12 Reasons Why the Island of Hawaii is the World's Best Indoor-Outdoor Classroom

When you think of time spent in a classroom does hiking an active volcano, getting underwater with marine life, or learning about Hawaii ranching history on a working Hawaii ranch spring to mind? Uh-huh. We thought not. Prepare to let the island of forever redefine your definition of classroom time with our below list of unrivaled indoor-outdoor learning opportunities sure to have your family, friends or even just you alone looking forward to being schooled again.

# 1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

There’s no better way to learn about volcanology than hiking and exploring an active volcano. At 335,000 acres, Hawaii’s largest national park is a grand natural sciences lab without walls, its vast acreage offering countless up-close-and-personal volcano learning experiences. From self-guided volcano hikes on miles of accessible trails, and informative ranger-led programs and treks, to absorbing the mass Hawaii volcanology knowledge on tap at the Kilauea Visitor Center and also Kahuku Unit to explore Maunaloa volcano’s 1868 lava flow, you’ll insist on staying after class.

#2. Kona Coffee Living History Farm

At this working 5.5-acre coffee estate first homesteaded in 1900 and now maintained by the nonprofit Kona Historical Society, interpreters in period wear share a fascinating history of the daily lives, hardships and triumphs of Japanese immigrant coffee farmers in the early 20th century as guests explore historic buildings stocked with authentic era artifacts and antiques. Go ahead and query interpreters about the coast’s rich history and settlers from other myriad cultures, too.

#3. Keahole Center for Sustainability

This nonprofit entity offers up virtual and in-person tours of the pioneering aquaculture and mariculture activities, ocean- and sun-powered renewable energy projects, and other high-tech businesses at the Keahole Center for Sustainability facility on the island’s Kona Coast. While at Keahole Center, visit the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm to learn about and gently interact with the endangered marine fish.

#4. Petroglyphs

The island of Hawaii has two of the largest petroglyph fields in the state. Puuloa Petroglyph Field in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to several thousand images etched into lava bedrock by Hawaiians between A.D. 1200 and 1450, many of them accessible by a foot trail. On the Kohala Coast, a hike through the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve reveals a third of its 3,000 kii pohaku (Hawaiian for “images in stone”) depicting early Hawaiian spiritual and everyday life.

#5. Loko ia

Hawaiian loko ia (fishponds) were a common sight along Hawaii coastlines through the 1700s. Though most were lost to time, a few of these still innovative constructs of fish husbandry were preserved or are being restored. On the island of Hawaii, check out the lava rock fish trap and restored fishponds of Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, the Kohala Coast resort area’s preserved Kalahuipuaa and Anaehoomalu fishponds, and Waiakea fishponds on Hilo’s bayfront. You can also give back and help to preserve these sites by participating in community workdays and volunteer opportunities. In Kona the Nature Conservancy and nonprofit Hui Aloha Kiholo host monthly volunteer workdays clearing invasive vegetation and debris from the fishpond, helping maintain native plants and marine life in Kiholo Bay’s stunning anchialine pools. Work is hard but visiting is its own reward.

#6. Keauohana Rainforest Volunteer Days

The Puna district’s Keauohana Forest Reserve is home to one of the largest and most intact lowland rainforests in Hawai‘i. Since 2014, the Hawaii Environmental Restoration project has relied on volunteers to control invasive plant species in the forest, restore native flora, create trails and post educational signage about restored species. You can volunteer on quarterly or weekly workdays, or schedule a private workday for your group.

#7. Mokupapapa Discovery Center

The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument isn’t the world’s easiest place to visit. Comprising dozens of remote islands, atolls and pristine coral reefs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands stretching 1,000 miles from Nihoa Island to Kure Atoll, its 139,797 square-miles are home to 7,000 marine and 22 seabird species. This center – with educational interactive exhibits and a 3,500-gallon aquarium filled with monument marine life – is a nifty next best.

#8. Astronomy Center

Take a moment to stargaze from anywhere on the island of Hawaii to experience the unparalleled astronomical wonderment. At the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, hands-on exhibits explore connections between modern astronomy and early Hawaiian studies of the cosmos.

#9. Kahaluu Beach and Richardson’s Ocean Parks

Prepare to cross off a fulfilling number of fish and crustaceans from your Hawaii marine life must-see list at these snorkeling spots on the island of Hawaii. A natural underwater rock formation keeping big waves out and its shallow depths gently agitated make Kahaluu in Kona a haven for snorkelers, coral and countless fish and marine life, including protected honu (sea turtles) that are to be observed from afar. Be sure to visit the Kahaluu Bay Education Center before jumping in. A similar nature-crafted set-up at Richardson Ocean Center in Hilo offers wonder for east side snorkelers. Friendly reminder: Never step on the coral reef and reef-friendly sunscreen only.

#10. West Side National Historical Parks, Sites and Trails

The sharing of Hawaiian history and culture in the sensory-overwhelming outdoor locations that actually shaped the timelines of both propels the compelling narratives of all four National Park Service-managed sites on the island of Hawaii’s west side: Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site, Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park and the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail. Carve out a well-planned sunrise-to-sunset schedule, and you could even visit every one on a full day of learning, exploring and nature bonding.

#11. Lapakahi State Historical Park

There are no guided tours of this partially restored early Hawaiian fishing village first settled more than six centuries ago. No residents and few visitors, as well. But these are all positives. A visit to the relatively remote North Kohala park is instead all about quiet contemplation of the village’s stunning coastline location, solemn hale (houses) and lava stone walls, feeling its mana (spiritual power), and imagining a time when it bustled with residents and the cacophony of life.

#12. Paniolo Life and Times

Whether, as the songs says, you’re “going back to paniolo country,” or headed to the ranching town of Waimea for the first time, the Paniolo Heritage Center at Pukalani (or Puukalani) Stables, and Anna Ranch Heritage Center, Parker Ranch and Kahua Ranch, are great places to learn a few things about the island’s fascinating, and longtime, place in U.S. ranching history. Play your horseshoes right and you may even leave with a few practical paniolo (cowboy/cowgirl) skills to show off back home.

Lava fields of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

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