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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: Helicopter Tour / Hawi / Kapa’au
An exciting adventure is in store this morning: a helicopter flight over the volcanic terrain and waterfalls of the Big Island! Hilo is our starting point for this thrilling light over the lush rainforests of Hawaii's windward side. We have an unparalleled view of the geological forces at work in the island's creation as we enjoy the superb visibility from a new state-of-the-art Eco-Star helicopter.

After lunch in Hilo we drive north, stopping at an overlook to survey the Waipio Valley. We continue to the artist town of Hawi in the Kohala district. This region was where King Kamehameha I, Hawaii's greatest king, was born, and a distinctive part of "old Hawaii." North Kohala 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.

We continue to Hawaii Island Retreat, our distinctive ecolodge on the Big Island’s north shore. 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: North Kohala Coast / Outrigger Canoe / Captain Cook
This entire region is an area that Hawaiians consider to have great mana (spiritual power). 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. We learn about local ecosystems and conservation during a stop at the Hawaii Wildlife Center, a rescue, rehabilitation and research facility for native Hawaiian wildlife.

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 leeward side.

Day 5: Kona / Mauna Kea Tour
Hawaiian heritage is our focus today, beginning with 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. Afterward we explore the historic town of Kailua-Kona on a walking tour.

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 Maui / Maui Ocean Center / Paia
Fly this morning to Kahului, Maui. Our first stop, the Maui Ocean Center, is an outstanding aquarium showcasing Hawaii's marine life. More than 60 varied exhibits feature the nation's largest collection of live coral displays; swimming green sea turtles, an emblem of Hawaii; close-up views of sharks, rays and more; and interpretive displays on Hawaii’s natural history and cultural heritage. After checking in to our hotel in Paia on the quieter north shore, we travel this evening to the old whaling town of Lahaina on Maui's west side, where we'll enjoy a traditional Polynesian feast and dancing at the Old Lahaina Luau. We have a chance to sample kalua pig, prepared the traditional Hawaiian way in a deep smoky pit in the ground, poi, haupia and more in a romantic oceanside setting.

Day 7: Maui Whale Watching & Snorkeling / Paia
Today holds a real treat for nature lovers: a privately chartered boat cruise in search of humpback whales, sea turtles and dolphins! Maui is one of the best places to watch humpbacks, the gentle giants that travel to Hawaii's warm subtropical waters each winter to breed and birth their babies before making the 3,500-mile journey back to their summer feeding grounds in Alaska. Humpbacks can be very animated, and we’ll hope to witness some breaching and spy-hopping while our onboard guide from the Pacific Whale Foundation interprets all we see. The foundation is a world leader in marine ecotourism, and our cruise is led by a Certified Marine Naturalist with a degree in marine biology, ecology or related sciences.

We'll also scout for playful dolphins and protected Hawaiian green sea turtles as we cruise and snorkel along the coral reef, a sanctuary for a wide variety of tropical fish and other marine animals. Bird watchers will see plenty of seabirds, likely spying wedge-tailed shearwaters and great frigatebirds that roost in these environs. Our 6-hour outing includes the opportunity for snorkeling, too, with equipment and instruction provided.

After lunch aboard, we disembark and head back to Paia where the late afternoon is free to enjoy the secluded sandy beach or the laid-back ambience of this historic sugar cane plantation town now known for its art, antiques and local surfer vibe. Early this evening we enjoy a scenic drive "upcountry" along the lower flanks of Haleakala, Maui's enormous volcano, for a special dinner outing.

Day 8: Fly to Kauai / Kilauea Point / 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.

En route to the lush North Shore, we stop for an oceanside lunch in Kapa’a, then continue to 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.

Arriving in Hanalei this afternoon, we’ll 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 knife-edged 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.

Day 9: Limahuli Gardens / Poipu Snorkel or Hike
Kauai's extravagant flora is on display at Limahuli Gardens, 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.

Just 50 miles away is Kauai's South Shore, where we discover a completely different side of the island this afternoon. This leeward side is a dry environment of open, sweeping vistas, once the heart of sugar cane cultivation. On arrival in Poipu, 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. We spend the next two 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.

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.



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