Active vacationers can enjoy more than scenery in Hawaii Aloha ADVENTURES

THE BALTIMORE SUN

After 13 hours in a crowded airplane with two children, another adventure may be the last thing most families want when they land in the Hawaiian Islands.

But when they realize they've flown one-quarter of the way around the globe and landed in a paradise of pineapples and palm trees, the monotony of the journey is quickly forgotten.

When the zest for adventure returns, the islands offer plenty of opportunities to satisfy it. During a vacation on Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii, families can go horseback riding in a volcanic crater, take a helicopter tour, try the new sport of Snuba diving or explore the island by jeep.

Why not try snorkeling, sailing or parasailing -- and then reserve one night for a luau? Bike down the side of a volcano or venture along coral reefs in a submarine. The excitement is there on all of the Hawaiian islands.

Snorkeling

The crew of the Paragon, a 47-foot, high-performance sailing catamaran, dropped anchor in 30 feet of water near the Molokini Crater, an uninhabited islet about three miles off the west shore of the island of Maui.

The skies above the partially submerged volcanic crater were overcast and gray. They clouded the surface of these coral-rich waters of the Pacific Ocean and denied even a glimpse of some of the most beautiful of all Hawaiian treasures below.

After quickly explaining how to use the goggles, snorkels and fins that we'd been fitted with, the crew threw open the hatch between the two hulls. A group of early-morning snorkelers began climbing down the ladder and into the sea.

Capt. Eric Barto, owner of the vessel, warned us we'd risk being swept away by what he jokingly referred to as the "Aloha" current if we ventured beyond the rocky tip of this crescent-shaped islet in the middle of the ocean.

We strapped our 8-year-old son into a life jacket, grabbed a couple of boogie boards, and urged him and his 13-year-old sister down the ladder into the chop below.

Although the rough water took hold and bounced us around, we gripped the snorkels in our teeth and peered through our goggles into the water -- questioning our choice of adventures. Perhaps this would have been a better day for horseback riding in a volcanic crater.

But our doubts disappeared as we saw beneath our flippered feet a stunning display of multihued coral in crystal-clear water. A changing parade of Hawaiian reef fish swam around our legs -- oblivious to us, yet just out of reach.

Clutching our underwater fish identification chart, we pointed to brilliant yellow raccoon butterflies, long and lanky needlefish and vivid orange-and-jet-black tangs.

With a deep breath, we were able to dive down for a closer look at the groupers, puffers, blue crevalles and trumpet fish that were swimming through cauliflower and finger coral.

Tucked onto crevices and ledges were round and prickly sea urchins -- deceptive beauties with needle-like spines that can wedge like splinters into the skin, causing severe stinging and burning pain. (For the unfortunate individual who stumbles against one, Hawaiians suggest a vinegar soak to soothe the pain.)

Back at the surface, a hard blow into the snorkel cleared out the water for surface breathing again. The sport is easy for first-timers and young children, with saltwater providing a natural buoyancy and flippers making swimming almost effortless. The flotation capacity of the boogie boards adds to their confidence.

After a few wondrous hours, we reluctantly climbed back on board. The sun had broken through the clouds, and we were reminded that Maui, island of many rainbows and "liquid sunshine," is known for its rapidly changing weather. Cooling sprinkles of rain often come on a brilliant, sunny day.

As we enjoyed our lunch, the crew prepared for the speed sail back to Maalaea Harbor. Crew members Laurel Llewelyn and Greg Thomas advised us that a lot of water was going to be coming across the bow where we were seated and said we might want to move to the rear of the vessel.

But six of us kept our seats as the catamaran, under full sail, shot across the water. It crashed through waves and sent sheets of water through the mesh of the trampoline beneath our feet and over the side. The crew and passengers cheered as we reached our top speed of about 22 knots.

"I've raced over 1,000 different boats and I have never sailed on a boat that performs as well as this one," Capt. Barto said. "Typical sailing is at 6 to 8 knots and, if you're going really fast, at 10 knots. Twenty-two knots is very unusual for a sailboat."

Snuba diving

The pace was more leisurely on the Fair Wind as we motored south along the Kona coast of the Big Island of Hawaii on a brilliantly sunny summer day.

We were bound for the calm, clear waters of the protected underwater state park at Kealakekua Bay. This 50-foot trimaran is one of two vessels authorized to bring snorkelers to the pristine site.

Capt. Danny Horimoto cautioned passengers not to damage coral by touching or standing on it while exploring the bay. He also asked that we not disturb the food chain by feeding the fish -- though many shops sell packets to attract fish.

Most travelers on board were there to snorkel, but for an additional fee of $40 per person, Lynn Ekstrom -- a certified scuba diver and owner of the Snuba concession on the Big Island -- was ready to introduce anyone 8 years or older to the underwater world of Snuba.

Snuba is a shallow-water dive system that enables participants to get a feel for what it's like to scuba-dive. One can descend as deep as 20 feet after only 15 minutes of training. There are no heavy tanks to carry; the snuba mouthpiece, or regulator, is attached to hoses that extend to the surface, where the air source floats in a raft.

Once in the water, we began practicing with our regulators. Our son took to the process readily. The rest of us struggled with logic, which argued that it was impossible to breathe underwater and urged us to the surface. After the first five minutes, our anxieties subsided and we turned our attention to the coral and fish around us.

After we were comfortable with our breathing, Mr. Ekstrom led us along the gradually sloping ocean floor, deeper and deeper without our being aware of it. Daring not to look up in case logic returned to interfere with the dive, we kept our eyes and thoughts on the underwater world around us.

Only occasionally did we pause to respond positively to the instructor's are-you-OK? hand signals, or to clear our ears or force water out of our masks.

Road trip

Without a doubt, the underwater adventures were highlights of our Hawaiian visit. But we wanted to explore the wonders on land too, so we rented a jeep and headed for the distant town of Hana on the rainy, east coast of Maui.

In a single day, we traveled from the sandy beaches of the Kaanapali coast to a tropical rain forest. Thanks to the four-wheel-drive vehicle, we drove through remote areas with roads so deeply rutted that they were off-limits to standard rental cars.

The road is cut into the side of a steep cliff with a sheer drop to the sea. Blind, hairpin curves are so tight that the driver must sound the horn before holding his breath and creeping around each narrow bend.

The jeep had no windows and no roof over the back seat. We were all disheveled from the trade winds, and the kids were wet from the showers that fell in the rain forest.

But we enjoyed swimming in a plunge pool at the bottom of a cascading waterfall. The sight of the Pacific waves crashing against the arid coastline on the southern shore of Maui made the drive worth the day of vacation invested.

When we reached the summit of Haleakala -- a 10,023-foot, dormant volcano that dominates the island of Maui -- we pulled sweat suits over the bathing suits we had worn for a morning swim at the beach just two hours away.

The rushing wind howled across the peak, swept around the 21-mile edge of the crater, and wailed down 3,000 feet to its barren depths.

rTC Heavy cloud cover is the norm here, but on this bright day we could clearly see the towering cones rising from the grit and rock of the crater floor. It is said to be so like the surface of the moon that American astronauts trained here for their lunar landing.

A group of horseback riders returning from an overnight camping trip passed us as we hiked trails near the rim. Haleakala's crater was carved by winds and heavy rains that wore down volcanic rock into minute particles and washed them away.

Lava, cinders, ashes and spatter were blown from vents in subsequent eruptions, forming the 600-foot multicolored cones that rise from within Haleakala.

The silence is different -- almost forbidding -- over the vast summit and pit craters, steam vents and lava flows of Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.

This is the home of Pele-'ai-honua, the Hawaiian goddess of fire.

Kilauea, the most active volcano in the world, has erupted continuously since 1983. Because its eruptions are more fluid and less gaseous than those of explosive continental volcanoes, visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park can get close enough to see molten lava.

We drove along Chain of Craters Road to a roadblock created by lava flows of the 1980s and 1990s. Then we joined a park ranger for a hike to the coast across craggy chunks of 'a'a lava and smooth, swirling pahoehoe lava.

Finally, we reached the newest black sand beach in the world. About a quarter mile away, huge clouds of steam billowed skyward at the coastline as a glowing orange-red flow of lava poured into the sea from erupting vents -- solidifying into new land or violently exploding into black sand.

On the beach nearby was a bouquet of flowers and a mound of local fruit, an offering from a believer to Pele -- the creator and the destroyer. Legend says it is she who sends the lava that was building an island right before our eyes.

IF YOU GO . . .

Here are addresses and phone numbers for more information:

Maui:

* Haleakala National Park, Box 369, Makawao, Maui, Hawaii, (808) 572-9306.

* Paragon snorkel/speed run, RR2, Box 43, Kula, Hawaii 96790, (808) 244-2087.

The Big Island, Hawaii:

* Fair Wind snorkel, 787130 Kaleiopapa St., Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96740, (808) 322-2788 or (800) 667-9461.

* Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Box 52, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii 96718, (808) 967-7311.

* Snuba-Big Island, P.O. Box V, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96745, (808) 326-7446.

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