With no children in tow on our last visit to Oahu, my husband and I embraced our adventurous sides and explored the island by foot, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, and  snorkel boat. No lounging on the beach for us! The goal for this vacation was to be outdoors as much as possible, not only to spend time together enjoying active pursuits, but to work off the calories we ingested enjoying the island’s many fine restaurants and plate lunches!

Here are a few of the highlights of our adventure-themed vacation on Oahu:

Kayaking to Moku Nui

The clear waters off the east coast of Maui provide fine conditions for ocean kayaking – it’s especially fun to spot sea turtles as you’re paddling the waves! On a cloudy morning, my husband and I took a guided, sit-on-top kayak tour from the residential beach community of Lanikai to a small island of Moku Nui, a seabird sanctuary. Here, we landed for a lunch of sandwiches and chips (amid intermittent rain!) and a walk around the rocky isle. Afterward we had a ball surfing the waves – a bit choppy and exciting, due to the inclement weather – and ended our tour with a stint of snorkeling (with provided gear) before finishing up at white sand Kailua Beach. In all, a highly recommended, vigorous excursion.

SUPing between waves in Waikiki

Stand-up paddling in Waikiki

Though Waikiki is an urban vacation destination on Oahu, there are definitely ways to get your outdoors fix here. On a previous visit to the island, we hiked to the top of Diamond Head – the landmark rock formation you can see prominently from Waikiki Beach (and a worthy trek) – so this time we took to the water to try stand-up paddleboarding for the first time. Now, having never before attempted to paddle one of these wide boards, it might have been smarter to start in a lagoon, but instead I went for it in the steady, medium-sized waves. Did I fall off a lot? Absolutely. Did I laugh a lot? Oh, yes. And I felt perfectly safe with an experienced instructor and my agile, athletic husband nearby. Like kayaking, SUPing is a great work out – I definitely felt my thighs and abs the next morning!

Snorkeling with wild dolphins off the coast of Oahu

Snorkeling with wild dolphins

I count snorkeling with wild dolphins among the top adventures I’ve ever enjoyed in Hawaii. Watching a pod of these graceful creatures underwater in their own environment is absolutely thrilling – a once-in-a-lifetime experience, for sure. On our guided trip with Wild Side Specialty Tours, we rode a small, comfortable boat out of a west-coast harbor to a spot in the ocean where pods of Hawaiian spinner dolphins are known to hang out. Now, this is no mellow boat ride or calm snorkeling experience; all guests on board the catamaran are active dolphin spotters. And once pods are confirmed, we had to hustle in the water with snorkel gear ready as our nimble captain navigated the boat toward the dolphins (without cutting them off or otherwise harming them). Then, as our boat came up alongside the dolphins, our knowledgeable, athletic snorkel guide hollered at us to jump in and she led us toward the quickly swimming mammals.

Viewfinder Tip: Small boats in open ocean can be a recipe for seasickness. Consider bringing ginger chews or other remedies on your snorkel trip. 

Indeed, it was a workout to keep up with the pods of 30 or so dolphins (babies included!) but definitely worth the cardio effort. At one point I was floating above them while they were perhaps 30 or 40 feet below me. A bonus: once we’d gotten our fill of  swimming with dolphins, we were able to get up close and personal with giant sea turtles, too.

Hiking the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail

This short, moderate hike truly isn’t one of the most rugged treks on the island, but it sure does afford some stellar views of the dramatic cliffs on the easternmost side of the island. It’s a little over a mile up a mostly paved path to the top lookout where you can peer down at the 100-year-old Makapu’u Lighthouse and crashing waves below. In the distance are beach towns and still more rugged cliffs.

How do you enjoy the outdoors in Hawaii?