Hawaii for the Whole Ohana

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Family Vacations, Summer

Hawaii for the Whole Ohana
Perfect family weeks on Maui, Oahu, Kauai, and the Big Island

By Alex Salkever


The Molokai Alternative

Way to Go
What to Buy When You're There

From the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory lava tubes of the Big Island to the Star Wars bogs of upland Kauai, Hawaii is like a picture book come to life, full of amazing terrain, creatures, and colors — a surrealistic playground where kids can get into all things natural and supernatural. Use this day-by-day guide to plan a perfect family week on each of the main islands. (All local phone numbers use area code 808.)

The Big Island
Home base: The newly renovated Aston Keauhou Beach Resort on Kahaluu Bay, about 10 miles south of the town of Kailua-Kona, in the sunniest part of the island. About half the rooms are adjoining ù perfect for large families ù or you can book a double room with two double beds. The hotel restaurant's menu appeals to kids with items like french toast and grilled cheese sandwiches. Fabulous snorkeling and turtle-spotting sites are right next door at Kahaluu Beach County Park. (Doubles, $151-$236 per night; kids under 18 stay free when sharing a room with parents; call Aston Hotels at 800-321-2558.)

Day 1: Rent surf equipment at Pacific Vibrations in Kona ($5-$20 per day; 329-4140), then hit the surf at Banyans, a mellow reef break just off Alii Drive (look for the big banyan tree with benches in front of it) that is popular with town kids for boogieboarding and surfing. After a morning in the water, scarf down pizzas at Huggo's, five minutes away from the break. Then drive the 20 minutes north to Kona Coast State Park and another 15 minutes down a gravel road to Mahaiula Bay, a sandy oasis amid vast lava fields with clear blue waters, soft sands, and no hotels in sight, where you can go swimming and snorkeling.

The Molokai Alternative

For centuries, Molokai wielded fierce magic to keep the marauding armies of other Hawaiian chiefs at bay. Apparently the magic is still working, as Molokai has been left virtually untouched by the tourism frenzy that's transformed the other islands. That's not to say there's nothing to do here, however.

Up in the hills, the Nature Conservancy (553-5236) operates tours of its Kamakou Preserve, a highland wilderness with stands of native Hawaiian ohia, tree ferns, and delicate lilies. The Pepeopae Trail in the preserve leads to a jaw-dropping lookout over uninhabited Pelekunu Valley. On the eastern side of the island in the Halawa Valley, there are spectacular waterfalls guarded by a lizard god. You'll need a guide in order to gain access; contact the Molokai Visitors Association (553-3876). The mule ride into Kalaupapa Valley (Molokai Mule Ride, 800-567-7550) will keep your kids — and you — riveted, but the tour at the bottom of the still-operational Hansen's disease (formerly known as leprosy) colony may bore the younger ones.

Molokai has only a handful of places to stay; a good bet for families is Kaluakoi Villas, a low-slung 1960s-style lunch-bag-brown resort complex on the island's west end that has cottages with full kitchens, condos with kitchenettes, and a pool (one-bedroom condos and cottages, $150-$200 per night; 552-2721). Molokai Ranch (800-254-8871) offers everything from cattle drives and rodeo camps to fishing, sea kayaking, and mountain biking, with accommodations in tentalows (tents on wooden platforms) for $215-$245 per night per adult, big discounts for kids.— A. S.

Day 2: Rent kayaks and snorkel gear in Kona. Ocean Safaris on Alii Drive (326-4699) rents double kayaks for $45 per day. For snorkel gear, go to Hawaii Water Sports in the Kona Inn Shopping Center ($8 per day; 329-0046). Then drive a half hour south to Kealakekua Bay, a marine preserve at the base of the green hills of Kona's coffee country, where pods of spinner dolphins are frequent visitors. Even better snorkel spots, where you'll see yellow and black angelfish, neon green parrot fish, and a host of other tropicals, are in the protected northern half of the bay a mile north of the kayak-launch spot at Napoopoo Beach. You can get there by kayak or by making the one-hour hike down a jeep trail.

For lunch, double back to Kainaliu, 15 minutes north of Kealakekua, for quasi-Mex burritos or Hawaiian-beef burgers with fresh papaya smoothies at the Aloha Theater Café. Then resume your southward course to Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park (admission, $2; 328-2288), an ancient archeological site. Park staffers give hands-on demonstrations of carving a traditional koa-wood outrigger canoe and weaving lauhala-leaf mats.

Day 3: Drive 30 minutes north to Honokohau Harbor for a morning whale-watch cruise with Captain Dan McSweeney ($49 for adults, $30 for kids 1-11; 888-942-5376). Stop for lunch at Café Pesto in nearby Kawaihae Harbor for Mortal Kombo wood-fired pizza and free ice cream for the kids. Then head ten minutes south to the Waikoloa Resort area for windsurfing lessons in the gentle waters of Anaehoomalu Bay ($20-$45 per hour, Ocean Sports Waikoloa; 886-6666). In the evening, board the catamaran Fairwind II for an illuminated snorkel under the stars; you'll see eagle rays, turkey fish, and other critters that are difficult to view in daylight. The crew spices the journey with local "chicken skin" ghost stories ($79 adults, $44 kids 6-17; tours leave from Keauhou Bay; call 322-2788).

Day 4: Make the hour drive upcountry to the Waimea area for a kayak trip along the Kohala Ditch, a man-made irrigation waterway that meanders over flumes and small falls and passes through mossy rainforests and rock tunnels (adults $75, kids 5-18 $55; call Kohala Mountain Kayak Cruise in Hawi at 889-6922; book several days ahead; kids should be at least five). For lunch, hop a half hour east of the town of Waimea on Hawaii 19 to the old plantation town of Honokaa and Tex Drive In, a funky local joint legendary for malasadas (Portuguese donuts) and teriyaki plates. Then drive 15 minutes north on Hawaii 19 to Waipio Valley, a gargantuan two-mile-wide wedge carved from the waterfall-laced cliffs of the Hamakua Coast. Waipio Naalapa Trail Rides runs two-and-a-half-hour horseback tours of the valley ($75 per person; children should be eight years old; call 775-0419).

Day 5: No doubt about it, lava rules. Today you'll change lodging to explore the island's higher elevations and the glowing, red-hot goop at Kilauea, the most continuously active volcano on the planet. Make the two-hour drive around the southern tip of the island, stopping at Naalehu Fruit Stand for fresh fruit and sandwiches in the southernmost town in the United States, then check in to Kilauea Lodge in Volcano Village. A spruced-up YMCA camp painted honeybee yellow, this homey lodge is minutes from Kilauea Caldera in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Large families can reserve Tutu's Place, a two-bedroom cottage with kitchen that's down the street but managed by the lodge. (Doubles, $110-$145, including breakfast; cottage, $145, including breakfast for two people; add $15 for each additional person; 967-7366.) In the afternoon, visit the park ($10 entrance fee per car, good for one week; 985-6000). Kids love exploring the steaming yellow chalked fumaroles, shiny pahoehoe lava, and vast wastelands left over from the eruptions of millennia past.

Day 6: Head back to the park to hike around Kilauea Caldera on the Halemaumau or Devastation trails until it gets too hot, then take in a film on volcanoes at the visitor center. You can avoid the unappetizing cafeteria food at the park's Volcano House by bringing a sack lunch to one of the many lookouts. Then don miner's headlamps for a ranger-led tour of a lava tube, a two-hour, mile-long scramble through an underworld of weird lava tunnels and unique tube dwellers like spiders with no eyes and crickets that don't chirp (reservations required; call 985-6000). Come nightfall, grab binocs, a flashlight, and extra water, and drive the Chain of Craters Road down to the lookout point to see the glowing Kilauea lava flow meet the ocean.

Day 7: Rise early and set off for the Kipuka Puaulu Loop Trail, 15 minutes from the park entrance off Mauna Loa Road. This 1.2-mile hike wanders through one of the many areas in the park bypassed by lava flows, whose isolation has left it flush with rare endemic flora and fauna like brightly colored Hawaiian honeycreepers and hardy koa trees. After your hike, drive a few miles farther up to the Mauna Loa lean-to, where the trail to the summit of 13,679-foot Mauna Loa volcano begins (it's a strenuous, three-day trek, not recommended for families). Eat a picnic lunch at the lean-to, where you'll get an amazing view of the devastation below ù miles and miles of lava rock. Later, make the hour-long drive down to South Point for the easy hike to alien-looking Green Sand Beach, made up of weirdly green olivine crystals.

Digs: Alii Drive in Kona is packed with condos that make good base camps for families. The best bargain is the Sea Village Resort, a somewhat dated but fully functional 131-unit oceanfront complex that's close to everything. One-bedroom condos with full kitchen are $96-$140; call 800-367-5205.

The Kona-Kohala Coast has no shortage of platinum-plated beachfront properties. Of the bunch, the all-inclusive Kona Village Resort is the mellowest (no phones or televisions in the rooms), with Polynesian-style thatched-roof cottages that mimic architecture from Tahiti, Hawaii, Samoa, and other island groups. Kids dig the sea kayaking, snorkeling, glass-bottom boat rides, and catamaran sailing. One- and two-bedroom cottages are $180 per night for adults, $130 per night for kids 6-12, free for kids five and under, including all meals and most activities; call 800-367-5290.

For the ultimate in out-there, book a night at the Waipio Treehouse in remote Waipio Valley. This rough accommodation (think upscale Third World) sits on trees and poles in the thick canopy of the valley and can sleep three people comfortably, four in a pinch. It has cooking facilities and a bathroom on a landing partway up the tree. For larger families there also is a three-bedroom cottage. Both the treehouse and and the cottage cost $250 per night for two; $25 for each additional person over 12 (it's $200 per night if you stay two or more nights); call 775-7160.

Home base: The Mana Kai Maui in Kihei on the southern end of the island (one-bedroom condos, $150-$160 per night, can fit a family of four; kids under 18 are free when sharing a room with parents; 879-1561). A utilitarian eight-story condo complex with 49 units, the Mana Kai's location is its best feature — it's on a stellar swimming beach. Kihei is less glamorous but decidedly less expensive than other resort towns on Maui, and it's centrally located for easy day trips to all parts of the island.

Day 1: Step right out your front door for a swim in the calm waters off Keawakapu Beach, then hit the super-luxe Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa, five minutes south, where you can lunch at the casual Café Kula. For some of the island's best snorkeling, head to Ulua Beach near the Aston Maui Lu Resort, also in Wailea.

Day 2: Breeze over to the placid waters of Kanaha Beach Park in Kahului for some windsurfing lessons from Second Wind Sail & Surf (877-7467). After lunch head for the nearby town of Wailuku, where the Hawaii Nature Center Interactive Science Arcade (244-6500) resides deep in misty Iao Valley (the name means Supreme Cloud). Kids go berserk in this interactive intro to Maui's natural wonders, which includes views of endemic fish that climb waterfalls with suckers on their bellies and a wild ride through the eyes of a native Hawaiian dragonfly. Then for a glimpse of world-class windsurfing, drive east to Hookipa Beach County Park, where you'll spec out gutsy wave jumpers doing flips off of chunky, rolling monsters.

Day 3: Make the 90-minute predawn drive to the summit of Haleakala, Maui's 10,023-foot dormant volcano, for the best sunrise you'll ever see — the colors progress from inky ebony to deep purple to rose and fiery orange ($10 per car entry fee, good for seven days; 572-4400). Enjoy a sack lunch in the crater, then stick around for a mule ride in the crater with longtime muleskinner Craig Moore (two-hour ride, $95 per person; minimum age ten; call Crater Bound at 244-6853). You'll meander past red-rock lava formations and spiky endemic silversword plants. For an afternoon snack, stop at Komoda Store & Bakery in the town of Makawao for cream puffs so luscious folks cart them off by the box. Back at the condo, take a dip in the ocean, then chill out on the beach ù you've been up since 4 a.m.

Day 4: Forget the cheesy whale mugs and posters and go see the real deal, the humpback whales. The nonprofit research group Pacific Whale Foundation (879-8811) will take you as close as you can legally get to these graceful behemoths in a vessel equipped with underwater mikes so you can listen in on the whales' songs. Tours leave from Maalaea Harbor, about 20 minutes west of your hotel (two-hour trip, $21-$31 for adults, $15 for kids 4-12). Continue west for some afternoon surfing in Lahaina. Stop first for a burrito at Maui Tacos, then head to the breakwater at the south end of Lahaina Harbor to find a super-smooth rolling right-hander. Surfing instructor Andrea Thomas (two-hour group lesson, $55 per person; 875-0625) guarantees you'll stand up and ride after just one lesson. For dinner tuck into burgers, fries, and Oreo shakes at Cheeseburger in Paradise, a goofy oceanfront Lahaina burger joint.

Day 5: Stop at Picnics in Paia to pick up a portable lunch, then head for the secluded town of Hana via the famous Hana Highway (car-rental companies prohibit this trip, but everyone does it anyway). With 54 one-lane bridges and more tortuous twists than you can count, this clifftop road is not for the impatient, but the views are epic, and it may be the only place in the United States where waterfalls splash onto the road. Don't miss Oheo Gulch, a series of waterfalls and swimming holes in Haleakala National Park about ten miles past Hana town. For a more jungly feel, make the two-mile (one-way) trek through abandoned taro fields to 400-foot Waimoku Falls; park rangers occasionally lead hikes there (check with the ranger station for schedules). Complete the hike and return to Kihei via the back way through the barren lava fields and emptiness of the Kaupo region.

Day 6: Drive about a half hour north to Kaanapali, where you'll head out on Hobie Cats during morning sailing lessons off this tradewind-tossed coast (a two-hour lesson for a family of four costs about $100; minimum age eight; call West Maui Sailing School at 667-5545). For lunch hit the Plantation House Restaurant in Kapalua for crabcakes and roasted vegetable wraps. Then head into the West Maui Mountains with Hike Maui's Ken Schmitt (879-5270), a local sage who can tell you everything about the endemic flora of this pristine area ù like the tiny white native hibiscus and the delicate red akala known as Hawaiian raspberries.

Day 7: Shake out those paddling muscles with an early sea-kayak run through the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve, a half hour south of Kihei past the Makena Resort (rent equipment from South Pacific Kayaks in Kihei; 875-4848). Bring your snorkel and launch early from the Makena boat ramp in order to beat the tradewinds. No fishing is allowed here, so you'll see pelagics like silvery ulua or thread fish and often turtles cruising around the submerged lava spires. Head back to Kihei for sandwiches at Stella Blues Cafée. Then it's off to the Maui Ocean Center: The Hawaiian Aquarium in Maalaea ($12 kids 3-12, $17.50 adults; 270-7000), where you can walk through a 750,000-gallon tank filled with electric blue ulua, rippling eagle rays, cruising sharks, and black coral — something even advanced scuba divers rarely see.

Digs: For those inclined toward the funkier and less-paved parts of Maui, Mama's Beachfront Cottages is a clutch of plantation abodes tucked beneath a stand of coconut palms on an isolated beach just outside of hippy-dippy Paia town. Windsurfing capital Hookipa Beach is nearby, as are a handful of waterfall trails and the winding road to Hana. One- and two-bedroom cottages with full kitchen, cable TV, and a barbecue grill are $90-$225 per night; call 800-860-4852.

The Napili Kai Beach Club, about 15 minutes north of Kaanapali on a superb sandy beach with great snorkeling, caters to families with its spacious condo-type units that have full kitchens. One-bedroom units run $295-$325 per night for a family of four; call 800-367-5030.

For the ultimate splurge, the Hotel Hana-Maui at Hana Ranch is a world-class resort in a remote setting. A family of four fits comfortably into the big rooms with blond-wood floors, lava-rock showers, and private lanais. Horseback riding, rainforest hiking, waterfalls, and surfing are all close by, and you have early mornings and late afternoons to enjoy Hana sans crowds of day-trippers. Rates are $395-$795 for a family of four; call 800-321-4262.

Home base: The Kiahuna Plantation on Poipu Beach, the sunniest part of the island. All units have full kitchens, there are tennis courts and a large swimming pool, and the resort is beautifully landscaped with a man-made lagoon, coconut trees, and flowers like hibiscus and lilies. Poipu Beach is great for snorkeling, bodyboarding, and surfing. (One-bedroom condos, $175-$400 per night, can sleep a family of four; 800-688-7444.)

Day 1: You guessed it ù hit the surf. Rent bodyboards at Progressive Expressions in nearby Koloa ($4 per day; 742-6041), then head back to Poipu Beach. Lunch on grilled ahi sandwiches at the beachfront Brennecke's Beach Broiler across from Poipu Beach Park; afterward go for a bike ride along the oceanfront red-dirt bluffs, where you might spot a dolphin or two. The trail starts just past the Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort & Spa, on the far eastern end of Poipu. Rent bikes at Outfitters Kauai in Koloa (742-9667).

Day 2: Take a morning horseback ride along Mahaulepu Beach, a long stretch of white sand just east of Poipu that's practically deserted (two- to three-hour ride, $60-$90 per person; minimum age seven; call CJM Country Stables in Poipu at 742-6096). Drive into Lihue, about 15 minutes east, for tasty Japanese-style noodles at Hamura's Saimin Stand, then it's another 20 minutes northeast to 1,241-foot Mount Nounou, or Sleeping Giant, where a 1.5-mile trail crosses the giant's nose and ends up with sweeping views of the east Kauai coastline. This is a technically easy hike, with just a few spots along clifftops that might be a little dicey for younger kids. To get there, follow Hawaii 56 north from Lihue, left onto Hawaii 580, then right onto Hawaii 581 for 1.2 miles to the trailhead. Head back to Poipu Beach for dinner and a slice of hula pie amid the classic kitsch of Keoki's Paradise in Poipu Shopping Center.

Day 3: Go waterskiing on the Wailua River, a jungle waterway an odd shade of opaque green that is Hawaii's only navigable river (call Kauai Water Ski & Surf Co.; 822-3574). Afterward, continue north another 45 minutes to Hanalei for a burger at Bubba Burgers. Rent a kayak from Kayak Kauai in Hanalei (double kayaks, $48-$60 per day; 826-9844) for a paddle up the Hanalei River, where you'll find auku'u (Hawaiian black crowned night herons) and koloa (Hawaiian ducks) hanging out in orange-flowered hau tree thickets. It's about a three-hour paddle round-trip.

Day 4: Get up early for the drive up to Kokee State Park (335-5871), more than 3,000 feet above sea level. This highland plateau has a web of trails teeming with rare endemic flora and fauna. Hardy hikers won't want to miss the Alakai Swamp Trail, a boggy slog that is partially on boardwalks; expect mud above the ankles. The seven-mile, round-trip trail is probably a bit too tough for kids under eight. Use your nose to find anise-scented mokihana berries and keep eyes peeled for vermillion-colored native i'iwi'i birds that frequent the feathery red blossoms of the ohia trees. For an easier hike, try the Kawaikoi Stream Trail four miles down Mohihi Road — a 3.5-mile loop that winds through a forest of Sugi pines and blackberry thickets. Before you leave, take the five-minute drive up to Kalalau Lookout for a glimpse of the 4,000-foot cliffs and the hanging valleys of the Na Pali Coast.

Day 5: Hang ten at Poipu Beach, whose inside breaks are gentle rollers for beginners. Contact Nukumoi Beach & Surf Co. (742-8019), where former women's world champ Margo Oberg runs the surfing school. Then head for the North Shore, stopping along the way at Duane's Ono-Char Burger in tiny Anahola town 20 minutes north of Kapaa. You can ride the real stuff at Hanalei Bay, a vicious reef-point in the winter that reverts to a mellow longboarding spot in the summer. On the off chance there is no surf, go snorkeling at Tunnels, a horseshoe reef west of Hanalei Bay that attracts everything from reef sharks and morays to damselfish and the ever-present humuhumunukunukuapuaa (Hawaiian triggerfish).

Day 6: Spend the day hiking the Kalalau Trail in the Na Pali wilderness. The first section is a two-mile stretch from Kee Beach to Hanakapiai Beach lined with kukui trees and some of the most spectacular cliffs on the planet. It's a good place for a picnic lunch, but don't swim here; Hanakapiai is one of the top-ranked beaches for drownings. Turn up the valley for a two-mile hike to Hanakapiai Falls, where you can dunk yourselves in the swimming hole at the base of the falls. On the drive home make a pit stop at Roadrunner Bakery & Café in Kilauea 15 minutes east of Hanalei, a Kauai-Mex joint.

Day 7: Let the kids have a final boogieboard session at Poipu Beach. Next, head north again up to Kilauea for lunch at Pau Hana Pizza. Then swoop over to the Kilauea Lighthouse and the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge ($2 for adults, children under 16 free; 828-1413) for bird-watching and a tour. Bring the scopes and eyeball flocks of the red-footed boobies and Laysan albatrosses that make this northernmost point of Kauai their home.

Digs: On the North Shore, the Hanalei Colony Resort nails the essentials ù simple two-bedroom, one-bath condos on unscathed Haena Beach, which is literally the end of the road. It's a perfect launchpad for Na Pali hikes, and reasonably priced, too; two-bedroom condos run $130-$240 per night for a family of four. Call 826-6235.

The Waimea Plantation Cottages on the remote west side are a group of 48 old sugar workers' residences restored to weathered 1920s perfection. While far from the good beaches, the one- to five-bedroom cottages are close to the hiking trails in Kokee State Park and Waimea Canyon. Nearby are some epic surfing spots; don't miss Infinities, one of the longest waves in Hawaii. Two-bedroom cottages cost $240-$300 per night for a family of four; call 800-992-4632.

If you want to pay big bucks for bathrobes and marble, then hit the Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort & Spa. Kids love the serpentine tri-level jungle lagoon/swimming pool. Bodyboarding is a walk away at Shipwreck Beach, and you are also an easy bike ride from deserted Mahaulepu Beach. Doubles are $310-$455 per night; kids under 18 are free if sharing a room with their parents. Call 800-742-2353.

Home base: Waikiki ù but not the Waikiki you know about. Separated from the urban hotel ghetto by a strip of green parks, the Diamond Head Beach Hotel sits right on the beach in a quiet neighborhood outside the Waikiki traffic snarl (one-bedroom condos, $268-$367 per night, can sleep a family of four; 922-4671). Kapahulu's eateries are five minutes away, three surf breaks — Tong's, Ricebowls, and Old Man's — are right next door, and there's swimming at nearby Kaimana Beach.

Day 1: Hit the surf. For lessons from a former men's world surfing champ (or at least from his handpicked staff), try Hans Hedemann Surf School, located in the hotel lobby ($75 per person for a two-hour group lesson; 924-7778). Or take a half-hour stroll west down Kalakaua Avenue to Kuhio Beach, where ageless beach boys with names like Cowboy and Turkey still teach malihini (newcomers) how to walk on water ($20 per hour). Go for a plate lunch of chicken or mahimahi at the Rainbow Drive In in Kapahulu, then drive to nearby Diamond Head State Monument. Here you can squirrel through World War II fortifications and emerge on the summit of this 760-foot extinct volcano that once had a heiau where humans were sacrificed to the gods.

Day 2: Take the 30-minute drive east along the Kalanianaole Highway and Hawaii 72 to the steep sandy crescents of Makapuu Beach and Sandy Beach, where some of the world's gnarliest shorebreaks attract daring boogieboarders. If you're not experienced, leave these two beasts alone and instead head to the ironwood-shaded, sand-bottomed beach at Bellows Air Force Base 20 minutes north for mellower rides (rent boogieboards and fins at Turbo Surf in Kapahulu, $10 per day; 738-8726). For lunch, go north to Bueno Nalo in windward-side Kailua for marinated mahimahi burritos. Continue about 15 minutes north past the town of Kaneohe to Kualoa Ranch, where you can go horseback riding through the same jungle valleys flattened by Godzilla, King Kong, and Mighty Joe Young. The ranch also offers a movie-set tour ($45 per person for a one-and-a-half-hour horseback ride; $14 per person for a movie-set tour; 237-7321).

Day 3: Return to the windward side, this time via the gorgeous Pali Highway (Hawaii 61), which cuts through the heart of Oahu. In Kailua, the laid-back beach town that is the anti-Waikiki, go to Naish Hawaii for windsurfing lessons off Kailua Beach, where small waves and steady onshore trades keep things relaxed ($35 per person for group lessons, including an hour and a half of instruction and two and a half hours of gear rental; 262-6068). For lunch try Boston North End Pizza Bakery right in town. Then head back on the Pali Highway and turn left on Nuuanu Pali Drive. Look for a small dirt parking lot on your left that marks the Nuuanu Judd Trail, a steep but technically easy 1,000-foot switchback climb past Cooke pines and guava trees to a grassy peak with commanding views of Honolulu and the windward coast.

Day 4: Go native at the Hawaii Nature Center, a kid-oriented educational facility set in the rainforest of Makiki Valley 15 minutes above Waikiki. Take the Bamboo Jungle Journey — a guided hike through a bamboo forest followed by a session on bamboo crafts that's one of more than 60 HNC offerings. Programs are conducted mainly on the weekends, but the center also is open during the week (nominal fees for most programs; call 955-0100).

Do lunch in Kapahulu at Ono Hawaiian Foods, where you'll get the authentic kalua pig-and-poi treatment. Then head back to base camp to practice hanging ten — or just face-planting — in an afternoon surf session at Tong's; you can rent boards at Local Motion on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki ($25 per day or $75 week; 979-7873).

Day 5: Head over the Pali again and take the rural Kamehameha Highway for a scenic hour-long jaunt to the North Shore (you can take the freeway, but this coastal route is much more dramatic). If the surf is up, go to the Banzai Pipeline at Ehukai Beach County Park to see the world's best surfers pulling into spitting barrels less than 100 yards from shore. Then paddle out yourself at Puaena Point, a sheltered break better for beginners that's tucked inside a quiet cove just outside Haleiwa town. Rent boards or book lessons at Surf 'N' Sea (637-9887) off the Kam Highway next to Haleiwa Alii Beach County Park. In summer the surf is often flat, so you might want to strap on masks and reef booties and check out the monster tide pool about five minutes west of Ehukai. The waters off this area, known as Shark's Cove, are some of the best snorkeling around; you'll see everything from fluttery translucent Hawaiian shrimp to morays to brilliant orange-spine unicorn fish. Then bust a rib at Kua-Aina Sandwich Shop, a legendary sandwich shop that serves grilled mahimahi and burgers.

Take an afternoon mountain-bike ride at Waimea Valley Adventure Park in Haleiwa (adults $24, kids 4-12, $12; 638-8511), where guided bike tours ($35 per person) crisscross the cool hills above Waimea Falls.

Day 6: Make a dawn dash to Hanauma Bay — the only way to beat the crowds at Hawaii's foremost snorkeling spot ($1 parking fee). A hollowed-out volcanic bowl with clear, calm waters, this rocky bay swarms with damselfish, butterfly fish, and wrasses. Then it's a five-minute drive to the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail, an easy paved path to stark cliffs overlooking a favorite hangout for humpbacks. Later, continue north to the rural town of Waimanalo, where renowned Hawaii wildlife artist Patrick Ching teaches kids ten and older to draw honu (turtles), 'ilio-holo-kai (monk seals), and other native creatures at his gallery/classroom on Saturdays ($30 for a three-hour lesson; 259-5354).

Day 7: Take a quick morning surf, then drive to the back of Manoa Valley, about 30 minutes from Waikiki. There, take the Manoa Falls Trail, a half-hour trek through verdant forests to a small waterfall. Afterward, you'll want to hit Ba-Le Sandwich Shop in Manoa Marketplace for Thai curries and French baguette sandwiches stuffed with pickled Vietnamese veggies and turkey. Next, drive 20 minutes west on I-H1 to the Bishop Museum for a standout planetarium show on Polynesian navigation and the voyages of the Hawaiian outrigger canoe Hokulea, along with displays of amazing Hawaiian bugs like smiley-face spiders and giant moths.

Digs: The options on this island are largely Waikiki or bust; the beachfront Hilton Turtle Bay Golf & Tennis Resort on the North Shore is one of the few alternatives. This might be the only Oahu hotel where you can surf, hike, and mountain bike all in one day (the surf is huge, however, so you might have to drive back to Waikiki to get wet). A room with two double beds can sleep a family of four and costs $240-$285 per night; kids under 18 stay free if sharing a room with parents. Call 800-445-8667. If Waikiki suits you better, try the Outrigger Reef on the Beach. One of the most affordable of the beachfront upscalers, the recently renovated hotel fronts two great surfbreaks, Populars and Number Threes. Rooms with two double beds and a hideaway queen run $145-$230 per night; kids under 17 stay free when sharing a room with parents. Call 800-688-7444.

On the quiet side of Waikiki across the street from Kapiolani Park, The New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel has excellent swimming, snorkeling, and sea kayaking on Sans Souci Beach. One-bedroom suites with living room and pull-out sofa are $225 per night; call 800-356-8264.

Way to Go
What to Buy When You're There

Cheesy hula-girl dashboard ornaments and plastic-pineapple key rings seem to dominate Hawaii's souvenir scene, but you can do better, brah. Here are a few items your kids will consider much cooler:

Pineapple Man Comic Books Oahu resident Sam Campos has made an unlikely superhero out of a piece of fruit (Hale Kuai Cooperative, Hauula, Oahu; $2.50; call 293-4477).

T-Shirts Fashions change frequently, but these are the current faves:

  • Shirts that come packed in black plastic bento boxes normally used for Japanese-style take-out lunches are a take-off on local lore, with themes like poke (a typical Hawaiian dish) in a luau spread, flying cockroaches, and Spam, a staple Island food (Sears Ala Moana, Oahu; $14.95; call 947-0240). Chocolate-dyed shirts (Crazy Shirts Hawaii, most islands; $24; call 971-6643) actually smell like what they're dyed in (as do those dyed in Kona coffee). For an actual piece of Hawaii, bag a Red Dirt Shirt, dyed with genuine Kauai upcountry dirt (Red Dirt & Teal Seas, Lihue, Kauai; $19; call 246-0224).
  • Temporary Tattoos These kid-friendly versions of traditional Polynesian tattoo patterns require no needles and wash off with baby oil or rubbing alcohol (Native Books & Beautiful Things, Honolulu, Oahu; $4; call 596-8885).
  • Lauhala Animal Ornaments Hawaiian-style origami creatures — birds, dolphins, whales — are handmade from pandanus leaves. Dangle them from the rearview mirror or string them on a necklace (Kimura's Lauhala Shop, Holualoa, the Big Island; $3; call 324-0053).
  • Maui Wow-Wee Candy Bars Nothing illicit or psychoactive here, just flavors like Kona coffee, banana, macadamia nut, and chocolate in these new candy bars — the only ones manufactured in the Hawaiian Islands (at stores throughout Maui; $1.40; 873-7133).
  • Konane Hawaiian Checkers A mini-version of the traditional Hawaiian game once played with rocks on monster stone tables, this much lighter model comes in a carrying pouch complete with instructions (The Shellery, Kona, Big Island; $21; call 326-7176).

— A.S.

Photograph by Clay Ellis

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web