Let other, lesser men sit idle within the confines of a beachside resort. The Big Island of Hawaii is too diverse a place for visitors not to go big before going for the beach and a beer. There are snowcapped volcanoes, black- and white-sand beaches and an underwater world that’s home to singing humpbacks, soaring manta rays and more than 600 species of fish—plus eight of the planet’s 13 climate zones. Which means that even though mai tais are served aplenty and countless deck chairs are just waiting to be slumped into, in-trepid travelers will put those temptations off long enough to get the island’s red earth beneath their fingernails, swallow a bit of saltwater and scrape their knees against jagged lava rock until it draws (just a little) blood. After all, a beverage hard-earned is the very best kind.
TO THE MOUNTAINTOP
The island was born from the mythic and geologic ooze found within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where Mauna Loa volcano, a 13,677-foot snow-peaked monstrosity, looms and its dainty yet fiery younger sibling, Kilauea, glows, thanks to its crater lake of molten lava. But the park is more than the sum of its peaks. It’s home to abstract geologic formations and climates ranging from alpine desert to rain forest. We recommend exploring it with Warren Costa, a trusted Hawaiian guide. His custom trips include a collection of short two- to four-mile hikes. You’ll see the Kilauea crater, walk through the famed Thurston Lava Tube and explore the misty forest.
Of course, if you’d rather simply catch the views and feel the wind in your hair, consider a downhill bicycle ride from summit to sea with Bike Volcano. You’ll start by cycling around the rim of the Kilauea crater before coasting through fern forests and past steaming volcanic vents as you cruise toward the deep blue waters.
TO THE SEA
The Four Seasons Hualalai is the best and most luxurious resort on the island, attracting the likes of Dave Grohl several times a year. Its activities desk offers many ways to have fun in the Pacific. Paddlers can hop in an outrigger or grab a board and stand-up paddle. If you’re an experienced snorkeler, go spearfishing with Jeremy Selg and Topshot Spearfishing. Head out with a guide and spend the morning kicking down to depths of up to 30 feet to hunt roi (peacock grouper), an inedible invasive species introduced to Hawaiian waters in the 1950s whose exploding population has impacted the ecosystem. Your speared roi will become fish emulsion or fertilizer on local organic farms, and if you happen upon some umaumalei, jack fish or giant trevally, you can shoot them too. Selg and his team will slice sashimi for you to enjoy after the dives are done and pack the rest to throw on the grill.
After nightfall the adventure doesn’t have to end. Jack’s Diving Locker offers the best night dives on the island. Offshore from Kona International Airport, the crew sinks underwater floodlights to lure plankton, which attract hungry manta rays and occasional monk seals.
THERE WILL BE BEACH
By now you’ve earned your right to hit the beach. You can get naked with the hippies and dreamers at the black-sand Kehena Beach in Puna, swim with sea turtles off Punalu’u or relax at Kekaha Kai State Park, which features pristine sweeps of white sand surrounded by a barren black lava flow. At sunset find Hapuna Beach near Waimea on the island’s west side, where the white sand extends for half a mile, the water is crystal clear on calm days and the sunsets are Technicolor magnificent.