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ATV Tours

A fun way to experience the Big Island's rugged coastline and wild ranch lands is through an off-road adventure—a real backcountry experience. At higher elevations, the weather gets nippy and rainy, but views can be awesome. Protective gear is provided, and everyone gets a mini driving lesson. Generally, you must be 16 or older to ride your own ATV; some outfitters allow children seven and older as passengers.

ATV Outfitters Hawaii. These trips take in the scenic beauty of the rugged North Kohala Coast, traveling along coastal cliffs and into the forest in search of waterfalls. ATV Outfitters also offers double-seater ATVs for parents traveling with children or adults who don't feel comfortable operating their own vehicle. 51-324 Lighthouse Rd., Kapaau, HI, 96755. 808/889–6000 or 888/288–7288. www.atvoutfittershawaii.com.

Waipio Ride the Rim. A fabulous way to experience the extraordinary beauty atop lush Waipio Valley, the tour is led by fun and knowledgeable guides along private trails to the headwaters of the twin Hiilawe Falls, Hawaii's highest single-fall waterfall. You'll stop for a snack and swim in a ginger-laden grotto with a refreshing waterfall (disclaimer: it's freezing cold!) and travel to a series of lookouts—at times crossing the still-active Hamakua Ditch—where you can observe the Valley's enchanting black-sand beach (the longest in the state) from all angles. Bring a bathing suit and be prepared to get wet and muddy. Beginners are welcome. It's teen-tastically fun. (To drive your own ATV, you must be 16 or over.) Prices start at $179, or take the guided buggy tour if you're not up to driving. Waipio Valley Artworks Bldg., 48-5416 Kukuihaele Rd., Kukuihaele, HI, 96727. 808/775–1450 or 877/775–1450. www.ridetherim.com.

Adventure Cruises

Lava Ocean Adventures. The best lava boat operator on the island, Captain Shane Turpin takes the 24-passenger Lava Kai near lava flows spilling out of Kilauea's southeast vent. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see molten earth hitting the sea in Mother Nature's most thrilling show. Tours are volcano dependent and leave from Pohoiki Boat Ramp at 5:30 am. Pohoiki, HI. 808/966–4200. www.seelava.com. $150.

Aerial Tours

There's nothing quite like the aerial view of a waterfall crashing down a couple of thousand feet into cascading pools, or watching lava flow to the ocean as exploding clouds of steam billow into the air. You can get this bird's-eye view from a helicopter or a small plane. All operators pay strict attention to safety. So how to get the best experience for your money? Before you choose a company, be a savvy traveler and ask the right questions. What kind of aircraft do they fly? What is their safety record?

Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. Hawaii Island's most premium ride is on the roomy, $3-million Eco-Star helicopter—so quiet you hardly realize you're taking off. No worries about what seat you get because there's great views from each one. Pilots offer great narration about the island but are not overly chatty. In the Waimanu Valley, the craft hovers next to 2,500-foot cliffs and dramatic, cascading waterfalls. The two-hour Big Island Spectacular also takes in Kilauea Volcano lava flows as well as the valleys. Most flights leave from their private helipad in Waikoloa, but the 50-minute Circle of Fire tour departs Hilo for the volcano's wonders. Waikoloa Heliport, Hwy. 19, Waikoloa, HI, 96738. 808/961–5600. www.bluehawaiian.com. $196.02–$495, depending on craft.

Iolani Air. These two- to six-passenger Gippsland and Cessna aircraft depart from both the Hilo and Kona airports, following the coastline all the way around for an aerial tour of the entire Big Island. You'll get a good view of fascinating geographic and historical points of interest. Four air tours are available, from a 60-minute tour of volcanoes and waterfalls (Hilo only) at $175 per person to a 2½-hour full-circle tour starting at $299. Highlights include the volcano, Waipio Valley, and the Kona Coast. 808/329–0018 or 800/538–7590. www.iolaniair.com.

Paradise Helicopters. This friendly company offers great options no one else does. On their landing tours, departing from Kona's airport, you can either touch down for a hike in a remote Kohala valley, experience a zipline, or spend a few hours exploring downtown Hilo. After flying over active lava flows, aircraft easily maneuver near the sheer valley walls of the east side. In a "doors off" adventure, four-passenger MD 500 helicopters (Hilo only) get so close, you can feel heat from the lava. Flights start at $159 for 45 minutes to $629 for deluxe, islandwide flights with landing tours. Pilots, many of whom have military backgrounds, are fun and knowledgeable. Free hotel shuttles run to and from the Kona and Hilo airports, where tours are based. 808/969–7392 or 866/876–7422. www.paradisecopters.com.

Biking

The Big Island's biking trails and road routes range from easy to moderate coastal rides to rugged backcountry wilderness treks that challenge the most serious cyclists. You can soak up the island's storied scenic vistas and varied geography—from tropical rain forest to rolling ranch country, from high-country mountain meadows to dry lava deserts. It's dry, windy, and hot on Kona's and Kohala's coastal trails and cool, wet, and muddy in the upcountry Waimea and Volcano areas, as well as in lower Puna. There are long distances between towns, few bike lanes, narrow single-lane highways, and scanty services in the Kau, Puna, South Kona, and Kohala Coast areas, so plan accordingly for weather, water, food, and lodging before setting out.

Hawaii Cycling Club. This nonprofit club has tons of information on biking the Big Island. www.hawaiicyclingclub.com.

Best Spots

Kulani Trails. This has been called the best ride in the state—if you really want to get gnarly. The technically demanding ride, which passes majestic eucalyptus trees, is for advanced cyclists. To reach the trailhead from the intersection of Highway 11 and Highway 19, take Highway 19 south about 4 miles, turn right on Stainback Highway, continue 2½ miles, turn right at the Waiakea Arboretum, and park near the gate. A permit is required, available from the Department of Land and Natural Resources at Kawili Street and Kilauea Avenue in Hilo. Stainback Hwy., Hilo, HI, 96720.

Old Puna Trail. A 10½-mile ride through the subtropical jungle in Puna, this trail leads into one of the island's most isolated areas. It starts on a cinder road, which becomes a four-wheel-drive trail. If it's rained recently, you'll have to deal with puddles—the first few of which you'll gingerly avoid until you give in and go barreling through the rest for the sheer fun of it. This is a great ride for all abilities and takes about 90 minutes. To get to the traihead from Highway 130, take Kaloli Road to Beach Road. Ride at your own risk; this is not a maintained trail. At this writing, active lava flows were approaching Lower Puna and access to this trail may not be available in the future. Kaloli Rd. at Hwy. 130, Pahoa, HI, 96778.

Equipment and Tours

There are several rental shops in Kailua-Kona and a couple in Waimea and Hilo. Many resorts rent bicycles that can be used around the properties. Most outfitters can provide a bicycle rack for your car, and all offer reduced rates for rentals longer than one day.

BikeVolcano.com. This outfitter leads three- or five-hour bike rides through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, mostly downhill, that take in fantastic sights, from rain forests to craters. The three-hour tour costs $110, five hours $135. There's also a spectacular seven-hour sunset tour that goes to the active lava flows (volcano depending). Equipment, support van, and food are included. Pick up locations in Hilo and Volcano (and Kona by request). Kilauea General Store, 19-3972 Old Volcano Rd., Volcano, HI, 96785. 808/934–9199 or 888/934–9199. www.bikevolcano.com.

Bike Works. This outfitter caters to cyclists of all skill levels with tours for moderate to advanced riders and rentals of deluxe road bikes, full-suspension mountain bikes, and high-end triathlon bikes. Rentals start at $40 a day. Hale Hana Center, 74-5583 Luhia St., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/326–2453. www.bikeworkskona.com.

Cycle Station. This shop, with exceptionally nice proprietors, has a variety of high-quality bikes for rent, from mountain, to hybrids, to triathlon models. Rentals run from $20 to $75 per day and can be delivered to your hotel. The shop can also coordinate event shipping and set you up with islandwide tours. 73-4976 Kamanu St., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/327–0087. www.konabikerentals.com.

Hawaiian Pedals. For those who prefer comfort over speed, Hawaiian Pedals rents three-speed cruisers and 21-speed hybrids starting at $25 per day. Kona Inn Shopping Village, 75-5744 Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/329–2294. www.hawaiianpedals.com.

Mid Pacific Wheels. This downtown shop carries a full line of bikes and accessories and rents mountain bikes for exploring the Hilo area starting at $30 per day. The staff provides expert advice on where to go and what to see and do on a self-guided tour. 1133C Manono St., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/935–6211. www.midpacificwheelsllc.com.

Velisimo Cycling Destinations. Geared to cyclists of varying abilities, two- to five-hour tours range from challenging 3,500-foot climbs up Kohala Mountain to downhill-only rides. They start at $125 per person. 73-5619 Kauhola St., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/327–0087 or 800/219–2324. www.cyclekona.com.

Body Boarding and Bodysurfing

According to the movies, in the Old West there was always friction between cattle ranchers and sheep ranchers. A somewhat similar situation exists between surfers and body boarders (and between surfers and stand-up paddleboarders). That's why they generally keep to their own separate areas. Often the body boarders, who lie on their stomachs on shorter boards, stay closer to shore and leave the outside breaks to the board surfers. Or the board surfers may stick to one side of the beach and the body boarders to the other. The truth is, body boarding (often called "boogie boarding," in homage to the first commercial manufacturer of this slick, little, flexible-foam board) is a blast. Most surfers also sometimes carve waves on a body board, no matter how much of a purist they claim to be. Novice body boarders should catch shore-break waves only. Ask lifeguards or locals for the best spots. You'll need a pair of short fins to get out to the bigger waves offshore (not recommended for newbies). As for bodysurfing, just catch a wave and make like Superman going faster than a speeding bullet.

Best Spots

Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. Often considered one of the top 10 beaches in the world, Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area offers fine white sand, turquoise water, and easy rolling surf on most days, making it great for bodysurfing and body boarding at all levels. Ask the lifeguards—who only cover areas south of the rocky cliff that juts out near the middle of the beach—about conditions before heading into the water, especially in winter. Sometimes northwest swells create a dangerous undertow. Parking costs $5. Hwy. 19, near mile marker 69, just south of Mauna Kea Hotel, Kohala Coast www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/hawaii/hapuna.cfm.

Honolii Cove. North of Hilo, this is the best body boarding spot on the east side of the island. Off Hwy. 19, near mile marker 4, Hilo.

Magic Sands Beach Park (White Sands Beach. This white-sand, shore-break cove is great for beginning to intermediate bodysurfing and body boarding. Sometimes in winter, much of the sand here washes out to sea and forms a sandbar just offshore, creating fun wave conditions. Also known as White Sands, it's popular and can get crowded with locals, especially when school is out. Watch for nasty rip currents at high tide. If you're not using fins, wear reef shoes for protection against sharp rocks. Alii Dr., just north of mile marker 4, Kailua-Kona.

Equipment

Equipment-rental shacks are located at many beaches and boat harbors, along the highway, and at most resorts. Body board rental rates are around $12–$15 per day and around $60 per week. Ask the vendor to throw in a pair of fins—some will for no extra charge.

Orchidland Surfboards & Surf Shop. This venerable shop—in business more than 40 years—carries a wide variety of surf- and other water sports equipment for sale or rent. They stock professional custom surfboards, body boards, and surf apparel. You can rent a body board for $12 a day or a surfboard for $20 a day. Owner Stan Lawrence, famous for his "Drainpipe" legacy, was probably the last person to surf that famous break before lava flows claimed the Kalapana area (the rubber slippers he left on the beach burned up before he got out of the water). Through the shop, he hosts surf contests here and on Oahu, and does the daily surf report for local radio stations. Located in the heart of historic downtown Hilo, this surf shop is as authentic as they get. 262 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/935–1533. www.orchidlandsurf.com.

Pacific Vibrations. This family-owned surf shop—in business more than 35 years—holds the distinction of being the oldest, smallest surf shop in the world. Even at a compact 400 square feet, this place stocks tons of equipment, surf wear and gear, sunglasses and GoPro cameras. You can rent a surfboard or stand-up paddleboard (under $20), or a body board ($5) but you have to buy or bring your own fins. Right in the heart of downtown Kailua Town, tucked away in a vintage cul de sac, it's worth a stop just for the authentic Hawaii surf vibe. 75-5702 Likana La. #B, at Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/329–4140.

Caving

The Kanohina Lava Tube system is about 1,000 years old and was used by the ancient Hawaiians for water collection and for shelter. More than 40 miles of these braided lava tubes have been mapped so far in the Kau District of the Big Island, near South Point. About 45 miles south of Kailua-Kona, these lava tubes are a great experience for cavers of all age levels and abilities.

Kula Kai Caverns. Expert cave guides lead groups into the fantastic underworld of these caverns near South Point. The braided lava-tube system attracts scientists from around the world, who come to study and map them (almost 40 miles so far). Tours start at $20 and range from the Crawl ($60) to the Two Hour, a deep-down-under spelunking adventure for $95. (Longer, customized tours are also available.) Programs are tailored to each group's interest and abilities, and all gear is provided. Tours start at an Indiana Jones-style expedition tent and divulge fascinating details about the caves' geologic and cultural history. Reservations are required. Kula Kai Estates, Lauhala Dr. at Kona Kai Blvd., HI, 96737. 808/929–9725. www.kulakaicaverns.com.

Deep-Sea Fishing

The Kona Coast has some of the world's most exciting "blue-water" fishing. Although July, August, and September are peak months, with the best fishing and a number of tournaments, charter fishing goes on year-round. You don't have to compete to experience the thrill of landing a Pacific blue marlin or other big-game fish. Some 60 charter boats, averaging 26 to 58 feet, are available for hire, all of them out of Honokohau Harbor, north of Kailua-Kona.

Kona waters have the reputation of producing large marlin, mostly the Pacific blue variety. According to records, 63 marlin weighing 1,000 pounds or more have been caught off the Kona Coast, which has come to be known as "Grander Alley," a reference to the number of big fish that inhabit its waters. The largest "grander" ever, caught in 1984, weighed in at 1,649 pounds.

For an exclusive charter, prices generally range from $600 to $950 for a half-day trip (about four hours) and $800 to $1,600 for a full day at sea (about eight hours). For share charters, rates are about $100 to $140 per person for a half day and $200 for a full day. If fuel prices increase, expect charter costs to rise. Most boats are licensed to take up to six passengers, in addition to the crew. Tackle, bait, and ice are furnished, but you usually have to bring your own lunch. You won't be able to keep your catch, although if you ask, many captains will send you home with a few fillets.

Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament. Pacific blue marlin are sought after by deep-sea anglers the world over, who come to Kona's fabled waters, most notably during this five-day tournament in August. Since 1959, this granddaddy of big-game-fishing tourneys has attracted super-competitive teams in the finest boats imaginable. The powerful animals are caught or tagged and released. Occasionally, Kona waters produce a grander—over 1,000 pounds. 808/836–3422. www.hibtfishing.com.

Honokohau Harbor's Fuel Dock. Show up around 11 am and watch the weigh-in of the day's catch from the morning charters, or around 3:30 pm for the afternoon charters, especially during the summer tournament season. Weigh-ins are fun when the big ones come in, but these days, with most of the marlin being released, it's not a sure thing. On Kona's Waterfront Row, look for the "Grander's Wall" of anglers with their 1,000-pound-plus prizes. Honokohau Harbor, Kealakehe Pkwy. at Hwy. 11, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740.

Boats and Charters

Before you sign up with anyone, think about the kind of trip you want. Looking for a romantic cruise? A rockin' good time with your buddies? Serious fishing in one of the "secret spots?" A family-friendly excursion? Be sure to describe your expectations so a booking agent can match you with a captain and a boat that suit your style.

Bwana Sportfishing. Full-, half-, quarter-, three-quarter-day, and overnight charters are available on the 46-foot Bwana. The boat features the latest electronics, top-of-the-line equipment, and air-conditioned cabins. Captain Teddy comes from a fishing family; father Peter is retired but still affiliated with the Kona Charter Skippers Association. Honokohau Harbor, Slip H-17, 74-381 Kealakehe Pkwy., just south of Kona airport, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/936–5168. www.teddyhoogs.com. From $1,250.

The Charter Desk at Honokohau Harbor. With about 60 boats on the books, this place can take care of almost anyone. You can make arrangements through hotel activity desks, but it's better to go directly to the desk at the harbor and look things over for yourself. Honokohau Harbor Fuel Dock, 74-381 Kealakehe Pkwy., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/329–5735 or 888/566–2487. www.charterdesk.com.

Charter Locker. This experienced company offers half- and full-day charter fishing trips on 36- to 53-foot vessels. Featured boats include Kona Blue, JRs Hooker, Strong Persuader, and Kila Kila. Rates depend on the boat. Honokohau Harbor #16, 74-381 Kealakehe Pkwy., just south of Kona airport, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/326–2553. www.charterlocker.com.

Humdinger Sportfishing. This game fisher guide has more than three decades of fishing experience in Kona waters, and the expert crew are marlin specialists. The 37-foot Humdinger has the latest in electronics and top-line rods and reels. Honokohau Harbor, Slip B-4, 74-381 Kealakehe Pkwy., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/936–3034 or 800/926–2374. www.humdingersportfishing.com. From $600.

Illusions Sportfishing. Captain Tim Hicks is one of Kona's top fishing-tourney producers, with 20 years of experience. The 39-foot Illusions is fully equipped with galley, restrooms, an air-conditioned cabin, plus the latest in fishing equipment. Honokohau Harbor, 74-381 Kealakehe Pkwy., just south of Kona airport, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/960–7371. www.illusionssportfishing.com. From $600.

Kona Charter Skippers Association. In business since 1956, this company can help arrange half-day and full-day exclusive or share charters on several boats. Captain Pete is an old salt with plenty of Kona sea stories. The Bwana is the featured boat. Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/936–5168.

Bite Me Sportfishing Fleet. This multifaceted sportfishing company offers a full fleet with shared, half-day, ¾ day, and invitational championships and know-how, when and where to catch fish along the Kona Coast. They specialize in a family-friendly experience and can accommodate large private parties of six or more. Bonus: They let you keep your catch, and at their own restaurant next door, the Bite Me Fish Market Bar & Grill, they will cook it for you at half off. There's also a cool retail store where you can buy everything from logo T-shirts to hats. Honokahau, 74-425 Kealakehe Pkwy, Suite #17, Kailua-Kona, HI. 808/327–3474. www.bitemefishmarket.com.

Golf

For golfers, the Big Island is a big deal—starting with the Mauna Kea Golf Course, which opened in 1964 and remains one of the state's top courses. Black lava and deep blue sea are the predominant themes on the island. In the roughly 40 miles from the Kona Country Club to the Mauna Kea resort, nine courses are carved into sunny seaside lava plains, with four more in the hills above. Indeed, most of the Big Island's best courses are concentrated along the Kohala Coast, statistically the sunniest spot in Hawaii. Vertically speaking, although the majority of courses are seaside or at least near sea level, three are located above 2,000 feet, another one at 4,200 feet. This is significant because in Hawaii temperatures drop 3°F for every 1,000 feet of elevation gained.

Greens Fee: Greens fees listed here are the highest course rates per round on weekdays for U.S. residents. Courses with varying weekend rates are noted in the individual listings. (Some courses charge non–U.S. residents higher prices.) Discounts are often available for resort guests and for those who book tee times on the web, as well as for those willing to play in the afternoon. Twilight fees are also usually offered.

Big Island Country Club. Set 2,000 feet above sea level on the slopes of Mauna Kea, this course is out of the way but well worth the drive. In 1997, Pete and Perry Dye created a gem that plays through upland woodlands—more than 2,500 trees line the fairways. On the par-5 15th, a giant tree in the middle of the fairway must be avoided with the second shot. Five lakes and a meandering natural mountain stream bring water into play on nine holes. The most dramatic is the par-3 17th, where Dye created a knockoff of his infamous 17th at the TPC at Sawgrass. 71-1420 Hawaii Belt Rd., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/325–5044. www.bigislandcountryclub.com. $95 with cart, $79 after noon. 18 holes, 7075 yards, par 72.

Hamakua Country Club. While the typical, modern 18-hole golf course requires at least 250 acres, this 9-hole, par-33 public course fits into just 19. Compact is the word, and with several holes crisscrossing, this is BYO hard hat. Holes run up and down a fairly steep slope overlooking the ocean. Cheerfully billed as an Old World golf experience, the course has no clubhouse or other amenities, and the 9th green is square, but for 15 bucks, whaddaya expect? Hwy. 19, at mile marker 41, 43 miles north of Hilo, Honokaa, HI, 96727. 808/775–7244. 9 holes. 2520 yds. Par 33. Green fee: $15. Facilities: Putting green, golf carts, pull carts.

Hapuna Golf Course. Hapuna's challenging play and environmental sensitivity make it one of the island's most unusual courses. Designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay, it is nestled into the natural contours of the land from the shoreline to about 700 feet above sea level. There are spectacular views of mountains and sea (Maui is often visible in the distance). Holes wind through kiawe scrub, beds of jagged lava, and tall fountain grasses. Hole 12 is favored for its beautiful views and challenging play. 62-100 Kanunaoa Dr., Waimea (Hawaii County), HI, 96743. 808/880–3000. www.princeresortshawaii.com/hapuna-golf. $125, $75 after 1 pm. 18 holes, 6875 yards, par 72.

Hilo Municipal Golf Course. Hilo Muni is proof that you don't need sand bunkers to create a challenging course. Trees and several meandering creeks are the danger here. The course, which offers views of Hilo Bay from most holes, has produced many of the island's top players over the years. Taking a divot reminds you that you're playing on a volcano—the soil is dark black crushed lava. 340 Haihai St., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/959–7711. www.hawaiicounty.gov/pr-golf/. $35 weekdays, $40 weekends. Carts: $20 for 18; $9 for 9. 18 holes, 6325 yds, par 71.

Hualalai Resort. Named for the volcanic peak that is the target off the first tee, the Nicklaus Course at Hualalai is semiprivate, open only to guests of the adjacent Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. From the forward and resort tees, this is perhaps Jack Nicklaus's most friendly course in Hawaii, but the back tees play a full mile longer. The par-3 17th plays across convoluted lava to a seaside green, and the view from the tee is so lovely, you may be tempted to just relax on the koa bench and enjoy the scenery. 100 Kaupulehu Dr., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96745. 808/325–8480. www.fourseasons.com/hualalai. 18 holes. 7117 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $250 for all-day access. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, pull carts, rental clubs, pro shop, lessons, restaurant, bar.

Makalei Country Club. Set on the slopes of Hualalai, at an elevation of 2,900 feet, Makalei is one of the rare Hawaii courses with bent-grass putting greens, which means they're quick and without the grain associated with Bermuda greens. Former PGA Tour official Dick Nugent (1992) designed holes that play through thick forest and open to wide ocean views. Elevation change is a factor on many holes, especially the par-3 15th, whose tee is 80 feet above the green. In addition to fixed natural obstacles, wild peacocks and turkeys can make for an entertaining game. After noon, greens fees dip drastically. 72-3890 Hawaii Belt Rd., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/325–6625. www.makalei.com. 18 holes. 7091 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $85. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, pro shop, lessons, restaurant.

Mauna Kea Golf Course. Originally opened in 1964, this golf course is one of the most revered in the state. It underwent a tee-to-green renovation by Rees Jones, son of the original architect, Robert Trent Jones, Sr. Hybrid grasses were planted, the number of bunkers increased, and the overall yardage was expanded. The par-3 3rd is one of the world's most famous holes—and one of the most photographed. You play from a cliff-side tee across a bay to a cliff-side green. Getting across the ocean is just half the battle because the green is surrounded by seven bunkers, each one large and undulated. The course is a shot-maker's paradise and follows Jones's "easy bogey, tough par" philosophy. 62-100 Kaunaoe Dr., Waimea (Hawaii County), HI, 96743. 808/882–5400. www.maunakeagolf.com. $255, $180 after 11, $160 after 1:30. 18 holes, 7250 yards, par 72.

Mauna Lani Resort. Black lava flows, lush green turf, white sand, and the Pacific's multihues of blue define the 36 holes at Mauna Lani. The South Course includes the par-3 15th across a turquoise bay, one of the most photographed holes in Hawaii. But it shares "signature hole" honors with the 7th, a long par 3, which plays downhill over convoluted patches of black lava, with the Pacific immediately to the left and a dune to the right. The North Course plays a couple of shots tougher. Its most distinctive hole is the 17th, a par 3 with the green set in a lava pit 50 feet deep. The shot from an elevated tee must carry a pillar of lava that rises from the pit and partially blocks a view of the green. 68-1310 Mauna Lani Dr., Waimea (Hawaii County), HI, 96743. 808/885–6655. www.maunalani.com. $225; 9:30–11:57 $195, twilight: $145. North Course: 18 holes, 6057 yards, par 72. South Course: 18 holes, 6025 yards, par 72.

Volcano Golf & Country Club. Just outside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park—and barely a stone's throw from Halemaumau Crater—this is by far Hawaii's highest course. At 4,200-feet elevation, shots tend to fly a bit farther than at sea level, even in the often cool, misty air. Because of the elevation and climate, it's one of the few Hawaii courses with bent-grass putting greens. The course is mostly flat, and holes play through stands of Norfolk pines, flowering lehua trees, and multitrunk hau trees. The uphill par-4 15th doglegs through a tangle of hau. Pii Mauna Dr., off Hwy. 11, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI, 96718. 808/967–7331. www.volcanogolfshop.com. $56. 18 holes, 6106 yards, par 72.

Waikoloa Beach Resort. Robert Trent Jones Jr. built the Beach Course at Waikoloa (1981) on an old flow of crinkly aa lava, which he used to create holes that are as artful as they are challenging. The par-5 12th hole is one of Hawaii's most picturesque and plays through a chute of black lava to a seaside green. At the Kings' Course (1990), Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish built a links-esque track. It turns out lava's natural humps and declivities replicate the contours of seaside Scotland. But there are a few island twists—such as seven lakes. This is "option golf," as Weiskopf and Morrish provide different risk-reward tactics on each hole. 600 Waikoloa Beach Dr., Waikoloa, HI. 808/886–7888. www.waikoloagolf.com. Beach Course: $140 for guests, $180 for nonguests; Kings' Course: $140 for guests, $180 for nonguests, twilight rate $90. Beach Course: 18 holes, 6566 yards, par 70; Kings' Course: 18 holes, 7074 yards, par 72.

Waikoloa Village Golf Course. Robert Trent Jones, Jr., who created some of the most expensive courses on the Kohala Coast, also designed this little gem 20 minutes from the coast. At a 450-foot elevation, it offers ideal playing conditions year-round. Holes run across rolling hills with sweeping mountain and ocean views. 68-1792 Melia St., Waikoloa, HI, 96738. 808/883–9621. www.waikoloavillage.org. 18 holes. 6230 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $83.50. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, lessons, restaurant, bar.

Hiking

Ecologically diverse, Hawaii Island has four of the five major climate zones and 8 of 13 sub-climate zones—a lot of variation for one island—and you can experience them all by foot. The ancient Hawaiians cut trails across the lava plains, through the rain forests, and up along the mountain heights. Many of these paths are still in use today. Part of the King's Trail at Anaehoomalu winds through a field of lava rocks covered with ancient carvings called petroglyphs. Many other trails, historic and modern, crisscross the huge Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and other parts of the island. Plus, the serenity of remote beaches, such as Papakolea Beach (Green Sands Beach), is accessible only to hikers.

Department of Land and Natural Resources, State Parks Division. The division provides information on all the Big Island's state parks and jurisdictions. 75 Aupuni St., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/961–9544. www.hawaiistateparks.org.

Tours

To get to some of the best trails and places, it's worth going with a skilled guide. Costs range from $95 to $165, and some hikes include picnic meals or refreshments, and gear, such as binoculars, ponchos, and walking sticks. The outfitters mentioned here also offer customized adventure tours.

Hawaiian Walkways. With knowledgeable guides, this company conducts tours in unique spots—a botanical walk in a Kona cloud forest, a hike on Saddle Road between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, waterfall hikes, and jaunts through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park—as well as custom-designed trips. 45-3625 Mamane St., Honokaa, HI, 96727. 808/775–0372 or 800/457–7759. www.hawaiianwalkways.com.

Hawaii Forest & Trail. Since 1993, this locally owned and operated outfit has built a reputation for high-quality nature tours and eco-adventures. Sustainability and cultural sensitivity is a company mission. They have access to thousands of acres of restricted or private lands and employ expert, certified guides. Two levels of tours—Exploration and Discovery—cater to guest abilities and needs. Choose a Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge bird-watching tour, Kilauea Volcano excursion, Kohala waterfall trip, or the Kona Coffee & Craters adventure among many others. New this year is the circle-island "Epic Island Volcano Journey," which visits spots off the beaten path—three national parks/historic sites combined with caving in a lava tube and wrapped up with a farm-to-fork dinner prepared by a renowned chef. 74-5035B Queen Kaahahumanu Hwy., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/331–8505 or 800/464–1993. www.hawaii-forest.com. From $69.

KapohoKine Adventures. This friendly outfitter offers several hiking adventures in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and surrounding areas, including a 12-hour tour that explores the region by day and sees the lava at night; a shorter day tour; and a tour that takes guests on a 4-mile round-trip hiking tour of an enormous, still-steaming crater. The Farm, Fork & Fire Tour explores sustainability by following products from local suppliers to a private kitchen demo, ending with dinner at the historic Volcano House. Tours depart from both Hilo and Kona. 224 Kamehameha Ave. #106, next to Palace Theatre, on Haili St., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/964–1000 or 866/965–9552. www.kapohokine.com. From $109 per person.

Horseback Riding

With its paniolo (cowboy) heritage and the ranches it spawned, the Big Island is a great place for equestrians. Riders can gallop through green pastures, or saunter through Waipio Valley for a taste of old Hawaii.

Tours

Waipio Ridge Stables. Two different rides around the rim of Waipio Valley are offered—a 2½-hour trek for $85 and a 5-hour hidden-waterfall adventure (with swimming) for $165. Lunch is included. The meeting point is Waipio Valley Artworks. 48-5416 Kukuihaele Rd., off Hwy. 240, Honokaa, HI, 96727. 808/775–1007 or 877/757–1414. www.waipioridgestables.com.

Kayaking

The leeward west coast areas of the Big Island are protected for the most part from the northeast trade winds, making for ideal, near-shore kayaking conditions. There are miles and miles of uncrowded Kona and Kohala coastline to explore, presenting close-up views of stark, raw, lava-rock shores and cliffs; lava-tube sea caves; pristine, secluded coves; and deserted beaches.

Ocean kayakers can get close to shore—where the commercial snorkel and dive cruise boats can't reach. This opens up all sorts of possibilities for adventure, such as near-shore snorkeling among the expansive coral reefs and lava rock formations that teem with colorful tropical fish and Hawaiian green sea turtles. You can pull ashore at a quiet cove for a picnic and a plunge into turquoise waters. With a good coastal map and some advice from the kayak vendor, you might paddle by ancient battlegrounds, burial sites, bathing ponds for Hawaiian royalty, or old villages.

Kayaking can be enjoyed via a guided tour or on a self-guided paddling excursion. Either way, the kayak outfitter can brief you on recommended routes, safety, and how to help preserve and protect Hawaii's ocean resources and coral reef system.

Whether you're a beginning or experienced kayaker, choose appropriate location and conditions for your excursion.

Ask the outfitter about local conditions and hazards, such as tides, currents, and advisories.

Beginners should practice getting into and out of the kayak and capsizing (called a huli, the Hawaiian word for "flip") in shallow water.

Before departing, secure the kayak's hatches to prevent water intake.

Use a line to attach the paddle to the kayak to avoid losing it.

Always use a life vest or jacket, and wear a rash guard and plenty of sunblock.

Carry appropriate amounts of water and food.

Don't kayak alone. Create a float plan; tell someone where you're going and when you will return.

Best Spots

Hilo Bay. This is a favorite kayak spot. The best place to put in is at Reeds Bay Beach Park. Parking is plentiful and free at the bayfront. Most afternoons you'll share the bay with local paddling clubs. Stay inside the breakwater unless the ocean is calm (or you're feeling unusually adventurous). Conditions range from extremely calm to quite choppy. Banyan Way and Banyan Dr., 1 mile from downtown Hilo.

Kailua Bay and Kamakahonu Beach. The small, sandy beach that fronts the Courtyard King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel is a nice place to rent or launch kayaks. You can unload in the cul-de-sac and park in nearby free lots. The water here is especially calm and the surroundings are historic and scenic. Alii Dr., next to Kailua Pier, Kailua-Kona.

Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park. The excellent snorkeling and likelihood of seeing dolphins (morning is best) make Kealakekua Bay one of the most popular kayaking spots on the Big Island. An ocean conservation district, the bay is usually calm and tranquil. (Use caution and common sense during surf advisories.) Tall coral pinnacles and clear visibility surrounding the monument also make for stupendous snorkeling. Because of new regulations, only a few operators have permits to lead kayak tours in the park. Napoopoo Rd and Manini Bch. Rd., Captain Cook www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/hawaii.

Oneo Bay. Right downtown, this is usually a placid place to kayak. It's fairly easy to get to. If you can't find parking along the road, there's a free lot across the street from the library and farmers’ market. Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona.

Equipment, Lessons, and Tours

There are several rental outfitters on Highway 11 between Kainaliu and Captain Cook, but only a few are specially permitted to lead kayak trips in Kealakekua Bay.

Aloha Kayak Co.. This outfitter is one of the few permitted to guide tours to the stunningly beautiful Kealakekua Bay, leaving from Napoopoo, including about 1½ hours at the Captain Cook Monument. The 3½-hour morning and afternoon tours include snacks and drinks, while the five-hour tour includes lunch. Local guides discuss the area's cultural, historical, and natural significance. You may see dolphins, but you must observe them from a distance only, as this is a protected marine reserve. Keauhou Bay tours are also available, including a two-hour evening manta ray tour. All tour prices range between $75 and $129. Kayak rentals are $35 for a single, $60 for a double, and $85 for a triple. Stand-up paddleboard lessons at Keauhou Bay cost $75. Their new gallery, located on Napoopoo Road near the bay, showcases history and offers beach rentals and supplies, T-shirts, retail, and shave ice. 79-7248 Mamalahoa Hwy., across from Teshima's Restaurant, Honalo, HI, 96750. 808/322–2868 or. www.alohakayak.com.

Aloha Living Services. Island-born Jonathon Ditto specializes in kayaking on the Kohala Coast, including Puako, and in teaching respectful, eco-friendly symbiosis with this pristine area. Private guided tours are available, and he also rents kayaks, boogie boards, stand-up paddleboards, snorkel gear, and road and mountain bikes. Free delivery. 61-3636 Kawaihae Rd., Waimea (Hawaii County), HI, 96743. 808/430–0991. www.alohalivingservices.com. Rentals from $25.

Kona Boys. On the highway above Kealakekua Bay, this full-service, environmentally conscious outfitter handles kayaks, body boards, surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, and snorkeling gear. Single-seat and double kayaks are offered. Surfing and stand-up paddling lessons are available for private or group instruction. Tours such as their Morning Magic and Midday Meander include two half-day guided kayaking and snorkeling trips with gear, lunch, snacks, and beverages. Kona Boys also run a beach shack fronting the King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel and are happy to give advice on the changing regulations regarding South Kona bay usage. The town location offers Hawaiian outrigger canoe rides, SUP lessons, and rentals of beach mats, chairs, and other gear. 79-7539 Mamalahoa Hwy., Kealakekua, HI, 96750. 808/328–1234 or 808/329–2345. www.konaboys.com. Tours from $119; kayaks from $75; surf/paddle lessons from $99. 75–5660 Palani Rd., Kailua-Kona, 96740.

Ocean Safari's Kayak Adventures. On the guided 3½-hour morning sea-cave tour that begins in Keauhou Bay, you can visit lava-tube sea caves along the coast, then swim ashore for a snack. The kayaks will already be on the beach, so you won't have to hassle with transporting them. The cost is $85.53 per person. A two-hour, dolphin-spotting tour costs $52.43 per person. Kayak daily rental rates are $25 for singles and $40 for doubles. Stand-up boards are $25 for two hours. If you want a lesson, it's $84.53 including the board (two-person minimum). End of Kamehameha III Rd., next to Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/326–4699. www.oceansafariskayaks.com.

Pineapple Park. Affiliated with a hostel with locations in Hilo, Kona, and Mountain View, Pineapple Park's Kealakekua location rents kayaks for $50 for a single and $65 for a double. The rental price includes paddles, life jackets, bags to keep all your gear dry, and harnesses to strap the kayak to your car. 81-6363 Mamalahoa Hwy., Kealakekua, HI, 96750. 808/323–2224 or 877/800–3800. www.pineapple-park.com.

Running

Ironman 70.3 Hawaii. The only Hawaii qualifier for the World Championship, the spring Ironman 70.3 Hawaii triathlon begins with swimming at Hapuna Beach, then moves to biking for 56 miles on Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway, and finishes with a 13-mile run through the Kohala resorts. 808/329–0063. www.ironman703hawaii.com.

Ironman World Championship. Staged annually since 1978, the Ironman World Championship is the granddaddy of all triathlons. For about two weeks in early October, Kailua-Kona takes on the vibe of an Olympic Village as 2,000 top athletes from across the globe and their supporters roam the town, carbo-loading, training, and acclimating in advance of the world's premier swim-bike-run endurance event. The competition starts at Kailua Pier with a 2.4-mile open-water swim, followed by a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile marathon. 808/329–0063. www.ironmanworldchampionship.com.

Sailing

For old salts and novice sailors alike, there's nothing like a cruise on the Kona or Kohala Coast. Calm waters, serene shores, and the superb scenery of Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Hualalai, the Big Island's primary volcanic peaks, make for a great sailing adventure. You can drop a line over the side and try your luck at catching dinner, or grab some snorkel gear and explore when the boat drops anchor in one of the quiet coves and bays. A cruise may well be the most relaxing and adventurous part of a Big Island visit.

Boats and Charters

Maile Charters. Private sailing charters for 2 to 18 passengers are available on the Maile, a 50-foot GulfStar sloop. You choose the itinerary, whether it's watching for dolphins and whales, snorkeling around coral reefs, or enjoying appetizers as the sun sinks below the horizon. Morning snorkels, sunset sails, and overnight trips are offered. Snorkeling equipment is provided, and food can be catered. Kawaihae Harbor, Hwy. 270, on dock, Kawaihae, HI, 96743. 808/960–9744. www.adventuresailing.com. From $1,097.

Scuba Diving

The Big Island's underwater world is the setting for a dramatic diving experience. With generally warm and calm waters, vibrant coral reefs and rock formations, and plunging underwater drop-offs, the Kona and Kohala coasts offer some premier scuba diving. There are also some good dive locations in East Hawaii, not far from the Hilo area. Divers find much to occupy their time, including marine reserves teeming with tropical reef fish, Hawaiian green sea turtles, an occasional and critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal, and even some playful spinner dolphins. On special night dives to see manta rays, divers descend with bright underwater lights that attract plankton, which in turn attract these otherworldly creatures. The best spots to dive are all on the west coast.

Best Spots

Garden Eel Cove. Only accessible by boat, this is a great place to see manta rays somersaulting overhead as they feast on a plankton supper. It's also home to hundreds of tiny garden eels darting out from their sandy homes. There's a steep drop-off and lots of marine life. Rte. 19, near Kona airport, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740.

Manta Village. Booking with a night-dive operator is required for the short boat ride to this area, one of Kona's best night-dive spots. If you're a diving or snorkeling fanatic, it's well worth it to experience manta rays drawn by the lights of the hotel. If night swimming isn't your cup of tea, you can catch a glimpse of the majestic creatures from the Sheraton's viewing areas. (You are not allowed to get in the water from the hotel's property.) 78-128 Ehukai St., off Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740.

Pawai Bay Marine Preserve. Clear waters, abundant reef life, and interesting coral formations make protected Pawai Bay Marine Preserve ideal for diving. Explore sea caves, arches, and lava rock formations and dive into lava tubes. Located ½ mile north of Old Airport is an easy dive spot by boat only. (No shoreline access to protected Pawai Bay is available due to its culturally and environmental significance.) Kuakini Hwy., north of Old Kona Airport Park, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740.

Puako. Just south of Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area, beautiful Puako offers easy entry to some fine reef diving. Deep chasms, sea caves, and rock arches abound with varied marine life. Puako Rd., off Hwy. 19, Waimea (Hawaii County), HI, 96743.

Hawaii's Manta Rays

Manta rays, one of Hawaii's most fascinating marine-life species, can be seen on some nighttime diving excursions along the Kona and Kohala coasts. They are generally completely harmless to divers, though of course no wild animal is totally predictable. If you don't want to get wet, head to the beach fronting the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, on the Kohala Coast, or to the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, where each evening, visitors gather by the hotel’s lights to watch manta rays feed in the shallows.

The manta ray (Manta birostris), called the devil fish by some, is known as hahalua by Hawaiians.

Its winglike fins, reaching up to 20 feet wide, allow the ray to skim through the water like a bird gliding through air.

The manta ray uses the two large flap-like lobes extending from its eyes to funnel food to its mouth. It eats microscopic plankton, small fish, and tiny crustaceans.

Closely related to the shark, the manta can weigh more than 3,000 pounds.

Its skeleton is made of cartilage, not bone.

A female ray gives birth to one or two young at a time; pups can be 45 inches long and weigh 20 pounds at birth.

Equipment, Lessons, and Tours

There are quite a few good dive shops along the Kona Coast. Most are happy to take on all customers, but a few focus on specific types of trips. Trip prices vary, depending on whether you're already certified and whether you're diving from a boat or from shore. Instruction with PADI, SDI, or TDI certification in three to five days costs $600 to $850. Most instructors rent dive equipment and snorkel gear, as well as underwater cameras. Most organize otherworldly manta ray dives at night and whale-watching cruises in season.

Jack's Diving Locker. Good for novice and intermediate divers, Jack's has trained and certified tens of thousands of divers since 1981, with classrooms and a dive pool for instruction. Four boats that accommodate up to 18 divers and 6 snorkelers visit more than 80 established dive sites along the Kona coast, yielding sightings of turtles, manta rays, garden eels, and schools of barracuda. They even take you lava tube diving. Snorkelers can accompany their friends on the dive boats for $65 or take guided morning trips and manta night trips, and dolphin-watch and reef snorkels. Combined sunset/night manta ray dives are offered as well. Kona's best deal for scuba newbies is Jack's two-part introductory dive from Kailua Pier: Choose pool instruction plus a one-tank beach dive ($95) or pool and two-tank boat dive ($195). 75-5813 Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/329–7585 or 800/345–4807. www.jacksdivinglocker.com.

Kohala Divers. The Kohala Coast's lava-tube caves, vibrant coral reefs, and interesting sealife make it a great diving destination. This full-service PADI dive shop has been certifying divers since 1984. A one-day intro dive course has you in the ocean the same day. A four-day, full certification course is offered, too. The company also rents equipment and takes divers to the best diving spots. Kawaihae Harbor Shopping Center, Hwy. 270, Kawaihae, HI, 96743. 808/882–7774. www.kohaladivers.com. One-day dive course, $175; four-day certification $650; two-tank dive $139 plus $35 for gear; snorkel rentals $35 per week.

Nautilus Dive Center. Across from Hilo Bay, Nautilus Dive Center is the oldest and most experienced dive shop on the island. It offers a broad range of services for both beginners and experienced divers. Owner Bill De Rooy has been diving around the Big Island for 30 years, has personally certified more than 2,000 divers and can provide you with underwater maps and show you the best dive spots in Hilo. He also provides PADI instruction and likes to repair gear. 382 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/935–6939. www.nautilusdivehilo.com. Dive-equipment rentals from $35 per day.

Ocean Eco Tours and Harbor Dive Center. This eco-friendly outfitter is eager to share a wealth of ocean knowledge with beginners and advanced divers alike. Six to 10 divers and snorkelers head out on one of two 30-foot crafts. The day's destination—from among 80 sites, both north and south, that feature good reefs and other prime underwater spots—varies based on ocean conditions. Four-hour daytime dives or a nighttime dive to swim with manta rays are offered. PADI open-water certification can be completed in three or four days. Seasonal whale-watch tours are also offered. Ride-alongs are welcome on all charters. King Kam Hotel Lobby, 75-5660 Palani Rd., Suite 304, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/324–7873 or 808/331–2121. www.oceanecotours.com. Excursions from $129; PADI open-water certification $650; whale-watch tours $95.

Shan's Scuba. For a personalized scuba-certification experience, certified PADI MSDT instructor Shannon Rhodes offers complete certification. Specializing in small groups, she's particularly good with those who feel intimidated about learning to dive. If you plan ahead, you can learn online with PADI before arrival, and Shannon will certify you in the water for a discounted price. Captain Cook, HI, 96704. 985/515–5990. Certification $400 ($300 with pre-online course).

Torpedo Tours. Owner-operators Mike and Nikki Milligan, both dive instructors, love to take divers out on their 40-foot custom dive boat, the Na Pali Kai II. They specialize in small groups, which means you'll get personalized attention and spend more time diving and less time waiting to dive. Morning excursions feature two-tank dives. Both snorkelers and divers can try the torpedo scooters—devices that let you cover more area with less kicking. Manta ray night diving and snorkeling at Garden Eel Cove are offered. This is the only company that fishes between dives. Scout, the dive dog, loves to swim with the sea life. Honokohau Harbor, 74-425 Kealakehe Pkwy., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/938–0405. www.torpedotours.com. Dives from $119; snorkeling from $85; torpedo scooters $30.

Skiing

Where else but Hawaii can you surf, snorkel, and snow ski on the same day? In winter, the 13,796-foot Mauna Kea (Hawaiian for "white mountain") usually has snow at higher elevations—and along with that, skiing. No lifts, no manicured slopes, no faux-alpine lodges, no après-ski nightlife, but the chance to ski some of the most remote (and let's face it, unlikely) runs on the planet. Some people have even been known to use body boards as sleds, but we don't recommend it. As long as you're up there, fill your cooler with the white stuff for a snowball fight on the beach later with local kids.

Ski Guides Hawaii. With the motto, "Pray for pineapple powder," Christopher Langan of Mauna Kea Ski Corporation is the only licensed outfitter providing transportation, guide services, and ski equipment on Mauna Kea. Snow can fall from Thanksgiving to June, but the most likely months are February and March. The runs are fairly short, and hidden lava rocks and other dangers abound. Langan charges $450 per person for a daylong experience that includes lunch, equipment, guide service, transportation from Waimea, and a four-wheel-drive shuttle back up the mountain after each ski run. Ski or snowboard rentals are $50 per day. 808/885–4188. www.skihawaii.com.

Snorkeling

A favorite pastime on the Big Island, snorkeling is perhaps one of the easiest and most enjoyable water activities for visitors. By floating on the surface, peering through your mask, and breathing through your snorkel, you can see lava rock formations, sea arches, sea caves, and coral reefs teeming with colorful tropical fish. While the Kona and Kohala coasts boast more beaches, bays, and quiet coves to snorkel, the east side around Hilo and at Kapoho are also great places to get in the water.

If you don't bring your own equipment, you can easily rent all the gear needed from a beach activities vendor, who will happily provide directions to the best sites for snorkeling in the area. For access to deeper water and assistance from an experienced crew, you can opt for a snorkel cruise. Excursions generally range from two to five hours; be sure you know what equipment and food is included.

Best Spots

Kahaluu Beach Park. Since ancient times, the waters around Kahaluu Beach have provided traditional throw net–fishing grounds. With super-easy access, the bay offers good swimming and outstanding snorkeling, revealing turtles, angelfish, parrot fish, needlefish, puffer fish, and many types of tang. Stay inside the breakwater and don't stray too far, as dangerous and unpredictable currents swirl outside the bay. Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona.

Kapoho Tide Pools. Here you'll find the best snorkeling on the Hilo side. Fingers of lava from the 1960 flow that destroyed the town of Kapoho jut into the sea to form a network of tide pools. Conditions near the shore are excellent for beginners, while farther out is challenging enough for experienced snorkelers. End of Kapoho-Kai Rd., off Hwy. 137, Hilo.

Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park. This protected Marine Life Conservation District is hands-down one of the best snorkeling spots on the island, thanks to clear visibility, fabulous coral reefs, and generally calm waters. Pods of dolphins can be abundant, but they're protected under federal law and may not be disturbed or approached. Access to the area has been restricted in recent years, but a few companies are permitted to escort tours to the bay. Overland access is difficult, so opt for one of the guided snorkel cruises permitted to moor here. Napoopoo, at end of Beach Rd. and Hwy. 160, Kailua-Kona www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/hawaii/index.cfm?park_id=46.

Magic Sands Beach Park. Also known as White Sands or Disappearing Sands Beach Park, this is a great place for beginning and intermediate snorkelers. In winter, it's also a prime spot to watch for whales. Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona.

Puuhonua O Honaunau. There is no swimming inside the national historical park here, but just to the north is a boat launch where the snorkeling is almost as good as at Kealakekua Bay. Parking is very limited. Be respectful of local fishermen who use the area. Hwy. 160, 20 miles south of Kailua-Kona.

Equipment, Lessons, and Tours

Body Glove Cruises. This operator is a good choice for families; kids love the waterslide and the high-dive platform, and parents appreciate the reasonable prices and good food. The 65-foot catamaran sets off for uncrowded Red Hill from Kailua-Kona pier daily for a morning snorkel cruise that includes breakfast and BBQ, Big Island beef burger BBQ lunch, with vegetarian options. A three-hour dinner cruise to Kealakekua Bay is a great way to relax, watch the sunset, and learn about Kona's history. It includes a Hawaiian-style buffet, complimentary cocktail, and live music. Seasonal whale-watch cruises are available, too. Children under five are always free. 75-5629 Kuakini Hwy., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/326–7122 or 800/551–8911. www.bodyglovehawaii.com. Snorkeling $128; dinner cruise $118; whale-watch cruises $98.

Captain Zodiac Raft Expedition. A four-hour trip on a rigid-hull inflatable Zodiac raft takes you along the Kona Coast to explore gaping lava-tube caves, search for dolphins and turtles, and snorkel around Kealakekua Bay. Captains entertain you with Hawaiian folklore and Kona history. Trips depart at 8:15 am, 10 am, and 1 pm. A seasonal three-hour whale-watching cruise is offered. All equipment, such as Rx masks and flotation devices, are included. Honokohau Harbor, 74-425 Kealakehe Pkwy., #16, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/329–3199. www.captainzodiac.com. From $110 per person; whale-watching cruise $74.

Fair Wind Cruises. In business since 1971, Fair Wind offers morning and afternoon snorkel trips into breathtaking Kealakekua Bay. Great for families with small kids, the custom-built, 60-foot catamaran has two 15-foot waterslides, freshwater showers, and a staircase descending directly into the water for easy access. Snorkel gear is included, with lots of pint-size flotation equipment and prescription masks available. The cruise is known for its delicious meals. Cruises last 4½ hours; 3½-hour snack cruises are offered, too. For ages seven and older, the company operates the Hula Kai snorkel cruise, a 55-foot luxury hydrofoil catamaran that takes guests to several remote South Kona locations. Their five-hour morning snorkel cruise includes a gourmet breakfast buffet and barbecue lunch. Keauhou Bay, 78-7130 Kaleiopapa St., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/322–2788 or 800/677–9461. www.fair-wind.com. Cruises from $79.

Snorkel Bob's. You're likely to see Snorkel Bob's wacky ads in your airline in-flight magazine. The company is known for a wide selection of rental gear and can set you up with adventures such as cruises, helicopter flights, and ziplines. 75-5831 Kahakai St., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/329–0770 or 800/262–7725. www.snorkelbob.com.

Snuba

Snuba—a cross between scuba and snorkeling—is a great choice for non-scuba divers who want to go a step beyond snorkeling. You and an instructor dive off a raft attached to a 25-foot hose and regulator, allowing a dive as deep as 20 feet or so. This is a good way to explore reefs a bit deeper than you can get to by snorkeling. If you need a break, the raft is ready to support you.

Lessons

Snuba Big Island. Meet your instructor at the beach rental area near the pool at the Courtyard King Kamehameha for a shallow-water dive experience without the hassle of scuba certification. Courses include a 30-minute class and a one-hour dive from the beach and three-hour boat dives that leave from Honakahou Harbor. Kids ages four to seven can come along on the Snuba Doo program, which keeps them doing snuba safely on the surface. The company also runs the 40-foot Kaha Nuola scuba boat, which accommodates all levels for a two-tank dive, not including gear. Courtyard King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel, 75-5660 Palani Rd., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/324–1650. www.snubabigisland.com. Classes from $89; dives from $135.

Stand-Up Paddling

Stand-up paddling (or SUP for short), a sport with roots in the Hawaiian Islands, has grown popular worldwide in recent years. It's available for all skill levels and ages, and even novice stand-up paddleboarders can get up, stay up, and have a great time paddling around a protected bay or exploring the gorgeous coastline. All you need is a large body of water, a board, and a paddle. The workout tests your core strength as well as your balance, and offers an unusual vantage point from which to enjoy the beauty of island and ocean.

Best Spots

Anaehoomalu Bay Beach (A-Bay. In this well-protected bay, even when surf is rough on the rest of the island, it's usually fairly calm here, though trades pick up in the afternoon. Boards are available for rent at the north end, and the safe area for stand-up paddling is marked by buoys. Off Waikoloa Beach Dr., south of Waikoloa Beach Marriott, Kohala Coast.

Hilo Bay. At this favorite among locals, the best place to put in is at Reeds Bay Beach Park. Most afternoons you'll share the bay with local paddling clubs. Stay inside the breakwater unless the ocean is calm (or you're feeling unusually adventurous). Conditions range from extremely calm to quite choppy. Banyan Way and Banyan Dr., 1 mile from downtown Hilo.

Kailua Bay and Kamakahonu Beach. The small, sandy beach that fronts the Courtyard King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel is great for kids; the water here is especially calm and gentle. If you're more daring, you can easily paddle out of the bay and along the coast for some great exploring. Alii Dr., next to Kailua Pier, Kailua-Kona.

Equipment and Lessons

Ocean Sports. This outfitter rents equipment, offers lessons, and has the perfect location for easy access to the bay. Ocean Sports also operates rental shacks at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, Whale Center Kawaihae, Queens' MarketPlace, and on the beach at Anaehoomalu Bay. Waikoloa Beach Marriott, 69-275 Waikoloa Beach Dr., Waikoloa, HI, 96738. 808/886–6666. www.hawaiioceansports.com. Stand-up paddleboard rentals $30 per hr.

Sun and Sea Hawaii. This full-serve ocean sports shop rents 11-foot inflatable stand-up paddleboards for four hours and for a full day. Snorkel, scuba, surfing, and kayaking equipment is also available for sale or rent. Hilo Bay front, 244 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/934–0902. From $45.

Submarine Tours

Atlantis Submarines. Want to stay dry while exploring the tropical undersea world? Climb aboard the 48-passenger Atlantis X submarine, anchored off Kailua Pier, across from Courtyard King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel. A large glass dome in the bow and 13 viewing ports on each side allow clear views of the aquatic world more than 100 feet down. This is a great trip for kids and nonswimmers. A $10 discount is available if you book online. 75-5669 Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/326–7939 or 800/381–0237. www.atlantisadventures.com. $115.

Surfing

The Big Island does not have the variety of great surfing spots found on Oahu or Maui, but it does have decent waves and a thriving surf culture. Local kids and avid surfers frequent a number of places up and down the Kona and Kohala coasts of West Hawaii. Expect high surf in winter and much calmer activity during summer. The surf scene is much more active on the Kona side.

Best Spots

Honolii Cove. North of Hilo, this is the best surfing spot on the eastern side of the island. It hosts many exciting surf contests. Off Hwy. 19, near mile marker 4, Hilo.

Kahaluu Beach Park. Slightly north of this beach park and just past the calm lagoon filled with snorkelers, beginning and intermediate surfers can have a go at some nice waves. Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona.

Old Kona Airport Park. This park is a good place for catching wave action. A couple of the island's outfitters conduct surf lessons here, as the break is far away from potentially dangerous rocks and reefs. Kuakini Rd., Kailua-Kona.

Pine Trees. Also known as Kohanaiki, this community beach park is among the best places to catch waves. Keep in mind that it's a very popular local surf spot on an island where there aren't all that many surf spots, so be respectful. Off Hwy. 11, Kohanaiki entrance gate, about 2 miles south of Kona airport, Kailua-Kona.

Equipment, Lessons, and Tours

Hawaii Lifeguard Surf Instructors. This family-owned, lifeguard-certified school helps novices become wave riders and offers tours that take more experienced riders to Kona's top surf spots. A two-hour introductory lesson has one instructor per three students. Private instruction is available as well. If the waves are on the smaller side, they convert to stand-up paddleboard lessons for the same prices as surfing. 75-5909 Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/324–0442 or 808/936–7873. www.surflessonshawaii.com. $75 per person (group), $110 (private).

Ocean Eco Tours Surf School. Family-owned and operated, Kona's oldest surf school emphasizes the basics and specializes in beginners. It's one of a handful of operators permitted to conduct business in Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, which gets waves even when other spots on the West side are flat. All lessons are taught by certified instructors, and the school guarantees that you will surf. If you're hooked, sign up for a three-day package. There's an authentic soul surfer's vibe to this operation, and they are equally diehard about teaching you about the ocean and having you standing up riding waves on your first day. Group, privates, and semi-privates available. King Kam Hotel, 75-5660 Palani Rd., Suite 304, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/324–7873. www.oceanecotours.com. From $95 per person; $125, semi, privates $250. $270 for 3-day package.

Orchidland Surfboards & Surf Shop. On Big Island radio stations, you're likely to hear the familiar voice of shop owner and local surf legend Stan Lawrence delivering the daily surf reports. Around for more than 40 years, his shop is a veritable testament to Big Island surfing, with surf culture/Hawaiiana on the walls, along with vintage boards, old photos, and plenty of stories. The shop offers custom surfboards, body boards, and other gear for sale or rent along with the latest surf apparel. It is in the heart of Hilo's historic district. 262 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/935–1533. www.orchidlandsurf.com.

Tennis

Many of the island's resorts allow nonguests to play for a fee. They also rent rackets, balls, and shoes. On the Kohala Coast, try the Fairmont Orchid Hawaii, the Hilton Waikoloa Village, and Waikoloa Beach Marriott. In Kailua-Kona there's Island Slice at the site of the Keauhou Beach Hotel, now closed to everything but tennis; the Courtyard King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel; and the Royal Kona Resort.

County of Hawaii Department of Parks and Recreation. The department has information on all public courts. 25 Aupuni St., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/961–8311. www.hawaii-county.com/directory/dir_parks.htm.

Edith Kanaka'ole Multi-Purpose Tennis Stadium. Both indoor and outdoor courts are available for public use. Ho‘olulu County Park, Pi‘ilani and Kalanikoa Sts., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/961–8720.

Higashihara Park. You can play for free at this park near Honalo. Off Hwy. 11, before Honalo, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740.

Old Kona Airport Park. Tennis courts are available for play. North end of Kuakini Hwy., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/327–4958 or 808/974–6200.

Whale- and Dolphin-Watching

Each winter, some two-thirds of the North Pacific humpback whale population (about 4,000–5,000 animals) migrate over 3,500 miles from the icy Alaska waters to the warm Hawaiian ocean to mate and, the following year, give birth to and nurse their calves. Recent reports indicate that the whale population is on the upswing—a few years ago one even ventured into the mouth of Hilo Harbor, which marine biologists say is quite rare. Humpbacks are spotted here from early December through the end of April, but other species, like sperm, pilot, and beaked whales as well as spinner, spotted, and bottlenose dolphins, can be seen year-round. If you take a morning cruise, you're more likely to see dolphins.

Zip Line Tours

One of the few ways to really see the untouched beauty of the Big Island is to fly over its lush forests, dense tree canopies, and glorious rushing waterfalls on a zip line. You strap into a harness, get clipped to a cable, step off a platform, and then zip, zip, zip your way through paradise. Most companies start you out easy on a slower, shorter line and graduate you to faster, longer zips. It's an exhilarating adventure for all ages and, between the zipping, rappelling, and suspension bridges, has been known to help some put aside their fear of heights (at least for a few minutes).

Kapoho Kine Adventures. In addition to offering volcano hikes, waterfall swims, and helicopter tours, this company does zipping exceptionally well, in combinations or à la carte adventures. It has one of the longest ziplines on the island, at 2,400 feet, as well as the only all-dual-track zip, which means you'll be able to traverse the eight stations more quickly and have a friend at your side the whole way. You'll soar over the lush rainforests of Hilo's Honoli‘i River gorge, complete with thundering waterfalls, and get views of the smoking vent at Kilauea Volcano. Tours start at $169 and depart both Hilo and Kona. Historic Canario Complex, 224 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/964–1000 or. www.kapohokine.com.

Kohala Zipline. This tour features nine zips and five suspension bridges for a thrilling, above-the-canopy adventure in the forest. You'll bounce up to the site in a six-wheel-drive, military-style vehicle. Two certified guides accompany each small group. Designed for all ability levels, the Kohala Zipline focuses on fun and safety, offering a dual (redundant) line for easy, confident braking. You'll soar hundreds of feet above the ground and feel like a pro by the last platform. Tours start at $169. Zip and Dip tours (combining zipline, nature walk, snacks, and swim) cost $249. 10% morning and online discounts. 54-3676 Akoni Pule Hwy., Kapaau, HI, 96755. 808/331–3620 or 800/464–1993. www.kohalazipline.com.

Ziplines Through Paradise. In addition to offering volcano hikes, waterfall swims, and helicopter tours, this company does zipping exceptionally well, in combinations or via à la carte adventures. It has one of the longest ziplines on the island, at 2,400 feet, as well as the only all-dual-track zip, which means you'll be able to traverse the eight stations more quickly and have a friend at your side the whole way. You'll soar over the lush rain forests of Hilo's Honoli‘i River gorge, complete with thundering waterfalls, and get views of the smoking vent at Kilauea Volcano. This is the one big-name celebrities have been known to book, so you might share the platform with someone famous. Tours depart both Hilo and Kona. 224 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/964–1000. www.kapohokineadventures.com. From $179.