Above: Explore Maui in a Hawaiian sailing canoe and learn about ancient navigation techniques. Ron Dahlquist photo
Below: Relax on Kauai during a sugarcane flume float. Ron Dahlquist photo Below: Expect to turn heads while riding a Segway on Oahu. Todd Masinter photo
Hiking in Haleakala Crater
The masses come for sunrise, then depart shortly thereafter. They miss out on the Sliding Sands Trail, a remarkable trek through a vast, barren volcanic landscape of red shifting soils. At an altitude of 10,023 feet, the sky takes on an intense shade of blue, and the only sound is that of your feet crunching on the cinder trail. The trail drops 3,000 feet in the first four miles, making the return hike a strenuous one. For a half-day hike, do a round-trip to the first cinder cone, about 2.5 miles down the trail. Haleakala National Park: (808) 572-4400, www.nps.gov/hale; park entry fee is $10 per car.
Sugarcane Flume Float
In the late 19th century, engineers cut canals and flumes through Kauai’s heavily forested highlands to bring water to the sugar cane of Lihue Plantation’s fields on the sunny, dry shores below. These slow-moving waterways pass through verdant jungles and lava rock tunnels on a gentle, meandering run to the fields. Inner tubes are the perfect watercraft to navigate them. Kauai Backcountry Adventures: (888) 270-0555, www.kauaibackcountry.com; $102 per person for a three-hour excursion.
Kayaking on the Hanalei River
Thickets of yellow- and orange-blossomed hau trees blanket the banks of this river that wends through the ridiculously lush Hanalei Valley on the North Shore. You’ll likely be paddling all by yourself on this quiet waterway, which President Bill Clinton declared an American Heritage River in 1998. Hawaiian shearwaters, owls and mynah birds drop in for guest appearances, and shimmery waterfalls dance high in the distance on Mount Waialeale. Kayak Kauai: (800) 437-3507, www.kayakkauai.com; $60 per person for a guided tour.
For this sport, think surfing, sailing and water-skiing all rolled into one. A rider strapped by his feet to a three- or four-foot board is pulled along the water’s surface–and often into the air–by a large kite. The rider controls the kite with a guide bar and four lines. Kailua Beach on Oahu’s windward side is one of the best places to learn. There, side-shore winds blow riders along the shoreline and not out to sea. Naish Hawaii (for lessons): (808) 262-6068, www.naish.com; $125 per person.
Guests riding a Segway through Waikiki can expect to turn heads. The battery-powered self-transportation device glides on sidewalks alongside pedestrians, allowing riders to get up close to the sights while covering a lot of ground. Segway of Hawaii–Waikiki offers several guided “glides” to popular spots, including the Iolani Palace, Diamond Head and Ala Moana Beach Park. The Segway operator also has an office in Kailua. Segway of Hawaii: (808) 941-3151, www.segwayofhawaii.com; $49–$130.
—Leslie Mieko Yap
Lava Boat Tour
Lava from Kilauea Volcano has been oozing into the ocean along the Big Island’s south shore since 1983, increasing the island’s size by 568 acres. A boat tour takes you to within 50 feet of this spectacle, and the captain laughs while pointing out the landlubbers who must watch from a mile away. Boats depart several times a day, but the 5 a.m. trip is the one to take. The stars are out as the boat leaves a secluded county park. Midway through the 45-minute approach, the lava becomes visible as a pink spot on the horizon. On-site, the combination of the acrid steam as the reddish orange lava hits the water and the rising sun make for a scene of surreal beauty. Lava Ocean Adventures: (808) 966-4200, www.lavaocean.com; tours start at $180 per person.
Night swimming with manta rays
The area off the volcanic black-rock coast of Kona is one of the best places in the world to swim with manta rays, which are stinger-free and have wingspans that can measure more than 20 feet. The rays are best seen at night when they feed on plankton. Neptune Charlies outfits guests with the necessary gear, including a halogen light to help attract the plankton, and, thus, the big guys. As you bob along the water’s surface in your snorkel gear (or scuba dive 25 feet below), you’ll be nearly eye-to-eye with the gentle giants, who feed while swooping, gliding and somersaulting in an impromptu underwater ballet. Neptune Charlies: (808) 331-2184, (800) 982-6747, www.neptunecharlies.com; snorkel: $79, scuba: $99.
Big Island game fishing
Just off Kona, the shallow coastal shelf sharply drops thousands of feet into inky blackness. The area’s predator fish, such as yellowfin tuna and mahi-mahi, come to this drop-off to feed on smaller fish. What does this mean for anglers? Boats launching out of Kona’s Honokohau Harbor have hauled in some of the biggest catches in the world. A “small” marlin can weigh hundreds of pounds and the largest has cleared the 1,000-pound mark. A fleet of tricked-out fishing boats manned by able captains, such as Capt. McGrew Rice, make Kona a fisherman’s paradise. Rice grew up on the Big Island and has hauled in several record catches aboard the Ihu Nui. The Charter Desk: (888) 566-2487, www.charterdesk.com; private charters start at $450.
The Halawa Valley is the site of Molokai’s first Polynesian settlement in the seventh century. Taro once grew in abundance here and for years, the valley supplied the food staple to most of the other islands until tsunamis in 1946 and 1957 wiped out the crop. Today, descendants of those first settlers are restoring the taro fields and visitors can see the lush results on guided hikes in the valley. Walk through verdant forest, past the remnants of ancient rock-walled heiau (sacred temples) and across flowing streams to a pond at the base of 250-foot Moaula Falls, a serene spot to break for a picnic lunch and a swim. Molokai Fish & Dive: (808) 553-5926, www.molokaifishanddive.com; $69 per person for the excursion, which can last three to five hours.
The trails above the Lodge at Koele, the posh English country–style retreat on this sparsely populated island, lead up into the hills past towering Cook pines and on to views of Maui, the sweep of Lanai, and ocean whitecaps. The rides are mellow and leisurely on seasoned, able mounts. Guides can customize your excursion, from brief walks to half-day and full-day adventures. Four Seasons Resort Lanai, The Lodge at Koele: (808) 565-4000, www.fourseasons.com/koele; two-hour trail rides start at $105.