Mountain Biking, Volcano Hiking & Snorkeling Adventures on the Big Island of Hawai'i
May 08 2018 – Tabitha Yeasley
Commit to Wild
There is a different life you could be living: close to the earth and the stars, dunking your head in the blue of the Pacific. Try it for a week on the Big Island of Hawai’i, where mountain biking, cliff diving, volcano hikes, and swimming with rays are an everyday experience. And then take that feeling home with you and into your own life, with a new commitment to stay wild.
Need a hit of surreal beauty? Visit the black sand beaches of Punalu’u and as a bonus, commune with the Hawaiian honu (sea turtles) that swim and lounge there. Splash carefully, and wear goggles or a facemask to maximize vision underwater. It can be difficult to avoid the honu, who will be swimming beside and even under you. The Hawai’i Division of Aquatic Resources recommends maintaining a safe and respectful viewing distance of 10 ft or more.
For an extraordinary ocean experience, go for a nighttime swim with manta rays. Search out a reputable company like Coral Reef Snorkel Adventures, which provides a boat ride out, knowledgeable guides, and a top-quality snorkel, mask, fins, wetsuit, and a light board for guests to hang on to between dives into the black ocean. Manta rays will swim extremely close to snorkelers, so supporting a well-established tour company also guarantees the safety of the rays, who have very little fear of boats and humans.
- Matador NanoDry Shower Towel (Large)
- Reef-safe sunscreen such as All Good, Let it Block, ECO Skin Care and TropicSport, all of which have partnered with the Surfrider Foundation. Reef-safe is an unregulated term, so be an eco-savvy shopper and look for sunscreen with the active ingredient zinc-oxide and/or titanium dioxide. These minerals work immediately upon application, won’t kill coral reefs and not coincidentally, are better for your skin than chemical-barrier sunscreens.
- Matador Droplet XL Dry Bag to stash your wet stuff
Bespoke Mountain Bike Adventure
If you’re an endurance athlete, you already think of the Big Island as the home of the Ironman World Championships, held in Kailua-Kona in October. But you may not realize how much beautiful riding is to be found on the island, outside the Kailua Kona lava fields. For a DIY cycling experience, rent a bike from local expert Grant Miller and his team at Bike Works (they service the elite athlete bikes for the world championships). Bike Works also provides recommended routes and local knowledge.
For a bespoke adventure, Big Island Bike Tours offers everything from afternoon family jaunts to week-long elite training camps. Run by organized but mellow former professional bike racer Alex Candelario, Big Island Bike Tours can design a culturally authentic adventure itinerary for you or your group, including cliff diving, Paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) round-up, surfing or stand-up paddle boarding, and transportation and housing at local resorts.
Born to Love Volcanoes
The summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are a sacred place, full of the mana (power) of old Hawai’i. For the most intense volcano experience, stay in the Namakanipaio Camper Cabins, rustic camping cabins that include an outdoor firepit/BBQ and interior bunk beds with big, fluffy white comforters. You’ll need them, at 4,000 ft in elevation the summit of Mauna Loa gets seriously cold at night. Campsites are also available for $15 a night, with tents and bedding for an additional charge. Plan ahead, cabins and campsites get reserved early.
When camping at the summit, don’t skip a midnight stroll. You’ll see so many stars it will feel like you’ve been bludgeoned by the Milky Way. In the morning, get your geek on and hike the caldera and explore (inactive) lava tubes. You are standing on a land mass that is still being formed, seeing geology happen in real time. And speaking of geek, the landscape of the Hawai’i lava fields and caldera are so truly Martian that NASA uses them for mission testing.
Call Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park before you go for updated information about lava flows, events and access to hiking trails.
Pack your favorite gear for camping and day-hikes:
- Matador Daylite16 Backpack
- GSI Outdoors Stainless Steel Commuter Javapress for a fire-side cup of French-press coffee
- Fresh Kona coffee, purchased from one of the many small family farms on the Big Island
- Copy of The Martian to get nerdy for the Mauna Loa caldera hike and the Mauna Kea observatory. Because sometimes you have to science the s** out of this.
You can get even higher (and colder) at the Mauna Kea visitor information station. There you’ll find guided stargazing programs (Mauna Kea is home to a world-class observatory) and the start of the epic 6-mile summit hike, which takes you from 9,200 ft up to a lung-busting 13,800 ft.
At Peace in the Infinite
From mild to exhilaratingly wild, the mountain and ocean adventures on the Big Island may have you thinking deeply about the infinity of the universe, the lack of oxygen at 13,000 feet, or grinning at the quirky beauty of sea creatures. But they won’t leave you untouched. Make your plans to visit Hawai’i and find your piece of the infinite.
Hawai’i would like you to know that most of the Big Island is open for visitors!
In a media statement, Gov. David Ige said “We have heard from people around the world concerned about Hawai’i’s welfare and want to reassure everyone that this is limited to a remote region on the slopes of Kilauea volcano. Everywhere else in the Hawaiian Islands is not affected.”
If you want to help, do not cancel your trip, local businesses still need your tourism dollars. If you want to do more, you can give to the following groups:
- 100% of funds donated to the Salvation Army’s volcano disaster relief efforts will support disaster operations on the Big Island. (you can also call 1-808-756-0306)
- The Hawaiian food bank Food Basket has launched the Lava Flow Evacuees Aid Fund.
- Hilo native and St. Louis Cardinals baseball player Kolten Wong has started a GoFundMe campaign.
A volcanic eruption is a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list event. Do review this checklist to make sure that you are prepared for your upcoming trip to the Big Island:
- Consider cancelling the trip if you have serious asthma or other breathing problems. Eruptions increase the amount of vog (volcanic smog) in the air.
- If you are staying in a bed and breakfast, make sure it’s not located in the Puna community.
- Much of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park has also been evacuated, so if you reserved lodging within the park you’ll need to make other housing arrangements.
Get the latest Hawai’i updates:
- Hawai’i County Civil Defense: hawaiicounty.gov/active-alerts
- Hawaiian Volcano Observatory: hvo.wr.usgs.gov
- Call 1-800-GOHAWAII (1-800-464-2924)
If you ever get the chance to go to the Big Island of Hawaii you absolutely must go. The island is so diverse with incredibly kind, friendly people that are laid back which only adds to the already wonderful atmosphere of the Big Island. I was there for 2 weeks and wish I could have stayed for a life time.
If you are thinking of helping the Big Island I encourage you to do so and then plan a vacation there. You won’t be disappointed. Aloha