Hawaii is one of those rare destinations — a tourist mecca that remains largely unspoiled; a land that offers up heart-pounding adventure amid world-class luxury. With a little effort and the right connections, you can experience it all, on your own terms — the authentic island spirit that kanaka maolis (native Hawaiians) treasure.
"Find guides who are passionate about Hawaii's culture," suggested Howard Green, CEO of MoonRings, a concierge-level travel service. "Then try things that are a little out-of-the-ordinary. You won't regret it."
Here are a few not-to-miss authentically Hawaiian adventures.
Surfing lessons are a dime a dozen throughout Hawaii. But champion surfer Nick Palumbo II, born and raised on the island of Lanai, serves up a surfing experience with a punch. The adventure begins with a four-hour safari through the heart of the beautiful (LANAI?) countryside, with Palumbo describing its local history and culture. After your island tour, you'll hit the water at one of Palumbo's favorite secluded spots, where he'll have you up and riding the waves in no time. ($200 per person; www.lanaisurfsafari.com)
Explore Hawaii in a whole new way — soaring above the trees on a zipline. Kohala Zipline’s Kohala Canopy Adventure traverses a forested, stream-rich land on the northern tip of the Big Island, an area known as Halawa. With sky-high platforms built into majestic trees and progressively longer ziplines, the experience is at once serene and thrilling. Zipping from tree to tree, you’ll fly past native kukui trees and fragrant gingers, blossoming ohia shrubs and magnificent eucalyptus. A guaranteed blast for both experienced zippers and first-timers. ($159 per person; www.kohalazipline.com)
Looking to make a big splash? Cliff diving is Hawaii’s hottest extreme adventure sport, and it’s not for the faint of heart. Personal adventure guide and Oahu native James Tongg, aka JimiRocket, will take you to his secret spots on Oahu and teach you to dive (or jump) into remote waterfalls and the deep blue waters of the Pacific from heights ranging from 5 to 85 feet. ($180 per person for a group of four; www.dmcofhawaii.com)
You haven’t really seen Hawaii until you’ve seen its magical underwater world — a universe unto itself. Join Bubbles Below Scuba for a marine ecology tour that departs from Kauai and travels around Ni’ihau and the Lehua Crater, the only dive destination in the world where odds are good you’ll see an endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Discover an amazing labyrinth of lava tubes — vertical walls that plummet 350 feet — and underwater sea caves that hide schools of rainbow-colored fish. Or visit Kauai’s breathtaking Na Pali coast and dive the 11-mile Mana Crack barrier reef, with its gin-clear waters teeming with life. Personalized classes are available in addition to two-tank, three-tank, nighttime and shore dives. ($240 to $330 per person, plus gear; includes meals; www.bubblesbelowkauai.com)
Ever wished you could memorialize that big catch forever? Join artist-fisherman Naoki on a private fishing charter off the turquoise waters of Molokai. After you’ve hauled in your catch, Naoki will transform it into a beautiful work of art on shoji paper — known as the Japanese art of gyotaku (gyo means “fish” and taku means “rubbing” or “impression”). Naoki pairs up with some of the region’s most skilled local captains to provide these fishing excursions with an artistic flair. ($800 per person for a half day, including gyotaku print; www.dmcofhawaii.com)
"To really experience Hawaii, you have to push the envelope," Green said. "In the end, you'll go home with unique memories that last a lifetime."