Hawaii’s islands conjure images of sun-soaked, alabaster beaches, flourishing landscapes of dense, emerald rainforest, and an endless swath of rugged mountain summits. In this quintessential land of adventure, thrill seekers take the bull by the horns and capitalize on Hawaii’s varied landscapes to elicit some of the most electrifying feelings humanely possible, wrestle their fears, and conquer some of the most formidable endeavors in the Western hemisphere. The wild and unpredictable frontiers of Maui, Kauai, and Big Island prove worthy contenders for some of the world’s most mind-blowing outdoor pursuits.
7. North Shore Skydiving
Oahu’s incredible North Shore is best known for world class surfing—and the breaks, yes they are legendary—but another way to get an eagle’s eye view of this scenic, wave-pounding expanse is to take a dive—right out of a plane. You’ll need to rub shoulders with a few professionals here, who will take you to the skies for a heart-pounding tandem skydive session. There are a few factors on how far up you go—weather and experience are main ones—but it’ll be between 7,500-14,000 feet. On queue, you’ll take the plunge into blue Hawaiian skies and free-falling at almost 200 km/hour. If you’re not too busy being wowed by the sensation tumbling out of an airplane, you might even notice the sensational views of the island’s big waves and small farms, curving strips of white sand, and plenty more ethereal sights.
6. Na Pali Coast Helicopter Tour
If you crave the thrill of hitting the skies without actually leaping out of a plane, a helicopter tour of the Kauai’s Napali Coast is the way to go. This coastal spread is easily one of the most beautiful across Hawaii’s islands, and fittingly, can only be reached by hiking, sea, or helicopter. Words to describe this otherworldly spectacle: majestic, enchanting, flourishing—there’s really no end to the beauty of this wondrous coastline. Jade green mountainous pinnacles are settled along the shore, enduring a full 17 miles along a coast shaped by the very waves that have crashed the shores for hundreds of years. Once you’ve taken flight, your prize will be Pacific Ocean panoramas, emerald, velvety cliffs, and plummeting waterfalls cutting into narrow, seemingly bottomless, island valleys. The rough-hewn coastal terrain has seen little change since the first Hawaiians settled Napali centuries before.
5. Coastal Kite Surfing
Kite surfing is a pretty amazing way to take to Hawaii’s ocean waters, catch some serious wind, and coast along at high speeds. For the best experience, the waves and the wind have to be working together, providing ideal conditions. This exciting sport, born in Maui ofvcourse, draws on both wakeboarding and windsurfing and takes on multiple forms depending on experience—you tend to find the more extreme variety throughout Hawaii but beginner’s can try it out too. There are plenty of places to kite surf throughout the islands: Maui’s north shore boasts Kite Beach where you’ll see top surfers working with steady, strong winds blowing parallel to the shoreline; and Big Island’s Hilo Bay is another hot spot for kite surfing along the eastern edge when the afternoon northerly winds blow in. Avoid disappointing conditions: kite surf between March and April or wait until October or November.
4. Oahu Shark Diving
Some would say deliberately putting yourself in way of a shark is a little bit crazy while others can’t wait for the electrifying feeling of swimming with the ocean’s most dangerous creatures. Forget goose bumps, you’ll be getting full on chills when you enter shark-infested waters—in a steel cage of course, and with professionals. Tiger Sharks, gray Reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, and Galapagos sharks all swim these waters, and if curious enough, will swim directly to the underwater cage to get a closer look at you. The cage bars, though thick, leave a lot to the imagination—the gaps are wide so you’re highly encouraged to keep your arms and legs tucked tightly inside. You’ll be able to snap away during the excursion (where you could purposely be almost cheek to cheek with a shark if you choose)—you’ll need some proof when recounting this perilous adventure!
3. Kipu Falls Cliff Jumping
Bring up Kipu Falls to any Kauai local and they’ll almost surely be able to give you directions right to it. Situated near the favored eastern side of Kauai, Kipu Falls is about a half-hour from Lihue’s downtown core. If you’ve got GPS capabilities, you should be able to find it fairly easily too—you won’t miss the cluster of cars parked along the road adjacent to a mammoth field. Park your vehicle there, trek by the edge of the lively stream, and find yourself in verdant Arcadia in about 15 minutes. You’re easy hike brings on huge rewards: a massive, freshwater pool to throw yourself into, a huge tree swing even Tarzan would covet, and loads of opportunity to make friends from around the globe. If you’re lucky, a local will back flip from a tree limb 70 astounding feet to the pool below.
2. Coastal Kailua-Kona Night Diving
Nerves of steel is just about a requirement for night diving off Big Island but if the you’re curious enough about the ocean after dark, hook up with pro divers for a one-of-a-kind diving trip. Book a trip for Big Island night diving and be prepared for spectacular underwater scenes. Several diving outfits head up the five-hour journey, whisking intrepid souls out a few miles off the Kailua-Kona shore—in pitch black. Most excursions leave prior to sunset, making the short journey while the sun is still up. Once the sun sets though, you’ll be kitted with gear and led into black waters with large spotlights: the lights illuminate scores of plankton, attracting the flourishing Manta Ray population to enjoy a little midnight feast. The sight is truly incredible, and though they are related to sharks and can definitely be intimidating, Mantas are beautiful, captivating creatures.
1. Paddle Opposite Sky-Bound Sea Cliffs
Hawaii’s first Polynesians navigated waters around this nexus of islands in double-hulled, hand-made canoes and traveled the archipelago like champions. If you think you have the chops, you can follow in the ancients’ footsteps and paddle Kauai’s rugged coastline. Day-long day trips from Hanalei Bay-based outfitters are reasonably priced and include everything to take to the swells successfully. The 27-kilometer expedition is of Herculean proportions—and definitely for the physically fit. This trip takes route alongside the stunning Napali Coast where random 6-foot swells and unpredictable winds will require all that you’ve got. This stamina-tester of a paddle takes you through towering sea caverns, traditional Hawaiian fishing sanctuaries, and alongside suspended valleys on a feat some Hawaiian outfitters have named “the Everest of sea kayaking expeditions.” If thinking about it makes you weary, enjoy a mid-level, two-hour sunset paddle along the rugged west coast instead.