Photo: Courtesy of Eduardo Ramos.
When I received confirmation that I had booked a work gig in Hawaii this past fall, my natural reaction — besides doing the "shmoney dance" — was to stay as long as possible. Just as New York was transitioning from delicious autumn weather into chillier temperatures, I had my eye on 80-degree, breezy days filled with fresh papaya, coconut syrup on my waffles, and, of course, that rich kona coffee. 

As a first-time visitor, I did my research: I booked a place to stay, rented a car, booked a surfing day trip, packed my bag, and grabbed my 35mm film. Of course, Hawaii's natural landscapes are beautiful, but its people and its spirit are infectious — and left me wanting to explore each and every single island. (Because there is more to an island getaway than just sitting on the beach.) If you plan on heading out to Hawaii, ahead are 10 tips to help you have an off-the-beaten-path experience on the Big Island. Mahalo. 
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Photo: Courtesy of Eduardo Ramos.

1. Use Airbnb
Hotels can be pricey, so if you plan to explore rather than spend your time bumming around a resort and shelling out for overpriced, mediocre food, check out some local digs on Airbnb. For about $100 a night, I stayed in a hilltop ocean-view studio on a beautiful 3-acre property with fresh Lilikoi (Hawaiian fruit, delicious), papayas, bananas, apple bananas, guavas, oranges, limes, and eggs from free range chickens. The owners greeted me with fresh fruit and eggs for breakfast, and were always helpful when I had questions about the island.

2. Or Stay At The Dragonfly Ranch
I myself did not stay here, but had the extreme pleasure of exploring the property because of one lovely, helpful human being. On one of my days of exploration, a friend I met surfing recommended I go snorkeling down in Honaunau Bay. When I arrived, I realized there was no place to rent snorkel gear. I decided to think on it over lunch and figure out a plan after eating.  During lunch, the waitress at Kona Coffee House told me to go to The Dragonfly, let them know we were friends, and ask to use their snorkel equipment for the afternoon. And, that is exactly what I did. Besides having an amazing time snorkeling the reefs of Honaunau, I was blown away by the environment and design of the Dragonfly Ranch. For those who want a truly natural experience, but still crave cozy, clean accommodations, I say give this place a try. It's definitely on my list for when I return.
 
3. Don't Book A Snorkel Tour
Save money by renting your own gear with "Kona Brothers" or "Snorkel Bob's." Once you have your equipment, drive down to the City of Refuge, Honaunau, and have fun exploring the precious reef.
Photo: Courtesy of Eduardo Ramos.
4. Visit Parker Ranch
The Big Island's biodiversity extends way beyond its coastlines. Boasting eight of the world's 13 microclimates, each turn you make or elevation you reach could reveal a totally different environment. If you crave a Wild West experience, head north toward Waimea and check out Parker Ranch. Home to 26,000 roaming cattle, this 130,000-acre property feels more like Montana than Hawaii. You can even see Maui from some vista points.

5. Check Out Waipio Valley
Also known as "Valley of the Kings," Waipio was once home to some of Hawaii's greatest kings, including King Kamehameha I. Today, Waipio is home to less than 100 Hawaiians. The valley's lush landscapes, 2000 feet from peak to floor, are breathtaking.  Black-sand beaches, waterfalls, taro farms, and babbling riverbeds will make your hike an unforgettable one. If you plan on driving, make sure you have a vehicle that's four-wheel-drive, which is a requirement. The only road into the valley is the steepest road in the U.S.

6. Go To Turtle City Or Queen's Bath
Spend a day swimming in the ocean and soaking up the sun next to friendly, half-shelled neighbors at Turtle City (Kiholo Bay). It is illegal to touch them, so make sure to maintain a safe hover when you are snapping pictures. On your way back from Turtle City, rinse off that salt water by taking a dunk in the freshwater lava tube known as Queen's Bath.
7. Use Tinder
Not just for dating, Tinder is a perfect way to meet locals for further inside tips while traveling. I recommend noting in your profile that you're a traveler looking for local friends to explore the island. Include your Instagram handle and make your profile public during your time traveling, so potential friends know you aren't a weirdo — unless you really are a weirdo.
Photo: Courtesy of Eduardo Ramos.
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8. Book A Surf Lesson With Surfer Bear
I love surfing. I'm not great at it yet, but I love it. When I found out I was going to Hawaii, it's the first thing I began researching. I actually booked my surf lesson before I got confirmation on where I was going to be staying. I researched a couple different surf instruction programs in the area and decided to go with Surfer Bear. I spoke to Barry on the phone about my skill level, goals, and their surf spots. The day after I landed, I met his partner, Jeff, who was knowledgeable, kind, a superb surfer, and radiated the Hawaiian spirit. He gave me tips about getting around the reef, finding the channel to paddle out, and described in detail what the waves in this particular bay are like. Within an hour, I was catching waves with consistency and no longer just surfing the wave straight to shore. I was able to bust some turns and ride along the wall of the wave — I was so stoked! The very next day, I went back alone to the same spot and surfed all day.

9. Go To Da Poke Shack
If you like fresh seafood, this is your place. Voted Yelp's No. 1 restaurant of 2013, the small, unassuming Poke Shack lives up to the hype. Try the "Wet Hawaiian."

10. Embrace The Aloha Spirit
Living with compassion, mercy, affection, peace, and respect — the way of aloha — is the way of the Hawaiian Islands. Aloha literally translates from Hawaiian to English as "the joyful sharing of life energy in the present" or, "joyfully sharing life." As a visitor, respect these core Hawaiian values, the island, and its nature, and the people will open their hearts to you.   
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