Outdoor Adventures

Desk jockeys, put down that dry cleaning and get inspired by your friends and neighbors. They make the most of Hawaii's giant backyard—and they want to show us how.
Camping in Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden, Kaneohe.

Photo by Olivier Koning

It’s easy for some of us to get complacent about the beauty that surrounds us. We spend our weekends picking up dry cleaning and going to Costco, instead of trekking past kiawe, communing with reef fish or happily inhaling dirt on a rugged bike trail. Well, desk jockeys, put down that dry cleaning and get inspired by your friends and neighbors. They make the most of Hawaii’s giant backyard—and they want to show you how. We’ve rated how rigorous each activity is, so you can find an adventure suited to your adrenaline-level needs.


Photo by Ron Dahlquist


Enter the House of the Sun


Want to really get away from it all? The 24,700-acre wilderness at Maui’s Haleakala National Park may be the farthest you can escape from civilization—your cell phone won’t work, and even aircraft are banned from flying overhead. Accessible only on foot or by horse, two trailheads descend from the rim to the crater floor, winding between cinder cones, across lava fields and through misty shrub lands. Pack your tent or reserve one of three cozy cabins for a night; plan for extremes in weather, some high-altitude breathlessness and a 4- to 10-mile trek. 808-572-4400, www.nps.gov/hale.



Carve a Trail



Photo by Olivier Koning

Mountain biking is great exercise and a wonderful way to soak in views of mountain ranges, valleys and other places where there are no buildings. You can hike there, too, but biking enthusiasts will tell you that getting there on a bike is more fun.

First, you’ll need a bike. Skip Wal-Mart and buy yours from a bike shop. They’re staffed with passionate cyclists eager to help you get started with a dirt-worthy bike to fit your budget. Bikes start at about $1,000 for what’s called a hardtail, with bump-absorbing springs on the front wheel only, or $2,000 for a full suspension bike. The entry price may seem steep, but it’s worth it. “You’ll have a better, safer time on the bike,” says Stu Drake, assistant manager at The Bike Shop’s Aiea store. Drake recommends the Kona Caldera ($989) hardtail, or Specialized Pitch All-Mountain full suspension bike ($1,989).

You’ll also need a helmet and gloves because the occasional spill is part of the sport. “And if you haven’t been on a bike in a while, consider shin guards and kneepads,” Drake says.

Put on your gear, pump up your tires and head for Kaena Point. Coming at it from the Mokuleia side is a great first ride—the trail presents its challenges in small doses, you can’t get lost and you’ll be treated with stunning views.

For more places to ride, check out www.hawaiitrails.org. Even better, get John Alford’s Mountain Biking the Hawaiian Islands. The book’s in need of an update, but it’s still the best resource for safe, respectful mountain biking in our beautiful Islands.



Scale a Lava Wall



Climb Aloha owner Mike Richardson tackles "Slab in Paradise" on the North Shore of Oahu.

Photo by Olivier Koning

Rock climbing doesn’t exist in Hawaii. Wanna bet? “There’s a common misconception that all of the rock here crumbles,” says Mike Richardson, owner of Climb Aloha, Hawaii’s only complete climbing shop, which also offers beginner to advanced outdoor courses. “We climb tall aa lava flows. They’re stable, solid, and what we call clean rock.” Four climbing sites exist on Oahu, the easiest being a 40-foot-tall rock formation at Makapuu Point. This is where newbies can take a one-day class. “We teach them how to set everything up, how to use the equipment, how to keep safe, and we spend a lot of time climbing as well,” says Richardson, who emphasizes that the climbing community as a whole maintains the hardware and safety of every site.

An Incredible Hulk physique isn’t required, either. “It’s about technique, more than muscle power,” he says. The class is for people 12 and older and costs $65 for kamaaina. 387-7825, www.climbaloha.com. For directions and detailed descriptions of Oahu climbing sites, visit www.rockclimbinghawaii.com.

Pilot a Plane


Photo by Olivier Koning

When we heard that for just $59, it was possible to strap into the pilot’s seat of a Cessna plane and fly around Oahu for half an hour—well, this was something we had to experience for ourselves.

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of barreling down the runway, pulling back on the yoke and lifting off over Honolulu International Airport, then looking over and realizing that the flight instructor’s arms are crossed and you’re actually in control of the entire airplane. Terror? Exhilaration? Both?

By the time the flight was over, though, we didn’t want it to end, which is really the whole point of the Project Pilot test flight program, an outreach effort by the nonprofit Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

“General aviation is much more accessible than a lot of people think, and there’s no better way to learn that than by taking the controls of a plane by yourself,” says Robert “Mac” Smith, the chief instructor at Flight School Hawaii, who oversaw our flight and made sure we didn’t plummet from the sky.

Many who try this introductory flight go on to earn their private pilot’s license, but Smith says even one-time thrill seekers are welcome. Set up a flight with any of the eight participating local flight schools listed at www.projectpilot.org.


Hike and Camp the Napali


“Travel light” is the mantra for backpacking excursions along Kauai’s Kalalau Trail, a rough, 11-mile track that transports you from civilization into the wilderness of Napali Coast State Park. Why schlep a tent when you can sleep in a cave, or extra clothes when many of your fellow campers shed theirs? You needn’t pack in a bunch of food, either, because you’re almost guaranteed at least one communal meal—often goat stew—and in summertime, your fill of mangoes.

You’ll appreciate the minimalist approach as you navigate the rocky, often wet, trail to Hanakapiai Valley, toil up the switchback, sweat through hanging valleys en route to Hanakoa and traverse crumbling sea cliffs before dropping into the tropical amphitheater of Kalalau Valley, where a waterfall shower will wash all the dust—and your cares—away. Permit required. 808-274-3444.

Hikes for Beginners

Steve Brown, of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club,
suggests three Oahu hikes even tutu could conquer.

Pu‘u Pia Trail

How to get there:
Take East Manoa Road into Manoa Valley. When the road forks, veer right and park by the Chinese cemetery. Walk up the street and take a left at Alani Drive. When Alani Drive makes a sharp right turn into Woodlawn Drive, look for the trailhead sign.
Why it’s worth it:
“Pu‘u Pia is a little-known trail in the back of Manoa Valley that follows an uphill route to a low peak overlooking the valley.”
How long:
Two hours at the most, with time spent at the viewpoint.
Once on the trail, be sure not to take the right fork, which ascends to the top of a ridge.

Maunawili Trail  

How to get there:
Take the Pali Highway towards Kailua. Once you go through the tunnels and around a large turn, watch for an overlook area. The trail starts from this parking lot.
Why it’s worth it:
“It’s a tropical rain forest environment, with occasional views of Olomana and the surrounding windward plane.”
How long:
The trail is roughly 10 miles long and ends in Waimanalo, so hike as far as you like then turn around.
Bring mosquito repellent, and don’t leave valuables in the car.

 Kaena Point  

How to get there:
Take Farrington Highway past Waialua until you reach Kaena Point State Park.
Why it’s worth it:
“In addition to the dramatic shoreline scenery, a hiker may encounter a number of species of nesting shorebirds.”
How long:
Three hours.
No pets are allowed in this wildlife preserve.





Photo by Sergio Goes

Stoke Up Your Stroke


Swimming laps can get a little dull, so why not add some excitement to your workout with unyielding currents and, possibly, sharks? Maui is home to a number of open-ocean swim races, but one of the most popular is the Maui Channel Swim between Lanai and Kaanapali, the only interisland swim race in Hawaii. Most swimmers compete in a six-person team; the truly hardcore complete the 9.5-mile swim solo. Not tired yet? Stick around for the popular 2.4-mile Maui Aumakua Swim off Makena. The two races are held yearly on Saturday and Monday of Labor Day weekend. For information, visit www.mauichannelswim.com.

Photo courtesy of Skyline Eco Adventures


Put it on the Line


Strap in, snap on and step off the edge—soaring across a gulch, the only thing between you and the treetops are your shoes. Skyline Eco Adventures offers two zipline tours: a five-line course on Haleakala Ranch, and an eight-line course in the mountains above Kaanapali. Taking that leap of faith off a cliff might get your heart racing, but a sturdy harness, gear and wire will get you to the other side. Tours include talks on the natural history of the area; the Haleakala course includes a short hike; Kaanapali features an off-road drive and lunch. 808-878-8400, www.skylinehawaii.com.



While Hawaii's waters are warm at the surface, spearfishermen dive to colder, deeper areas, making a wesuit a comfortable option. This is Kurt Chambers with a kahala he just caught diving at the Sea Tiger wreck in Waikiki.

Photo by Sergio Goes

Spear a Fish


“There are great places to spearfish all around Oahu— I choose a location based on wind and surf conditions,” says local spearfisher Kurt Chambers. (Chambers documents his adventures at  www.freedivephoto.com.) The sport is intense, with divers going 20 to 100 feet down, all on breath-hold. Chambers dispatches his prey and moves it onto a kayak, so that it’s out of the water. “I’ve seen many sharks, even big tiger sharks, but they’ve never been aggressive to me. They want your fish. Some divers will defend their catch, sometimes you have to give it up.” 

Basic equipment includes a mask, snorkel and fins; a wetsuit and weight belt; and a spear gun or three-prong (a handheld spear launcher). As resources, Chambers suggests Hawaii Skin Diver magazine and its Web site. “They have a forum on there that is a good source of local diving information,” he says, as well as stores Hana Paa Hawaii and Maui Sporting Goods. 


For information on a free class on July 25 about dive safety and shallow water blackout issues, visit http://www.hawaiiskindiver.com.




Pitch a Tent



Peaceful camping at Kahua Nui.

Photo by Olivier Koning

With exotic trees that will make you do a double-take and flowers that you could swear are made of wax, Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden in Kaneohe is like a museum for the plant world. The best part is that the 400-acre expanse has three camping areas, each with its own characteristics. For a vantage point of the garden’s 32-acre lake, pitch a tent at Kahua Kuou. If you prefer a 180-degree view of the Koolau Mountains, stay at Kahua Lehua. Large groups and privacy-seekers will appreciate the open land of Kahua Nui. Bonuses include clean bathrooms (with toilet paper!), showers, large sinks for dishwashing, picnic tables and guided nature hikes on Saturdays and Sundays. The downside: pets, alcohol, ball-playing, and swimming in the lake are no-nos, and gates close at 4 p.m., opening again only briefly for cars with permits on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Camping permits are issued at the visitor center, or Oahu residents can submit an application via fax: 233-7326. 45-680 Luluku Road, 233-7323, www.co.honolulu.hi.us/parks/hbg.

Drag Your Kids Outside

Overheard: The 8-year-old telling the 6-year-old that he wanted to play guitar because the drums were too much exercise. Wait, kids consider the game Rock Band exercise? They may howl when sucked from Legos into the glare from that bright light in the sky, but the whining will quickly abate on these family adventures:

Fishing in Hoomaluhia

Botanical Garden
Take a short hike to the lake for relaxing catch-and-release fishing in a forest minutes from Kaneohe town. Fishing is permitted on weekends from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Check in at 45-680 Luluku Road.

Hanauma Bay dawn patrol

Show up at sunrise for a quick reef-safety speech from security and free front-row parking. You’ll finish your snorkel before the first tour bus drops its load. Closed on Tuesdays.

Koko Crater Garden

Head inside Koko Crater to visit the desert. A dusty road makes for an easy hour-long walk. Follow the signs from Kalama Valley and bring your own water. Closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day; 522-7063.

Field Trip Friends

Sign up for unique educational adventures to fishponds, loi and other Oahu destinations you never knew existed. Field trips change seasonally. Call 223-8283 to register, or visit www.fieldtripfriends.com.

Dive the Divine


On Lanai, Jacques Cousteau wannabes don’t have to travel far to experience diving euphoria. The island is blessed with more than 30 dive sites, including two spots aptly dubbed First and Second Cathedrals, made famous by their underwater lava formations. “[The Cathedrals] get their name from the churchlike effect created when the light shines in from the multiple cracks in the lava tubes, similar to the effect created by stained glass windows in a church,” says Mike Jones, captain and dive instructor for Trilogy Excursions. At First Cathedral, divers can wander inside a massive lava tube about 100 feet in length, and escape through three natural exits. At the end of the tube, multiple cracks create a spotlight on one large rock, nicknamed “the altar.” Jones likens Second Cathedral to “a huge block of Swiss cheese.” He explains, “There are two main lava tubes that have a total of seven ways to enter or exit.” Certified divers only; ask for a weekly dive schedule. Price: $199 for a two-tank dive. Trips depart from Manele Small Boat Harbor. 808-357-3020, www.sailtrilogy.com.

Ride a Mosquito


Armando Martinez’s ultralight has the shortest wingspan on the planet. Is that a good thing? We’re not sure, but Martinez says that its dimensions allow him to fly in extreme weather conditions, and adds that it was custom built by Mark Gibson, a championship hang glider and well-known designer in the industry. Experience the “little mosquito,” as he affectionately calls it, for yourself by going on a flight out of Dillingham Airfield. Although no trip is the same, Martinez says that a bird’s eye of view of Kaena Point, the North Shore and Turtle Bay is “nothing you can put into words.” Altitudes can reach up to 5,000 feet, but rest assured, Martinez has been piloting ultralights since the early 1990s, and broke a world record in 2004 for flying from Orlando, Fla. to Caracas, Venezuela, in 19 days. Flights start at $50 for 15 minutes and increase with airtime. 388-1765, www.hawaiiultralight.com.

Pilot Armando Martinez and his son, Nacho, flying over Kaena point.

Photo by Sergio Goes





Bridge, schmidge—it's more fun to get down and dirty on Kualoa Ranch.

Photo courtesy of Kualoa Ranch

Rumble in the Jungle


If Tarzan lived in the 21st century, he’d pick this car in which to get around the jungle. Hop inside Kualoa Ranch’s six-wheel-drive Swiss Pinzauer vehicle, and for the next hour, you’ll drive across bumpy backcountry roads, motor through passing streams, and witness incredible views of Molii fishpond and Kaneohe Bay. The white-knuckle ride is narrated, so knowledge-hungry folks will learn about Queen Kalama, who once owned the southern third of the ranch, and other cultural tidbits of the area. A five-minute hike will reveal a lookout of Kaaawa Valley, which is the northern half of the ranch, and Chinaman’s Hat.

“This is an opportunity to see a part of Hawaii that people don’t really know exists, and learn about the history associated with it,” says John Morgan, president of Kualoa Ranch. Tickets are $16 for kamaaina; there’s no age requirement for children but they need to be able to sit up and hold on for themselves. 49-560 Kamehameha Hwy., 237-7321,  www.kualoa.com.

Soar like a Bird


Photo courtesy of the Honolulu Soaring Club

If piloting a plane seems terrifying, but you want to see Oahu as never before, consider a less adrenaline-pumping alternative: soaring silently in an engine-free glider. Honolulu Soaring Club has operated out of Dillingham Airfield in Mokuleia since 1970, and offers an array of flight options, including scenic glides for those who want to relax and enjoy 30- to 40-mile views of spectacular scenery. One does not need to be a thrill seeker to enjoy the rush of seeing Kaena Point from 3,000 feet; anyone can enjoy beauty from a bird’s-eye perspective.

The aerial excursions are generally 30 minutes or less, and you are welcome to take pictures or a video. Twosomes ride behind the pilot, while a single can choose to ride in front. For more information, call 637-0207;  www.gliderride hawaii.com.

Kayaking the Huleia River


It’s Indiana Jones style all the way when you launch your kayak at Niumalu and paddle Kauai’s  impossibly lush Huleia River, just outside Lihue. The rugged Haupu mountains provide a scenic framework for the river, which flows right through the legendary Menehune (Alekoko) fishpond. The rock walls, reportedly made by the little people who first inhabited Kauai, are now engulfed by mangrove, adding to the overall jungle effect. You may even spot endangered native water birds within this federal wildlife refuge. Curiously, it’s actually easier to paddle upstream than down if the trades are blowing briskly.





Parkour enthusiast Ozzi Quintero (left) laughs in the face of gravity.

Photo by Olivier Koning


Defy Gravity


If you’re looking  for adventure outdoors, it doesn’t get much simpler than parkour, which is essentially the art of getting from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible, using only your own body. Running, jumping, climbing—seasoned practitioners can find thrills and challenges just about anywhere.

“We don’t think of it as a sport, but more of a concept, or a mindset,” says Ozzi Quintero, who runs a local parkour group called Urban Current. “Everywhere we go, we see a playground. Those aren’t walls and railings, they’re possibilities.” He says that just about anyone can get involved, but cautions that it’s easy to injure yourself without the proper conditioning and training. To find out more about parkour techniques and upcoming events, visit  www.hawaiipk.com.


Hunt on Niihau


One of the only ways to get to the 72-square-mile Forbidden Island is a hunting tour run out of Kauai. After getting dropped off by helicopter, hunters can stalk wild Polynesian boar, hybrid sheep and an occasional eland, barbary sheep or oryx, in a challenging “fair chase” hunt across Niihau’s rugged backcountry. Tours include a guide, skinning crew and lunch, but it’ll cost you—fees are $1,750 per person, not including hunting license or gun rental. 877-441-3500, www.niihau.us/safaris.html.