My brother and I spent a long time saving up for our trip to Hawaii. There were so many fun activities I saw online, and we wanted to be able to do them all! Looking back we had a blast, but some activities were definitely more worth it than others. Here’s what we did, how much it cost, and what was actually worth the price. (Note: You’ll need to rent a car to get to most of these places.)
1. Scuba diving $165 (+$25 for photos)— Banzai divers
This was hands down the most worthwhile activity we did on the island, and we almost didn’t even go! In contrast to the many of the other diving businesses, this place was very high tech. I talked to at least 3 other companies, and they all required snail e-mail in order to book appointments with them. Thankfully, Banzai had everything online, so we could book it all at 12am the night before without a worry in the world. They had us input our size of gear and diving certification, and when we showed up the next morning everything was being laid out on the boat, ready to go. I’ve dived a few times in a other places, and I’ve never seen things go so smoothly. We just hopped on, suited up, and enjoyed our dive. The divemaster, Devon, took incredible photos and gave us an experience we will never forget. He showed us eels, tons of sea turtles (aka honus), and even handed us an octopus he found. The feeling of the tentacles gripping your skin is so weird, but so cool! You have to try it! I grabbed the octopus when it got loose so that I could hand it to another diver that wanted to feel it. I tried passing it on to her, but it kept sticking to me, longingly I’m sure. I have no idea how it happened, but suddenly the octopus decided to seek revenge by suction-cupping to her goggles and not let go. She was learning how to dive for the first time, but luckily she didn’t freak out about being blind. I, on the other hand, have never been so close to suffocating in my life. There was something so hysterical about the octopus attack, I couldn’t stop laughing. Have you ever tried hysterically laughing underwater with a regulator? Not as easy as it looks!
2. Helicopter ride $211— Blue Hawaiian
If you’ve never been in a helicopter, or at least in one flying over an island, then I would also recommend this tour and especially through this agency. Our pilot, Kristy, used to fly those badass Chinooks for the military. She felt trustworthy and calm, which are qualities you desire in the person flying a tin can in the sky. She was also impressively well-versed on the traits of the island, so you got more than just pretty views. The only downside to this is that I didn’t realize I would get “sky sick”. I think it was something about the vibration of the helicopter, but half way through I was suddenly very quiet and eyeing the barf bag. Learn from my mistake and bring a dramamine just in case!
3. ‘Jurassic Park’ Valley ATV rides $123 (for 2 hours)— Kualoa Ranch
Kualoa Ranch sits on a valley and nature reserve. It’s one of the most scenic mountain-beach spots on the island of Oahu. Unfortunately, tourists and big business have taken note of this and turned it into a bit of a haven for haules (Hawaiian word for tourists or white people). You will see buses dropping off hoards of them at the park entrance to take one of the million tours they offer (eg. bus tours, horse tours, ATV, zipling…). Once you’re out on the ATV tour, they will take you through the valley, up one hill, then down again. On the website they make it sound like you’re going to explore this crazy, wild jungle where they filmed the original Jurassic Park. While in reality, they only filmed 3 minutes of it there, and the tour itself was really beautiful in the valley but too short-lived. Going up the hill and near the park entrance grounds was not particularly thrilling. In summary, I partially recommend this tour, partially not so much.
4. Mermaid Cave Diving free
Of course I recommend this because it was both fun and free! My only recommendation is to use your sense. Are you a very clumsy person like I am? If so, maybe rethink this activity. The mermaid caves are volcanic rock caves that formed over the water on the shore of Nanakuli Beach. There are various holes you can jump in when the tide is high, but not too high or else you’ll drown. You’ll see some local teens hovered around a certain area on the left side of the beach and that’s how you’ll know where to go. The danger here is multi-fold, so I feel compelled to warn you. First, there are tall, sharp rocks in the holes. If your jump falls a little to the left or is not timed correctly with an incoming wave, you could be seriously hurt or killed. Also, there is an incredibly strong current pulling you out if you’re diving in the area that’s open to the ocean. If you need to get out, wait until the wave pulls you out and then pushes you back in. You can use the force of the wave pushing you in to bank yourself on the nearby rocks. A local gave me this strategy after he had to fish me out of the water. I was barely able to hold onto a rock when the current starting ripping me and my bathing suit in the wrong direction. He was a godsend! It was very thrilling to jump off, so if you’re careful then I’d recommend this activity. Still, be mindful of my warnings. When you go to this rock area, you will see a few gravestones for the people who passed here. It’s no joke. One last thing I forgot to mention, since this is volcanic rock it will cut you up. Bring some kind of watershoes or flipflops (slippers in Hawaiian).
5. Swimming with dolphins in the wild + Whale watching $215— Wild Side
I’ve always wanted to swim with dolphins. However, I’m not a fan of keeping them in captivity, so I refused to support businesses like Sea World in order to do this. This is probably why I got so excited about this particular tour. They had a 99.5% success rate in seeing sea life and they promised us a swim with them! This tour rated so highly on TripAdvisor and cost more than any other tour, so I was expecting a lot. While they did deliver, the whales were far away and the boat driver wasn’t very talented at trying to get closer. Also, they legally have to stay 100 meters away from the whales, so you’re really just watching random spouts of water shoot from their blowhole a mile away. As far as the dolphin’s are concerned, there’s an area on the west side (leeward side) of the island where the Hawaiian spinner dolphins spend their days napping.
It’s actually right off the beach, so we really didn’t need to take a boat to get there. The dolphins feed at night in the deep water and come to sleep in this shallows during the day. When you think of a sleeping dolphin, you’d probably imagine them just sitting there, right? Well, they actually were quite active! It turns out they can shut off half their brain to sleep, while the other half stays awake and swims around. Why aren’t humans that evolved? Anywho, the boat dropped us and the guide off by the dolphins, and we were told to just float there and watch underwater. Some people from the shore brought their goggles and dove out there. They swam down below to meet the dolphins, which infuriated our boat captain who said we should give them space and let them come to us. While it was really exciting seeing the dolphins nearby, the guides were made our experience very strange. They were extremely meticulous, giving us instructions for everything. It made Tyler and I feel like we were in pre-k again. I would recommend the activity, but not the price and not the business.
6. Hiking $5— Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail, Kaena Point, Manoa Hike (waterfall)
All of these hikes were free, except you have to pay $5 to park at Manoa.
Makapu’u lighthouse, obviously, leads you to a lighthouse. It was an easy-sloping, paved trail 1.5 miles in length. This spot is frequented by plenty of tourists, so go in the evening time to miss the crowds. Google’s sidebar will even tell you how many people are there or how popular it is that time of day. I would check this before going.
Kaena Point was deserted. It was on the leeward side of the island, which is famous for being the less safe area of Hawaii. You drive all the way down to the very end of the road, park you car, then get out and hike to the left tip of Oahu where you’ll see nothing but ocean. This area is a reserve, so it’s beautiful and untouched. You
will also see the endangered Hawaiian albatross and monk seals that live here. Please be sure to bring water. This is an area of the island that has less wind and more heat- think desert. I brought a half a water bottle like a dumbass and I did not enjoy the hike. I thought I would die of dehydration. I think I even hallucinated a little.
The Manoa hike is how I thought our Jurassic tour would be. The trees here were massive, I really felt like a dinosaur would pop out of the shrubs at any moment. The waterfall here is not very impressive and you can’t get near it. The hike itself is the beautiful part. If I had to recommend one hike out of the many, this would be it, just for the sheer amount of vegetation in the area. It’s really an incredible site.
7. Dole Plantation free
This is a huge pineapple plantation in the middle of Hawaii. It is a tourist feeding ground, so beware. Here you will find a 2-mile train tour (for children) and the largest maze in the world, made of pineapples of course. It’s free to enter, but the tours and maze cost money. I honestly wouldn’t recommend the trip here, except for the amazing Dole Whip!
8. Scenic driving free— West/Middle/East
Since Tyler and I rented a car for our whole stay, we spent a few days driving around the entire island. If you’re time is limited, then you can use this as quick guide to what to expect from each side.
Leeward (west) side: This area is, again, less safe. It’s also less developed in comparison to Hawaii Kai and Honolulu, so you won’t find too many restaurants or gas stations the further north you go. You will find long stretches of flat beaches here. There’s also a cool cave (on land) you can drop by and the mermaid cave I mentioned above.
Middle of the island drive to the North Shore: Since there are not that many highways in Hawaii, or roads in general, you will find that as you get closer to North Shore the traffic slows down A LOT. A local told me that the traffic here is pretty consistent, so expect delays. The drive in the middle of the island was not particularly thrilling, but maybe I was half asleep.
North Shore was a cool area though, with a lot of the hip surf culture you’d expect after watching Blue Crush.
Windward (east) side: For me, this was the most beautiful side of the island. They had draw-dropping coves, like Cockroach Cove (ignore the name, it was gorgeous!) and tide pools. It was such a site to see! Also on this side, is the Makapu’u lighthouse trail and Kualoa Ranch. Once you get past Hawaii Kai, it seems a bit more wild here and very lush.
9. Paddle boarding $30— Ala Moana bay
I don’t remember which paddle board company we used because it was hell to find one, and I wanted to forget it. Most paddle board companies have warehouses, so you have to book the board in advance, then pick it up and drive it to the water yourself. What if you have a rental without a car rack? Use the link above, they’ll deliver the boards to you! Tyler and I went paddle boarding on Ala Moana. It was really beautiful but too hard to stand going against the current. I can almost promise you that you will see turtles here as well. Good luck!
10. Park with hike/waterfall $16— Waimea Valley Park
I’m excluding this park from #6, because I feel like it has more to offer than just a normal hike. This park is extremely well manicured. I think the best word to describe the atmosphere here is pleasant. Everything is beautiful. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and it’s warm with a perfect, cooling breeze. The trees and vegetation embrace you with their ancient wisdom. Ok, I’m getting a little weird. Basically I just want to say that this place was worth the money. You can also hike to the waterfall at the end and go swimming. Yes, there are tourists here. Yes, you should go anyway.