The ancient Hawaiians, who took much of their daily sustenance from the ocean, also enjoyed playing in the water. In fact, surfing was the sport of kings. Though it's easy to be lulled into whiling away the day baking in the sun on a white-, gold-, black-, or green-sand beach, getting into or onto the water is a highlight of most trips.
All of the Hawaiian Islands are surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, and blessed with a temperate latitude, making them some of the world's greatest natural playgrounds. But certain experiences are even better on the Big Island: nighttime diving trips to see manta rays; deep-sea fishing in Kona's fabled waters, where dozens of Pacific blue marlin of 1,000 pounds or more have been caught; and kayaking among the dolphins in Kealakekua Bay, to name a few.
From almost any point on the Big Island, the ocean is nearby. Whether it's body boarding and snorkeling or kayaking and surfing, there is a water sport for everyone. For most activities, you can rent gear and go it alone. Or book a group excursion with an experienced guide, who offers convenience and security, as well as special insights into Hawaiian marine life and culture. Want to try surfing? Contrary to what you may have heard, there are waves on the Big Island. You can take lessons that promise to have you standing the first day out.
The Kona and Kohala coasts of West Hawaii boast the largest number of ocean sports outfitters and tour operators. They operate from the small-boat harbors and piers in Kailua-Kona, Keauhou, Kawaihae, and at the Kohala Coast resorts. There are also several outfitters in the East Hawaii and Hilo areas.
As a general rule, the waves are gentler here than on the other Islands, but there are a few things to be aware of. First, don't turn your back on the ocean. It's unlikely, but if conditions are right, a wave could come along and push you face-first into the sand or drag you out to sea. Second, when the Big Island does experience high surf, dangerous conditions prevail and can change rapidly. Watch the ocean for a few minutes before going out. If it looks rough, don't chance it. Third, realize that ultimately you must keep yourself safe. We strongly encourage you to obey lifeguards and weather advisories, and heed the advice of outfitters from whom you rent equipment, and even from locals on shore. It could save your trip, or even your life.
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 sand 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 plains. Trips into the backcountry wilderness explore the rain forest, private ranch lands, and coffee farms, while sleepy sugar-plantation villages offer a glimpse of Hawaii's bygone 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.