Four Activities That You Will NEVER Forget on the Big Island


Coming to Hawaii Island and staying and enjoying all the natural wonders is an amazing experience. Between sunsets and waterfalls and rainbows and crashing waves, you could just sit on a different beach each day and call it a great vacation.  BUT, there are some pretty cool things to do here that are NOT inexpensive, but the joy meter is off the hook when you do them.

I have a few favorites that I will share with you here, but I am picking my top four first.

  1. Swimming with the Manta Rays 

Photo credit: Anelakai Adventures

After living here for a few years, I knew people were going into the ocean at night and swimming with the manta rays. I thought I would NEVER do that as who in their right mind goes into the ocean IN THE DARK?  Lo and behold, I had a chance to do it with Dolphin Journeys and I was AMAZED. Since then, swimming with the mantas has exploded as a top thing to do in West Hawaii. By the time the divers put their huge lights on the floor of the ocean to attract the plankton that the mantas feed off of, and all the snorkelers with their little flashlights and glowing arm bands and the lights from the are definitely NOT swimming in the dark. In fact, you are swimming in Cirque du Soleil and the manta rays are the dancing performers. They glide right up to you in their “plankton eating funk” of not caring that you are actually right in front of them. When I did it, we went out to the point near the airport and there had to have been about 10 mantas all between 12-14 feet across zooming and flying around everyone. It was spectacular. There are less expensive charters you can take that go right out of Keauhou Bay, too.  Anelakai Adventures does Kayaks from Keauhou Bay and Splasher’s Hawaii is a terrific company that does moonlit tours.  

2. Whale watching

Yes! That is me!

With whale season upon us, I have to say that a trip out to find and enjoy the visiting Humpback whales is a must do if you like boats and being out on the water for a few hours. Stop right here if you get seasick, as you may find just thinking about waiting up to ten minutes for a group of whales to re-appear after taking a nose dive down while you bob around in the water to be something to be avoided. HOWEVER, if you LOVE getting out on the ocean, keeping an eye out in the distance for a tell tale spout or breach and racing across the water to see a pod of whales, THIS IS FOR YOU! I love doing this so much, that last year I planned three charters with people from my Kona Newbie group with Dolphin Whisperers Hawaii and my friend Jan Salerno aboard The Office, which has a hydrophone so you can hear the whales sing. Two years ago, I created charters where I brought chocolate and red wine out which we tasted after seeing dozens of breaching whales. Hmmm, I may need to do THAT again..let me know if you are going to be here in late January or February, which is the peak whale watching season,  and I can give you some dates to consider.

3.  Zip Line Adventure 

Photo credit: 365Kona

Do you like flying high over a waterfall? Do you have the guts to fling yourself off a platform a hundred feet in the air? Then you may just enjoy the most thrilling Zipline adventure I have ever experienced at Skyline EcoAdventures near Hilo. The local staff members are VERY friendly and make even nervous folk feel good about taking off over a cliff. My friend was scared to jump on the last zip that takes you 1/2 mile over a waterfall and a canopy of trees to the end of the adventure and our guide was amazing. At the end, my friend said she was so proud of herself for doing it and my kids and I, who literally ran and just hurled ourselves off each platform, were just bursting with joy for the sheer adventure of it all. The sun was starting to set and the view of the ocean from the platforms across the trees was just magnificent. Just a great time. (I have done the Kohala and the UmaUma Falls zip lines and have enjoyed them all, but this one had the “adventure lines”. If you are new to zipping, know that about this course.)

4. Flumin’ the Ditch in Kohala 

Photo Credit: 365Kona

Until yesterday, I would not have put this on my “must do” list, but after a FANTASTIC day of floating down the irrigation flumes along the Kohala mountain range in an inflatable canoe, it is firmly on the list. I was a chaperone for a group of 8th graders from my son’s school and the kids had more fun that being on professional flume rides at an amusement park. The flumes were built 114 years ago by Japanese laborers working 12 hour shifts for 18 months to build over 20 miles of ditches to irrigate the cane fields. This “ride” is about 2 1/2 miles of those ditches and you go through 10 tunnels and meander through the forest where you see waterfalls and ponds, too. The guides brought squirt guns and encouraged the kids to use their paddles to drench their classmates. We sang, “It’s a Small World” in the tunnels with the trio of local guides and they told stories of growing up in Kohala and more about the cane industry in the islands.  There were a few “rapids” and you have to duck down a few times and with all that splashing (including a waterfall INSIDE the tunnel) I DID get wet, but laughed harder than I have in a long time. A REALLY fun adventure that lasts about and hour and 15 minutes in the flume and another 30 minutes on a quick view of Pololu Valley and the Kohala Coast and up into the forest. Check out Flumin Kohala and don’t forget to bring closed toed shoes, a towel, and a change of clothes. Trust me. (Here is a short video I took) 

Other Adventures:

If you enjoy a panoramic view of Kailua Bay and all of Kona, go out with UFO Parasailing. It’s a quick boat ride from the Kailua Pier out to the point where you get gently lifted up by a parachute to see the world. This is especially fun if it is whale season! You can get epic video and photos from up there and it is really exhilarating.

Photo Credit: 365Kona

I took a group of ladies out on Hawaiian Sails off of the beach at the Mauna Kea resort this summer and it was fantastic. Riding a authentic Hawaiian sailing canoe, with my feet in the water, salt spray in my hair and the sun in my face was tremendous. We only went a short distance to go snorkeling in nearby Puako. When we got back on board, they had a great lay out of tropical fruit and snacks. It’s a family run business that does not go out on Sunday and the aloha we received was awesome. Here is a video of my trip! 

I want to give a shout out to Anelakai Adventures, Skyline EcoAdventures, Splashers and UFO Parasailing for donating trips for the Habitat for Humanity silent auction I was in charge of this month. Love when businesses support local non-profits, so let them know if you go that they are appreciated for their generosity by Habitat for Humanity and 365Kona. Mahalo!

(If you provide adventure tours on Hawaii Island or other islands, contact me and I can do a review and even invite my Kona Newbie group to join me!)

If you want to see our adventure tours, please subscribe to our 365 Adventure channel on YouTube! 



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Meet the Author

Julie Ziemelis

Julie Ziemelis is an entrepreneur, business owner, author, blogger and vlogger in Kailua Kona. She created and moderates the “365 Things to Do in Kona” page and the Kona Newbies group on Facebook. She blogs at and and vlogs with her husband, Eric, at “365Hawaii” on YouTube. Julie also authored the books, “How to Move to Kona” and the “Insiders Guide to Buying Real Estate on the Big Island of Hawaii”. You will most likely find Julie in Kona hiking, running, biking, taking photos and sharing Aloha.

Leave a Question or Comment About this Topic

  • Keith Moberly says:

    Aloha Julie! My wife and I and best friend will be there from the 8th -16th. We would love to find out more about the wine/chocolate whale watching tour!