This story originally appeared here on FamilyVacationCritic.com:
My husband Quent and I left the kids at home for a recent five-night trip to Oahu. We would have loved to have brought them along, but with school still in session (not to mention the additional airfare it would cost us) they stayed back in Colorado with Grandma. Our children were terribly disappointed they didn’t get to join us – a nine-day vacation on Kauai a few years ago is among our favorite all-time family trips – but Quent and I were able to scout out some awesome activities for them when we do return to the Hawaiian Islands all together. These are a few of the fun things my husband and I did on Oahu that I’d totally recommend for kids ages 9 and up – even your most apathetic teen traveler will surely get into one of these exciting excursions!
Kayaking to an Island: Our guided kayak tour from Twogood Kayaks in Kailua was incredible – we absolutely loved it, even though we kayaked in unusually inclement weather. We paddled a tandem, sit-on-top kayak to the tiny island Moku Nui, a seabird sanctuary; learned to surf the waves (so fun!); spotted sea turtles; and stopped to snorkel in shallow, fish-filled waters off a white-sand beach. The friendly guides at Twogood Kayaks can adjust the day’s activities depending on the ages of the children signed up for the tour. I’d take my tweens on the particularly itinerary we did – my husband and I would each take a child in a boat — if the day were warm and sunny with no wind!
Hiking to Makapuu Lighthouse: While you can’t actually access the cute red lighthouse on a rocky point along Oahu’s southeast coast, you can peer down at it from a lookout above and admire the awesome views of cliffs, beach and ocean as well – keep your eyes peeled for whales between December and April! The hike to the top is a paved 1.25-mile trail with a moderate incline; the sign at the trailhead is “Ka’iwi Scenic Shoreline” (no mention of a Makapuu Lighthouse, so it’s a little confusing). I wouldn’t hesitate to take my hardy nine-year-old on this hike.
Swimming with Wild Dolphins: I’ve been on a bunch of ocean snorkeling excursions over the past several years, but it’s hard to top this one from Wild Side Specialty Tours, where we actually swam with dolphins and sea turtles. Another key to the extraordinary enjoyment of this trip: a small group. The “Best of the West” tour takes place aboard a 34-foot catamaran with just six participants. As soon as dolphins were spotted, our small group was able to don flippers, masks and snorkels, hop in the water, and admire pods swimming below and beside us. This tour is ideal for kids over age 10, I think, who are confident swimmers.
Stand-up Paddling in Waikiki: I admit I was a little nervous before my stand-up paddling (SUP) lesson off of famous Waikiki Beach; I really didn’t want to look like an idiot, falling in the ocean in front of hundreds of other tourists. But our instructor Trevor of Wakiki Beach Services totally put me at ease; in fact, after a short lesson on shore, regarding the finer points of balancing on a paddleboard amid rolling waves, he gave me a shove and off I went – past the breaking waves, hundreds of yards off the beach. And I did pretty well; conquering the waves (i.e. not falling on every swell) was empowering! Kids have to be very good swimmers, I think, for a paddleboarding lesson (no life jackets involved); same goes for the surfing lessons that the outfitter offers. But here’s an activity from Waikiki Beach Services that the whole family can enjoy together: an outrigger canoe ride, where you surf the waves with experienced paddlers while seated safely in a type of canoe that Polynesians have used for centuries. One bonus for booking SUP, surfing or outrigger canoe excursions with Wakiki Beach Services: a CD of photos of your experience is included in the price.