E Noa’s Air, Land & Sea Tour culminates in a helicopter ride over Pearl Harbor. // © 2016 Blue Hawaiian Helicopters
Feature image (above): Polynesian Cultural Center stays vibrant with festivals such as We Are Samoa, complete with fire-knife dancers. // © 2016 Polynesian Cultural Center
When it comes to beaches, Hawaii shines. But while its strands of sand rival any around the world, more and more visitors are scrapping the sunbathing in search of other memorable, meaningful pastimes.
Chalk it up to a desire among today’s travelers to connect with places and their people. As clients venture away from the shore, they’re immersing themselves in the destination in an authentic way and returning home feeling inspired and energized.
Here’s a look at some of the latest activities, attractions and festivals that are lending a fresh perspective on the islands, especially for repeat visitors from the Western U.S.
Activities in the News
New adventures are enticing active clients into the heart of Hawaii. Among the current lures on Oahu is the North Shore Bike Park at Turtle Bay Resort, where riders can spin along mountain-biking trails that twist and turn through forests of tropical trees and flowers.
For history buffs, travel agents can suggest E Noa Tours’ Air, Land & Sea Tour of Pearl Harbor. After learning about the events leading up to the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, clients will take a boat to the USS Arizona Memorial, then board a helicopter for a 45-minute overview of the history-rich area.
Oahu’s new 808 Smart Car Rentals subscribes to the theory that getting there is half the fun. Its tiny smart convertibles — small enough to park just about anywhere — get up to 40 miles per gallon, offering a novel, eco-friendly option for cruising around the island.
Maui thrill-seekers can fly high on Piiholo Ranch Zipline’s new 7-Line Treetop Zip Tour, with lines ranging from 175 to 930 feet long. Meanwhile, clients with a creative focus can sign up for Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea’s forthcoming Photo Expedition, which will let them hone their shooting skills during on-location sessions with professionals (June 14-19).
Kauai keeps dreaming up distinctive ways to beckon guests away from the beach, such as Hawaiian Surfing Adventures’ stand-up paddleboard yoga classes. And Princeville Makai Golf Club is staying in the swing with a package providing 18 holes of play and a $50 dining and spa certificate.
A Hawaii Island innovation, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s Glow SUP takes visitors out for paddleboarding under the stars. LED lights help guests see what’s swimming beneath them — including manta rays.
Attractions Channeling Culture
Hawaii’s culture calls clients to attractions such as Honolulu’s Iolani Palace, a longtime landmark that keeps getting better. The only royal palace on U.S. soil, it recently enhanced its collection with two white "kahili" (standards) made of 22,000 albatross feathers, similar to the kahili used in King Kalakaua’s 1874 coronation.
Maui Ocean Center, a splashy setting for maritime displays, just introduced a cultural program where prominent Hawaiian experts share local traditions through live music, talk-story sessions and hands-on demonstrations of arts and crafts.
On Hawaii Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s 100th anniversary is providing a sizzling diversion from the seashore. The park’s 2016 After Dark in the Park talks present different centennial-oriented topics each month, with ranger-guided excursions relating to the same themes. Another Hawaii Island birthday celebrant — the 10-year-old Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii — is engaging visitors with special science-meets-culture programs throughout 2016.
On Kauai, plant and history aficionados are drawn to Limahuli Garden and Preserve, which recently launched two new tours around its 17 acres. The family tour offers shorter guided walks thatappeal to travelers of all ages, while a sustainability-focused tour shares insights into the care and conservation of global gardens.
Clients who look beyond the beach find a year-round roster of events that are uniquely linked to the islands. Coming up at Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu’s North Shore, the crowd-pleasing We Are Samoa Festival brings clients face to face with Samoan traditions such as basket weaving and coconut husking. It culminates in a dazzling competition of world-class fire-knife dancers (May 12-14).
The laid-back East Maui Taro Festival in Hana, on Maui’s rural east side, lets visitors rub elbows with locals during taro-pounding demonstrations, hula performances, live music and cultural activities (April 30 to May 1).
Looking ahead on Hawaii Island, clients can time their vacations with the 11th annual Big Island Film Festival, a celebration of movie-making with food, music, celebrity receptions, screenwriting workshops and free family films under the stars (May 26-30).
One of the most popular upcoming holidays is Kamehameha Day, the birthday of Hawaii’s first king, who is feted statewide. Highlights on Oahu include the 100th anniversary of the King Kamehameha floral parade (June 11).
Koloa Plantation Days regales Kauai visitors with dozens of events honoring the island’s sugar plantation history. With its rodeo action, film nights, games, guided walks, concerts and parade, it’s a great way to get a taste of Kauai’s multicultural makeup (July 22-31).