Big Island and Kauai Exotic Beaches

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Hawaii is known for many things, and beautiful beaches are at the top of the list. There are too many beaches to count, and so many of them aren’t just the garden variety golden sand beaches, but rather green beaches, black beaches and others as well.

Mom and I aren’t dedicated beach goers in the sense that we will go to a beach and stay there all day. We simply like to do too much on vacation and don’t stay in any one place too long. As I always joke, you know you had a good vacation when you need another vacation to recover when it is all over.

Even though we had visited most of the best beaches on the Big Island and Kauai on our first trip, there were still some beaches to see on our second trip. The Big Island offers many different types of beaches, just because that island is younger than the other Hawaiian islands, so it is still transforming (and the ever erupting Kilauea ensures that the island is frequently changing landscapes).

I had visited Green Sand Beach on our first trip to the Big Island, but my mother elected not to go at the time, and regretted it later. Since I enjoyed the trip the last time, I had no problem doing it again.

This beach takes more effort to get to than most beaches, because there is no road near it, so you have to hike over two and a half miles from the parking lot to get there. To get to the parking lot, you take the turnoff for South Point Road between mile markers 69 and 70 on Hwy 11. You then drive down several miles, and follow the signs to Green Sands Beach. You can’t really miss the makeshift parking lot, and there should be plenty of cars already parked.

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From the parking lot, you have a decision to make. You can walk all the way to the beach if you desire. The walk isn’t difficult, but it can feel longer than it is at times, and it is exposed to sun and wind. If you choose to walk, most of the path is fairly easy to traverse, though there are sections where you have to negotiate rocks. There isn’t one path per say, but rather you just pick the best  of the available paths, which is usually the one that is flattest. Basically you just walk east and head toward Green Sands Beach. Eventually you will see the cliffs surrounding the beach, so you know you are almost there.

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Like I said, it isn’t HARD, but the walk can feel long and if the sun is beating down on you or the wind is strong, you will feel it. So make sure you take a lot of water and sun protection with you if you decide to walk the way.

However, you don’t have to walk out there if you don’t want. There is a cottage industry of locals and their 4WD vehicles who will gladly take you out to the beach and back, for a fee of course (roughly $10 per person for a round trip). Mom and I decided to walk out there, to get the full experience and some exercise, but we decided to take a truck back to save time and energy.

Once we got to the cliffs overlooking the beach, we just spent some time marveling at the beauty. The cliffs are rather magnificent in and of themselves, and the green sand of the beach just makes it all the better. The green sand comes from olivine, and its really only found in Hawaii on this beach. It’s not a bright green, but the sand definitely has a greenish tint.

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It’s fairly easy to make your way down to the actual beach, because of the steps and ladders. It is possible to swim in the ocean, though you need to be careful not to swim too far out, because there can be strong currents in the area.

If you like beautiful nature and unique beaches, you’ll probably like Green Sands Beach. It’s not a stop you can just spend a little time at, just because of the time it takes to get there (even if you take a truck). So if you plan to go, definitely allot enough time to get there, enjoy the beach for as long as you want, and get back. But it really is worth your time.

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About a 30 minute drive from the turnout to Green Sands Beach is the turnout for Punalu’u Beach, or Black Sand Beach. This beach is much easier to reach, because the parking lot is only a short walk from the beach itself. It’s located between mile markers 56 and 57 on Hwy 11 off Alanui Road. The road to the beach is well marked and easy to follow.

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Punalu’u Beach is a nice contrast with Green Sands Beach, both in the ease of access and the color of the sand. At the time we visited, the weather was a bit overcast and it was windy, so the waves were a bit too strong for me to want to swim. But it was pleasant to walk along the beach, admire the view and even take in the sight of a turtle.

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The beaches of Kauai are very beautiful, but almost uniformly a golden sand. However, there is one beach that takes more of an effort to reach. At least a beach that is not off the Na Pali Coast, because those beaches are much, much harder to reach.

Mom and I debated visiting Waimea Canyon on this trip, even though we visited it at length  during our first trip. However, we got a late start on our designated travel day, and we could see the dark clouds rolling in, so we figured it would not be worth our time to make the long drive up, only to have the surrounding views obscured.

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Instead, we decided to visit Polihale State Park, which we had not visited before. Polihale State Park is on the west side of the island, and it is about as far west as the road goes before it peters out, just before it reaches the Na Pali Coast. It’s not exactly EASY to get to Polihale, but it is worth your time if you have the time. Getting to the turnoff is easy, because you follow Hwy 50 all the way down the road, until you see the turnoff for the park. However, this is when the trip becomes more of an adventure. The access road to the beach is approximately five miles over an unimproved dirt road. I honestly don’t know why money isn’t spent to improve the road, but for whatever reason, the road is decidedly unimproved, though I read there is periodic maintenance to make it somewhat driveable.

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Generally speaking it is recommended that you take a 4WD vehicle to the park, though it isn’t absolutely required. You can take a 2WD vehicle like we did (though I wouldn’t recommend one if it is wet outside, because I can just see how the road would turn into mud when the rain falls). The road is deeply rutted in places, so you have to drive carefully, but eventually you will get there. Even though the road goes further up for camping access, it is easier to park at the spaces for the Queen’s Pond. There isn’t a parking lot per say, but rather you just pull your car off the road into the sand. Just make sure that the sand isn’t too loose, so you won’t get stuck trying to leave.

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From where you park, you just follow the road until you hit the beach. Once you arrive, it is pretty much up to you. Polihale State Park makes up several miles of golden sand, and if you come during the week, you are liable to have the park to yourself. We visited on the weekend, and there were plenty of locals camped out, but it was definitely not crowded.

If you want to swim on the beach, the safest place is within the reef of Queen’s Pond. Outside of it, the waves and current are a bit stronger. There really isn’t much else to do on the beach, but relax, swim if you want, and walk up and down taking in the views. We saw the dark clouds were getting closer and the rain was threatening to come down, so we left before the road was too difficult to traverse.

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If you choose to go to Polihale State Park, just know that it is out of the way for most other sites (though you could combine it with a day trip to Waimea Canyon), and the road is somewhat difficult to traverse. But you aren’t likely to find many more isolated places on Kauai (though some of the most isolated Na Pali Coast beaches would give it a run for its money).

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Hawaii Waterfall Fun- Big Island and Kauai

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I have always been drawn to running water, such as rivers, streams and the ocean. I just found something so fascinating and peaceful about running water. I could listen to it for hours. But my favorite natural water will forever and always be waterfalls. The best waterfalls never cease to amaze me, and they are one of my favorite places to visit when I hike or go on vacation.

Luckily for me, Hawaii is rife with waterfalls that will astound you with their beauty, and a good chunk of them are easily accessible from the road. We had visited most of the waterfalls on our first visit to Big Island, but of course we wanted to see them again.

Since the Hilo side of the Big Island is much greener and wetter than the Kona side of the island, because of all the rain, it stands to reason that the Hilo side of the island has the best waterfalls. And a few of the best ones are all within short driving distance of each other.

One of the best ones is Akaka Falls. This waterfall is 422 ft and set within a lush, green park. The trailhead to the waterfall is close to the road with pay parking within the parking lot, though if you don’t want to pay, there is plenty of parking on the road as well. Usually, there are a couple ways to access the viewpoint, because there is a trail that goes down and around and affords multiple views and obstructed views of another waterfall. However, at the time we visited, part of the lower trail was blocked off, due to trail maintenance, so only the most direct trail was available to the viewpoint. It’s less than .5 mile from the trailhead to the viewpoint, and the path is paved and pretty easy to traverse. You can’t miss the wide viewpoint that looks at the waterfall from the distance. The most challenging thing is jockeying for the best view among the throngs of tourists and their cameras.

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Another readily accessible waterfall is Rainbow Falls. How powerful this waterfall is, depends on the time of year, since after plenty of rain, the waterfall with naturally have more water than during drier periods. This one is also very popular, so there is a large parking lot and the walk is short to the viewpoint. A farther away view of the falls is right off the parking lot, whereas there is a short hike that takes you to the overlook of the top of the falls. I saw some people walking out on the rocks to the top of the falls, but my fear of slipping and falling off the cliff prevented me from doing the same.

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Since we were already in the area, we decided to drive the short way up the road to view Wai’ale Falls. They aren’t heavily advertised, and I wouldn’t consider them a “must do.” However, if you like waterfalls and are in the area, the falls are worth the minutes it takes to drive there on Waianuenue Avenue, past the junction to Hwy 200 (Saddle Road), and then just past the Wailuku River Bridge.

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The view of the falls are located right off the road, with parking available just off the road. There is supposed to be  a faint trail to get closer to the falls, and apparently the locals like to swim in the falls pool.

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Even though it isn’t a waterfall, the last stop of the day before heading back to our hotel was a local lava cave, easily accessible off the road. The lava cave is called Kaumana Caves, with a well marked parking lot located between mile markers 4 and 5 off Hwy 200. If you like lave caves, it is worth your time, and the visit doesn’t take too long.

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Even though the parking lot is across the street from the caves, we didn’t see too much traffic on Hwy 200, so it is pretty safe to make your way across. Once across the street, the sign for the cave is well marked, and there is no admission to the caves. Stairs lead down into the cave. There are actually two parts of the cave.

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The left side of the cave is more like a small ampitheater and the opening has plenty of green plants.

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The right side of the cave affords the opportunity to walk a bit ways into the cave before the way becomes too small. If you do want to make your way into the cave, make sure you have a light source, because there is no light in the cave.

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Over on Kauai, a good chunk of the most beautiful waterfalls are easy to visit, though there are plenty of waterfalls that aren’t readily accessible to the viewing public.

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Wailua Falls are probably the most beautiful waterfalls on Kauai, and there is a well marked road (Hwy 583) that literally ends at the parking lot for Wailua Falls. There isn’t a ton of parking spots considering how popular the falls are, but there are parking off the road, and turnover is usually pretty quick. However, if you are visiting Kauai during high tourist season, it might be worth your while to go earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon.

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We had the opportunity to see a couple other Kauai waterfalls during a half day kayak and waterfall adventure. Mom and I enjoy kayaking, and there are opportunities for both sea and river kayaking on Kauai. We decided against sea kayaking, just because of some of the strong ocean currents in places, and river kayaking sounded very pleasant.

Even though you can do guided or unguided river kayaks on different rivers, we elected for a guided tour, the Kayak Waterfall Adventure offered at Island Adventures tour company, just because in many ways it was easier, and it also afforded an opportunity to view a couple of pretty waterfalls that are located on private property, so they aren’t accessible to the public.

After kayaking a few miles up the Huleia River (a generally easy and peaceful trip among a lush green setting), we were transported to the overlook site and hiked down to the waterfalls. The first waterfall was the 30 foot Bamboo Falls. We only had a side view of the falls, but they were pretty nonetheless.

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After hiking a short time past that, we came to our destination, the 60 foot Papakolea Falls. We were able to sit and relax by the falls, swim in the pool, or climb up partway for pictures on a ledge behind the falls. The company also offers another tour that involves rappelling down the falls. I thought about doing the rappel tour, but since I figured my mom wouldn’t be into rappelling down the waterfall (I was right), we went with the gentler trip instead.

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The last waterfall I visited on Kauai was Ho’opi’i Falls. These falls were a bit harder to find, and aren’t really considered a “must do”. However, I was looking for an easy hike, and this one fit the bill and was a short drive from our hotel. The falls are located just up the road from the town of Kapa’a. I initially had a hard time finding the trailhead. It is located on Kapahi Road in a residential area. However, the trailhead isn’t really well marked, and my guide book gave some confusing directions. Just when I was about to give up and go back to my hotel, I looked on other hiking sites for better directions, and realized where I went wrong. The trailhead might not be marked, but you can see the yellow gate on the side of the road, that is overgrown with vegetation, and a short way before the road ends. Just past that is the parking area on the side of the road. You aren’t supposed to park on private property, because your car will be towed, but there are enough spaces for several cars off the side of the road.

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From the trailhead, it was an easy walk down to the river. Once you hit the river, take the trail to the right and a short ways after that, you will come to a turnoff that will lead you down to the upper Ho’opi’i Falls. These falls are nice and the viewing area affords some nice views and places to sit on the rocks. My guide book talked about lower falls, so I continued to follow the directions from my book, but I never did find the falls. At some point, I came to a fence blocking the trail and marked private property. I tried walking down to the river, but the trail along the river was hard to follow and eventually petered out. I tried walking around the blocked path, but never did find the lower falls. Eventually I turned back, because I was afraid of getting cited if I was caught on private property. Even though I didn’t see the lower falls, the hike was still pleasant enough.

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So if you like waterfalls, the whole state of Hawaii affords so many gorgeous views, and Kauai and the Big Island have some of the best waterfalls. Don’t miss them if you are on the island.

Na Pali Coast- The Exquisite Splendor of Kauai

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The last time we were on Kauai, we saw most of the “must do’s” for the island, but not all of them. One of the absolute, no kidding “must do’s” for Kauai is visiting the Na Pali Coast. Pound for pound, there are few more astoundingly beautiful stretches of land on this Earth than the Na Pali Coast. It is just endless folded mountains, green lush trees, golden sandy beaches and bright blue ocean.

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Due to the nature of the terrain, and the wisdom of the Kauai government, this is the one part of the island where there are no roads. Sure, you can drive up to the Kalalau Valley Lookout that is part of Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park to get a good overhead view of part of the Na Pali Coast. You could also take a (very expensive, but ultimately worth it) helicopter ride a wide look at the Na Pali Coast from above. And of course, you can see the Na Pali Coast from the ground by hiking the Kalalau Trail in whole or at least in part. But it requires much more effort to see the coast, because you can’t just drive to it.

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The last time we visited, I hiked two miles on the Kalalau Trail out to Hanakapi Beach. The entire trail is 11 miles one way, which is a hike you can’t really do in one day due to the difficult nature of the trail. You can’t even stay overnight at any of the coast beaches unless you have a camping permit. However, the two miles and back to Hanakapi Beach is an eminently doable day hike if you are in at least moderate fitness. The trail isn’t easy, because the trail isn’t well maintained. It’s often muddy and slippery and there are significant inclines and declines in parts. But the ground views of the Na Pali Coast and Hanakapi Beach make the journey worth the time and effort.

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While hiking gives you a nice intimate view of the coast, you can’t REALLY appreciate the full, exquisite splendor of the Na Pali Coast unless you take a step back and take it all in. The Na Pali Coast rewards a more expansive view, just because it is the mountains, trees and beaches altogether that makes the coast so special, and not any one specific feature.

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This time around, we elected to take a boat and snorkel tour along the coast. We hadn’t done one of those in Kauai before. It would give us a chance to see a wider view of the coast at a more leisurely pace, and afforded an opportunity to snorkel just off one of the beaches. After careful consideration of the different tours offered, we went with Na Pali Catamaran company. Again, they were the most recommended, but there are many good tours offered on the island. The company offers a morning and afternoon snorkel tour (among others), and we went with the morning tour, since the island weather is often better during the morning, with clouds more likely to roll in during the afternoon.

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While there are many tour companies offering Na Pali Coast boat tours, one of the biggest things to consider when choosing a company is where the tour departs. Typically, tours either leave from Hanalei Bay on the North Shore or from the western side of the island at Port Allen. If you can swing it, definitely choose a Hanalei Bay departure. The boat trip goes all the way across the Na Pali Coast, to the designated snorkel spot, which is usually around one of the farthest beaches. Ultimately you see more of the Na Pali Coast if you depart from Hanalei Bay, rather than Port Allen. Since none of these tours are exactly cheap, it makes sense to get most bang for your buck.

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If you take the morning tour, your day will start early, because you have to check in around 0645. Afterward you are transported to the beach, where you board the boat and start the trip.

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The view is always beautiful, but there is something extra special when you pass Ke’e Beach and officially enter the Na Pali Coast. Then the just regular beautiful mountains, become the gorgeous folded mountains of the coast. Everywhere you look, you just want to take pictures, because you can’t believe how amazing this place is and can’t get enough of the view.

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Our tour guide announced when we passed named beaches, such as Hanakapi Beach. We also saw parts of the Kalalau Trail overhead, and even waved to a couple hikers making their way along the trail.

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Since we were on a smaller catamaran, it enabled us to get closer to the shore. We got up close and personal with some cliffside waterfalls, and we even got to enter some larger sea caves.

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Even though it is not guaranteed on the trip, these boat tours offer the opportunity to see local wildlife. This particular morning offered a wealth of nature viewing. Luckily we ran into a pod of dolphins and they playfully accompanied us half the way to the turnaround point. We also saw a few sea turtles splashing around the ocean as well. Turtle viewings are a rare opportunity, though they are a protected species in Hawaii.

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Eventually we got to the turnaround point, which also was our snorkel site. We weren’t allowed to approach any of the beaches, but we did some snorkeling along one of the coastal reefs. As snorkeling trips go, it was reasonably decent. I have seen better and more colorful reefs teeming with life and color, but this reef did get the job done. At times, we had to gently fight some of the waves, but for the most part, the snorkeling wasn’t too rough (I’ve snorkeled in areas in the past, where it felt like I was fighting the ocean the entire time). There were schools of brightly colored fishes, and we could get a little more up close and personal (but not TOO personal) with some of the sea turtles.

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After snorkeling, we headed back to Hanalei Beach. All told, the tour lasted about four hours, which is enough time to take in all of the Na Pali Coast, and get a decent amount of snorkeling done. If you want a more intimate view of the Na Pali Coast, I HIGHLY recommend taking a boat tour. You definitely won’t regret seeing some of the most beautiful nature the world has to offer.

Hawaii Zipline Adventure Fun

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I have always had a love of adrenaline activities, such as skydiving, bungee jumping and canyon swinging, but those activities are typically only found in a few areas (though skydiving is more commonly found). So to feed my inner adrenaline junkie, I will often check out the “softer” adrenaline activities in the area, and one of my favorites is ziplining. Ziplining is both easy to do, provides some thrills, and often affords beautiful views of the surrounding countryside.

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If I choose to zipline, I always go for the one that provides the most thrills with the longest zips, just to make it worth my while. If there isn’t at least one zip that is 1200 feet or longer, then I won’t even bother. I want high. I want fast. I want fun. I have even roped my mother into ziplining with me, and I could NEVER coax her to bungee jump (I’m still working on tandem skydiving), and now she is as hooked as I am. So for our last trip to Hawaii when we visited the Big Island and Kauai, of course I was going to check out the best ziplining on each island.

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Both islands offer multiple companies that have zipline tours, but I elected to go with the most recommended ones in our guide books. Those tours offered the longest and highest zips, and they seemed to be set in beautiful nature areas for great views. After all, none of these tours are cheap, so I wanted to make it worth our while.

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We visited the Big Island first, and I selected Umauma Falls and Zipline Experience, since it was so highly recommended. The course was set over a lush, beautiful valley, as you descended the course through nine different ziplines. It came both recommended, and the website looked great, so we figured why not? The tour offered access to viewing the Umauma Falls, which are only available to see through a paid tour.

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Driving there was a bit long, but still pretty easy. We had based ourselves at a resort in Kailua-Kona (the western side of the island), and Umauma Falls is on the eastern side of the island. So unlike our first trip, we did a LOT of driving to get where we needed to go everyday. But even though the Big Island is the biggest Hawaiian island, it is still easy enough to drive to most sites (assuming  you aren’t fighting too much town traffic in parts).

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We even got there with enough time to spare to go on an earlier tour, which played into our favor, because the weather was iffy. It always is on the Hilo side of the island with the extensive rain it receives. Throughout our tour, we saw the dark clouds threatening to open up on us, but thankfully, they never did.

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Four of the Umauma Falls zips are dual line, so if you are visiting with a partner, you can race down the line to see who gets to the end faster. Just due to the fact that I outweigh my mother, AND I would launch myself off the platform to get as much speed as possible, I always came in first.

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Some of the zips afforded views of beautiful lakes and small waterfalls, and even a glimpse or two at a lava cave. And the most touted view was on zip eight, where you can finally stop and take in the actual Umauma Falls. All in all, it was a great tour, and a lot of fun. It combines beautiful views and thrilling zips, to make it worth your time and money. Of the ziplining we have done in Hawaii, the Umauma Falls tour is probably the most picturesque, and one of the most picturesque of any zipline tours I have done.

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So after that fun trip, I was hoping our zipline tour on Kauai would live up to the same standards. This time, we chose Koloa Zipline for the same reasons: it looked like it combined the most fun zips with the most beautiful nature (though if there was ever forced to choose, I would always choose to most thrilling over the most beautiful).

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Koloa Zipline tour is set within the Waita Reservoir not far from the town of Poipu, so as you travel around the course, you get beautiful views of the lush, green countryside. This particular tour provides a more vigorous workout than is advertised on the website, so know before you go. All zipline tours have a certain amount of walking, because that is how you get from zip to zip. However, Koloa Zipline’s zips are a bit farther apart at times, and there was one short but steep and strenuous hike between two zips. Let’s just say I was feeling the humidity, and was thankful it wasn’t hotter than it was (though the tour provides plenty of cold drinks and snacks to satiate you).

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Even though the Koloa Zipline setting is beautiful, it still doesn’t beat out Umauma Falls for sheer beautiful nature. I love trees and lakes, but I love waterfalls more. However, I do think Koloa Zipline is more thrilling than Umauma Falls, in a couple key ways. Sure, Koloa Zipline is only eight zips compared to Umauma Falls’ nine zips, but the adrenaline factor is a bit higher with Koloa.

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Koloa Zipline offers the most opportunities for tricks and alternate positions than any other zipline I have done up to this point (and with this trip, I finally broke into the double digits for zipline tours I’ve completed). Sure, you can do the standard sitting zipline position that other tours offer, but you can also do so much more. This is a company that actively encourages people to try new positions, such as upside down, spinning, and my absolute favorite, the prone position. One of the tours in Maui allowed participants to do one zip upside down, but they were clear that this was not something they wanted to get out. But crazy positions seems to be part of the package deal with Koloa Zipline. I had done one prone position zipline before this, but it was in Las Vegas, and it was heavily controlled. Out on this tour, it really felt more like you were flying over the jungle. It was the most thrilling and provides panoramic views for the longer, more beautiful zips.

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If you like ziplining already or even just thinking of trying it, I highly recommend both zipline tours. You can never have too much zipline, and the beautiful views and soft adrenaline thrills provides an opportunity to see part of the island in a new way.