Big Adventures Await Big Island Hikers

Trails test trekkers from Kalapana to the Kohala Coast

By: Dawna Robertson

The Big Island’s bounty of hiking trails and off-the-beaten-path adventures is arguably the most varied in Hawaii. Those clients up for adventure will discover craters, newly formed beaches and even a trail named after the founder of the Douglas fir tree.

A growing number of operators are sharing this diversity along guided tours that travel to terrain as remote as it is enriching. Other outings are self-guided, with the Na Ala Hele web site ( providing directions and featuring individual guides for select treks (see below). So suggest that your Big Island-bound clients pack their hiking boots along with their beach gear to get a taste of these big adventures.

Hawaii Forest & Trail’s New Hualalai Volcano Adventure

While Hawaii Forest & Trails features a selection of hiking adventures, its newest offering is packed with diversity. The Hualalai Volcano Adventure travels from coastal Kona, through a dense tropical rainforest and into the cool, volcanic terrain of Hualalai’s last eruption site. On the short two-mile walk, hikers encounter indigenous birds and learn about the native forest in this realm Hawaiians called the wao akua (the land of the gods). The highlight for many comes with exploring a stalactite decorated lava tube.

What makes this hike so special, according to Hawaii Forest & Trails owner, Rob Pacheco, is that the area is not open to the general public. “The only way to take this hike legitimately is to go with us,” he explained.

Pacheco pointed out that while some hikers prefer to head off on their own and travel at their own pace, they may miss much of the culture, history and geography of the area.

“There’s an incredible story laid out in the landscape,” Pacheco said. “And if you’re not up there with someone who knows how to interpret the story, you’ll miss the inherent meaning. You might spot holes in the ground but not understand why they are there. We tie it all together and bring more to it. We share a compelling story.”

Commissionable to agents at 15%, the Hualalai Volcano Adventure is priced at $95 for adults and $75 for children 8 - 12.

800-464-1993 or call . Kalapana (New Black Sand Beach) and Papakolea (Green Sand Beach) Hikes Kalani Honua, a lush oceanside retreat located on the island’s southeastern shore, offers two unique options. Hikers can explore famous Kalapana, where a lava flow blanketed the area in black only ten years ago. They’ll also be able to view any ongoing activity as Kilauea Volcano continues to add new lava to the island. Longtime Kalapana resident, Uncle Robert Keliihoomalu, shares his aloha in music and storytelling, helping the area retain its old Hawaiian feeling.

Those preferring shades of green can head to Papakolea, where the sand is actually fine grains of olivine - just like what was recently discovered on Mars. This adventure also includes a stop at Ka Lae (South Point), the southernmost point in the United States, before taking a 4WD ride to the beach.

Rates and commissions vary.


Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park brims with geological wonders along more than 150 miles of trails that include Crater Rim, Waldron Ledge, Iliahi, Halemaumau, Kilauea Iki, Devastation, Kipuka Puaulu and Puu Loa Petroglyphs. Trails range from easy walks like Bird Park/Kipuka Puaulu and Thurston Lava Tube, to longer hikes such as Kilauea Iki and Mauna Iki trails. Other routes providing access through wilderness areas are suitable only for those in top physical condition and properly outfitted. Two park trails are paved and accessible to wheelchairs and strollers.

Park Rangers are on duty in the Kilauea Visitor Center from 7:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily to assist hikers with trail information, maps and permits. The park also posts Ranger-led walks at 9:00 a.m. daily. Visit or call 808-985-6000.

Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

Puuhonua o Honaunau, Hawaii’s last place of refuge, has been restored to its early 1700’s appearance. Hikers get a glimpse into ancient Hawaiian culture along the historic 1871 trail that follows the Kona coastline for about a mile to the park boundary. Along the self-guided trail, visitors come across a variety of archeological sites including heiau (temple sites), holua (sledding tracks) and kahua (old house sites) that are reminders of Hawaii’s rich cultural history.

808-328-2288 or call .

Na Ala Hele “Trails To Go On”

Na Ala Hele posts a comprehensive web site of Hawaii hiking trails, broken down by island. Established in response to concerns about public access to trails, Na Ala Hele is administered by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, under the Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

One of the newest additions to the National Trail System, the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail is also the most ancient of any designated historic trail in the U.S. This route covers some 175 miles of Big Island shoreline, stretching from Upolu Point in the North Kohala district and following the western shoreline to what was once Hahaula Heiau in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Another self-guided tour featured on the site is the Kaluakauka Trail at Mauna Kea. Rising from its base on the ocean floor, Mauna Kea is the highest volcano on the Earth. Perhaps best known for its world-class observatories, it’s also popular for its challenging hikes. The Kaluakauka Trail takes trekkers across forested pasture land and through a native Hawaiian forest reserve. The trail continues on to the Dr. David Douglas monument, erected in 1934 to honor the Scottish botanist for whom the Douglas Fir is named.

The Na Ala Hele site also lists several commercial trail guides and operators permitted access to areas for guided hikes: Betsy Morrigan Hawaii Pack and Paddle (; 808-328-8911); Kumiko Hasegawa (; Rob Pacheco Hawaii Forest & Trail (rob@hawaii-forest &, 808-331-8505); and Hugh Montgomery Hawaiian Walkways, Inc. (; 808-775-0372).