My top 5 things to do on the Island of Hawaii
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Editor’s note: The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau helped arrange some of the activities mentioned, so TPG could write about them. The opinions expressed below are entirely from the author and weren’t subject to review by anyone outside The Points Guy.
Travel is back in a big way, and the definitely includes Hawaii. As I’ve been reporting, the state is already flooded with visitors despite COVID-19 restrictions, and you should plan ahead, and be sure to make advance reservations as both restaurants and activities are selling out.
Once Hawaii allows visits without testing for vaccinated travelers, it’s likely to get even busier.
Here’s a few of my favorite things to do on the island of Hawaii to help you plan ahead if you are going.
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Manta ray night snorkeling
Price: Manta Ray Night Snorkel in Kona $130
My absolute favorite thing I got to do on Hawaii was night diving with the Manta Rays with Anelakai Adventures. It sounds terrifying, but it was absolutely thrilling. You meet up at the water’s edge near Kona at sunset. Then you get put in partial wetsuits and life jackets, and then you get to help paddle a double hulled canoe out into the bay.
The company describes it this way:
“Experience a manta ray swim like no other, with a small group of no more than six and the most eco-friendly tour available. Enjoy an authentic Hawaiian experience in our paddle-powered canoe with one of the ocean’s most graceful creatures.”
It’s environmentally friendly with no motors, no oil or gas and you don’t touch the wildlife (though they may touch you). We got to see as many as 6 rays at a time which was incredible. The mantas are attracted to lights that are placed on the hull of the canoe. You dangle off the back and put your head under the water and observe these wonderful creatures as they swim towards the lights.
Price: $98 for adults, $78 for children
I can definitely recommend Body Glove for whale watching and other fun activities near Kona, Hawaii. They have large boats that leave the dock in the historic part of Kona every day at 1pm.
Here’s how they describe the tour:
“Every year between December and April, more than 8,000 humpback whales journey over 3,500 miles to Hawaii where they congregate to breed, calf, and nurse their young. Our two and a half hour whale watching in Kona tour offers you a rare opportunity to view and experience this phenomenon.”
I was there towards the end of the season, and while we did get to see a few whales well off in the distance, for the most part they were fairly scarce. There was a brief sighting of dolphins too, but the whales were elusive.
Still it was a nice afternoon on the water, and you are likely to get luckier than I was.
After your whale watching, take some time to explore historic Kailua-Kona and Hulihe’e Palace.. the one-time vacation home of Hawaiian royalty. It’s right next to the harbor at the Bay of Kailua, and there’s souvenir shops and a famous spot to get some shaved ice.
Related: Hawaii making it easier to visit
Price: $225 adult, $200 child
I really loved the all-day adventure that was Hawaii Forest & Trail’s “Volcano Unveiled” tour. Our guide Gary picked us up in a comfortable van for the journey that takes you from morning to night in a 10-12 hour exploration of Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park and Kīlauea Volcano.
It includes a climb inside a volcano tube (tunnel made from erupting lava) that’s off-limits to the general public.
Here’s how the company describes the tour:
“The most in-depth volcano experience on the Island of Hawaii is back! Your National Park Certified Guide will share a mix of natural and cultural history about the island’s formation, illuminating the stories behind the ever-changing landscape of our island home.”
You’ll get to see some unique areas of the island of Hawaii including spotting some abandoned old avgeek treasures.
You’ll also get to see some of the unique flora and fauna of Hawaii.
You’ll also get to explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and see some of the volcanic wonders of the island.
It all culminates in a spectacular show from the active volcano. It was rainy and cloudy the day we were there, so there weren’t great views of the volcano itself, but as you can see from the pictures there were eery views of the glowing sky. It was pretty cool.
Price: $100 for one hour, or customizable on request
One of the really cool adventures I got to do on Hawaii was a really enjoyable outrigger canoe paddling trip to snorkel on the reefs just off of the newly renovated Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection.
The young instructors were fun and down-to-earth, and led us on a spectacular, but too brief snorkel adventure out in the ocean. They are with you every step of the way, and even if you just paddle near the top of the water, you can see an abundance of sea life.
Here’s how the hotel describes it:
“Tropical fish sail by in schools. A lazy sea turtle paddles over a snowflake eel hiding in a coral crevice. You can watch this all day. Head to the Surf Shack, our sports activity center, for a snorkel mask and start your aquatic odyssey.”
It’s one of many activities you can do at this five-star property even if you’re not a guest.
I’m just scratching the surface of what to do on the island of Hawaii. Couple of other honorable mentions should include dining at Magics where you can see locals surfing from your table and exploring the island by car (preferably a nice convertible).
No matter what, you’re likely to have a good time on the island. Just remember to book ahead.
Featured image by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy.
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