3 New Bucket List Experiences You Have To Try on the Island of Hawaii

Photo courtesy of Hawaii Forest & Trail.

There aren’t many people that would dare argue that Hawaii isn’t Paradise on Earth. The island of Hawaii, also known as “The Big Island,” is filled with great food, culture, wildlife, nature, among a list-full of never-ending reasons that puts it at the top of every traveler’s must-visit lists. But how do you avoid the tourist traps and keep each visit invigorating and different? Check out these three new bucket list experiences that will make you the talk of the town!

Photo courtesy of Inn at Kulaniapia Falls.

1. Rappelling Down A Waterfall

Scaredy-cats and thrill-seekers alike will absolutely love the brand new waterfall rappel experience at The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls in Hilo. The experience, which just began April of 2017, allows guests to get up close with nature while rappelling 120-feet down Kulaniapia Falls. Kulaniapia Adventures operates everyday rain or shine. Guests are given a safety harness, helmet, and felt bottom water shoes for grip. The experienced guides go over all of the equipment and teach guests the techniques they need to stay safe and have fun. Don’t worry; you’ll train on a bunny hill before you take on the real thing.

My Review: I’m personally a huge wuss that is deathly afraid of heights so this waterfall rappel didn’t sound like a smart idea at all. I was expecting to have a full-blown panic attack. Luckily, that didn’t happen. Surprisingly, I found the experience exhilarating, perfect for someone who would like to conquer his or her fear or try something new. This was definitely a bucket-list item that I didn’t even know should have been on there! I actually ended up slipping in the middle of my rappel and ended up looking like a junior high production of Peter Pan, but the equipment was very safe and I was able to pull myself upright and continue the descent. Note to thrill-seekers: An adventurous friend that rappelled right after me actually went into the waterfall. She had a fantastic time, got some great GoPro footage inside the waterfall, and also thoroughly enjoyed herself. There was also a fellow guest that was an older lady, who was able to conquer the waterfall as well. Anyone can do it!

Price: $199 for adults, $149 for guests of The Inn at Kulaniapia.

Tip: Don’t leave right away. Enjoy miles of trails, bamboo gardens, swimming, stand-up paddle boarding, and kayaking at the base of the waterfall. It may be worth it to book at least one night stay at The Inn at Kulaniapia. The inn makes for a very unique stay. Every building has a different theme. Breakfast is also delicious and homemade every morning by the inn staff. Their blueberry waffles are probably the best waffles I’ve ever had! Also, it doesn’t hurt that the beautiful waterfall you rappel down is also the view you get from your room! Find out more at: http://www.waterfall.net/

Photo courtesy of Hawaii Forest & Trail.

2. Maunakea Sunrise Tour

Start your day with one of the most magnificent views in the world from 13,800 feet above sea level! A journey to Maunakea, the tallest volcano on the planet, is definitely worthy of a bucket list must-do. Hawaii Forest & Trail recently added an entirely new adventure experience that allows guests to witness the star-filled night sky on the way up to Maunakea before watching the sunrise amidst a morning sky filled with beautiful shades of blue, orange, purple and red at the peak.

The 7-8 hour round trip Maunakea Sunrise Experience is an jaw-dropping tour only available through Hawaii Forest & Trail. The 2 am call time is worth every lost ‘z’. Your guide picks you up in a 4-wheel-drive vehicle while narrating the journey and sharing ancient folklore, as well as cultural and scientific significance of the mountain while making the drive into the star-filled darkness. There’s a hot beverage stop at the Ellison Onizuka Visitors Information Station to help guests to acclimate to the higher altitude before they head up to the summit. Guests are given parkas at the summit where they can stand amidst the world’s largest collection of research telescopes and while taking in the brilliance of the multi-colored sunrise. A light breakfast is served on the way down followed a short trip through the Maunakea Silversword enclosure. Return from your Insta-worthy trip before the rest of the island has barely woken up!

My Review: If I have to lose out on sleep, then it better be worth it. The new Maunakea Sunrise Experience was definitely worth it. Watching the sun slowly come up as my local guide shared an ancient and beautiful oli (sacred Hawaiian song/chant) is something I will never forget. The view was so beautiful that even amateur photographers were getting great shots on their phones. Not only does this trip get an Insta-worthy hat tip, but it also gets a check off the bucket list. If there’s a heaven on Earth, the view from Maunakea at sunrise is probably the closest you’ll get to the real deal. And dress warm. It’s really cold. My group saw snow at the caps.

Tip: Due to altitude and safety considerations, the minimum age requirement is 16. Cost is $196.88 per person. Visit their website for more: https://www.hawaii-forest.com/tours/maunakea-summit-sunrise/

Photo courtesy of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

3. Active Volcano Tour

Whereas most trips to see Kilauea Volcano are prefaced with the possibility that you may not see actual active lava, it’s now pretty much a sure thing. Kilauea, Earth’s most active volcano, has been erupting continuously since 1983, but it is the first time in three years that its ever-changing lava flow has reached the coastline. Guests can now hike to the active lava flow and watch lava erupt from the volcano!

It’s a must-do bucket list item now that the current lava flow is the most dramatic guides say they have seen in the last three decades. Although some visitors choose to visit without a guide, KapohoKine Adventures’ Lava Expedition provides a worthwhile tour to consider. Their National Park Service certified guides lead a four-mile hike across the lava flows looking for outbreaks while tracking down molten lava so guests can see the most current active eruption sites. Guests enjoy a picnic-style lunch while watching steam plumes created by the lava reach the water.  The full day tour includes a fun visit to a local winery for some wine tasting and a wine tour, as well as a homemade BBQ dinner before heading back to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to watch the current eruption activity at sunset from the Jaggar Museum.

Tip: The KapohoKine Adventures’ Lava Expedition is $129 per person. Find out more on their website here: https://kapohokine.com/Also, check out the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at: http://www.nps.gov/havo

My Review: This is one of those experiences that I highly recommend getting a guide and joining a tour. I learned so much from our guide, Ken. He not only kept us safe, but also taught us about the lava flow and what not to do. He was very well versed in Hawaiian folklore, which made for a very educational trip. He pointed out the most photo-worthy locations and gave great trips for us to get the Insta-worthy shot. Although I’m not extremely fit, the four-mile hike was no problem. The views were spectacular. It was amazing to see the contrast of the volcano during the day and at night against the backdrop of the stars and the moon.






Kristie Hang is a jet setting freelance food and travel journalist featured in LA Weekly, LAist, Gothamist, MSNBC etc. She has a Masters in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism and a B.A. from UCLA. Find her online on Instagram @kristiehang

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