TWICE AS LARGE as all the other Hawaiian islands put together, the Big Island requires a strategic plan. Spend part of your vacation based on the sunny Kona or Kohala coasts, splashing and snorkeling in the aquarium-like waters. Then spend your remaining time based around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you can view flowing lava and explore rainforests. By establishing two separate base camps, you'll get a sense for the island's stunning diversity and avoid those wilting out-and-back days in the car.
Read up on one family's glorious hiatus on Hawaii's Big Island
Tiki at Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
ACTIVITIES Under a canopy of coconut palms and wood-carved tikis, Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park ($5 per vehicle; 808-328-2288, www.nps.gov/puho) is 182 acres of archaeological remains, including temple platforms and coastal village sites. Try your hand at making kapa cloth (pounded wauke bark) or paddling an outrigger canoe at the annual Hawaiian Cultural Festival in late June.
Paddle a sea kayak across calm, one-mile Kealakekua Bay from Captain Cook's Monument, where the man himself landed in 1779 and where spinner dolphins like to play. Contact Kona Boys (808-328-1234, www.konaboys.com) for rentals ($25 per single kayak per day) or guided day trips ($95 per person).
Plan to spend at least two full days in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ($10 per vehicle; 808-985-6000, www.nps.gov/havo). View the molten lava at the end of the Chain of Craters Road, then check out the stone fireplace in the Volcano House Hotel (808-967-7321), where the fire has been burning nonstop since 1874! Try the three-mile Kilauea Iki Trail, which will take you through a fern- and-ohia rainforest before dropping into the crater of Kilauea Iki.
Hawaiian Walkways ($95 per person, $75 for kids 8-12; 800-457-7759, www.hawaiianwalkways.com) offers guided day hikes along the rim of the remote Waipio Valley. Look for the Hawaiian hawk as you trek past bamboo orchids to a hidden, unnamed 40-foot waterfall and swimming hole.
Bodyboard or bodysurf the shore break at Hapuna Beach in South Kohala. Summer's small waves are also ideal for skimboarding. Because day rates for rentals add up, pick up a boogie board at Costco in Kailua ($40; 808-334-0770), then spread aloha by giving your board to a local youngster before you leave the island.
FOOD Try the broiled mahi-mahi plate at Kona Mixed Plate (808-329-8104).
Get treated to table-side hula and passion-fruit tea at Bamboo Restaurant and Gallery (808-889-5555).
Kids love the chicken satay and parents the incendiary curries at Thai Thai (808-967-7969).
LODGING The 62-acre Hilton Waikoloa Village is on the sun-drenched Kohala coast ($200 per night, kids under 18 free; 866-223-6574, www.hiltonwaikoloavillage.com). Kids can't get enough of the 175-foot water slide, three swimming pools, and protected snorkeling lagoon at this oceanfront resort.
The Chalet Kilauea Collection ($49-$399 per double per night; $15 for kids under 16; 800-937-7786, www.volcano-hawaii.com), in Volcano Village near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, offers a range of accommodations, from six thrifty B&B-style rooms to four lodges to five vacation homes. Our favorite is the Ohia Hideaway Cottage, a one-bedroom cabin secluded in the rainforest.
More Family Inspiration
For more great family vacation ideas, check out the 2003 Outside Traveler Family Editionavailable on newsstands now!
Kaui, answering charges of perfection
LESS DEVELOPED than Maui and Oahu and known as the Garden Isle for its abundant rainfall and lush flora, Kauai exudes a mellow vibe. If it's surf you're seeking, go to the north shore in winter and the south shore in summer. Hikers will groove on the views in Waimea Canyon.
ACTIVITIES Take surfing lessons from seven-time world champion Margo Oberg in the gentle peelers just off Poipu Beach at Kiahuna ($96 for a 90-minute private lesson, $48 per person for groups; Margo Oberg's School of Surfing, 808-742-8019, www.brenneckes.com).
Hike the 6.5-mile Awaawapuhi Trail in Waimea Canyon State Park (808-274-3444, www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dsp/kauai.html).
Sea kayak the mangrove-banked, fern-shrouded Wailua River with Wailua Kayak Adventures (rentals, $25; $85 for a five-hour hiking and kayaking tour; 808-822-5795, www.kauaiwailuakayak.com).
FOOD Try the coconut shrimp in a Thai chile plum sauce at Zelo's Beach House (808-826-9700, www.zelosbeachhouse.com).
Duane's Ono-Char Burger (808-822-9181) is known for its Local Boy: a teriyaki burger with cheddar and pineapple. LODGING Hanalei Colony Resort ($215 per night for up to four people; 800-628-3004, www.hcr.com) on the verdant north shore has 48 two-bedroom beachfront condos.
At Hyatt Regency Kauai's Camp Hyatt, kids ages three to 12 learn hula and lei-making ($395 per night; Camp Hyatt, $55 per day; 808-742-1234, www.kauai-hyatt.com).
Running with the waves, Hawaii style
The most populated of all the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu also offers the most extensive to-do list. Waikiki Beach is nonstop stimulation, while the North Shore's Haleiwa is all about the hammock and, in winter, world-class surfing. Locals refer to this mix as "town and country," and no matter where you are on the island, a short drive will deposit you in the action or in solitude.
ACTIVITIES Aloha Beach Services (808-922-3111) on Waikiki Beach is your one-stop sport shop. They'll arrange outrigger canoe paddling ($5 for two wave rides), longboard rentals ($10, perfect for first-time surfers), or sunset catamaran cruises ($15)all right off the beach.
Rock rats with a weakness for supreme ocean views should head to the bolted 5.8-and-up sport routes at Mokuleia. For beta on the rock climbing, visit the Patagonia store in Haleiwa (808-637-1245).
Since 1916, three generations of the Kamaka family have been building the finest ukuleles. Stop by for a tour of the Kamaka factory (808-531-3165) and give the "jumping fleas" a strum.
FOOD Follow the locals to Ono Hawaiian Food (808-737-2275) for laulau: steamed fish, pork, and taro wrapped burrito-style inside ti leaves.
At Haleiwa Joes (808-637-8005, www.haleiwajoes.com), the "catch of the day" is just that. Go for the coconut-crusted ono with mango chutney.
LODGING Families appreciate the cooking facilities and one- and two-bedroom condos at Aston Waikiki Sunset ($263 per condo for up to six people; 808-922-0511, www.aston-hotels.com), next to grassy Kapiolani Park on the fringe of the Waikiki fray.
Just off isolated Mokuleia Beach, near Kaena Point, which separates the north and west shores, Aston's Polo Beach Cottage ($150 per night; kids under 18 free; 800-669-7719, www.hawaiipolo.com) offers horseback riding, mountain biking, rock climbing, and every beach sport you can think of.
Maui's North Shore
ON MAUI, IT'S NOT UNCOMMON to see a rusted-out $500 truck with $5,000 worth of windsurfers, kiteboards, surfboards, and mountain bikes bulging off the roof rack. Windsport-happy Europeans and South Americans seem to congregate here, but everyone likes mixing the jungly, slow pace of Hana with the go-go-go west-side town of Lahaina.
ACTIVITIES Rise before dawn to catch majestic sunrise views from Haleakala's 10,023-foot volcanic summit, then hang on for the 38-mile cruiser-bike descent to the ocean. Contact Maui Downhill ($150 per person; minimum height five feet, minimum age 12; 800-535-2453, www.mauidownhill.com).
Trilogy Excursions offers full-day catamaran cruises from Lahaina to Lanai ($169 per person; kids ages three to 15, half price; 888-628-4800, www.sailtrilogy.com) for snorkeling in the marine sanctuary at Hulopoe Bay.
Kids may balk at museums, but never at sugar. Learn about the sweetest plant of all at the Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum (adults, $5; kids 6-17, $2; 808-871-8058).
FOOD The tender spareribs steamed in banana leaves and the mango barbecue sauce make Hula Grill (808-667-6636) a mandatory stop.
Near Maui's famous Hookipa windsurfing beach, Mama's Fish House (808-579-8488, www.mamasfishhouse.com) is the place for mai-tais and pua me hua hana, a sauteed Tahitian-style fish.
LODGING With its beachfront setting, free summer activity program for kids six to 12, and fragrant, sculpted gardens, it's no wonder the Napili Kai Beach Resort ($190 per night; kids under 12 free; 800-367-5030, www.napilikai.com) has a 65 percent return rate.
If you can drag yourself from your plantation-style cottage on a bluff at 67-acre Hotel Hana-Maui ($295 per double per night; kids under 18 free; 800-321-4262, www.hotelhanamaui.com), a five-minute shuttle from the beach, you can enjoy the free bikes, boogie boards, and snorkel gear.