Kona on the Big Island is known for its coffee. But almost as impressive is its landscape, which rises from the ocean to more than 6,000 feet high in just a few short miles. The best way to get your arms around both of these attributes at the same time is by taking the Kona Coffee & Craters tour offered by Hawaii Forests and Trails.
Start by piling into the back of an open-sided Pinzgauer all-wheel-drive touring vehicle and bouncing through what seems like every one of the island’s climate zones from rain forest to alpine peak in the short 45-minute drive up the side of the mountain Hualalai volcano. While we assign prosaic names to these areas, the guide explains that the Hawaiians referred to them as “the realm of the gods,” “the realm of the forests” and “the realm of man.”
At the top, you get out and explore the barren volcanic landscape, peering down into deep craters, examining the scraggly plant life that somehow manages to survive, and even scrambling through a lava tube or two.
Then it’s down into the realm of coffee for an in-depth tour at Mountain Thunder, a highly prized organic coffee farm and processor. Owner Trent Bateman, a former Southern California resident, came to Hawaii to work as an engineer on the sprawling Bishop Ranch and started the coffee plantation below his house almost on a whim. “They said we couldn’t do it because we were too high,” he said, “so of course we had to do it.”