Best Waterfall Hike
Waterfalls are common in Hawaii, but Kapoloa Falls in the electric-green Pololu Valley is unique in that you can actually walk under and behind the cascading water (using a cliffside trail 1,000 feet above the valley floor). Not for the faint-hearted, this three-mile hike is offered through the ecotourism company Hawaii Forest and Trail (800-464-1993), whose guides will also explain the flora, fauna, and history of the region.
Hula has been called the lifeblood of the Hawaiian people, and the famous Merrie Monarch Festival (808-935-9168) held every April in lush, verdant Hilo is the grand Olympics of the dance. Competitors come from far and wide to strut their stuff in both modern and ancient forms of the hula and mele (chanting), while live nightly television broadcasts ignite the entire state during this exciting festival. Tickets can be nearly impossible to obtain, so order them early. If you won't be there in April, try the Hulihe'e Palace (808-329-1877) in Kailuna-Kona. This museum and one-time home to Hawaiian royalty presents free hula shows on the third Sunday of every month. Or learn for yourself. The following hotels offer free hula lessons for guests and nonguests alike: Four Seasons Resort Hualalai (888-340-5662), Hilton Waikoloa Village (800-445-2667; ), and Orchid at Mauna Lani (800-845-9905).
Best Remote Beach
The Big Island is home to white, black, and even green sand beaches. One of the few green sand beaches in the world can be found at an uninhabited cove near the island's South Point (the southernmost point of the United States, at about the latitude of Mexico City). The lone crescent of perfectly olive-green sand is given its color by the semiprecious stone olivine, a by-product of volcanic eruptions. Park your four-wheeler on the eastern part of the point; follow a dirt trail north, and an hour's hike over grassy, windswept fields will bring you to this one-of-a-kind beach. It's worth the trek.
Best Ocean Adventure
For a unique experience and great workout, try Ocean Safari's Kayak Adventures (808-326-4699). The Kona Coast, which hugs the arid western half of the island, is riddled with lava tubes. Many of these sea caves can only be explored via kayak, and Ocean Safari is the only outfitter that can take you to them. Paddle into the shade, go snorkeling, dive off the rocks, or enjoy a picnic while you're there.
Best Lava Viewing
The Pu'u O'o Vent at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the only active lava vent in the world that can be viewed via helicopter tour. Peering down into this churning, pulsing home of Pele―the volcano goddess―is an opportunity not to be missed. Tropical Helicopters (808-961-6810) offers the best tours and prices on the island ($99 per person), complete with pilot narration via headphones and a window seat for each passenger.
Best Hawaiian Lunch
The staple Hawaiian "plate lunch" traditionally consists of a heavy fried meat, rice, and macaroni salad. Instead, try the light, inventive meals prepared with fresh local products at Bamboo Restaurant (junction of Highway 270 and Highway 250, 808-889-5555). Located on the northern tip of the island in the old sugar town of Hawi, the restaurant is housed in a former hotel and dry goods store that dates from 1911. It's home to the best chicken pot stickers and organic salads in the state, served by gracious staffers who often break into an impromptu hula right in the middle of the dining room.
Fresh Tropical Fruit Picks
Hilo, with its sleepy streets and weathered storefronts, has an atmosphere all its own. Stock up on healthy local pickings at the colorful Hilo Farmers' Market (corner of Mamo and Kamehameha streets) every Wednesday and Saturday morning. Piles of the juiciest and most exotic fruits fill the open market with sweet smells. You'll find locally grown papayas and mangoes, as well as more uncommon fruits, such as rambutans and durians, plus flowers, crafts, and souvenirs.
Best Island Seafood
The pierlike Huggo's Restaurant (808-329-1493) in Kailua-Kona is the only eatery on the island built directly over the ocean, and its tasty fresh catches of ono, mahimahi, and opah can't be beat. Enjoy the seafood as live Hawaiian music floats on the breeze at sunset.
Matthew Link, associate editor of Frommer's Budget Travel magazine, is a former Big Island resident and author of the guidebook Rainbow Handbook Hawai'i (Missing Link, 1999).