Unusual Experiences on the Island of Hawaii

Mauna Kea sunset
Mauna Kea sunset | © jai Mansson / Flickr
Photo of Kalena McElroy
5 May 2021

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.

View the lava flow from above

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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

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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

Bar, American, Asian, Fusion, $$$
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Manta Rays | © NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries/Flickr
Manta rays | © NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries / Flickr

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

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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

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Kilauea Volcano | © skeeze / Pixabay
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

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‘I’iwi | © Melissa McMasters / Flickr

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).

These recommendations were updated on May 5, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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