimming with dolphins, because there are just too many options for where to do it.
What my list does set out to include are the adventures that don’t appear in every other “best outdoor adventures” list anyway. I’ve tried to find a good range of different adventures to suit everyone’s tastes, across the most popular of Hawaii’s islands.
I could never include everything on offer, but I think this is a pretty good start.
Pipiwai Trail & Waimoku Falls (Maui)
Image courtesy of Brian Uhreen, on flickr
The famous “Road to Hana” is a must visit attraction on Maui. There are lots of stops along the way and many short hikes, but the general consensus seems to be that this one is the best of the bunch, so it seems fitting that it’s near the end of the road.
Once on the trail, you won’t have to walk far before the awe kicks in. About half a mile (800 metres) along, the incredible Makahiku Falls tumbles 200 feet (60 metres) into the rainforest valley, surrounded by bamboo, massive ferns and jungle vines.
The incredible scenery continues for the next mile and a half, with highlights being a huge Banyan tree, a section of tall bamboo forest, and the final feature – the 400 foot (120 metre) Waimoku Falls.
Need to know
Length: 4 miles (6.5 km)
Time: 2 hours
Park: Haleakala National Park
Access: The Pipiwai Trail is located towards the end of the “Road to Hana” on Maui. Drive through Hana town and continue for 12 miles (19 km) and you’ll find the signed Haleakala National Park Visitors Centre. Park here to begin the hike.
Further Info: Parking is $10. This Visitors Centre is not to be confused with the one at the top of Haleakala Crater. This is quite a popular tourist trail, so it’s worth visiting early in the morning to avoid the crowds. Take warning signs seriously. People have died here.
Thurston Lava Tube (Big Island)
Thurston Lava Tube
Image courtesy of Eli Duke, on flickr
The Thurston Lava Tube is popular for a reason. Set amongst lush rainforest, this is one of few places where you can safely and easily walk right through a remnant lava tube. It gives a fascinating insight into the workings of a volcano and the geological history of the island.
A lava tube is formed when the exposed surface of a lava flow cools and forms a hard crust, while the lava continues to flow beneath it. Once the lava drains away, a tube is left behind. It’s relatively rare for these tubes to be so large and accessible.
This tube makes a perfect place for just about anyone to experience one of the world’s great natural wonders.
Need to know
Length: 0.3 miles (500 metres)
Time: 1 hour
Grade: Easy – lots of stairs
Park: Volcanoes National Park
Access: Enter Volcanoes National Park and, once you pass the park gatehouse, take the first left onto Crater Rim Drive. Continue on Crater Rim Drive 1.6 miles (2.5 km) until you come to the Thurston Lava Tube and Kilauea Iki car park. Cross the road and follow the paved walkway to begin.
Further Info: This is a very popular tourist attraction. Visit early or late in the day to avoid crowds. The path is not always lit – bring a torch. Watch your head as the top of the tube is low in sections.
Kayak the Wailua River to Secret Falls (Kauai)
Kauai: Wailua Kayaking
Image courtesy of Eric Richardson, on Flickr
The trail to Secret Falls (aka. Uluwehi Falls), though not a terribly challenging hike, is made more adventurous by the need to access the trailhead by boat.
Guided tours are available but if you want to go it alone, you can hire a kayak from many spots near the Wailua River mouth.
Paddle the river’s tranquil waters for about half an hour, before hiking a muddy rainforest trail to a secluded 100 foot (30 metre) waterfall. This is a great spot for a swim but can be a little crowded during peak times.
Need to know – Go it alone
Time: Allow at least 6 hours for the entire trip (more if you want to take your time and/or explore further
Paddle Length: 3 miles (4.8km) return
Paddle Time: 1.5 hours return
Hike Length: 1 mile (1.6 km) return
Hike Time: 40 min return
Grade: Moderate – The hike involves a river crossing and the paddle can be very exhausting, particularly on the return trip.
Park: Wailua River State Park
Map: You’ll need to ask for a map when you hire your kayak.
Directions: After about 30 minutes of paddling you’ll see Kamokila Hawaiian Village on the right. Just beyond this there is a fork in the river, where you should head right. After another 5 minutes, the river becomes shallow and you’ll have to pull your kayak out of the water and secure it. Find a trail here and follow it upstream until you come to a river crossing – be careful crossing and definitely don’t cross if the water is higher than waste deep. Continue along the trail on the opposite side of the river for 15 minutes to the falls. Return via the same route.
Access: These instructions are based on hiring a kayak near the mouth of the Wailua River (near the Hwy 56 and Hwy 580 junction in Kapaa). There are other places further along the river, which will shorten your paddle.
Further Info: Many of the kayak rental companies don’t operate on Sundays. The return paddle is particularly difficult as there is usually a headwind. Watch out for barges on the river – keep true river left at all times (this is left while looking downstream). Keep in mind that the falls may dry up if it hasn’t rained for a while.
Need to know – Guided tour
Kayak Wailua is the top rated company on TripAdvisor. Prices start from $50 per person for the 8 am tour. All other times are $60. They operate six tours a day from Monday to Saturday. Drybags, coolers, and life jackets (and obviously kayaks) are provided. Suitable for all ages. The tour goes for approximately five hours.
Other tour companies may offer a self-guided package where you’ll be provided with a kayak. They may or may not offer someone to paddle it for you.
Hiking Kukui Trail – Waimea Canyon (Kauai)
Morning hike at Waimea Canyon
Image courtesy of Heath Cajandig, on Flickr
Mark Twain is said to have referred to Waimea Canyon as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” and I’d say he was right on the money. Waimea comes in at 10 miles (16 km) long, 1 mile (1.6 km) wide, and more than 3,000 feet (914 metres) deep.
The Kukui Trail gives visitors a very real idea of just how deep that is. On the return hike, you’ll descend just over 2,300 feet (700 metres) to the canyon floor. Once you’re there the only way out is to ascend the same path.
This is one of the best ways to experience the area’s rugged cliffs, incredible colours, and stunning forests. Along the way, you’ll pass through a unique Kukui forest and stop to admire waterfalls in the distance.
Need to know
Length: 5 miles (8 km)
Time: 4 hours / 2 days (see below for camping info)
Park: Waimea Canyon State Park
Access: The signed trailhead is along Highway 550, about 0.75 miles (1.2 km) beyond the 8-Mile Marker.
Maps: The Kauai Recreational Trail Map is available for purchase at the Kauai Forestry and Wildlife Office in Lihue for USD$5.
Further Info: The trail ends (on the canyon floor) at the Wiliwili Campsite. If you decide to make it a two day hike, you’ll need a permit from the Division of Forestry and Wildlife to camp. Since it’s a return trail, you can also shorten the trip at any point by turning around. Some say the first couple of miles are the nicest part anyway.
Tube a historic sugar irrigation system (Kauai)
Image courtesy of Kauai Backcountry Adventures
Set on a 17,000-acre former sugar plantation that shut down in 2000, Kauai Backcountry Adventures have taken over a section of an irrigation system that was hand dug in the mid-1800’s.
It’s here that you can don a headlamp, jump on an inflatable tube, and spend a few hours floating down canals, through tunnels and flumes, and then picnic and swim at a gorgeous natural swimming hole. All the while taking in some of the most beautiful and remote scenery on Maui, including views of the Waialeale Crater.
Need to know
The tubing tour costs USD$106 per person (plus taxes) and is suitable for anyone with reasonable fitness who is over the age of 5 (anyone under 16 needs to be accompanied by a guardian). Gloves, headlamps, lunch and tubes are provided.
Kilauea Iki Trail (Big Island)
Kilauea Iki Trail
Image courtesy of Joseph Kranak, on Flickr
Glimpse into a volcanic crater from a lush rainforest, before descending to the crater floor. Here you’ll traverse a solidified lava lake, created by the 1959 eruption that spewed 1,900 feet (580 metres) into the air. The air can still be thick with steam venting from beneath the crater floor.
On this half-day circuit hike, you’ll traverse the arid crater floor taking in steam vents, cinder cones and spatter cones, as well as the birdlife and the small amount of vegetation that can survive here. It’s a stark contrast from the rainforest you set off from and return to.
Need to know
Length: 4 miles (6.4 km)
Time: 2 – 3 hours
Grade: Moderate to Difficult – Steep and rocky.
Park: Volcanoes National Park
Access: Enter Volcanoes National Park and, once you pass the park gatehouse, take the first left onto Crater Rim Drive. Continue on Crater Rim Drive 1.6 miles (2.5 km) until you come to the Thurston Lava Tube and Kilauea Iki car park. The trail departs from here.
Maps: The National Park Service’s Kilauea Iki Trail Guide has a very r