10 Incredible Experiences in Hawaii Learning From a Local

Sunny, a resident of Hawaii, recently penned a great piece 7 Wonderful Places to Stay in Hawaii With Unique Character. I asked her to follow up with some amazing experiences you’ll be sure to enjoy. ~Susan

By Sunny Fitzgerald

If you’re looking for cool experiences in Hawaii, look beyond the most popular, often overcrowded sites and attractions. Opt for a more enriching encounter. Learn about the wonders of the islands from locals. Here are 10 small group and private adventures to try in Hawaii.

Looking into the multi-colored crater of the Hualalai Volcano. One of the cool experiences in Hawaii led by a local
Hualalai Volcano | Photo: Four Seasons

Hualalai Crater Experience, Island of Hawaii

Join Kimo Duarte of Hualalai Crater Experience on the Island of Hawaii, a local who grew up visiting the Hualalai Volcano summit and learning the mo`olelo (stories, legends) from his father and grandfather, for a private guided tour.

Duarte will set the stage with a Hawaiian oli (chant) before leading you through koa and ohia forests while enjoying native birdsong and sharing stories of the volcano, the environment, and Hawaiian history and culture.

Stop by the family’s cabin and then take a two-mile hike to explore the colorful summit craters before giving back to the `aina (land) by planting a koa tree that contributes to reforestation efforts. 

Cost: $200 per person

Reservations: Can be booked here

Photo: Courtesy of Four Season

Holoholo Cultural Fishing Excursion, Lanai

Link up with a Cultural Advisor through the Love Lanai program at the Fours Seasons Lanai. You’ll not only learn how to cast a line and throw a net on the Holoholo Cultural Fishing Excursion, but you’ll also have an opportunity to “talk story” and hear about Native Hawaiian methods of sustainable fishing and the cultural significance of these practices.

Swing by Keomoku, an ancient fishing village, and Waiaope Fishpond to learn about aquaculture and see the efforts of the community to restore the fishpond. Celebrate your island experience with a fresh fish dinner: bring your catch — perhaps papio, oio, or toao — back to the resort and work with the chef to create a custom meal that showcases local flavors. 

Cost: $300 per jeep (1-4 guests)

Reservations: (800)321-4666

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Back view of a man with a backpack walking through a jungle
Photo: William Bayreuther

Halawa Valley Hike, Molokai

Hike through Halawa Valley with those that know it best: cultural practitioner Anakala Pilipo Solatorio — the last living Hawaiian descendent born and raised in the valley that stayed here — and one of his sons, Gregory Kawaimaka Solatorio.

While the hike to Mo`oula Falls is an adventure in itself, taking you into the jungle, through mud, and over two river crossings, the Solatorios share more than the trail with you. Through storytelling, demonstrations, and ceremony, they impart their knowledge about Hawaiian culture, local flora and fauna, sustainable practices, sacred sites, taro terraces, and more. 

Cost: $45 per child; $70 per adult

Reservations: Can be booked here 

Humpback Whale breaching in the ocean
Photo: Todd Cravens

Pacific Whale Foundation, Maui

Engage in a service project on Maui through the Pacific Whale Foundation’s Volunteers on Vacation program. Whether you choose to help preserve the fragile ecosystem at Haleakala National Park, clean up coastal trails, restore streams in the West Maui Mountains, remove invasive species at Waihe`e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge, or another volunteer activity, you’ll have an opportunity to learn about local culture and history while making a positive contribution. 

Cost: Free

Reservations: Reserve your spot at least 24 hours in advance by calling (808) 249-8811 ext. 1

Looking up a palm trees and a blue sky-- Lynn Arboretum
Photo: Sunny Fitzgerald

Forest Bathing, Oahu

Inspired by the Japanese wellness practice of shirinyoku, “taking in the atmosphere of the forest,” forest bathing is a meditative experience that can help reduce stress, boost your mood, and increase creativity.

Certified forest therapy guide Phyllis Look will lead you through “invitations” designed to help you slow down and connect to Oahu’s rich natural environment through your senses. You’ll have a chance to stroll the trails, sit in contemplative silence, share observations, and enjoy the sights, sounds, and scents of the rainforest. 

Cost: $65 in-person experience; $75 for in-person experience + pay-it-forward to help sponsor a free virtual forest therapy experience for a healthcare worker; $20-30 virtual experience

Reservations: Can be made here

A woman walks on another woman's back- Body Walking, a very cool thing to do in Hawaii
Photo: Robb Aaron Gordon

Polynesian Body Walking, Lanai

Experience the ancient art of lomi a`e — a bodywork treatment where the practitioner uses barefoot stepping to release tension in your body.

Born and raised in Hawaii, practitioner Maka Pico studied under a Polynesian lomi kumu (teacher) and now offers this unique experience in the serene setting of private spa hale (meaning “home” in Hawaiian, but in this case, the hale are private, standalone spa rooms) in the tropical gardens at Sensei Lanai.

Pico starts with a pule (prayer or blessing) and spends some time in silence tuning into what your body needs before she gets to work. 

Cost: $600

Reservations: (808)565-4500 

View of a woman in a red dress with a wide-brimmed hat walking on a lush farmNa Mea Kupono . One of many cool things to do in Hawaii
Photo: Sunny Fitzgerald

Taro Farm Experience, Oahu

Taro, the root vegetable used to make poi, is one of the most culturally significant crops in Hawaii. Book a private tour at Na Mea Kupono, a working lo`i kalo (taro farm) on Oahu’s North Shore, and spend time with local farmer Ku`uipo Garrido.

She’ll teach you about the Hawaiian creation story, agriculture, and sustainable practices before leading you into the taro patch to put your new knowledge to work. Help clear invasive species, harvest taro, or assist with other tasks on the farm. Then take a refreshing dip in the punawai (spring) pool and enjoy the views of Ka’ala, the highest mountain on Oahu.

Cost: varies depending on request

Reservations: By email info@nameakupono.com or phone (808)637-6529

Many people at a table outdoors during a Kiawe Outdoors experience
Photo: Kiawe Outdoors

Kiawe Outdoor, Maui

Yeshua Goodman, an advanced sommelier and open-fire chef born on the Island of Hawaii and raised on Maui, shares Hawaiian culture through this culinary experience.

Locally sourced foods are cooked over an open flame and paired with craft drinks and wine — all enjoyed in the great outdoors. Request a tailor-made private event, or book an unforgettable experience with Goodman through Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea that starts with a helicopter ride to a former sugar cane plantation and ends with a dessert demonstration.

Cost: Varies depending on event

Reservations: Submit an inquiry and request a quote here

A group of birdwatchers using binoculars looking up on the Hakalau Bird watching tour
Photo: Hakalau Birdwatching

Hakalau Birdwatching Excursion, Island of Hawaii

Join Hawaii Forest & Trail interpretive guides on a full-day, small group excursion in the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. Learn about native plants and wildlife, including the happy-faced spider, while exploring the refuge on your two to four-mile hike. Expert bird trackers will help you spot endangered and rare birds like the `i`iwi, `amakihi, `apanepane, and more. 

Cost: $215 per person

Reservations: Can be made here

View of a small day-cruise boat with beautiful Hawaiian mountains in the background
Photo: Holo Holo Charters

Niihau + Napali Super Tour, Kauai

Cruise along the rugged Napali coast of Kauai on locally-owned Holo Holo Charters catamaran, and learn about the history of this magical place before heading for Niihau, the “Forbidden Island.”

Although land access is prohibited on Niihau, you will have a chance to snorkel in the pristine waters here. Holo Holo Charters is the only boat tour operator in Kauai that offers a daily visit to Niihau and is certified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) as Dolphin SMART for their efforts to protect marine life and educate visitors about responsible marine life viewing. 

Cost: $269 per adult; $239/child (ages 5-12)

Reservations: Can be booked online, by email (sales@holoholocharters.com), or phone (808) 335-0815

Sunny Fitzgerald Travel Writer

Sunny Fitzgerald is a Hawaii-based writer covering travel, sustainability, culture, health, wellness, and more. You can find her work in National Geographic, The Washington Post, Travel+Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, BBC, and elsewhere. 

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