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Hidden Hawaii Nature Adventure

Discover the Natural Side of This South Pacific Paradise
Day 1: Hilo, Hawaii / Volcano Village
Arrive in Hilo on the island of Hawaii and transfer to Kilauea Lodge, located in Volcano Village on the edge of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Enjoy a welcome dinner with our Expedition Leader this evening.

Day 2: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The islands of Hawaii were formed by volcanic action, which continues today on the Big Island as Kilauea and Mauna Loa, two of the world's most active volcanoes, are still adding to the island's mass. We explore the lunar-like black landscape by van and on foot in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, learning about the ongoing geological formation of this most remote island chain on earth. We'll witness the results of more than 70 million years of volcanism, including migration and evolution processes that have thrust a bare land from the ocean's depths and clothed it with complex and unique ecosystems and a distinct human culture. The park is also a refuge for the island's native plants and animals and a link to its human past.

Our all-day tour of the park includes the Crater Rim Drive; a stunning overlook with a view into the active depths of Kilauea Crater and Halema'uma'u Crater; a walk through the prehistoric cave-like Thurston Lava Tube; the Sulphur Banks where volcanic gases and steam seep out of the ground; and Mauna Ulu's "lava trees," formed when hot lava splattered onto trees encasing them in a permanent rock shell. We'll also visit the Jaggar Museum of volcanology with displays of equipment used by scientists to study the volcano, working seismographs, and an exhibit of clothing and gear from researchers who got a bit too close to hot lava.

We return to Kilauea Lodge for dinner, then make an excursion after dark to watch the orange glow from Kilauea Volcano against the night sky.

Day 3: Hamakua Coast / Kapa’au
A scenic drive is in store this morning as we make our way north up the Hamakua Coast. Exploring en route, we stop at Laupahoehoe Point to admire the view of the turquoise waves breaking on the rugged black volcanic shoreline. We also stop at the Waipio overlook to surveying the dramatic valley below, which was the boyhood home of King Kamehameha I and an important center for political and religious life in old Hawaii. The fertile “Valley of the Kings,” filled with taro fields and rivers and flanked by 2,000-foot cliffs, was once home to thousands of native Hawaiians. Hawaii’s tallest waterfall, Hiilawe Falls, cascades 1,300 feet down into the valley.

Later we arrive at Hawaii Island Retreat, our distinctive ecolodge on the Big Island’s north shore near Kapa’au. This afternoon we explore the natural environs surrounding the lodge, including 50 acres of gardens, wild evergreen groves and ancient valley trails leading to the sea. The grounds are dotted with legendary council stones and native trees planted generations ago by a Hawaiian kahuna and his wife. The land has long been regarded as a place of healing and spiritual power, and the location's traditional Hawaiian name, Ahu Pohaku Ho'omaluhia, means "Gathering Place of Peace-giving Stones."

Day 4: Kohala Coast / Captain Cook
Entering the Kohala district, we discover a region that native Hawaiians consider to have great mana (spiritual power). This area was where King Kamehameha I, Hawaii's greatest king, was born, and a distinctive part of old Hawaii. North Kohala today is home to many of Hawaii's finest artists, musicians and healers. It is a land of exquisite beauty, with windswept ocean cliffs, deep coastal ravines and verdant meadows. The rural towns of Hawi and neighboring Kapa'au have restored buildings from the Big Island's sugar plantation era of the last century.

A full day of exploration begins with several beautiful waterfalls, historic taro terraces and dramatic views of the Pololu Valley. The small black sand beach below the overlook, accessible via a series of steep staircases, affords impressive views of the rugged mountains, sea cliffs and coastline. This afternoon we visit Pu’ukohola Heaiu National Historic Site, where the ruins of the last major ancient Hawaiian temple are preserved. The sacrificial temple commissioned by King Kamehameha I was built in the late 18th century on the site of an older temple and constructed entirely by hand with no mortar. We continue south to spend the night in Captain Cook on the island's sunny leeward side.

Day 5: Pu'uhonua o Honaunau / Mauna Kea Tour
Hawaiian heritage is our focus this morning on a visit to Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. The protected sanctuary site, or pu'uhonua, was a space that offered people a second chance at life if they had broken the kapu (sacred law) and could seek absolution from the kahuna pule, or priest. Honaunau was also the original seat of the chiefdom of Kona and the ancestral home of the Kamehameha dynasty.

Settle back this afternoon as we traverse the island from west to east, bound for the highest point in the Hawaiian archipelago: 13,796-foot Mauna Kea. We board 4x4 vehicles to ascend to the summit for sunset, moonrise and stargazing. Once on top we survey 360-degree views of the horizon, Haleakala on Maui, Mauna Loa and Hualalai, and Mauna Kea’s world-class array of telescopes. Accompanied by an expert local guide, we learn about the observable universe from both scientific and native Hawaiian perspectives. It's hard to believe we are in the tropics as we don the heavy parkas provided to keep us warm after sunset, setting up our own telescope for an amazing view of the stars.

Day 6: Fly to Kauai / Helicopter Flightseeing / Hanalei
This morning we fly to Kauai, Hawaii’s “Garden Isle.” It’s an apt nickname for an island that’s draped in green vegetation and harbors the world’s wettest spot, Mt. Waialeale, with more than 450 inches of rain a year. But the climate elsewhere on Kauai varies dramatically, including a leeward side so dry that cactus grows. Upon arrival we pick up a take-out lunch to enjoy at the beach. Then, a thrilling adventure is in store: a helicopter flight over the stunning terrain of Waimea Canyon and the knife-edged ramparts of the Na Pali Coast. We’ll look down upon Kauai’s lush rain forests and waterfalls with an unparalleled view from a state-of-the-art helicopter.

This afternoon we continue to Kauai's lush North Shore. It’s as if we’ve stepped back in time, where life slows down as we wind our way to the verdant windward corner of the island. Arriving in Hanalei, enjoy famous views of the turquoise expanse of Hanalei Bay and its historic pier. Continuing a few miles farther along the narrow road that traverses old single-lane bridges as it hugs the scenic shoreline, we reach road’s end at Ke’e Beach. Often swathed in clouds, this is the start of Kauai’s famous Na Pali Coast, a series of vertical cliffs cloaked in verdant rainforest. If the weather cooperates, we’ll take in one of the famous Na Pali sunsets, but even if it’s misty, the lush beauty of this location is matchless. Our hotel, the Hanalei Colony Resort, offers a palm-sheltered retreat on the very outer edge of Hanalei Bay, where tranquility and seclusion prevail. 

Day 7: Limahuli Garden / Kilauea Point
This morning we see Kauai’s extravagant flora on display at Limahuli Garden and Preserve, the northern sector of the National Tropical Botanical Garden. The collection contains plants cultivated by ancient Hawaiians, such as taro, as well as native species, many of which are endangered endemics. Limahuli Stream, one of the last pristine waterways in the main islands, provides a habitat for indigenous aquatic life. Behind the garden is Limahuli Preserve where conservation biologists are working to protect and restore species native to this habitat.

After lunch we stop at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and lighthouse. The refuge is home to some of the largest populations of nesting seabirds in in the main Hawaiian Islands. We may also see spinner dolphins, Hawaiian monk seals, and Hawaii’s state bird, the nene, or endangered Hawaiian goose. Once more we make our way back through the fertile Hanalei Valley, taro paddies lining either side of the slack silver ribbon of the Hanalei River, to spend another peaceful night by the sea. 

Day 8: Poipu Beach—Hiking or Snorkeling 
Just 50 miles away is Kauai's sunny South Shore, where we discover a completely different side of the island today. Making our way down Kauai's eastern "Coconut Coast," so named for the coco palm plantations that once dominated this side of the island, we curve round to reach the protected leeward side, a dry environment of open, sweeping vistas that was once the center of sugar cane cultivation. At the heart of the south shore is Poipu, where we spend the next three nights at our oceanfront boutique hotel directly on Poipu Beach. The southerly exposure offers views of both sunrise and sunset, with swaying palms in the foreground. On arrival, choose between a snorkeling excursion over the coral reef off Poipu Beach or a dramatic 4-mile guided hike on the Coastal Heritage Trail along a rocky, undeveloped shoreline to Maha'ulepu Beach. This evening we enjoy a traditional Hawaiian luau, featuring hula dancers, traditional fire knife dancing, Polynesian music and drumming, and classic Hawaiian food and drink, from kalua pork and poi to mai tais.

Day 9: Whale Watching Along the Na Pali Coast
Kauai’s Na Pali Coast is duly famed as one of the most striking natural vistas on earth. Remote, daunting and inaccessible except by sea or on foot, Na Pali’s vertical, jungle-draped peaks have provided magical backdrops for a number of Hollywood films, most notably Jurassic Park. We see the coast up close on a 5-hour private boat cruise along Kauai’s western shore, with lunch served aboard as we watch for humpback whales along the way. Hawaii is a premier spot to observe humpbacks, which migrate to these warm waters each winter from the cold North Pacific to breed and birth their young. Humpbacks are known for their entertaining actions, from breaching and spy-hopping to slapping the water with their flippers and flukes. We may also see schools of spinner dolphins and perhaps some sea turtles swimming gracefully near the surface.

Day 10: Waimea Canyon / Koke'e State Park / Hanapepe Salt Ponds
Some of Hawaii’s grandest scenery is on display this morning in Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park. Dubbed "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific," Waimea is evocative of its larger Arizona counterpart, stretching 14 miles long, a mile wide and more than 3,600 feet deep. Several lookouts provide panoramas of the canyon’s layered walls and deep gorges draped in green vegetation. At the end of the canyon road a mile above the Pacific lies Koke’e State Park. Shrouded in forest, the park is laced with hiking trails, making it an excellent spot to see native plants and endemic Hawaiian forest birds like the Kaua'i 'Amakihi and I'iwi. From the Kalalau viewpoint we have a dramatic view of the Na Pali Coast, weather permitting. We’ll take a short hike in the park and stop at the Koke’e Natural History Museum, enjoying a picnic lunch en route.

Later today we stop at the Hanapepe Salt Ponds. The art of salt-making in earthen pans is still practiced here by families descended from ancient saltmakers, a reminder of Kauai’s rich and lingering Hawaiian culture. We'll say "Aloha" over a special farewell dinner this evening before spending a final night lulled to sleep by the waves at our seaside hotel.

Day 11: Depart
Transfer to the airport in Lihue this morning for departing flights.

Physical Rating: Moderate

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