Hawaii's Wild Frontiers:
SEA | EARTH | LAVA
SEA: An Aquarium Without the Glass
Water, water everywhere and any number of ways to enjoy it: Surf where the sport began, snorkel and dive among the reefs, or paddle the Na Pali Coast on the "Everest of sea kayaking expeditions."
Surf: Maui's Holy Rollers
One of surfing's holiest seats, Maui has some of the archipelago's most gratifying breaks. What it doesn't have are the local turf warriors and wave snakes who can shake your confidence on Oahu's cutthroat coast. Start at Breakwall Beach, just outside Lahaina Harbor (where King Kamehameha himself hung ten before moving his court to Oahu). With consistent swells and long white-water rollers, the gently ruffled coast from Lahaina on down is favored by longboarders and ideal for beginners. Meanwhile, on Maui's North Shore, even the hard core get macked at Hookipa Beach, which is also a renowned windsurfing mecca. To get started, or to polish up your rusty board skills, sign on with Maui's Goofy Foot Surf School ($175 for three hours; www.goofyfootsurfschool.com), which offers family-friendly surf camps daily at Breakwall Beach and beyond.
Dive: Lanai's Sunken Temples
Some of Hawaii's best architecture can be found underwater. Lanai's First and Second Cathedrals are a 45-minute cruise west of Maui's Lahaina Harbor and 65 feet (20 meters) straight down, where archways lead into the first of a pair of natural two-story grottoes. Shafts of light stream through holes in its lava ceiling like sun through stained glass. Be on the lookout for lobsters, crabs, and a giant moray eel dubbed "the alien." Three miles (five kilometers) west is the even larger Second Cathedral, with two main chambers where orange tube corals and a black coral tree cling to the ceiling like living mobiles. Outside
the crack-in-the-wall door, you may spot a whitetip reef shark or two. And, as you ascend, keep an eye out for the ocean's largest fish, the 15-ton whale shark, which is believed to live up to 150 years. Lanai's First and Second Cathedrals can be visited from Kaanapali Beach on Lanai with Trilogy Excursions ($139, including all equipment; www.sailtrilogy.com), or motor out from Lahaina Harbor in Maui with Lahaina Divers ($119, including tanks and weights; www.lahainadivers.com).
Dive: A Deep-Ocean Safari
Manta rays can eat 180 to 310 pounds (82 to 140 kilograms) of plankton daily, and they do so by executing octuple backflips with their three-foot-wide (one-meter) mouths gaping. Given their up to 23-foot (7-meter) wingspans, that's a maneuver worth witnessing. At the Big Island's Garden Eel Cove, a horde of hungry mantas is known to congregate regularly. In the beam of your light, on any given night dive, you'll find a half dozen or more loop-d-looping.
BONUS: nocturnal Hawaiian flagtails—big-eyed and silvery—gobbling up
the mantas' leftovers. Keller Laros, co-founder of the Manta Pacific Research Foundation (www.mantapacific.org), leads two-tank night dives for Jack's Diving Locker ($115 for divers, including tanks and weights; $85 for snorkelers; www.jacksdivinglocker.com).
Paddle: Skyscraping Sea Cliffs
Double-hulled ocean canoes brought the first Polynesians to Hawaii, the world's most remote archipelago, and in summer, if you've got the chops, you can paddle in the ancients' wake along Kauai's steeply pitched coastline. Put in with Hanalei-based Kayak Kauai ($195 for a day-long trip; www.kayakkauai.com) for a Herculean 17-mile (27-kilometer) journey around the sharply fluted cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. With capricious winds and occasional head-high swells, this mettle-testing paddle takes you through vaulted sea caves and past hanging valleys and traditional Hawaiian fishing shrines on what the outfitter bills as the "Everest of sea kayaking expeditions." At the take out in Polihale State Park, your rewards are a monumental sunset and miles of pristine golden sand. For a slightly tamer paddle, hook up with Molokai Outdoors for a two-hour sunset kayak along the wild west coast ($48; www.molokai-outdoors.com). Rather DIY? Rent a boat ($26 a day) and prowl along Molokai's north shore where the world's highest sea cliffs loom up to 3,600 feet (1,097 meters) overhead. Audrey Sutherland's Paddling Hawaii (The University of Hawaii Press, 1998, $18) is the soloist's essential handbook.
Dive: An Offshore Odyssey
Until the early 19th century, Hawaiians who broke taboos (such as walking in the king's footsteps) could escape death by reaching the Big Island's Puuhonua o Honaunau (Place of Refuge) where a priest would absolve them. Today divers and snorkelers can walk off the beach near the 182-acre (74-hectare) Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park and prowl the adjacent bay's natural entry point, called Two Step. At 30 feet (nine meters) below, a sign reads ALOHA. Then a coral meadow gives way to hillocks and steep slopes before plunging into blue depths. Look for yellow and Achilles tangs, peacock groupers, crown-of-thorn starfish, turtles, and black sea urchins the size of 1970s Afros. And of course, there's likely to be more than one humuhumu-nukunuku-ä-pua'a—Hawaii's tongue-twisting state fish. If you want to see it all clearly, here's a trick: Tear a leaf from a wild naupaka plant onshore and use its sap as a mask defogger, just like the local dive kahunas do. Jack's Diving Locker guides two-tank dives off the Place of Refuge and beyond ($95, including tanks and weights; www.jacksdivinglocker.com). For a three-tank day trip, go with Big Island Divers ($180, equipment is $20 extra; www.bigislanddivers). Both outfitters also rent tanks and equipment to certified divers who want to go it alone. If you drive to the site in your own car and plan to DIY, the diving is free. Park at the National Historical Park lot next door ($5; www.nps.gov/puho).
Snorkel: Secret Island Coves
Don a mask and fins and slip under the waves to commune with a Technicolor menagerie of tropical fish, endangered honu (sea turtles, believed by ancient Hawaiians to be ancestral guardian spirits), and, in winter, to hear the songs of migrating humpback whales resound for miles below the surface. The most popular snorkeling site is the Hanauma Bay State Underwater Park, on Oahu. Molded by volcanic eruptions, the bay hides a perfect spot for beginners to get their fins wet: a sandy keyhole opening in the protected coral reef. On the Big Island, the lava-rock coast of Kealakekua Bay (where Captain Cook met his doom) boasts rococo coral gardens teeming with submarine life. Hot tip: Rent a kayak and snorkeling gear from Adventures in Paradise ($35 a day; www.bigislandkayak.com) and paddle there. Or, take aquatic exploration to extremes at Maui's westernmost point, Puu Kekaa (Black Rock), one of the places, in ancient Hawaiian lore, from which souls leaped into the afterlife. Brave the strong currents to reach the sheer reef walls of a cove hidden among rocky bluffs favored by cliff-diving locals. On Maui's jagged southern coast you can rove the lava fieldbacked coves and inlets of Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve and La Pérouse Bay, named for the explorer who, in 1786, was the first Frenchman to visit Hawaii.
EARTH: Eye Level With the Clouds
Head inland to the lush life. There's a trail that will take you far from the beach, through giant fern forests and along the cliffs to where thundering waterfalls feed your own secret swimming hole.
The essential soundtrack for any sojourn in the islands must include tunes by the late "Bruddah Iz," chief among contemporary Hawaiian musicians. Born Israel Kamakawiwo'ole on the island of Oahu, this ukulele-strumming ambassador of aloha was a massive force for native Hawaiian activism (quite literally, since he weighed more than 700 pounds (318 kilograms) when he died in 1997, at 38). His haunting rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" helped make his 1993 Facing Future the first ever Hawaiian music album to go platinum.
Hike: Molokai High Country
For centuries, Molokai served as a refuge for kahunas (priests, healers, and sorcerers) and kapu (taboo) breakers seeking absolution. To soak up its mana
(spiritual power) for yourself, explore remote Kamakou Preserve high in Molokai's central mountains ($25 for a six-hour tour; www.nature.org). Here you'll find more than 200 species of native flora blooming and a vast montane bog traversed by muddy, narrow boardwalks. Next make a pilgrimage to windswept Kalaupapa Peninsula, a national historic site, and hike down three vertiginous miles of switchbacks on a mule trail shared with Hawaiian paniolos. From December through April, look seaward and you might spot the spumes of migrating humpback whales. Permits are available only from Damien Tours ($40, including a brief, requisite bus tour; +1 808 567 6171). Mountain bikers can rent wheels from Molokai Bicycle ($20 a day; www.bikehawaii.com/molokaibicycle) and ply lush forest trails that reward pedalers with panoramic vistas from atop monumental sea cliffs. Then bed down at luxe Molokai Ranch ($150; www.molokairanch.com) in a beachfront "tentalow," and dine on fresh fruit and seafood in an open-air pavilion.
Swim: Maui's Jungle Pools
Cool your jets ten miles south of Hana on Maui's pristine southern coast in the Kipahulu section of Haleakala National Park ($5; www.nps.gov/hale). Emerging from the cloud-forest cover, a chain of two dozen freshwater pools pours into the ocean at Oheo Gulch. Higher up, on the southern flank of Haleakala, the crashing, 400-foot-high (122-meter-high) Waimoku Falls are accessible via the four-mile round-trip Pipiwai Trail, which winds through gently percussive bamboo groves and past cascades that spill lacelike patterns down the rocks. Camp overnight beside an ancient Hawaiian village above the pounding surf, while the moonlight glints off of overgrown ruins.
Backpack: Kauai's Epic Trail
The island of Kauai stakes its reputation on Waimea Canyon, a two-mile-wide (three-kilometer-wide), 3,500-foot-deep series of cloud-wreathed gorges dubbed the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." But every bit as impressive is the state's most coveted backpacking route, the 22-mile (35-kilometer) round-trip Kalalau Trail ($10 a night; www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dsp). Traverse the cliffs, skirt sharp-edged, stream-fed valleys rife with hidden waterfalls, and make camp at a remote beach where you can sleep by starlight and pick your own guavas and coconuts. Or, opt for a four-mile (six-kilometer) round-trip day hike as far as Hanakapiai Valley. Then drive to Kauai's west side to roam atop majestic pali (sea cliffs) on the trails in mountainous Kokee State Park. Stop by the Kokee Natural History Museum (www.kokee.org) for maps and to learn more about the Polynesian moa (red jungle fowl) strutting in the parking lot. After resting up in a two-bedroom cedar cabin with a wood-burning stove at the Lodge at Kokee ($70; www.kokee-kauai.com), hike the nearby three-mile (five-kilometer) round-trip Awaawapuhi Trail through fiddlehead-fern forests to a jutting overlook at eye level with the clouds.
LAVA: Out of the Heat Into the Fire
Your burning desires will be more than satisfied on an otherworldly trek across black basalt fields, past volcanic craters and towering cones to where lava drips hissing into the sea.
Trek: Big Island Lava Land
Magma junkies can feed their jones at the seismic wonderland known as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ($10 entry fee; www.nps.gov/havo). The terrain ranges from isolated tropical beaches to snowy mountain summits to lush rain forest ka¯puka (oases spared from lava flows) that teem with rare bird life, including a rainbow of Hawaiian honeycreepers, whose feathers once adorned the headdresses of kings. Drop into the Kilauea Visitors Center for backcountry permits and eruption updates, then hike the classic four-mile (six-kilometer)Kilauea Iki Trail, which wends through a native 'o¯hi'a forest to where fountains of lava last erupted in 1959. Want to witness fire goddess Pele's handiwork close up? Drive down Chain of Craters Road 20 miles (32 kilometers) to the coast, where park rangers can point the way across fields of lava—both smooth pa¯hoehoe and sharp, jagged 'a¯'a¯ (pronounced ah-AAH, like the sound you make if you fall on it)—to where molten rock plops into the Pacific amid hissing plumes of steam. Sleep well, because the park's 14-mile (23-kilometer) round-trip Napau Trail is a hardy day hike over a glassy lava shield, around a massive crater, and through a forest of giant ferns to a point near the very heart of the eruption.
Ancient hula dances and chants are performed throughout the year in Pele's honor on the rim of Halemaumau Crater ($10 park entrance
fee; www.volcanoartcenter.org). Hawaii's most kinetic hula competition,
the Merrie Monarch Festival ($10; www.merriemonarchfestival.org), in the town of Hilo, starts on Easter Sunday.
Climb: Mighty Mauna Loa
A four-day, 19-mile (30-kilometer) ascent of the Big Island's relatively untrammeled Mauna Loa (13,678 feet or 4,169 meters) is a volcanic peak-baggers holy grail. This trail can see subarctic conditions, but a hut system shelters trekkers along the way. Contact the rangers at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for permits (free; www.nps.gov/havo). Want to kick it up a notch? The state's tallest and most sacred peak, Mauna Kea (13,796 feet or 4,205 meters), looms far above the clouds. Fire goddess Pele once battled here with her archenemy and sister, Poliahu, the goddess of snow; today you can challenge yourself on the strenuous six-mile (ten-kilometer) summit trail, which skirts "Moon Valley" (where Apollo astronauts trained in the 1960s), ancient burial sites, and prehistoric Lake Waiau, believed to be the piko (navel, or umbilical cord) mystically connecting Hawaii to the heavens. Park downhill from the trailhead at the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy
(www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis), which has maps, updates on trail conditions, and a 16-inch (41-centimeter) Meade telescope for peeping at the shockingly clear constellations. Hawaii Forest & Trail leads guided trips to the summit ($159, including dinner; www.hawaii-forest.com).
Mountain Bike: Volcanic Maui
At Haleakala National Park ($5; www.nps.gov/hale) mountain bikers surrender to the gods of gravity and bomb down the epic Skyline Trail—6,000 vertical feet (1,829 vertical meters) over 18 miles (29 kilometers) along the dozing volcano's spine. Haleakala Bike Company ($44 a day; www.bikemaui.com/) rents bikes. Starting from the Haiku-based shop it's a day-long, 40-mile (64-kilometer) round-trip pedal including the trail.
Photograph by Steve Casimiro
Hawaii's Wild Frontiers:
SEA | EARTH | LAVA
Pick up the February 2006 issue for 36 amazing Hawaiian adventures, the most spectacular treks in Australia, 11 weekend escapes near you, and more.
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