Unusual Experiences on the Island of Hawaii

Kauai, Hawaii, USA
Kauai, Hawaii, USA | Photo by Trent Haaland on Unsplash
Kalena McElroy

The smell of sulfur and the faint glow of lava in the distance are enough to inspire wonder about the power of Kīlauea. This volcano is a significant attraction on Hawaii’s Big Island, and sacred in Hawaiian traditions. Here are some unusual experiences you can only have on the Island of Hawaii.

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Soak up the sun on a black sand beach

Punalu’u Black Sand beach, Pahoa, United States

Punalu‘u Beach is not only famous for its jet-black shoreline but is also a well-known place to spot honu (green sea turtles). These endangered marine reptiles are often found basking in the sun or munching on algae in the shallow bay.

View the lava flow from above

In the sky, you can see the island from a different perspective. For a bird’s-eye view of the active caldera, lava flow, and point of entry into the ocean, sign up for a guided helicopter tour with the trained professionals at Paradise Helicopters. Photographers should be sure to pick a tour with the “doors off” option, as this will enhance your experience and the quality of your photos.

View the sunrise or sunset at 14,000ft (4,267m) above sea level

Watching the sunrise or sunset on Mauna Kea is a 360-degree spectacle. When measured from the sea floor, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world at 33,000ft (10,058m), adding to the unique experience. The moon rises in the east, giving way to galaxies and constellations, while on the west, the sun slowly dips below the surface, fading into orange, yellow and cotton candy pink.

Have a drink while the mantas swim by

There’s only one place where it’s possible to watch manta rays in the wild while sipping a cocktail and eating pupus. Rays on the Bay is aptly named after the group of manta rays that feeds offshore of Keauhou Bay at night. The gigantic manta rays ethereally glide through the water feeding on microscopic plankton and tiny fish. Rays on the Bay has open-air seating and sits on an outcropping of lava, a unique place to view the animals from above.

Or get up-close on a manta ray night dive

Keauhou Bay in Kona is the best place to see manta rays in their natural habitat. Many companies offer tours right in town for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Scuba divers often sit on the sea floor to watch the action from below, while snorkelers float on the surface and have an equally enchanting view.

Explore an active volcano

Mauna Loa eruption, Hawaii

At the Big Island’s spectacular volcano park, walk along the floor of Halema‘uma‘u Crater, peek into the Thurston Lava Tube, and admire steam vents, sulfur slopes and spouting lava. Learn all about volcanoes and Hawaiian myths surrounding these volatile giants at the Kīlauea Visitor Center.

Spot an endangered native Hawaiian bird

Ornithology enthusiasts savor the opportunity to catch a glimpse of one of Hawaii’s endangered feathered friends. Today, many native birds are already extinct, but most surviving species can only be found on the island of Hawaii. One of the best places for birding is the Puʻu Oʻo Trail in the Upper Waiakea Forest Reserve. Visitors can listen closely for the songs of the ʻelepaio (Chasiempis sandwichensis), ʻōmaʻo (Myadestes obscurus), ʻamakihi (Chlorodrepanis virens), ʻapapane (Himatione sanguinea), and ʻiʻiwi (Vestiaria coccinea).

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

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