The archipelago of Hawaii commands the imaginations of adventurers across the globe. It is the ideal blend of tropical paradise and all the comforts of home. For the thrill seeker, it offers a whole spectrum of options for the weekend warrior to the long term adrenaline junky. We recently took it upon ourselves to delve into the adventures in Hawaii and report back with our favorite preferences for adventure. Bear in mind, these are only a few options and we would welcome your recommendations. We love to build our list. However, we’ve broken our current options down by island and level of hardcore action. With 1 being for the casual day trip and 10 being for those who do not have heart conditions.
Kualoa Ranch – Oahu – Level 1
Kualoa Ranch has something for anyone. It’s a nice entry into the world of adventure on Hawaii. The best part is how easy everything is. Whether you want ATVs, horseback riding, stand up paddle boarding, or casual day sails, Kualoa ranch has it all. You show up to the main center, tell them what you want, and they do the rest. A smorgasbord of activity awaits. For us, the best part of Kualoa ranch is the setting. It is framed by the sheer cliffs of Oahu and is a recreational area that the royal family of Hawaii used as a get away. If you’re looking for easy and fun, this is your flavor.
Kohala Ditch Adventures – The Big Island – Level 3
At the turn of the century 1900’s, the sugar cane industry was at an all time high. The plantation owners on the Big Island had an impossible dilemma. Their wells had run dry and they desperately needed to provide water to their crops. To solve the problem, a 22-mile irrigation ditch was dug through solid rock to move water from the lush highlands to the barren fields where the sugar cane grew. Today, with the absence of the sugar industry, “da ditch” lies vacant. With the aid of the expert guides of the Kohala Ditch Adventure group, one can float through a section of the canal. While it’s never deeper than 16 inches along the ride it gets pretty exciting. The journey takes you through 10 tunnels and over flumes that perch over waterfalls and canyons. Since the surrounding land is private and untouched, it gives you a look at Hawaii as it once was. For us, the best part is floating through the pitch black of the tunnels and seeing the graffiti left by the workers over 100 years ago.
Kohala Zipline – Big Island – Level 7
There are a lot of zipline options on Hawaii. Some allow you to dip into lakes and rivers as you pass by, some require a few hikes, and some just take the cake. For us, the Kohala Zipline is the best of the best. You start in the trees and then stay there.
The beauty of this company is the design. The adventure starts as you cross a small rope bridge onto a platform that wraps around one of the majestic trees standing at attention in a canyon. You hardly see the ground again until you repel back to your transport truck. Each stop is a small history lesson as the guides point out where King Kamehameha had his taro fields or where the walls of the old Hawaiian kingdom used to serve as water barriers.
We shot through the canopy with our guides, from tree to tree, until we closed our zipline adventure with the big finale. You and your partner race on two parallel lines across a ravine and then explode through a narrow opening in the tree line as you come home to the final platform. We’ll be frank with you, this zipline experience is also made by the excellent staff. We didn’t stop laughing the whole journey. We’d do it again in a heart beat. Something else to keep in mind is that the people at Kohala Zipline coat all their cables with a durable coating that makes them more quiet. This allows you to hear the Hawaiian forest more than the cable. That is, if you can hear anything over the sound of your heart beating out of your chest while you rip across the gullies.
Another cool fact about Kohala zipline is that they let you rent GoPro cameras on site and you get to keep the memory card when you’re done.
Captain Zodiac – The Big Island – Level 6
Captain Zodiac is a tour company that takes you out onto the coast of Hawaii in the fastest inflatable craft in the world. Zodiacs are the preferred choice of the military, high profile adventure companies, and thrill seekers across the globe. These inflatable rafts are powered by huge engines and are the same craft that the US Coast Guard uses to tame the waves of the angriest ocean in the world. With the expert guidance of Captain Zodiac, you’ll fly across the water and through the air as you rush towards some of the highest ranked snorkel spots in the world, according to National Geographic. Learn about the burning eyes of the fire goddess Pele and the underwater lava tubes that beckon to adventurers across the globe.
Princeville Ranch Horseback Riding Adventures – Kauai – Level 7
If anything about the idea of riding a horse to a waterfall and having a picnic while you swim around appeals to you, then we have the place for you. Princeville Ranch Adventures offers a horseback experience for any level of adventurer on Kauai. Both Tawny and I are solid riders and were hesitant to go horseback riding in Kauai. All too often you just slog along in a line when you seek out horse adventurers in the world. This was not the case. With Princeville Ranch, you get the chance to really ride. The guides can cater your trip to your experience and you and your group get to fan out across the open fields on the garden island. Don’t worry though, if you’ve never been on a horse before they’ll have a ride for you too. We rode or cantered across the plains and down to a waterfall where we all jumped in as the guides got the picnic ready. Legit. You’ll have to be careful to hold on tight when you ride though or all that beauty might knock you off.
Kohala ATV Adventures – The Big Island – Level 8
Alright Big League adventurers. If you want a trip that will leave you sore, dirty, and full deep down in your soul, then here’s the one. The Kohala ATV Tours takes you out through the private badlands of Hawaii. You’ll ride full tilt from shore to waterfall. Rushing through ravines, gullies, over hills, fields, and rocks. For single riders you take take a more traditional ATV, but if you’re riding as a duo you can take the rough and tumble bench seaters. The outfitters offer anything from a 15 mile waterfall journey (where you get to jump in) to a 22 mile deluxe ride. Be aware, you will literally eat dust the whole time. I was wearing more of Hawaii than I knew existed. Be sure to come prepared to ride hard and drive home dusty. You might want to take a towel to put down on the seat.
Manta Diving – The Big Island – Level 9
For the true thrill seeker who wants an experience that is unique to Hawaii you should consider Manta diving. We only swam with the Mantas while we were there but that was enough to peek our interest. That and everyone we spoke to recommended it. The idea is simple, you dive to the bottom of the bay along Hawaii and wait with your scuba gear on. Then the guides turn on massive dive lights and point them up towards the surface. From there, you wait. The plankton in the water are drawn to the light, the giant manta rays endemic to the area are drawn to the plankton, and you get all the reward.
The harmless mantas pirouette through the water and barrel roll along your body as they scoop up plankton in their massive mouths. (Don’t worry, they don’t have teeth.) These gorgeous creatures are considered some of the most intelligent in the ocean and and more than friendly. They seem to appreciate the meal and when we snorkeled with them they were very curious. We can think of few things as exciting as standing on the ocean floor in the vast black as these gorgeous creatures fly around us.
The next time you find yourself looking for adventure on the Hawaiian islands, check out some of our recommendations above. You’ll be on an adrenaline high in no time.
What are your favorite adventure activities? We’d love to hear about them in the comment section below.