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Adventure Traveler’s Guide To Hawaii’s Big Island

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kohala zipline
Zipling through the Hawaiian rainforest. Photo courtesy of Hawaii Forest & Trail.

Adventurous travelers visiting Hawaii’s Big Island will be happy to know there are many thrills to be had.

Whether you’re looking for air-, land- or water-based adrenaline rushes you can find it in this beautiful destination, home to 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones.

This diverse terrain is what allows the island to offer so many unique experiences.

To help you plan your itinerary, here are the top adventurous things to do on Big Island.

Fly Like A Bird From Tree-to-Tree

No Hawaii travel guide would be complete without mentioning The Kohala Coast, known for its preserved natural history and postcard-worthy scenery.

Not only is it beautiful, but it’s also home to one of Big Island’s most thrilling adventures: a tree-top challenge course with Kohala Zipline.

Featuring nine zip-lines, a number of shaky bridges and repelling, participants reach dizzying heights of 100 feet (30 meters) and speeds of 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour), feeling the thrill of flying like a bird or swinging like a money from the trees.

Just when you think it’s over, you’ll have to fall backward off a tree ledge to repel yourself back down to the reassuring ground.

To combine adventures, their Zip & Dip package allows you to combine waterfall hiking with a tree-top trekking and zipline course.

manta ray
Swimming with manta rays in Hawaii. Photo courtesy of Mr.Thomas.

Swim With 20-Foot Manta Rays

This is a really special local Hawaii experience, and one that is great for groups as well as solo travelers in Hawaii.

While swimming with small sting and eagle rays is a common activity on any island, Big Island is one of only two places in the world where you can swim with manta ray with 20-foot (6-meter) wingspans.

Visitors to the destination can board the luxurious Hula Kai with Fair Wind Cruises for a true bucket-list adventure.

The excursion takes place at night, with snorkelers and divers jumping in the water with flashlights to attract plankton. As these gentle giants eat plankton, you’ll essentially be floating in their buffet dinner.

Don’t worry, they don’t have teeth and don’t hurt humans, although it’s still a thrill as they glide across your body and somersault underwater.

Riding an ATV through the Hawaiian Rainforest

Rainforest ATV Riding

Another exciting adventure is hopping on an ATV and zooming through the Hawaiian Rainforest.

Kona Eco Adventures is located in Kona, with access to an area of the island not many tourists get to see: a working ranch dating from the 1840s. Rev the engine and wind your way through exotic flora, learning about native plants and the surrounding volcano.

Hear the story of the Volcano Goddess Pele, and how she was in love with a warrior named Ohea who was already in love with a woman named Lehua. Because Pele had a fiery temper, she turned Ohea into a tree so that nobody else could have him.

So that they could still be together, the gods also changed a crying Lehua into the blossoms that cover the tree. Today, it is believed that when you pick a Lehua blossom from a Ohea tree it will rain, which is actually Lehua’s tears from being separated from her lover.

After stopping for a snack break at the top of the rolling foothills, race back down to the farm, where you can see animals like goats, buffalo, donkeys, rabbits, llamas and an unusual breed called a Mouflon that’s half goat half sheep.

cliff jumping
Cliff jumping at The End of the World

Cliff Diving At The End of the World

In Kona, there’s a place known as The End of the World — whose name comes from the fact it used to be where the scenic waterfront Ali’i Drive ended — where one can go cliff diving/jumping into deep, clear Hawaiian waters from 40 feet (12 meters) in the air.

Looking down from the top, you’ll feel your stomach churn with anticipation as the rough waters beat against volcanic rock. Count to three and jump into the refreshing waters (just make sure it’s not too rough!).

If you’re new to propelling your body off cliffs, there is also a 30-foot (9-meter) ledge.


The crystal waters and caves beneath are great for snorkeling.

mauna kea
At the summit of Mauna Kea. Photo courtesy of eye of einstein.

Head To The Summit Of Mauna Kea Volcano

Hawaii Forest & Trail offers a sunrise excursion that’s one of the most popular things to do on Hawaii‘s Big Island:

Driving up Mauna Kea Volcano.

At 13,796 feet (4,205 meters) above sea level, the summit is the highest point in Hawaii and the tallest mountain on Earth from base to summit at 32,000 feet (9,754 meters).

True daredevils can also choose to hike it (warning: this is very dangerous and is for truly experienced hikers only).

If you’re experienced enough, it’s worth it for the natural beauty, as a history of ice and snow has left otherworldly valleys, striated rock and lava-sculpted Earth.

Additionally, from the top you’ll take in views of Maui’s Haleakala, Mauna Loa in Hualalai, and Big Island’s 11 diverse climate zones.

My trip to Big Island was sponsored by the Big Island Tourism Board. I was not required to write this post nor was I compensated for it. All opinions are my own.

About Jessie Festa

Jessie Festa is a New York-based travel content creator who is passionate about empowering her audience to experience new places and live a life of adventure. She is the founder of the solo female travel blog, Jessie on a Journey, and is editor-in-chief of Epicure & Culture, an online conscious tourism magazine. Along with writing, Jessie is a professional photographer and is the owner of NYC Photo Journeys, which offers New York photo tours, photo shoots, and wedding photography. Her work has appeared in publications like USA Today, CNN, Business Insider, Thrillist, and WestJet Magazine.

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  1. Tana B on at 8:49 pm

    I would love to go swimming with the manta rays! Actually all of them sound great but the manta rays would be my top pick

    • jess2716 on at 8:51 pm

      @Tana: That was my favorite, as well!

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