7 Adventure Getaways on Hawaii Island: From the Mountains to the Sea

Whatever your adventure style, you'll find it on a Hawaii Island getaway, where there's everything from exploring volcanoes to snorkeling in the sea.

Hawaii Island, sometimes referred to as the Big Island, is a place of diverse possibilities. I’ve played in the snow atop the mountain Mauna Kea and snorkeled off its sunny beaches—on the same day.

I sometimes spend mornings listening to the birds sing themselves awake while a pink and orange tropical sunrise lights the sky over calm, crescent-shaped Hilo Bay. In winter months, we see humpback whales offshore, breaching as they migrate past. At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a 45-minute drive from Hilo, friends and I hike across a former (hardened) lava lake in an actual volcanic crater. And on the island’s west side, we bodysurf at white- or black-sand beaches where the sun warms and the trade winds cool.

Hawaii Island has so many different types of adventures that you’re sure to find what you enjoy. Here some favorite adventure getaways for a satisfying tropical vacation.

Try Water Sports on Waikoloa Beach

If water play is your game, Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, on the island’s west side, has everything you could want. Besides easy access to (and a gorgeous view of) the palm-lined, white sand beach at Anaehoomalu Bay and all the water activities there, the hotel offers three pools and a waterslide.

The hotel sits across from Anaehoomalu Beach, where you can bodysurf, snorkel, stand-up paddle, kayak, hydro-bike, dive, sail, and whale watch (humpback whales migrate on by from about November to May). A kiosk rents ocean sports equipment, and if a sunset sail sounds good, you can jump on a catamaran, too. If you want to get your history on, know that the bay has historic Hawaiian fishponds, and you can hike to petroglyph fields close by.

The hotel offers three very different swimming pools, all set amongst lush tropical foliage. That means there’s a pool to match your mood. Need some deep relaxation? Squish your toes in the partially sand-bottom, adult-only infinity pool, which also has cascading waterfalls. There are also several heated whirlpools and everybody is welcome in the children’s pool, boasting a 50-foot water slide. And when you need some shade and a Hawaiian mai tai, you can stake out a poolside cabana.

Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa

8.0 Very good (6234 reviews)

Hike to Historic Petroglyphs

Mauna Lani Point is a gated, oceanfront community of luxury condo villas with sweeping sunset views over lush green grass to palm trees and the blue Pacific. Some also have views of the golf course’s signature 3rd hole, which stretches across an ocean inlet. No matter which villa you choose, you’ll look out over colorful, tropical sunsets.

Guests of Mauna Lani Point condos can access all the benefits of the Mauna Lani Resort. That includes playing golf alongside the sea at one, or both, of the two dramatic, 18-hole championship golf courses. Their emerald green fairways contrast with ancient black lava and look over expansive ocean views.

The condos are also near the Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve, where you can hike out to see an extensive collection of ancient lava rock carvings, most from the days before Western contact. A few show numbers or letters and are from the time when the population was transitioning from an oral to written language.

Mauna Lani Luxury Vacation Villas

Top rated
9.2 Excellent (602 reviews)

Snorkel in the King's Pond at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai

The five-star Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is known for its absolute top-notch, impeccable service. Its bungalow-like guest rooms sit on startlingly lush, green Kona coast grounds situated between a dramatic backdrop of black lava rock and blue ocean.

The hotel can arrange night dives where you swim and snorkel alongside manta rays, while accompanied by a guide and with lights to guide the way. Private charter boat outings take you to secluded beaches and secret snorkel spots. They provide complimentary snorkel gear and even have prescription face masks. Other ocean activities include outrigger canoe paddling, stand-up paddling, scooter snorkeling (snorkeling with an underwater scooter to propel you). Some guests see pods of spinner dolphins.

You can also snorkel in the King’s Pond, a giant aquarium carved from lava rock and filled with white sand. The 1.8-million-gallon aquarium has more than 98 species of tropical fish and a spotted eagle ray.

Four Seasons Resort Hualalai

Top rated
9.9 Excellent (44 reviews)

Have Ocean Adventures at Historic Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

When Laurance Rockefeller built the elegant Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on beautiful Kaunaoa Bay in 1965, it was the Kohala Coast’s first resort and the most expensive hotel ever built.

The historic hotel offers water adventures through its Beach Club on the white sands of the bay. They offer ocean gear such as stand-up paddleboards (and lessons), snorkeling equipment, kayaks, and canoe rides. For bigger adventures, there is a moonlight snorkel adventure where you may come nose-to-nose with giant manta rays; or a sunset paddle and manta experience by canoe.

The hotel also has a championship golf course and 11 tennis courts at the ocean’s edge. Tennis Resorts Online calls its Seaside Tennis Club the eighth best tennis resort in the world.

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Autograph Collection

Top rated
9.4 Excellent (926 reviews)

Experience Cultural Hawaiian Ocean Experiences

Kohala, home of the Hotel Fairmont Orchid, is home to numerous historical and cultural sites, many of them associated with the ocean. Kohala was the birthplace of Kamehameha I, who united all the Hawaiian Islands in 1810.

The hotel’s Beach Club takes guests out on early morning canoe voyages to see the sun rise over the majestic mountain Maunakea. They welcome the sun by blowing a conch and a Hawaiian oli, or chant. Other canoe adventure opportunities include a two-hour expedition to a pristine snorkeling area and fishing from an outrigger canoe.

You can take lessons in stand-up paddleboarding, a sport that originated in Hawaii, go on shoreline fishing adventures, or take private or group surfing lessons. All water sports teachers are experts who share their cultural knowledge and stories about Hawaii.

Fairmont Orchid

Top rated
9.3 Excellent (6118 reviews)

Experience a World-Class Beach

Kohala Coast’s newly-renovated Westin Hapuna Beach Resort sits near a white sand beach that is consistently called one of the world’s best beaches. You can hardly go wrong planning your getaway adventure there. Between the hotel’s pools, beach access, and acclaimed golf course, it’s a great place to settle in for a unique Hawaii Island adventure.

Hapuna truly is the king of beaches. It’s where many local residents go for a day of sun. After a swim, wander up the hill to the beach café for a guava, mango, and passion fruit shave ice with ice cream—very refreshing on a hot day— or tasty fish tacos with mango salsa.

Robert Trent Jones, Sr. designed the hotel’s award-winning 18-hole golf course, which was later redesigned by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay. It sits atop what was once a barren lava field. Now, though, the lava is lush, green fairways that reach from the shoreline to 700 feet above sea level, and tumble across seaside cliffs and offer unfolding ocean and coastal views. The course’s signature 12th hole has one of the best views you will see of the island, its expansive coastline, and you can even see Maui in the distance.

The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort

Top rated
8.7 Excellent (2767 reviews)

A Big Island Hotel with Panoramic Bay Views

The Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo, which was recently extensively renovated, could almost not be in a lovelier setting. It sits on the shores of Hilo Bay where there is a panoramic view of the crescent-shaped bay itself. You also see quiet Hilo town, majestic Mauna Kea, tiny Mokuola (Coconut Island) and its footbridge, and the verdant Hamakua coastline.

The hotel can arrange tours to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which sits atop two of the world’s most active volcanoes. (Don’t worry, scientists keep abreast of what’s going on, so there are no surprises.) The national park is an otherworldly landscape of new and old lava fields, steam vents, petroglyphs, lava caves, rainforest, native birds and other fauna, and extraordinary hikes.

At the Visitor’s Center, you can learn about the geology, plants, animals, and cultural history of the volcanoes area. Across the way, the Volcano Art Center, housed in a building that is historical to the area, sells quality art made by local artisans.

Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo - a DoubleTree by Hilton

8.1 Very good (2187 reviews)

Feature image courtesy of Jakob Owens / Unsplash