There is little in the way of organized recreation along the north coast of the Big Island, but what there is can be adrenaline-fuelled excitement.
ATV Outfitters (Hwy. 270 between mile markers 24 and 25, 808/889-6000, adults $129-149, children 5-11 $80-130) offers an extreme way to experience the Kohala backcountry. There are three options of varying duration, each available twice daily: a historical tour (one hour), waterfall tour (two hours), and waterfall and rainforest tour (three hours). Each will take you to out-of-the-way places along the coast and up into the rainforest on former Kohala sugar plantation land on rugged four-wheel motorcycles.You’ll ride over backroads and fields, through lush gullies to waterfalls, come to the edge of ocean cliffs, or dip down to a pebble beach.You’ll ride over backroads and fields, through lush gullies to waterfalls, come to the edge of ocean cliffs, or dip down to a pebble beach. These fully equipped machines let you get to places that you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. Safe and reliable, the four-wheelers are easy to operate even for those who have had no experience on a motorcycle. Helmets, gloves, and goggles are supplied and instruction is given. Wear long pants and closed-toe shoes. Mention the website for a discount; reservations are recommended as the tours do get filled up quickly.
The ziplining business (also known as the business of suspending oneself on a line in the tree’s canopy) is flourishing on the Big Island, with three new courses opening just in 2011. Big Island Eco Adventures (55-510 Hawi Rd., 808/889-5111, $169 per person plus tax) has a good reputation for not only their professionalism but also for having a more advanced course than other outfitters on the island. If you’re keen on doing a zipline course, this is your best bet. In addition to the four-hour zipline course, which consists of eight actual lines, guests are taken offroading on the way to and from the course while guides provide excellent information about the history of the area and the surrounding natural environment. There are seven tours daily beginning at 8am. If you’re on a tight schedule, book ahead of time because tours fill up; although you’ll still probably be able to book a time, the options might be limited.
The majority of helicopter tours leave from the heliport just south of the Waikoloa resort area or from a heliport next to the Hilo airport. Companies tend to focus on tours to see lava at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, and the longer or deluxe tours will circle the island to get a glimpse of Waipi‘o Valley and waterfalls in Kohala. These tours inevitably are expensive, but if you have the funds do it, people always say that it was their favorite part of the trip.
Sunshine Helicopters (808/882-1233 or 800/622-3144), one of the larger companies with service on each island, runs a 40-minute Kohala Mountain and Hamakua Valley tour ($170 per person with online discount) and a two-hour Volcano Deluxe tour that circles the island ($510 per person with online discount or $485 for the early-bird tour).
Another large operation with a spotless safety record, Blue Hawaiian Helicopters (808/886-1768 in Waikoloa, 800/786-2583) operates tours from both the Kona and Hilo sides with two helicopter options—the A-Star and the Eco-star. The difference between the helicopters is that the Eco-star is “the first touring helicopter of the 21st century,” meaning that its seats are more comfortable, it is quieter, and it has larger windows for a less obstructed view than the A-Star. Most importantly, it costs more. From the Kona side, there are three tour options: a 90-minute Kohala Coast Adventure ($213 for A-Star, $259 for Eco-Star), the standard trip to see the waterfalls of the region; the two-hour Big Island Spectacular ($396, $495), an all-encompassing trip that circumvents the island to witness all its highlights; and the two-hour Big Island-Maui trip ($440, $495), a quick jaunt over to Maui to view Haleakala Crater and then a glimpse of the Kohala waterfalls on the way back. This particular tour has a six-person minimum.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.