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Islands of adventure: 10 great trips that go beyond the beach

by , SmarterTravel Staff
School of hammerhead sharks off Cocos Island, Costa Rica (Photo: Wayne Hasson, Aggressor Fleet)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on November 13, 2006. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: activity, adventure travel, Antarctica, Costa Rica, Crete Island, destination, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Hawaii, Iceland, island, Kodiak, Molly Feltner, Sabah, vacation package, Vanuatu.

If sunbathing and sipping margaritas are the only things that come to mind when you think of island travel, it's time to think again. There are thousands of islands on the planet—ranging from the tropical fantasy isles of the South Pacific to the icy outposts of the poles—and the possibilities for adventure in and around them are even greater in number. Whether you're interesting in kayaking, hiking, diving, experiencing indigenous cultures, or trying something totally new, there's an island adventure out there that's perfect for you. To help you move from daydreaming to trip planning, here are some choices for top island adventures to consider.

Backpacking the Kalalau Trail on Hawaii's 'Garden Isle'

Outfitter: Do-it-yourself
Price: from $10 per person per night

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With its fluted pali cliffs, miles of undeveloped beaches, huge tracts of roadless rainforest, and a gorge known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," Kauai, Hawaii, packs a seemingly endless number of outdoor adventure options into its 550 square miles. While kayaking, biking, and horseback riding are all popular activities, hiking might just be the perfect way to experience the "Garden Isle's" landscape.

"Hiking is the best way to get to the heart of Kauai, both in geography and spirit," says SmarterTravel.com Contributing Editor Christine Sarkis, who came to Kauai for a wedding but spent much of her time hiking. "It's also the only way to get to many natural and historic sites on the island."

Of all the trails on Kauai, the 11-mile Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast is the most prized, passing along one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in the country. Hiking the trail requires backpacking a strenuous 22-mile out-and-back route from Ke'e Beach to the remote Kalalau Beach, camping along the way in designated spots.

"[The trail] was established by the Hawaiians centuries ago and follows ledges on the cliffs, dipping down into five major valleys and numerous little gullies," says Andy Kass, a hiking leader for the Sierra Club's Kauai group. "The ledges are usually plenty wide and vegetated, offering views up and down the coast as well as cooling sea breezes. The valleys are lush and humid, with views of waterfalls and green mountains. Near the end, you reach a crest and turn a corner where Kalalau Valley opens up before you, with near-vertical walls curving inland and around to the beach on the opposite side."

A spectacular waterfall and sea caves mark the end of the trail at Kalalau Beach. "There is a certain sacred awe at being in such a magnificent natural setting," says Kass. "I sometimes call it a Hawaiian cathedral, not just because of the towering cliffs on all sides, but because Kalalau epitomizes the natural balance between the Hawaiian culture and the physical world."

The details

To hike beyond the first two miles of the trail, you must obtain a permit in advance through the Hawaii State Parks office. There is a $10 fee per person, per night. You must provide your own camping and hiking equipment.

Hiking on Kauai has its challenges and dangers, so it's important to be prepared so that you can reap the rewards safely. To learn more about hiking in Kauai, safety on the trail, and minimizing your impact on the environment, refer to the resources listed on Kauai's Sierra Club website. The guidebook "On the Na Pali Coast: A Guide for Hikers and Boaters" by Kathy Valier is particularly helpful.

Extremely fit hikers can do the trip in two days, spending a night camping at Kalalau Beach, but Kass says that you'll have a far better trip if you take a few more days to soak up the landscape. Although you can hike the trail year-round, May and early June tend to offer both good weather and minimal crowding.

Round-trip flights to Kauai in May start at $389, excluding taxes, on Hawaiian Airlines.

NEXT >> Cruising Vanuatu, the hidden isles of the South Pacific

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