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Guided tours are a good option when you don't want to do it all yourself. You travel along with a group (sometimes large, sometimes small), stay in prebooked hotels, eat with your fellow travelers (the cost of meals is sometimes included in the price of your tour), and follow a schedule. But not all guided tours are an if-it's-Tuesday-this-must-be-Belgium experience. A knowledgeable guide can take you places that you might never discover on your own, and you may be pushed to see more than you would have otherwise.
Tours aren't for everyone, but they can be just the thing for first-time travelers to the Big Island or those who enjoy the group traveling experience. Whenever you book a guided tour, find out what's included and what isn't. A "land-only" tour includes all your travel (by bus, in most cases) in the destination, but not necessarily your flights to and from or even within it. Also, in most cases prices in tour brochures don't include fees and taxes. And remember that you'll be expected to tip your guide (in cash) at the end of the tour.
Globus has three Hawai‘i itineraries that include the Big Island, one of which is an escorted cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines' Pride of America that includes one day each in Kona and Hilo. Tauck Travel and Trafalgar offer several land-based Hawai‘i itineraries that include two to three nights on the Big Island, depending on the tour. Both companies offer similar itineraries. Tauck offers seven- and 11-night multi-island tours with two and three nights on the Big Island, respectively, including a Magical Hawai‘i trip for families. Trafalgar has seven-, nine-, 10-, and 12-night multi-island tours with two nights on the Big Island. In all cases, visits to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park are included.
EscortedHawaiiTours.com, owned and operated by Atlas Cruises & Tours, sells more than a dozen Hawai‘i trips ranging from seven to 12 nights operated by various guided tour companies including Globus, Tauck, and Trafalgar.
Globus (HI. 866/755–8581. www.globusjourneys.com.)
Tauck Travel (HI. 800/788–7885. www.tauck.com.)
Trafalgar (HI. 866/544–4434. www.trafalgar.com.)
Want to discover the incredible geologic treasures of Kilauea Volcano? If so, you'll want to book a tour with Volcano Discovery, a company founded by volcanologist Tom Pfeiffer and photographer Tobias Schorr in Germany in 2005. Along with Hawai‘i geologic specialist Philip Ong, who lives on the Big Island, the company offers exciting expeditions for travelers who want to get an up-close look at Kilauea. Heartbeat of the Earth is a 13-night study and walking tour where participants will spend four days learning all about Kilauea Volcano, followed by further exploration of the island's many other natural highlights. Kilauea Volcano is a five-night study tour of the geologic features of this amazing volcano. These tours can be scheduled at any time of the year for groups ranging from two to eight people. In addition, the company usually offers a fixed-date hiking and geology tour of the Big Island.
Volcano Discovery Tours (HI. www.volcanodiscovery.com.)
Big Island Volcano Tours (HI. 808/690–9054. www.bigislandvolcanotours.com.)
Whether you want to learn about Hawaiian arts, history, and culture; astronomy, ecology, or botany; or the geology of the Hawaiian volcanoes, Volcano Art Center can design a program for your group that utilizes the talents of local artists, scientists, performers, historians, park rangers, storytellers, and guides. You choose the length of the vacation and the Art Center staff packages all the components, including transportation, accommodations, meals, field trips, hikes, demonstrations, entertainment, classes, and lectures. The Art Center also features workshops and performances throughout the year that you may want to incorporate into your vacation.
Volcano Art Center (HI. 866/967–7565. www.volcanoartcenter.org.)
If you're a bicycling enthusiast, you've got exciting options on the Big Island. Bicycle Adventures has a seven-day Hawai‘i tour and a six-day budget tour. You'll ride about 45 mi per day. Priced at about $2,900 per person, the Hawai‘i tour incorporates biking, hiking, snorkeling, sailing, and whale watching. The budget tour is priced at about $2,100 per person, and accommodations are in moderately priced hotels; only biking, hiking, and snorkeling are included. Both tour prices include accommodations, meals, snacks, maps, van support, guide, activity fees and park admissions, taxes, and gratuities. Bicycle rental, pre- or post-lodging, and singles supplements are extra.
WomanTours has a seven-night bike tour for women only that circumnavigates the entire island. Included in the $2,190 per person price are seven nights' accommodations (some triple occupancy rooms), some meals (five breakfasts, picnic lunches, five dinners, and snacks), van support, and trained guides. Rental bikes and upgrades to single or double rooms are available for an additional cost.
Airfare must be purchased separately for these bike tours.
Most airlines accommodate bikes as luggage, provided they're dismantled and boxed.
Bicycle Adventures (HI. 800/443–6060. www.bicycleadventures.com.)
WomanTours (HI. 800/247–1444. www.womantours.com.)
Hawai‘i boasts more than 150 species of birds that live in the Hawaiian Islands. Field Guides has a three-island, 11-day guided bird-watching trip that focuses on endemic land birds and specialty seabirds. While on the Big Island, birders will visit Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, Hakalau Preserve and Mauna Kea to see forest birds including the Hawaiian hawk, oma‘o (Hawaiian thrush), nene (Hawaiian goose), and the Hawai‘i creeper. Participants might also get a glimpse of the rare palila, the only finch-like Hawaiian honeycreeper that remains on the main islands. The trip costs about $4,200 per person and includes accommodations, meals, ground transportation, interisland air, an eight-hour pelagic boat trip, and guided bird-watching excursions. Travelers must purchase their own airfare from/to their gateway city.
Victor Emanuel Nature Tours has two nine-day trips that include the Big Island. The guide for both tours is Bob Sundstrom, a skilled birder with a special interest in birdsong who has been leading birding tours in Hawai‘i and other destinations since 1989. "Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i" is the theme of the March birding trip. Birders will see indigenous Hawaiian birds including the ‘amakihi, ‘apapane, ‘elepaio, and the comical scarlet ‘i‘iwi, as well as endemic birds such as the oma‘o, palila, and ‘akepa honey creepers. Participants in the Fall Hawai‘i birding trip will visit O‘ahu, Kaua‘i, and the Big Island in October. Birders will spend two nights at the Volcano House, which is perched alongside the Kilauea Caldera. The Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i tour costs about $3,300/person and the Fall Hawai‘i tour is priced at about $4,000/person. Both trips include accommodations, meals, interisland air, ground transportation, and guided excursions. Travelers must purchase their own airline ticket from/to their gateway city.
Field Guides (HI. 800/728–4953. www.fieldguides.com.)
Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (HI. 800/328–8368. www.ventbird.com.)
Exploritas, a nonprofit educational travel organization which has been leading all-inclusive learning adventures around the world for more than 20 years, offers several land-only cultural and educational tours. Big Island of Hawai‘i: History, Volcanoes, and Marine Life is a 14-night tour presented in association with Lyman Mission House and Museum and the University of Hawai‘i-Hilo. You'll spend five nights in Hilo, five nights at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, and four nights in Kona, learning about Hawaiian history, geology, star navigation, language, arts and crafts, and medicine from local cultural historians. You'll visit Rainbow and ‘Akaka Falls, Waipi‘o, orchid and macadamia-nut factories, Pu‘uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park, Hulihe‘e Palace, and Moku‘aikaua Church—and you'll walk through rain forests, and lava and petroglyph fields. Free time and visits to beaches are also included. The cost of this tour starts at $2,631 per person and includes accommodations, meals, ground transportation, and admission fees.
Big Island of Hawai‘i Odyssey: Earth, Sky, and Sea is an 11-night tour designed for children ages nine to 12 accompanied by an adult. Highlights include Hawaiian storytelling, an astronomy presentation at the Onizuka Visitor Center at Mauna Kea, horseback riding in Waimea, and a hike to a black-sand beach, among others. Prices start at $1,956 per person.
The Big Island also is included in several multi-island tours; check out the Exploritas Web site for information.
Road Scholar (HI. 800/454–5766. www.roadscholar.org.)
A Taste of Paradise: Hawaiian Style, another land-only Exploritas tour, visits the Big Island (three nights each in Kilauea and Kona) and Maui. Travelers will wander the stalls of the Hilo Farmers Market where they'll find exotic fresh fruit like rambutan, soursop, jackfruit, and jaboticaba; vegetables such as hydroponic lettuce, organic spinach, eggplant, and baby ginger; anthuriums, protea, bonsai plants, herbs, and orchids; locally made crafts and gift items including Hawaiian hardwood bowls, clothing, and shell jewelry; and specialty food items such as dried fish, breads and pastries, jams, and jellies (including the incredibly delicious ‘ohi‘a berry jam). There are visits to banana, papaya, coffee, cocoa, lettuce, vanilla, and anthurium farms, as well as the macadamia-nut factory.
Hawai‘i Forest & Trail's mission is to educate, inspire, and entertain visitors. For the past 15 years, the company has showcased the island's amazing diversity with adventures to waterfalls, rain forests, nature preserves, Mauna Kea and Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. In 2006, Hawai‘i Forest & Trail was awarded Ecotour Operator of the Year by the Hawai‘i Ecotourism Association. The company can customize a multiday adventure tour for your group, including everything from caving in lava tubes and hiking to a secluded waterfall for a private picnic lunch to marveling at the nighttime lava flow of Kilauea. Prices vary depending on activities chosen and size of group.
Want to hike and paddle on the Big Island? Since 1992, Betsy Morrigan has been guiding multisport adventure tours on the Big Island. The Hawai‘i Pack and Paddle camping trips showcase the entire island and are billed as "low-key and relaxing." All guides are lifeguards and certified in first aid and CPR. There is a guided four-day kayak/hiking trip suitable for beginners to advanced hikers that features three nights at bed-and-breakfasts in Kona and in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Included in the price ($300 per day per person, for four days; children ages six to 12 are half price) are kayak and group camping equipment, lightweight sleeping gear, food, tents, snorkel gear, and guide services. A seven-day adventure that includes two nights camping and four nights in a bed-and-breakfast is also available. Airfare is extra with both tours. Morrigan, a college professor of Hawaiian literature, also offers seven- to 10-day specialized educational tours for teachers to earn graduate credits. She can also custom-design a tour program for your group.
"Under Hawaiian Skies: Big Island Adventure" is the theme of an eight-night trip sponsored by Sierra Club Outings. Highlights include swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking along the Kona coast; exploring Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park by hiking through crater trails, lava tubes, and rain forests; attending a "Star Party" at the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy located at the 9,300-foot level of Mauna Kea; touring ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo; and watching the 4th of July fireworks over Hilo Bay. Participants will also have opportunities to discover the uniqueness of Hawai‘i's cultural heritage as they learn the hula and other ancient Hawaiian games; weave with coconut palm fronts; ride outrigger canoes; make a Hawaiian instrument; and taste traditional Hawaiian foods. Priced at around $1,600 per person, the tour includes accommodations, most meals, activities, and ground transportation.
Travelers must purchase their own airfare between the Big Island and their gateway city for all these tours.
Hawaii Forest & Trail (HI. 800/464–1993. www.hawaii-forest.com.)
Sierra Club Outings (HI. 415/977–5522. www.sierraclub.org/outings.)
Hawaiian Walkways (HI. 800/457–7759. www.hawaiianwalkways.com.)
Sierra Club Outings offers a seven-night, hotel-based hiking tour, Day Hikes & Creature Comforts. Off-the-beaten-path adventurers will explore many of the same trails once walked by ancient Hawaiians, beaches frequented by green sea turtles, rain forests, taro fields, extinct craters, and vast lava fields. Participants will assist in a conservation activity and help prepare meals using fresh, local ingredients. The trip is designed for travelers who hike on a regular basis, as each day the group will log anywhere from four to eight miles. Priced at about $1,500 per person, the tour includes accommodations, most meals, ground transportation, and activities.
Hawai‘i Three Island Hiker is a seven-night hiking tour to the Big Island, Kaua‘i, and Maui. Included in the per-person price of about $3,300 are accommodations, meals, interisland airfare, shuttle transportation, support vehicle, professional guides, and a T-shirt and water bottle. Hikers will spend two nights on the Big Island exploring Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park including hikes into Kilauea Iki crater and along the Crater Rim trail, which encircles Kilauea's summit caldera, and a coastline lava trail. The trip is rated moderately easy to moderate. The World Outdoors has been organizing and leading adventure trips around the world for 20 years.
Timberline Adventures has a five-night hiking tour, Hawai‘i: Volcanoes & the Kailua-Kona Coast, designed to showcase the island's unique diversity. Highlights include hikes throughout Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, Waipi‘o Valley, Pu‘uhonua O Honaunau, Captain Cook Trail, and along the coast from Miloli‘i to Aholi Holua, an ancient slide used by Hawaiians as a form of athletic competition. The trip costs about $2,200 per person and includes accommodations (three nights at Kilauea Lodge, and two nights at Outrigger Keauhou Beach Resort), meals, ground transportation, and activities.
Travelers must purchase their own airfare between the Big Island and their gateway city for all these hiking tours.
Timberline Adventures (HI. 800/417–2453. www.timbertours.com.)
Licensed massage therapist Nancy Kahalewai leads retreats on the art of lomilomi massage. This traditional Hawaiian massage uses kneading and gliding strokes to increase circulation, soothe nerves, and loosen muscle tissue. And, because it is also designed to improve energy levels in the recipient by encouraging pono (righteous emotions and thoughts), it is considered a holistic treatment. The author of Hawaiian Lomilomi, Big Island Massage, and the former director of two massage businesses, Kahalewai has been teaching massage therapy on the island since 1976.
Organic fitness trainer KeibaDawn Blacklidge owns and operates BodyTemple Boot Camp, "a metamorphosis program designed to create and manifest the ultimate ideal live body life force." Designed to strengthen body, mind, and spirit, BodyTemple Boot Camp is a six-night customized program for one to three people priced at $1,000-$1,500 per week. Blacklidge has more than 20 years of fitness training experience and has competed and placed in several natural bodybuilding competitions. The program includes eco-cabin lodging; daily meals and snacks (participants choose either a raw vegan, raw nonvegan, or fruitarian meal plan); daily personal fitness sessions and outdoor adventures; three massages and yoga sessions; and airport shuttle transportation.
Yoga practitioners might want to book one of the nai‘a (dolphin) retreats offered by the Lotus Way. Certified instructor Heather George has been teaching yoga for more than 15 years. Held at a private home alongside Kealakekua Bay, the retreats include six-night accommodations, daily yoga and meditation sessions, most meals, and free time for snorkeling, kayaking, and other activities. Rates are dependent on the size and needs of the group. George also can facilitate workshops in the healing art of Thai yoga therapy at Ramashala, a Balinese-inspired vacation retreat in the Puna district, across from the black-sand Kehena Beach.
Ramashala also can create customized group fitness and body tonics programs for families and groups. With its lush, tropical gardens and architecture that combines Asian and Eastern influences, Ramashala is ideal for vacationers seeking a luxurious, peaceful, and healthy getaway. There is an in-house vegetarian chef with more than 20 years experience as a personal chef, restaurant owner, and cookbook author.
Yoga Oasis, a solar-powered eco-retreat located in a rain forest five miles from the village of Pahoa on the Big Island's eastern tip, offers a number of yoga retreats. Prices vary depending on the retreats selected, but all include accommodations, meals, and yoga/workshop sessions.
Travelers must purchase their own airfare between the Big Island and their gateway city.
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