The best part of traveling are the thrills you experience along the way. We’ve partnered with adventure travel expert Jeremy Scott Foster from TravelFreak, as he reflects on an unforgettable adventure vacation to Oahu, Hawaii.
The incredible thing about the island of Oahu, like most of Hawaii, is that the very land lends itself to adventure. From dramatic mountain ranges that burst from the earth to crystal-clear aquamarine waters with breathtaking underwater worlds, the whole island is geared to coax out your intrepid side.
Whether they take place on land or sea, the one thing all of these activities have in common is that they will get your adrenaline pumping. Some of the more white-knuckle thrill experiences on this list aren’t for the fainthearted, but that’s the point of travel, right? It’s important to step outside your comfort zone, and Oahu is the perfect place to do it.
So, without further ado, let’s look at some of the best adventure activities in Oahu.
1. Freedive with Sharks
If swimming with sharks in Pacific waters doesn’t make your heart pump a little faster, then you and your nerves of steel might as well stop reading now. Though it’s completely safe, one of the most unforgettably hair-raising and nail-biting adventure activities in Oahu is freediving with sandbar and Galapagos sharks—without a cage!
But don’t worry. These sharks are not vicious and, so long as you keep your cool, they will, too. After 10 minutes of watching the sharks harmlessly circle around you (I swear it’s not as menacing as it sounds), your fear will turn into respect.
Based in Haleiwa, the One Ocean Diving research and diving company operates educational tours for the public that involve two-hour trips out on the water. Their mission is to eliminate the negative perceptions we have about sharks which are often portrayed in have in today’s media. The trips culminate with an unforgettable snorkeling experience, where you’ll get to go face-to-face with these incredible creatures!
2. Surf Chun’s Reef
Few places are as popular or as rewarding as Oahu’s North Shore when it comes to surfing, and few places are as fun as Chun’s Reef. Though it can get crowded in the summer months, it’s the perfect place to learn how to surf or catch some world-class waves if you already know how.
Spread out over Waimea Beach Park, Laniakea Beach and more, the reef is home to many professional surf schools like Blue Rush Surf School. They are all dedicated to getting you up on your feet and carving up the waves.
3. Skydive over Waikiki
Perhaps one of the most beautiful places in the world to jump out of a plane, Waikiki’s shoreline is a patchwork of vivid blues and greens. This adventure activity is one for the real adrenaline seekers. You will be flown up to 14,000 feet before you take a leap of faith and free fall towards the ground.
Skydivers always have a qualified instructor attached to their back when they jump, so you don’t need to worry about pulling parachute chords—they do that for you. All you need to do is muster up the courage to jump and then enjoy the scenery as you race through the air. That is, if you’re not too busy screaming.
4. Ride a Helicopter over Jurassic Park
Despite all the stunning viewpoints scattered across the island—like Diamond Head and Lanai Lookout Point—the best view is from the air. And jumping from a plane is not the only way you can take advantage of this vantage point.
By far, one of my favorite adventure activities in Oahu is taking a helicopter ride over the island with Novictor Helicopters. You’ll see all the famous sights, such as Koko Head, Diamond Head, Waikiki and Pearl Harbor, plus some hidden gems—like hundred-foot waterfalls that you can’t even reach by foot.
You’ll just casually hop aboard a Robinson R-44 helicopter with 180-degree views for a daytime or sunset tour.
5. ATV Rides at Kualoa Ranch
The private natural reserve of Kualoa Ranch is home to stunning landscapes that were the primary filming locations for Jurassic Park, LOST, and many other blockbuster hits. Picture rugged green cliffs towering over a lush valley that extends all the way to the electric blue waters lapping at the coastline. If it sounds postcard perfect, that’s because it is.
The Kualoa Ranch is also home to one of the most interactive and beloved adventure activities in Oahu. What could be more fun than spraying up dirt and speeding through rivers in your very own ATV?
The 4,000 acres of Kualoa are scrupulously protected and offer some of the most beautiful, rugged terrain in all of Hawaii, let alone Oahu. Choose from a one- or two-hour tour in either personal or multiple passenger ATV’s and get ready to venture into some of the most unexplored parts of the island.
6. Hike the Pali Notches
Widely known as one of the most dangerous hikes on the island, the Pali Notches are in fact man made and perfectly feasible, just a bit more nerve-wracking than your average stroll. Cut into the mountain in the 1700s, the Pali Notches present you with almost vertical climbs with no rope, but your efforts will be more than rewarded—the views from the summit are among the very best in the whole of Hawaii.
In fact, if you can find a better view anywhere in the world I’d like to hear about it. Verdant jungle stretches to the horizon, so only rolling hills interrupt your views. Get there early and the tops of the slopes will be hidden by morning mist—this is seriously magical. This is a technical climb, so be sure you are well-equipped, hiking with a buddy, and have a reliable pair of hiking shoes.
If hiking the notches isn’t your thing, join this East Oahu Shoreline Afternoon Tour which will take you to the Nu’uanu Pali lookout and a few other gems along the coast!
7. Scuba Dive an Underwater Kingdom
With one of the most abundantly vibrant underwater kingdoms on earth, the waters around Oahu offer other-worldly experiences coming face-to- face with some truly amazing sea creatures. White-tip sharks, monk seals, manta rays and tropical fish in every color on the spectrum call these shores their home. If you’re lucky, you might even spot an elusive whale shark.
No matter your experience level, there are a range of different types of dives on offer from the dive shops around the island. There are also more than 10 shipwrecks on the seabed surrounding Oahu, from the San Pedro Shipwreck to the Sea Tiger Shipwreck, that divers are able to explore.
8. Ride the Jurassic Valley Zipline
Combining your love of adventure with a thrilling new perspective on the boundless nature of the island, the Jurassic Valley Zipline lets you whip through the trees in the gorgeous Ka’a’awa Valley.
Nestled within the vast confines of the Kualoa Ranch, the panoramic views combined with breakneck (not literally!) speeds make for the perfect adventure activity.
In total, the zipline adventure consists of seven tandem zip lines (one of which is a staggering quarter of a mile long), two suspension bridges and three small hiking paths that connect the various sections. Prepare for at least two hours of treetop adventures.
9. Take the Jet Pack for a Ride
The Jet Pack Ride looks totally futuristic and has taken the world by storm in recent years. Now, you can now enjoy it for yourself in the beautiful Maunalua Bay. You’ll have magnificent views of Koko Head and Diamond Head Lookout and the water when you inevitably faceplant into it.
The water-powered jet pack straps on to your back and is powerful enough to blast you up to 30 feet in the air. If there was ever something guaranteed to get your adrenaline pumping, then this is it.
When it comes to adventure activities, Oahu is one of the most conducive spots in the Pacific. With good weather, scenery that will blow you away and fresh bowls of poké for dinner every night, what more could you possibly want?
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