5 Family Adventures in Hawaii
Put the phones down and make memories to last a lifetime with these thrilling activities on the island of Hawaii.
The Island of Hawaii isn’t like the other Hawaiian islands. It’s not packed with tourists. It’s largely off the grid and a nature lover’s paradise as nearly 13 percent of the island is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Geographically, it doesn’t look like the other islands. But that’s where the adventure starts. I was recently invited to check off some major bucket list thrills with the Hawaiian Tourism Authority and I was blown away by how much adventure is on this island. If you want more than just beach time, head inland and get ready for once-in-a-lifetime activities that are guaranteed to bring the family together, make everyone look up from their phones and give you incredible vacation memories.
The Family That Rappels Down a Waterfall Together…
Kulaniapia Falls Inn is not your typical B&B. There’s no stuffy wine and cheese hour or granny pillows. The inn has its own private 120 ft. waterfall and guests 10 and older can rappel with seasoned climbers to the side or through the water (if you don’t mind getting wet). The views are incredible and it's a great confidence builder. All experience levels are welcome and if the height scares you, there’s a practice bunny hill that all rappellers must pass before attempting the big waterfall.
If you go, remind each other to take time, admire the view and not get caught up in the adrenaline of rappelling. I had a glimpse of a rainbow in the water as I descended and I tried to stop several times just to enjoy it.
The Family That Watches the Sun Rise Together…
If your college kids are too cool for family time, standing at the top of the world’s tallest volcano might change their minds. Nature adventure group Hawaii Forest and Trails leads sunrise excursions to the summit of Mauna Kea Volcano for a view you’ll never forget. It requires getting up early. Like boarding a bus at 2 a.m. early. But it’s worth it. At more than 13,000 ft. above sea level, you stand above the clouds and beside some of the most important telescopes on the planet while you watch the first light of day.
It’s beautiful, peaceful and freezing cold. Parkas are provided but come dressed in layers and wear thick socks. With a 20 percent loss of oxygen, there’s the possibility of altitude sickness and children under the age of 13 are not permitted. But the tour does stop at 9,000 ft. to get acclimated, sip some hot cocoa and stargaze.
The Family That Treks Over Lava Fields Together…
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has the most unique and surreal landscape in the National Park system. The black lava rock and lava fields as far as the eye can see look like a planet from Star Wars. If you want to get as close as you can to the lava flows, go on a lava expedition led by KapohoKine Adventures. The tour company’s National Park Service certified guides lead a four-mile hike to spot lava outbreaks and flows from Kilauea Volcano, one of Hawaii’s most active volcanoes. One of the strangest views on the trek is seeing the strange smoke plumes where the hot lava meets the ocean.
Walking over cooled lava is very different than hiking over rocks. Nearly half the material makeup of lava rock is glass and it crunches just like glass under your feet. Wear sturdy hiking boots or shoes you don’t mind getting scraped up. In the sunlight, the brittle rock shimmers with an iridescent rainbow glitter, but as pretty as it is, don’t touch it. And don’t take a rock. It’s considered bad luck to remove natural elements from the island.
The Family That Hikes Through a Crater Together...
The Kilauea Iki Trail at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a dayhike must. The four-mile loop features incredible lava formations. Walk through the famous Thurston Lava Tube before descending 400 ft. to the bottom of Kilauea Iki Crater's lava lake. Formed in 1959, the lake is solid now but you can still see steam vents from the floor. Through the cracks in the rock, you’ll find an abundance of o’helo (“Oh, hello”) plants. These berries are edible and related to the cranberry. They’re also a favorite of the nene, Hawaii’s official state bird. As you walk along the crater, there are several ahu or stacked rocks. These are not the hipster creations you’ve seen on Instagram. Don’t touch these or add your own. The ahu serve as trail markers through the lava lake.
The Family That Snorkels Together…
While incredible snorkeling can be found around all the islands, the Alaka ‘i Nalu ocean program at the Four Seasons Hualalai in Kailua-Kona can’t be beat. Hop aboard a ribcraft with ocean guides and jet off to secluded snorkel spots for a chance to see Hawaiian spinner dolphins fly out of the water.
If you’ve got family prone to seasickness, the resort’s King's Pond is a great ocean alternative. It’s like swimming in your own giant aquarium. The 1.8 million gallon pond features more than 4,000 tropical fish and nearly 100 different species. And for little ones (or adults) who hate the way snorkel gear feels or haven’t mastered snorkeling just yet, the resort has special kick boards with see-through windows so you can view the colorful fish without getting fully immersed.