When icy winter winds blow, Hawai’i’s balmy trade winds beckon. Explore these dramatically beautiful islands where superb outdoor adventures, locally sourced culinary delights, and a fascinating cultural heritage await. What could be more thrilling than exploring a mountain valley where ancient Hawaiians thrived, watching whales breach, or viewing towering sea cliffs from a helicopter? And what could be more delicious than tasting the bounty and creativity of Hawai‘i’s farmers, chefs and food producers? Come visit Hawai‘i.
1. Hāmākua Coast Exploration Discover the lush Hāmākua Coast with KapohoKine Adventures’ (kapohokine.com) new Waipi’o Valley Explorer. Leaving from Kona, you’ll begin the day with a drive between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes to Rainbow Falls in Hilo. You’ll stop and shop at the famous Hilo Farmers Market, explore the rainforest and waterfalls of Hawai’i Tropical Botanical Garden, and experience the majesty of 440-foot-high ‘Akaka Falls. Your tour continues aboard a four-wheel-drive van down into Waipi’o Valley — the Valley of the Kings — a place of impossibly steep cliffs carved by waterfalls cascading more than a thousand feet to the valley floor. Once inhabited by thousands, the valley is now a lush, mystical place rarely visited. You’ll spend the rest of the day exploring this incredible place before returning to Kona.
2. Kohala Coast Sunset Cruise Few experiences compare to watching the sun set in Hawai’i on board a well-appointed Ocean Sports (hawaiioceansports.com) catamaran. You can choose the Sunset Cruise on the luxury power catamaran Alala or the Sunset Sail aboard their sailing catamarans, Seasmoke or Manu Iwa. With Ocean Sports, you’ll catch the changing colors of the ocean and mountains at sunset while you enjoy refreshing cocktails, local beers on tap, soft drinks, and juices from the complimentary bar, plus paniolo (cowboy) style pupu (appetizers). You might even see the famous, yet rare, green flash when the sun slips below the horizon.
3. Kona Coffee, Chocolate, and Beer Taste your way through Kona with Hawai’i Forest & Trail (hawaii-forest.com) on the Coffee Tour that showcases locally produced coffee, candy, chocolate and beer, along with the area’s fascinating natural and cultural history. The day includes visits and samplings at a family-owned Kona coffee estate where coffee is grown and processed, as well as a candy factory that highlights local products, such as macadamia nuts and coffee beans. Enjoy a guided beer tasting at Kona Brewing Company, featuring locally brewed ales and lagers made with island-sourced ingredients.
4. Fly Over Maui Now you can join enjoy a bird’s-eye view of Maui and neighboring Moloka’i with three different sightseeing flights through Maverick Helicopters (maverickhelicopter.com/maui). Maui Dream is a full island excursion; Moloka’i Voyage is an aerial tour of Maui and Moloka’i; and Maui Spirit will take you above Haleakalā, Maui’s dormant volcano, and the Hāna rainforest on the island’s eastern side. Maverick’s EC130 ECO-Star helicopters offer a spacious cabin for up to seven people; voice-activated headsets, theater-style leather seating, and wraparound windows for breathtaking maximum viewing.
5. Whale-Watching Every year, Pacific humpback whales make the journey from Alaska to Hawai’i. You can watch these magnificent mammals swim and play in the coastal waters off Maui from December through April aboard a Teralani Sailing Adventures (teralani.net) catamaran. Book the A.M. Maui Whale Watch and you’ll view these awesome marine mammals in their natural habitat, then learn all about them from the onboard naturalist. There’s no doubt that you will long remember the whales’ electrifying breaches and tail slapping, as well as the spectacular West Maui scenery.
6. Zip Lining Adrenaline Experience The Valley Isle’s spellbinding grandeur on the zip line at Pi’iholo Ranch Adventures (piiholozipline.com), located in upcountry Maui. The new 7-Line Treetop Zip Tour will have you soaring above the Kahakapao Valley from tree to tree, swooping down into the valley, sailing through canopy tunnels, and exploring the Pirate Ship Tree House. The recent addition to the company’s offerings includes seven different treetop zip lines, ranging from 175 feet to Pi’iholo’s longest treetop zip line at 930 feet.
7. A Taste of Kaua’i Tasting Kaua’i (tastingkauai.com) offers farm-to-fork food tours that connect people with the islands’ farms and chefs. Their new Royal Coconut Coast Kaua’i Food Tour begins at a family-owned farm, where guests sample traditional Hawaiian food, as well as learn about taro farming and the plantation history and culture of the Keālia area. Afterward, sample Hawaiian street food and enjoy tastings at some of the best farm-to-table restaurants on Kaua’i’s east side. All tours are designed by Marta Lane, founder of Tasting Kaua’i, and author of Tasting Kaua’i Restaurants 2015: An Insider’s Guide to Eating Well on the Garden Island.
8. Wailuā River Kayaking Kaua’i is the only Hawaiian island with navigable rivers, and kayaking is a great way to experience them. The tranquil Wailuā River, which meanders by lush, jungle landscapes and waterfalls, is ideal for exploration. Kayak Kaua’i’s (kayakkauai.com) three-hour Wailuā River Paddle, a wonderful, family friendly outing, combines idyllic paddling with a swim at a favorite swimming hole. The adventurous can even jump off the cliff into the calm waters. The five-hour Wailuā River Sacred Falls/Secret Falls includes a hike to a remote waterfall alongside a trail with beautiful flowers, brooks and ferns.
9. Historic Valley Gardens On Kaua’i’s North Shore, the award-winning Limahuli Garden (ntbg.org) is set in a lush tropical valley surrounded by towering peaks. Limahuli, which means “turning hands” in Hawaiian, recognizes the ancient Hawaiians who built agricultural terraces out of lava rock and planted kalo (taro), an important food crop. Visit Limahuli and learn about the history of the valley, the people and the “canoe” plants brought by ancient Polynesians. You’ll also learn about invasive plant species, what is being done to protect the fragile ecosystems, and how contemporary land stewardship is modeled after traditional practices of the earliest inhabitants.
10. Past is Present in Hale’iwa No visit to O’ahu is complete without a day on the famed North Shore, home to big wave surfing and historic surfer town Hale’iwa. The recently completed Hale’iwa Store Lots (haleiwastorelots.com), an open air retail, dining, and gathering space, preserves and retains Hale’iwa’s rural, plantation-era feel with a combination of rehabilitated historic buildings and new construction. Most merchants have long established roots in Hale’iwa, the North Shore, or Hawai’i. Cool off with a refreshing treat at famous Matsumoto Shave Ice, pick up beachy chic styles at Guava Shop, and take home a modern version of the aloha shirt at Kahala Sportwear.
11. Leeward Coast Ocean Exploration Enjoy the magic of O’ahu’s underwater world from Under the Sea Hawai’i’s (undertheseahawaii.com) glass-bottom boat that departs from Ko’olina Marina on the Leeward Coast. With its hydrofoil design, the vessel travels above the water, providing a comfortable ride in all kinds of seas. Guests can expect sightings of dolphins, sea turtles, tropical fish, coral reefs, and whales in season (December to April), and they can snorkel too. The company offers several day trips, and marine biologist guides share their knowledge of O’ahu’s marine life, plus Hawaiian culture and history.
12. North Shore Ranch Picnic Nestled atop Waimea Valley on the North Shore, Sunset Ranch (sunsetranchhawaii.com) is a 30-acre estate offering wonderful ocean and mountain views of the island’s northwest side. ThePerfect Picnic is offered Sundays and Tuesday in two-hour intervals between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. This unique site tour provides guests with exclusive access to Sunset Ranch to learn about the property’s history and land conservation, as well as enjoying an elegant, locally sourced picnic. For an additional contribution, you can plant a legacy tree and receive a certificate for your contribution to forest restoration in Hawai’i.