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Think of the Big Island—the largest and most sparsely populated in the Hawaiian archipelago—as the ultimate adventure playground. With its endless surf breaks, jagged peaks, and valley floors carpeted in jungle, the outsize Eden inspires locals and visitors to spend as many hours as they can in the great outdoors. “I see our geographic diversity every day when I drive to work, and I can’t help but feel happy,” says Bullet Obra, a Big Island native who oversees the roster of aquatic activities at Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection, including snorkeling and diving trips. Here are the secret surf spots and great coffee bars he frequents—that is, when he’s not teaching guests how to stand-up paddleboard in the unspoiled waters off the Kohala Coast.
Hit the waves early
“The best time to surf is early in the morning, when the water is still glassy. I’ll get up before the sun rises—no breakfast, maybe a quick coffee—and head to a favorite spot like Beach 69 or Anaehoomalu Bay where the wave quality is high. I’ve been surfing these spots since I was three and have a lifelong connection to them.”
Break for lunch
“Skipping breakfast is intentional—otherwise I would never stop to rest. About three hours in, I’ll head for poke at La‘au’s, a spot near Kawaihae Harbor. They use locally caught fish and secret ingredients—which I can’t share here, of course. But they make the best poke on the island, hands down. I’ll get it to go and drive down to Waialea Bay to eat it.”
Get an afternoon pick-me-up
“Pretty much everything I choose to do all day is in the water, but if I get rained out, my wife, Stevee, and I love to spend time at the Waimea Coffee Company. Friends stop in, and the owner, Max, is always there. It’s small and has a great vibe. My go-to is a cortado or a quad dirty chai with coconut milk.”
Take a hike
“One of the most special places on the island—if not the state—is Waipi‘o Valley and the six others that surround it. Known as the Valley of the Kings, it is sacred for us Hawaiians: King Kamehameha the Great was raised there. It’s quiet and peaceful, and it has waterfalls and beaches that are great for taking long walks. You need a four-wheel drive to get there and should go with someone who knows it. But if you visit, please respect the land and what it has to offer.”
Grab dinner—and catch a show
“I live in the mountains in Wailea, and Stevee and I go to Kohala Mountain on the north side. There’s a vantage point that is breathtaking at sunset; you can hike up to it, though we drive. If we do dinner afterward, it’ll be at Aka Sushi Bar in Waimea. Order the Aka roll with shrimp tempura and spicy ahi on top and the crispy salmon-skin salad. There’s only one nightspot in Waimea, but luckily it has exceptional live music. It’s called Big Island Brewhaus. I’m not much of a drinker, but I hear it serves tasty craft beer, and the music alone is worth stopping in for.”
To read more stories and interviews featuring travel industry workers, visit the 1 in 10 Project.
This article appeared in the March 2021 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.