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Big Island Travel Guide

Golf, Hiking, and Outdoor Activities

With the Big Island's predictably mild year-round climate, it's no wonder you'll find an emphasis on outdoor activities. After all, this is the home of the annual Ironman World Championship triathlon. Whether you're an avid hiker or a beginning bicyclist, a casual golfer or a tennis buff, you’ll find plenty of land-based activities to lure you away from the sun and surf.

You can explore by bike, helicopter, ATV, zip line, or horse, or you can put on your hiking boots and use your own horsepower. No matter how you get around, you'll be treated to breathtaking backdrops along the Big Island's 266-mile coastline and within its 4,028 square miles (and still growing!). Aerial tours take in the latest eruption activity and lava flows, as well as the island's gorgeous tropical valleys, gulches, and coastal areas. Trips into the backcountry wilderness explore the rain forest, private ranch lands, coffee farms, and old sugar-plantation villages that offer a glimpse of Hawaii's earlier days.

Golfers will find acclaimed championship golf courses at the Kohala coast resorts—Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, Waikoloa Beach Resort, and Four Seasons Hualalai, among others. And during the winter, if snow conditions allow, you can go skiing on top of Mauna Kea (elevation: 13,796 feet). It's a skiing experience unlike any other.

Aerial Tours

There's nothing quite like the aerial view of a waterfall crashing down a couple of thousand feet into cascading pools, or watching lava flow to the ocean as exploding clouds of steam billow into the air. You can get this bird's-eye view from a helicopter or a small plane. All operators pay strict attention to safety. So how to get the best experience for your money? Before you choose a company, be a savvy traveler and ask the right questions. What kind of aircraft do they fly? What is their safety record?

Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. Hawaii's most comfortable ride is on the roomy, $3-million Eco-Star helicopter—so quiet you hardly realize you're taking off and with great views from every seat. Pilots are knowledgeable about the island but not overly chatty. In the Waimanu Valley, the craft hovers next to 2,500-foot cliffs and dramatic, cascading waterfalls. The two-hour Big Island Spectacular also takes in Kilauea Volcano lava flows. Prices range from $196.02 to $495 per person, depending on type of craft. Most flights leave from a private helipad in Waikoloa, but the 50-minute Circle of Fire tour departs Hilo for the volcano's wonders. Waikoloa Heliport, Hwy. 19, Waikoloa, HI, 96738. 808/961–5600. www.bluehawaiian.com.

Iolani Air. These two- to six-passenger Gippsland and Cessna aircraft depart from both the Hilo and Kona airports, following the coastline all the way around for an aerial tour of the entire Big Island. You'll get a good view of fascinating geographic and historical points of interest. Four air tours are available, from a 60-minute tour of volcanoes and waterfalls (Hilo only) at $175 per person to a 2½-hour full-circle tour starting at $299. Highlights include the volcano, Waipio Valley, and the Kona Coast. 808/329–0018 or 800/538–7590. www.iolaniair.com.

Paradise Helicopters. This friendly company offers great options no one else does. On three landing tours, departing from Kona's airport, you can either touch down for a hike in a remote Kohala valley, experience a Hilo zipline, or spend a few hours exploring downtown Hilo. After flying over active lava flows, aircraft easily maneuver near the sheer valley walls of the east side. In a "doors off" adventure, four-passenger MD 500 helicopters (Hilo only) get so close, you can feel heat from the lava. Flights start at $200 for a 50 minutes to $495 for three-hour landing tours. Pilots, many of whom have military backgrounds, are fun and knowledgeable. Free hotel shuttles run to and from the Kona and Hilo airports, where tours are based. 808/969–7392 or 866/876–7422. www.paradisecopters.com.

ATV Tours

A fun way to experience the Big Island's rugged coastline and wild ranch lands is through an off-road adventure—a real backcountry experience. At higher elevations, the weather gets nippy and rainy, but views can be awesome. Protective gear is provided, and everyone gets a mini driving lesson. Generally, you must be 16 or older to ride your own ATV; some outfitters allow children seven and older as passengers.

ATV Outfitters Hawaii. These trips take in the scenic beauty of the rugged North Kohala Coast, traveling along coastal cliffs and into the forest in search of waterfalls. ATV Outfitters also offers double-seater ATVs for parents traveling with children or adults who don't feel comfortable operating their own vehicle. 51-324 Lighthouse Rd., Kapaau, HI, 96755. 808/889–6000 or 888/288–7288. www.atvoutfittershawaii.com.

Waipio Ride the Rim. A fabulous way to experience the extraordinary beauty atop lush Waipio Valley, the tour is led by fun and knowledgeable guides along private trails to the headwaters of the twin Hiilawe Falls, Hawaii's highest single-fall waterfalls. You stop for a swim in a ginger-laden grotto with a refreshing waterfall (disclaimer: it's cold!) and travel to a series of lookouts—at times crossing the still-active Kohala Ditch—where you can observe the valley and its black-sand beach from all angles. Bring a bathing suit and be prepared to get wet and muddy. Beginners are welcome. It's teen-tastically fun. (To drive your own ATV, you must be over 16.) Prices start at $179, or take the guided buggy tour if you're not up to driving. Waipio Valley Artworks Bldg., 48-5416 Kukuihaele Rd., Kukuihaele, HI, 96727. 808/775–1450 or 877/775–1450. www.ridetherim.com.

Biking

The Big Island's biking trails and road routes range from easy to moderate coastal rides to rugged backcountry wilderness treks that challenge the most serious cyclists. You can soak up the island's storied scenic vistas and varied geography—from tropical rain forest to rolling ranch country, from high-country mountain meadows to dry lava deserts. It's dry, windy, and hot on Kona's and Kohala's coastal trails and cool, wet, and muddy in the upcountry Waimea and Volcano areas, as well as in lower Puna. There are long distances between towns, few bike lanes, narrow single-lane highways, and scanty services in the Kau, Puna, South Kona, and Kohala Coast areas, so plan accordingly for weather, water, food, and lodging before setting out.

Hawaii Cycling Club. This nonprofit club has tons of information on biking the Big Island. www.hawaiicyclingclub.com.

Best Spots

Kulani Trails. This has been called the best ride in the state—if you really want to get gnarly. The technically demanding ride, which passes majestic eucalyptus trees, is for advanced cyclists. To reach the trailhead from the intersection of Highway 11 and Highway 19, take Highway 19 south about 4 miles, turn right on Stainback Highway, continue 2½ miles, turn right at the Waiakea Arboretum, and park near the gate. A permit is required, available from the Department of Land and Natural Resources at Kawili Street and Kilauea Avenue in Hilo. Stainback Hwy., Hilo, HI, 96720.

Old Puna Trail. A 10½-mile ride through the subtropical jungle in Puna, this trail leads into one of the island's most isolated areas. It starts on a cinder road, which becomes a four-wheel-drive trail. If it's rained recently, you'll have to deal with puddles—the first few of which you'll gingerly avoid until you give in and go barreling through the rest for the sheer fun of it. This is a great ride for all abilities and takes about 90 minutes. To get to the traihead from Highway 130, take Kaloli Road to Beach Road. Ride at your own risk; this is not a maintained trail. Kaloli Rd. at Hwy. 130, Puna, HI, 96778.

Equipment and Tours

There are several rental shops in Kailua-Kona and a couple in Waimea and Hilo. Many resorts rent bicycles that can be used around the properties. Most outfitters can provide a bicycle rack for your car, and all offer reduced rates for rentals longer than one day.

BikeVolcano.com. This outfitter leads three- or five-hour bike rides through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, mostly downhill, that take in fantastic sights, from rain forests to craters. The three-hour tour costs $105, five hours $129. There's also a spectacular seven-hour sunset tour that goes to the active lava flows (volcano depending). Equipment, support van, and food are included. Kilauea General Store, 19-3972 Old Volcano Rd., Volcano, HI, 96785. 808/934–9199 or 888/934–9199. www.bikevolcano.com.

Bike Works. This outfitter caters to cyclists of all skill levels with tours for moderate to advanced riders and rentals of deluxe road bikes, full-suspension mountain bikes, and high-end triathlon bikes. Rentals start at $40 a day. Hale Hana Center, 74-5583 Luhia St., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/326–2453. www.bikeworkskona.com.

Cycle Station. This shop, with exceptionally nice proprietors, has a variety of bikes for rent, from hybrids to racing models. Rentals run from $20 to $75 per day and can be delivered to your hotel. Islandwide trips are also available. 73-4976 Kamanu St., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/327–0087. www.konabikerentals.com.

Hawaiian Pedals. For those who prefer comfort over speed, Hawaiian Pedals rents three-speed cruisers and 21-speed hybrids starting at $25 per day. Kona Inn Shopping Village, 75-5744 Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/329–2294. www.hawaiianpedals.com.

Mid Pacific Wheels. This downtown shop carries a full line of bikes and accessories and rents mountain bikes for exploring the Hilo area starting at $30 per day. The staff provides current trail information as well as expert advice on where to go and what to see and do on a self-guided tour. 1133C Manono St., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/935–6211. www.midpacificwheelsllc.com.

Velisimo Cycling Destinations. Geared to cyclists of varying abilities, two- to five-hour tours range from challenging 3,500-foot climbs up Kohala Mountain to downhill-only rides. They start at $125 per person. 73-5619 Kauhola St., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/327–0087 or 800/219–2324. www.cyclekona.com.

Caving

The Kanohina Lava Tube system is about 1,000 years old and was used by the ancient Hawaiians for water collection and for shelter. More than 40 miles of these braided lava tubes have been mapped so far in the Kau District of the Big Island, near South Point. About 45 miles south of Kailua-Kona, these lava tubes are a great experience for cavers of all age levels and abilities.

Kula Kai Caverns. Expert cave guides lead groups into the fantastic underworld of these caverns near South Point. The braided lava-tube system attracts scientists from around the world, who come to study and map them (almost 40 miles so far). Tours start at $20 and range from The Crawl ($60) to the Two Hour, a deep-down-under spelunking adventure for $95. (Longer, customized tours are also available.) Programs are tailored to each group's interest and abilities, and all gear is provided. Tours start at an Indiana Jones-style expedition tent and divulge fascinating details about the caves' geologic and cultural history. Reservations are required. Kula Kai Estates, Lauhala Dr. at Kona Kai Blvd., HI, 96737. 808/929–9725. www.kulakaicaverns.com.

Golf

For golfers, the Big Island is a big deal—starting with the Mauna Kea Golf Course, which opened in 1964 and remains one of the state's top courses. Black lava and deep blue sea are the predominant themes on the island. In the roughly 40 miles from the Kona Country Club to the Mauna Kea resort, nine courses are carved into sunny seaside lava plains, with four more in the hills above. Indeed, most of the Big Island's best courses are concentrated along the Kohala Coast, statistically the sunniest spot in Hawaii. Vertically speaking, although the majority of courses are seaside or at least near sea level, three are located above 2,000 feet, another one at 4,200 feet. This is significant because in Hawaii temperatures drop 3°F for every 1,000 feet of elevation gained.

Greens Fee: Greens fees listed here are the highest course rates per round on weekdays for U.S. residents. Courses with varying weekend rates are noted in the individual listings. (Some courses charge non–U.S. residents higher prices.) Discounts are often available for resort guests and for those who book tee times on the web, as well as for those willing to play in the afternoon. Twilight fees are also usually offered.

Big Island Country Club. Set 2,000 feet above sea level on the slopes of Mauna Kea, this course is out of the way but well worth the drive. In 1997, Pete and Perry Dye created a gem that plays through upland woodlands—more than 2,500 trees line the fairways. On the par-5 15th, a giant tree in the middle of the fairway must be avoided with the second shot. Five lakes and a meandering natural mountain stream bring water into play on nine holes. The most dramatic is the par-3 17th, where Dye created a knockoff of his infamous 17th at the TPC at Sawgrass. 71-1420 Hawaii Belt Rd., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/325–5044. www.bigislandcountryclub.com. 18 holes. 7075 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $89. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, pro shop, lessons.

Hamakua Country Club. While the typical, modern 18-hole golf course requires at least 250 acres, this 9-hole, par-33 public course fits into just 19. Compact is the word, and with several holes crisscrossing, this is BYO hard hat. Holes run up and down a fairly steep slope overlooking the ocean. Cheerfully billed as an Old World golf experience, the course has no clubhouse or other amenities, and the 9th green is square, but for 15 bucks, whaddaya expect? Hwy. 19, at mile marker 41, 43 miles north of Hilo, Honokaa, HI, 96727. 808/775–7244. 9 holes. 2520 yds. Par 33. Green fee: $15. Facilities: Putting green, golf carts, pull carts.

Hapuna Golf Course. Hapuna's challenging play and environmental sensitivity make it one of the island's most unusual courses. Designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay, it is nestled into the natural contours of the land from the shoreline to about 700 feet above sea level. There are spectacular views of mountains and sea (Maui is often visible in the distance). Holes wind through kiawe scrub, beds of jagged lava, and tall fountain grasses. Hole 12 is favored for its beautiful views and challenging play. 62-100 Kanunaoa Dr., Kamuela, HI, 96743. 808/880–3000. www.princeresortshawaii.com/hapuna-golf. 18 holes. 6875 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $125. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, chipping green, golf carts, rental clubs, rental shoes, pro shop, lessons, restaurant.

Hilo Municipal Golf Course. Hilo Muni is proof that you don't need sand bunkers to create a challenging course. Trees and several meandering creeks are the danger here. The course, which offers views of Hilo Bay from most holes, has produced many of the island's top players over the years. Taking a divot reminds you that you're playing on a volcano—the soil is dark black crushed lava. 340 Haihai St., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/959–7711. 18 holes. 6325 yds. Par 71. Green fee: $35 weekdays, $40 weekends. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, pull carts, rental clubs, pro shop, lessons, restaurant, bar.

Hualalai Resort. Named for the volcanic peak that is the target off the first tee, the Nicklaus Course at Hualalai is semiprivate, open only to guests of the adjacent Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. From the forward and resort tees, this is perhaps Jack Nicklaus's most friendly course in Hawaii, but the back tees play a full mile longer. The par-3 17th plays across convoluted lava to a seaside green, and the view from the tee is so lovely, you may be tempted to just relax on the koa bench and enjoy the scenery. 100 Kaupulehu Dr., Kohala Coast, HI, 96745. 808/325–8480. www.fourseasons.com/hualalai. 18 holes. 7117 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $250 for all-day access. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, pull carts, rental clubs, pro shop, lessons, restaurant, bar.

Makalei Country Club. Set on the slopes of Hualalai, at an elevation of 2,900 feet, Makalei is one of the rare Hawaii courses with bent-grass putting greens, which means they're quick and without the grain associated with Bermuda greens. Former PGA Tour official Dick Nugent (1992) designed holes that play through thick forest and open to wide ocean views. Elevation change is a factor on many holes, especially the par-3 15th, whose tee is 80 feet above the green. In addition to fixed natural obstacles, wild peacocks and turkeys can make for an entertaining game. After noon, greens fees dip drastically. 72-3890 Hawaii Belt Rd., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/325–6625. www.makalei.com. 18 holes. 7091 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $85. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, pro shop, lessons, restaurant.

Mauna Kea Golf Course. Originally opened in 1964, this golf course is one of the most revered in the state. It underwent a tee-to-green renovation by Rees Jones, son of the original architect, Robert Trent Jones, Sr. Hybrid grasses were planted, the number of bunkers increased, and the overall yardage was expanded. The par-3 3rd is one of the world's most famous holes—and one of the most photographed. You play from a cliff-side tee across a bay to a cliff-side green. Getting across the ocean is just half the battle because the green is surrounded by seven bunkers, each one large and undulated. The course is a shot-maker's paradise and follows Jones's "easy bogey, tough par" philosophy. 62-100 Kaunaoe Dr., Kamuela, HI, 96743. 808/882–5400. www.maunakeagolf.com. 18 holes. 7250 yards. Par 72. Greens fee: $250. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, chipping green, golf carts, rental clubs, pro shop, lessons, restaurant.

Mauna Lani Resort. Black lava flows, lush green turf, white sand, and the Pacific's multihues of blue define the 36 holes at Mauna Lani. The South Course includes the par-3 15th across a turquoise bay, one of the most photographed holes in Hawaii. But it shares "signature hole" honors with the 7th, a long par 3, which plays downhill over convoluted patches of black lava, with the Pacific immediately to the left and a dune to the right. The North Course plays a couple of shots tougher. Its most distinctive hole is the 17th, a par 3 with the green set in a lava pit 50 feet deep. The shot from an elevated tee must carry a pillar of lava that rises from the pit and partially blocks a view of the green. 68-1310 Mauna Lani Dr., Kohala Coast, HI, 96743. 808/885–6655. www.maunalani.com. North Course: 18 holes. 6057 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $215. South Course: 18 holes. 6025 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $215. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, pro shop, lessons, restaurant, bar.

Volcano Golf & Country Club. Just outside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park—and barely a stone's throw from Halemaumau Crater—this is by far Hawaii's highest course. At 4,200-feet elevation, shots tend to fly a bit farther than at sea level, even in the often cool, misty air. Because of the elevation and climate, it's one of the few Hawaii courses with bent-grass putting greens. The course is mostly flat, and holes play through stands of Norfolk pines, flowering lehua trees, and multitrunk hau trees. The uphill par-4 15th doglegs through a tangle of hau. Pii Mauna Dr., off Hwy. 11, Volcanoes National Park, HI, 96718. 808/967–7331. www.volcanogolfshop.com. 18 holes. 6106 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $56. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, restaurant/bar (lunch only).

Waikoloa Beach Resort. Robert Trent Jones Jr. built the Beach Course at Waikoloa (1981) on an old flow of crinkly aa lava, which he used to create holes that are as artful as they are challenging. The par-5 12th hole is one of Hawaii's most picturesque and plays through a chute of black lava to a seaside green. At the Kings' Course (1990), Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish built a links-esque track. It turns out lava's natural humps and declivities replicate the contours of seaside Scotland. But there are a few island twists—such as seven lakes. This is "option golf," as Weiskopf and Morrish provide different risk-reward tactics on each hole. Beach and Kings' have separate clubhouses. 600 Waikoloa Beach Dr., Waikoloa, HI. 808/886–7888. www.waikoloagolf.com. Beach Course: 18 holes. 6566 yds. Par 70. Greens fee: $135 for guests, $165 for nonguests. Kings' Course: 18 holes. 7074 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $135 for guests, $165 for nonguests. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, lessons, restaurant, bar.

Waikoloa Village Golf Course. Robert Trent Jones, Jr., who created some of the most expensive courses on the Kohala Coast, also designed this little gem 20 minutes from the coast. At a 450-foot elevation, it offers ideal playing conditions year-round. Holes run across rolling hills with sweeping mountain and ocean views. 68-1792 Melia St., Waikoloa, HI, 96738. 808/883–9621. www.waikoloavillage.org. 18 holes. 6230 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $83.50. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, lessons, restaurant, bar.

Hiking

Ecologically diverse, Hawaii Island has four of the five major climate zones and 8 of 13 sub-climate zones—a lot of variation for one island—and you can experience them all by foot. The ancient Hawaiians cut trails across the lava plains, through the rain forests, and up along the mountain heights. Many of these paths are still in use today. Part of the King's Trail at Anaehoomalu winds through a field of lava rocks covered with ancient carvings called petroglyphs. Many other trails, historic and modern, crisscross the huge Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and other parts of the island. Plus, the serenity of remote beaches, such as Papakolea Beach (Green Sands Beach), is accessible only to hikers.

Department of Land and Natural Resources, State Parks Division. The division provides information on all the Big Island's state parks. 75 Aupuni St., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/961–9544. www.hawaiistateparks.org.

Tours

To get to some of the best trails and places, it's worth going with a skilled guide. Costs range from $95 to $165, and some hikes include picnic meals or refreshments, and gear, such as binoculars, ponchos, and walking sticks. The outfitters mentioned here also offer customized adventure tours.

Hawaiian Walkways. With knowledgeable guides, this company conducts tours in unique spots—a botanical walk in a Kona cloud forest, a hike on Saddle Road between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, waterfall hikes, and jaunts through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park—as well as custom-designed trips. 45-3625 Mamane St., Honokaa, HI, 96727. 808/775–0372 or 800/457–7759. www.hawaiianwalkways.com.

Hawaii Forest & Trail. Since 1993, this locally owned and operated outfit has had a reputation for high-quality nature tours and eco-adventures. The company has access to thousands of acres of restricted or private lands and employs expert, certified guides. Its variety of programs includes a Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge birdwatching tour, Kilauea Volcano excursion, Kohala waterfall trip, and the super-fun Kona Coffee & Craters adventure. The Twilight Volcano Adventure stays in the national park after dark to see the glowing red stuff. 74-5035B Queen Kaahahumanu Hwy., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/331–8505 or 800/464–1993. www.hawaii-forest.com.

Kapoho Kine Adventures. This outfitter offers several hiking adventures in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and surrounding areas, including a 12-hour tour that explores the region by day and sees the lava at night, a shorter day tour, and an evening tour complete with Hawaiian-style barbecue dinner. The Gold Coast/Cloud Forest Tour contrasts a hot day at a historic beach with misty hikes in a cool and endangered cloud forest teeming with birds. Tours depart from both Hilo and Kona. 224 Kamehameha Ave. #106, next to Palace Theatre, on Haili St., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/964–1000 or 866/965–9552. www.kapohokine.com. From $99 per person.

Horseback Riding

With its paniolo (cowboy) heritage and the ranches it spawned, the Big Island is a great place for equestrians. Riders can gallop through green pastures, or saunter through Waipio Valley for a taste of old Hawaii.

Tours

Hamakua Adventures. One-and-a-half-hour, morning and afternoon horseback rides ($79) travel through private ranchlands in the lush Onomea area near Hilo, stopping at the base of the 80-foot, twin Waikahalulu Falls. Refreshments are provided, with an optional ($20) barbeque lunch. 27-2668 Hawaii Belt Rd., Pepeekeo, HI, 96783. 808/871–5222. www.hamakuaadventures.com.

King's Trail Rides. A four-hour excursion ($135) down an old Hawaiian trail leads to a scenic, uncrowded spot near Kealakekua Bay for snorkeling and lunch. A mask and snorkel are provided. Hwy. 11, mile marker 111, Kealakekua, HI, 96750. 808/323–2388. www.konacowboy.com.

Waipio Ridge Stables. Two different rides around the rim of Waipio Valley are offered—a 2½-hour trek for $85 and a 5-hour hidden-waterfall adventure (with swimming) for $165. Lunch is included. The meeting point is Waipio Valley Artworks. 48-5416 Kukuihaele Rd., off Hwy. 240, Honokaa, HI, 96727. 808/775–1007 or 877/757–1414. www.waipioridgestables.com.

Running

Ironman 70.3 Hawaii. The only Hawaii qualifier for the World Championship, the spring Ironman 70.3 Hawaii triathlon begins with swimming at Hapuna Beach, then moves to biking for 56 miles on Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway, and finishes with a 13-mile run through the Kohala resorts. 808/329–0063. www.ironman703hawaii.com.

Ironman World Championship. Staged annually since 1978, the Ironman World Championship is the granddaddy of all triathlons. For about two weeks in early October, Kailua-Kona takes on the vibe of an Olympic Village as 2,000 top athletes from across the globe and their supporters roam the town, carbo-loading, training, and acclimating in advance of the world's premier swim-bike-run endurance event. The competition starts at Kailua Pier with a 2.4-mile open-water swim, followed by a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile marathon. 808/329–0063. www.ironmanworldchampionship.com.

Skiing

Where else but Hawaii can you surf, snorkel, and snow ski on the same day? In winter, the 13,796-foot Mauna Kea (Hawaiian for "white mountain") usually has snow at higher elevations—and along with that, skiing. No lifts, no manicured slopes, no faux-alpine lodges, no après-ski nightlife, but the chance to ski some of the most remote (and let's face it, unlikely) runs on the planet. Some people have even been known to use body boards as sleds, but we don't recommend it. As long as you're up there, fill your cooler with the white stuff for a snowball fight on the beach later with local kids.

Ski Guides Hawaii. With the motto, "Pray for pineapple powder," Christopher Langan of Mauna Kea Ski Corporation is the only licensed outfitter providing transportation, guide services, and ski equipment on Mauna Kea. Snow can fall from Thanksgiving to June, but the most likely months are February and March. The runs are fairly short, and hidden lava rocks and other dangers abound. Langan charges $450 per person for a daylong experience that includes lunch, equipment, guide service, transportation from Waimea, and a four-wheel-drive shuttle back up the mountain after each ski run. Ski or snowboard rentals are $50 per day. 808/885–4188. www.skihawaii.com.

Tennis

Many of the island's resorts allow nonguests to play for a fee. They also rent rackets, balls, and shoes. On the Kohala Coast, try the Fairmont Orchid Hawaii, the Hilton Waikoloa Village, and Waikoloa Beach Marriott. In Kailua-Kona there's Island Slice at the site of the Keauhou Beach Hotel, now closed to everything but tennis; the Courtyard King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel; and the Royal Kona Resort.

County of Hawaii Department of Parks and Recreation. The department has information on all public courts. 25 Aupuni St., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/961–8311. www.hawaii-county.com/directory/dir_parks.htm.

Edith Kanaka'ole Multi-Purpose Tennis Stadium. Both indoor and outdoor courts are available for public use. Ho‘olulu County Park, Pi‘ilani and Kalanikoa Sts., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/961–8720.

Higashihara Park. You can play for free at this park near Honalo. Off Hwy. 11, before Honalo, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740.

Old Kona Airport Park. Tennis courts are available for play. North end of Kuakini Hwy., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/327–4958 or 808/974–6200.

Zip Line Tours

One of the few ways to really see the untouched beauty of the Big Island is to fly over its lush forests, dense tree canopies, and glorious rushing waterfalls on a zip line. You strap into a harness, get clipped to a cable, step off a platform, and then zip, zip, zip your way through paradise. Most companies start you out easy on a slower, shorter line and graduate you to faster, longer zips. It's an exhilarating adventure for all ages and, between the zipping, rappelling, and suspension bridges, has been known to help some put aside their fear of heights (at least for a few minutes).

Big Island Eco Adventures II and Kona Zip. This company knows zip lines—it built the first one on the Big Island. For $169, the three-hour tour takes you on eight zip lines and a 200-foot suspension bridge. You experience exhilarating, crisscrossing thrills over the mountains and gulches of historic North Kohala, including the enormous Waianae Gulch. Along the way you get awesome views of the Pacific Ocean, and, on clear days, Maui. The eight-line Kona treetop zip is nestled in a pristine upcountry ohia forest, accompanied by the calls of rare native birds who live high in the canopy. 53-496 Iole Rd., Kapau, HI, 96755. 808/889–5111. www.thebigislandzipline.com.

Kapoho Kine Adventures. In addition to offering volcano hikes, waterfall swims, and helicopter tours, this company does zipping exceptionally well, in combinations or à la carte adventures. It has one of the longest ziplines on the island, at 2,400 feet, as well as the only all-dual-track zip, which means you'll be able to traverse the eight stations more quickly and have a friend at your side the whole way. You'll soar over the lush rainforests of Hilo's Honoli‘i River gorge, complete with thundering waterfalls, and get views of the smoking vent at Kilauea Volcano. Tours start at $169 and depart both Hilo and Kona. Historic Canario Complex, 224 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/964–1000 or. www.kapohokine.com.

Kohala Zipline. This company features nine zips and five suspension bridges for a thrilling, above-the-canopy adventure in the forest. You'll bounce up to the site in a six-wheel-drive, military-style vehicle. Two certified guides accompany each small group. Designed for all ability levels, the Kohala Zipline focuses on fun and safety, offering a dual line for easy, confident braking. You'll soar hundreds of feet above the ground and feel like a pro by the last platform. Zip and Dip tours (combining zipline, nature walk, snacks, and swim) cost $169. 54-3676 Akoni Pule Hwy., Kapaau, HI, 96755. 808/331–3620 or 800/464–1993. www.kohalazipline.com.

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