couple on surfboards hawaii

Hawaii’s Ultimate Adrenaline-Inducing Experiences

12 July 2018
Read Time: 6.2 mins

Add a little excitement to your Hawaiian holiday by exploring the adrenaline-inducing, cultural and flavour-focused experiences on offer.

There’s no doubt the USA’s 50th state rates high on everyone’s to-visit list. Who doesn’t love soft golden beaches, the lure of Waikiki, surfing, cocktails, hula, pineapples and gently swaying palm trees? But there’s a whole lot more to these idyllic islands than tropical splendour. Buckle up, because if you want to experience all that Hawaii has to offer, you’re in for an exhilarating ride.

volcano crater glowing hawaii Experience the power of Hawaii's volcanoes from the safety of a viewing platform on the Big Island.

Explore Volcanoes

Hawaii’s islands are anchored on the bottom of the ocean to a giant slab of rock known as the Pacific Plate. Underneath it, a hot spot in the earth’s core spews magma outwards, burning holes in the tectonic plate and assembling islands. On Hawaii’s Big Island, the spectacle of Kilauea volcano’s lava pouring downslope into the ocean can be witnessed via helicopter, boat, bike or on foot. At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s observatory overlook, lava glows through smoke in the caldera as daylight fades. While you’re in the park, be sure to stroll through Thurston Lava Tube to get an intimate glimpse inside a tunnel formed by a former lava flow.

Also on Big Island, dormant 4,200m Mauna Kea (the White Mountain) boasts 12 observatories, a winter covering of snow, and a 4WD access road from the visitor centre at 2,800m to the top. Slumbering Haleakala on Maui draws crowds to its moonscape-like summit crater for a spectacular, albeit chilly, sunrise. The latter now requires reservations and a small fee is charged to avoid carpark overflow.

two girls sitting ontop of mountain hawaii Almost any hike you can do in Hawaii rewards with incredible nature and views.

Go on an Adventure… or Five

Once you’re done stalking an active lava flow, there are many other ways to walk on the wild side. Experience the thrill of zip-lining over valleys, tropical rainforests and waterfalls, book a skydiving excursion, or soar through the air in a powered hangglider. On Maui, several tour agencies will take you on a thrilling downhill bike ride from the summit of Haleakala all the way to the ocean. Kauai’s bike adrenaline rush starts at the rim of Waimea Canyon – a Grand Canyon lookalike.

Underwater adventures abound, too. It’s easy to book submarine, scooter, snorkel, scuba and snuba outings. And some dive shops on Big Island offer night expeditions to spy on graceful manta rays feeding on plankton. Horseback trail rides are available at Hawaii’s many stables, which also stage rodeos at various times of year. Believe it or not, polo is a popular island sport, and there are venues such on the North Shore that offer lessons.

You’ll find a plethora of hiking trails that deliver spectacular views of forest, ocean and mountains, and are very likely to lead you to a hidden waterfall. For a truly unforgettable trek, make sure you climb at least the first couple of kilometres along Kauai’s jaw-dropping, 18km Kalalau Trail as it winds along the oceanside cliffs of famed Na Pali – cinematic home of King Kong.

RELATED: Roads worth the drive in Hawaii

girl on beach with surfboard hawaii If there's one iconic Hawaiian thing to try, it's surfing.

Learn to ‘Hang Ten’

Surfing schools offer lessons year-round and will guide you to the many of the best beaches for your skill level. During big-wave season from December to April, hundreds of spectators flock to see surfers tackle monster waves at Jaws Surf Break on Maui. And professional surfing championships, such as the Pipeline Masters and Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, take place on the island of Oahu’s North Shore at Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach.

Considered the father of modern surfing, Duke Kahanamoku was the first person inducted into the swimming and surfing halls of fame. Every year near his August 24 birthday, a lei-draping ceremony at his Waikiki statue kicks off the multi-day Duke’s OceanFest – an extravaganza of water-based competitions and festivities.

RELATED: What it's really like to swim with manta rays in Hawaii

Get to Know the Local Lore

Being local in Hawaii implies a person is part Native Hawaiian or the descendant of labourers from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Puerto Rico or Portugal, who were brought to the islands in

the 1800s to toil on sugarcane plantations. These groups, along with Samoans, Tongans and other Polynesians – as well as Caucasians – intermarried and intermingled, with their culture becoming an expanded collage of language, food, architecture and customs that makes Hawaii the diverse and exciting cultural hotspot it is today.

Some of the most intriguing repositories of Hawaii’s vibrant history and culture include Oahu’s Bishop Museum, which showcases Polynesian voyaging using celestial navigation; Iolani Palace, a former royal residence inhabited by Hawaii’s kings and queens; and Hawaii’s Plantation Village, an open-air museum arranged around a general store, barber shop, bathhouse and plantation-workers’ homes. It imparts the story of life on Hawaii’s sugar plantations.

dancers at luau hawaii Luau's are a great way to introduce the whole family to the Hawaiian culture.

Celebrate With the Locals

One of the best ways to immerse yourself in Hawaii’s ethnic fun is to attend one of the state’s many festivals. Watch kimono dressing demonstrations, listen to Scottish bagpipes, join a Greek line dance, learn to play mahjong (a Chinese card game) or try your hand at stringing a lei. There are hula performances, ukulele jam sessions, king-and-queen coronation ceremonies, and parades featuring flower-laden floats, bare-chested Hawaiian warriors holding spears, and steam-belching dragons. A spectacular fireworks display is often the grand finale.

Don’t forget to attend a luau. In the past, this feast was held to commemorate a special event such as an infant surviving its first year or the launching of a new canoe. Today families still celebrate a baby’s first birthday, plus graduations, weddings and more. If you don’t know a local who is planning one, you can take part in a luau for tourists. In addition to a Polynesian dance performance, all serve up a sumptuous array of both Hawaiian and Western food.

RELATED: Travelling with the family? The top 10 family attractions in Hawaii

girls eating shave ice hawaii Shave ice is a must-eat treat while in Hawaii.

Take Your Tastebuds on a Tour

The culinary scene in Hawaii includes everything from luaus to mom-and-pop eateries specialising in specific cuisines, to fine dining at highly rated restaurants like those headed by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. Marimoto will soon be opening two restaurants that will sit within the newly redeveloped Alohilani Resort at Waikiki Beach.

Hawaii’s ubiquitous food trucks deliver another epicurean option. They dish up Thai, Mexican, Hawaiian and German cuisines, barbecue, shave ice, crepes, healthy fare, and anything else you could think of. Watch for a munchies bonanza called Eat the Street, in which dozens of these mobile eateries band together at a designated location. The payoff is an extravaganza of foodie delights in a carnival atmosphere.

Wherever your palate takes you, be sure to try Hawaii’s favourite food: Spam – no joke. It was introduced to Hawaii during World War II by the USA government to help feed deployed soldiers. Many migrant workers incorporated it into their own cultural dishes, and the popularity of Spam exploded. You can discover the allure of Spam at the yearly Waikiki Spam Jam – an evening celebration that features Spam-inspired creations from local restaurants, non-stop entertainment and Spam-themed merchandise.


Ready to get your heart rate up in Hawaii? Check out our holiday deals here.


Jennifer Crites

Based in Honolulu, Jennifer is an experienced travel writer and photographer. Her words and images have appeared in many publications, including Islands, The Hollywood Reporter, Honolulu, Hana Hou! (Hawaiian Airlines magazine), Travelworld, Cabin Life, Fodor's Hawaii, Oxford University Press, National Geographic Kids, Destination Hyatt, Travel & Leisure and The New Yorker (U.S. and U.K. editions), among many others.