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Best Volcano Tour - Big Island's Kilauea

You can thank the works of five separate volcanoes for creating one of the planets most visited tourist destinations. Without them, there would be no Kona coffee, no Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts, and fewer ABC stores (the ones in Vegas don't count). Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea are the big names in the South Pacific Volcano network. Kohala is extinct, Mauna Kea and Hualalia are dormant, Mauna Loa is active but laying low for the time being (decades) which leaves Kilauea as the star of the show on the Big Island and is the most popular lava spiller in the world.

While visitor tastes often dictate what activities they partake in while on the Big Island - be it surfing, golf, coffee plantation tours or hula lessons - pretty much everyone will take a pass at Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In fact, its probably the first thing friends and family will inquire about upon your return. If your camera is not filled with a gallery worthy collection of shots of molten magma pouring into the Pacific you'll be hard pressed to have anyone gander further into your vacation photo montage.

The history, relevance, and sheer entertainment value makes a tour of Kilauea an essential experience when visiting the Big Island and thus we have provided our picks for the best ways to see what we consider to be a serious contender as a wonder of the world.

Best Volcano Tour - Big Island's Kilauea

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By Boat - Lava Ocean Adventures

Come face to face with the flow of lava that seeps into the ocean fronting Kilauea on a chartered boat in the evening. Watching the sun set on the South Pacific from a bow or stern is a thing to behold in itself but to add to ones visual sensation with glowing crimson pouring into waters in addition to the auditory plus of the hiss that accompanies the interaction of the elements is enthralling and even entertainingly eerie.

The aptly named Lava Ocean Adventures tour company will take you right to the action as it departs on an enjoyable 30 - 40 minute boat ride from Isaac Hale Beach Park (Pohoiki) to the sloping lava field that drips magma into the churning waters below. Because this journey depends on Kilauea's activity there are times when the tour is on hold and awaiting active lava flow so be sure to contact Lava Ocean Adventures before getting your hopes to high.

Lava Ocean Adventures has daily tours departing in the morning, afternoon and evening.

Lava Ocean Adventures Sunrise Tour
Check in: 4:45am Departure: 5:00am

Lava Ocean Adventures Sunset Tour
Check in: 5:45pm Departure: 6:00pm

Lava Ocean Adventures Moonlight  Tour
Check in: 7:45pm Departure: 8:00pm

$165 (plus tax) per person.

Lava Ocean Adventures - Reservations and Information:

Call 1-800-901-0468 or Res@LavaBoat.com

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By Air - Paradise Tours

A Bird's Eye View puts things into perspective and there is no better way to witness the all encompassing awesomeness of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park than from the air in open door helicopter. This is about as close as one can get to the experience felt by the poor souls slated for sacrifice into Kilauea's gaping crater in ancient times, the difference today being that people actually pay to be dangled a stone's drop above.

The Big Island is quite expansive (hence the name) and thus volcano helicopter tours departing from Kona can average at around $600 to cover the mileage. Budget conscious individuals will prefer to book their tour closer to Kilauea's home from Hilo instead where the cost can run under $200 depending on the deal of the day.

Paradise Tours is an affordable yet reputable option for providing this thrill of a lifetime experience that accommodates both death defying sightseeing for the adventurous soul and casual observation for the more cautious.

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On Foot - KapohoKine Adventures

Both the hardened lava rock landscape and active flows of Kilauea have made for some terrifically unique and interesting hiking trails through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Even more impressive is taking this journey after daylight to witness the magma glowing against the dim evening sky. This is pure post apocalyptic fun at it's best and places you smack in the middle of a terrain one only imagines in the movies.

KapohoKine Adventures offers this unique perspective by taking you to the Puna District on the east side of the island where land viewing of Kilauea is prime. At a starting price of only $89 per adult ($76 for those under 12) which includes a Hawaiian Styled BBQ dinner, you'll be hard pressed to find a better way to spend less than a hundred bucks on the Big Island.


Kona Coffee Tours - Serving Aloha on the Big Island

One name is synonymous with both the Big Island and everyone's favorite morning wake up call, and that's the word "Kona". We're talking about one of the world's best known and most revered coffee beans and they're grown right here on the largest of the island chain. The scent of 100% Kona coffee demands a deep, eyes closed, inhale whether you have just been handed your beverage from a cafe barista or simply walking by a local Hawaiian coffee shop. You can then imagine the exquisite aroma sensory overload experienced upon visiting an authentic Kona Coffee plantation with the additional visuals provided by the backdrop of the mountainous region that blesses the landscape of the Big Island. To be considered 100% Kona and not some rip off blend that only uses a portion of the real thing, the coffee must be grown within the hill sides of Hualalai and Mauna Loa in the North and South Kona Districts, which narrows down to an approximate 3 by 7 mile stretch of the Big Island of Hawaii. In other words, rarity makes this bean so sought after and tours of the plantations that farm the indigenous product beckon coffee connoisseurs from all over the planet.

Even though the Kona Coffee Belt is relegated to a relatively small area there are hundreds of farms to choose from when planning a tour of the region and thus we narrowed down the guess work to a few reputable locations worth visiting below.

Side Note: If coffee is really your cup of tea, then we suggest planning your trip to the Big Island in the late fall for the Kona Coffee Festival, which takes places this year from November 2 - 11, 2013.

Kona Coffee Tours - Serving Aloha on the Big Island

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Mountain Thunder
Mount Hualalai locations: 73-1944 Hao Street in Kaloko Mauka, Kona, Hawaii OR 79-7469 Hawaii Belt Road in Kealakekua, Hawaii

Mountain Thunder is dramatic in both name and persona. This kona coffee plantation tour has been featured numerous times on network television with programs ranging from the Food Network to the Discovery Channel. They also direct Gevalia's Kona Coffee Cultural Festival's Cupping Contest. That kind of exposure garners quite the reputation and you can thank their multiple award winning Organic Cloud Forest Estate 100% Kona Coffee for most of the accolades.

The highly attentive, expertly guided, free tour takes you through the entire process at Mountain Thunder (where everything is done "in-house") from growing to roasting to bagging. On site, you will get to view Mountain Thunder's appearance on the Discovery Channel and identify elements of the exact same experience as witnessed on the show. Sites, sounds, and process aside, the highlight of show is the official tasting where sipping on Mountain Thunder's 100% Premium Private Reserve (brewed as a 6 oz Americano) against the backdrop of the home it comes from sends visitors into coffee heaven. If you ask, you'll even get a few tips on how to best duplicate the brew in your own home, although the flavor accented by the experience could never be quite the same. Private VIP Tours are also available for those that want the whole enchilada, or bean in this instance.

Mountain Thunder opens at 9 am, and tours start on the hour, every hour, from 10am-4pm. The last tour begins at 4pm. Tours are available Monday through Saturday at the Kaloko location and Monday through Sunday at the Kainaliu location. VIP tours start at 10:00am. Japanese language tours are available at the Kaloko farm every Tuesday and Friday from 10:00am to 4:00pm.

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Kona Mountain Coffee Plantation

Store Address: 73-4038 Hulikoa Drive, Suite 5, Kailua Kona, Hawaii - Visitors will receive assistance at the store for getting to the farm.

Kona Mountain Coffee Plantation

Visitors to the other high traffic island of Oahu may be familiar with the Kona Mountain Coffee brand and its retail stores in the Hilton Hawaiian Village and on the ground floor of Hilton's Grand Waikikian Tower. Their stores are a fantastic way to treat yourself to the best Kona produced souvenir (after the memories), be it the Kona Coffee Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts, Kona Korn Krunch (don't abbreviate that one!) and of course the 100% pure coffee.

The 90 acre (approximate) farm is one of the largest in the Kona Coffee Belt with an mountain elevation reaching 2400 feet. The landscape is blanketed with a lush green hue being that it is one of the few plantations with a grass covered base, making it more pleasant for pickers and those touring the grounds, especially photographers looking for that screensaver worthy shot.

Private Tours of the Kona Mountain Farm are available by contacting them via information request form. Fill out the necessary info and you'll be whisked away up to the prized Kona Mountain in no time. Meanwhile, feel free to peak at their online store and ship an order to your home to get you through until your next journey to the Big Island.

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Koa Coffee Plantation
82-1213 Greenwell Mountain Road, Captain Cook, HI 96704

An excuse to visit to the quaint town of Captain Cook is reason enough to make the trip to the Koa Coffee Plantation which is perfectly situation on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano at 2,500 feet. We didn't forget to add an "n" to the name of this brand, the name koa comes from the other most revered natural ingredient to the Hawaiian Island's rich culture and keepsake building block- the koa tree. Everything about this farm exudes the spirit of Aloha, right down to the personable private tours available by contacting the plantation here.


Best Place to Get a Ukulele in Hawaii

If you're on the Big Island with some time on your hands and some money in your pocket, you won't find a better place to "pick up" the happiest instrument in the world.

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Holu'aloa Ukulele Gallery

76-5942 Mamalahoa Highway, Kona, HI

There's nothing unique about directing visitors on the Big Island to a shop that sells ukuleles. Next to Macadamia Nuts and the Duty Free Dole 3 Pack of pineapples at the airport, purchasing a souvenir ukulele on any one of the Hawaiian islands is tourist prerequisite number three.

But a trip to the Hilu'aloa Ukulele Gallery in Kona has us singing a different tune. At the Holu'aloa Ukulele Gallery, you get to make your own ukulele. The catch? You had better be in town for a few weeks.

Ukulele workshop owner Sam Rosen holds 70 hour courses over the duration of ten days - that's 7 hours per day - where students immerse themselves in the process of building their very own ukulele, made from the Big Island's most prized natural possession - Koa - the rich, curly, butterscotch toned wood seen in resorts and high end galleries in Hawaii. While 10 seven hour days of building, shaping, sanding, stringing and tuning doesn't sound like much of a vacation, the very first day wisely has participants shape a small thin plank of koa into the silhouette shape that the fun island instrument is known for, and from that rewarding moment on, the pride of creating something so special (and actually recognizable) takes over and your hooked from there on in.

Sam is also a pleasure to be around. His patient demeanor, helpful candor, story telling, and ukulele strum sessions throughout the day have you eagerly anticipating the finish line to the finished product so that you too can channel your inner Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is only 10 days and a well worth-it *$1000 away.

*$1000 for a rewarding course like this AND the indigenous koa wood used to make your personal masterpiece is a bargain as far as we are concerned.

Happy strumming!