Kailani Tours’ Chris Paterson Talks Lava Tubes, Steam Vents and Waterfalls

Posted in: Big Island 2021, People, Things to Do

Some businesses are started when someone sees a void in the market. Such was the case with Kailani Tours’ Chris Paterson. 

“ I had worked as a Mauna Kea tour guide, and then as a concierge at a five-star resort,” says Paterson. “I had trouble recommending tour companies to our guests. Most were large bus operators who sold on price rather than service. I saw an opportunity to create a five-star resort tour experience.” 

Kailani Tours was borne out of Paterson’s mission to “become the best, most personalized tour company in Hawaii.” Since its humble beginnings out of Paterson’s home in 2012, Kailani Tours has grown into the dominant luxury tour company on the Big Island. 

“When we started, people would gather in my garage and kitchen at 6 am, and the last employees would leave my house at 1 am,” Paterson recalls. “After a couple of years, my wife insisted that we move the business to a commercial location.” 

Today Kailani Tours boasts eight luxury Mercedes-Benz passenger vans and four popular tours- the Deluxe Volcano Tour, the Big Island Circle Tour, the Cloud Forest, Coffee and Brewery Tour and the Kuleana Rum Experience.

I ask Paterson which tour is the most popular. “I would say that it’s neck and neck between the Deluxe Volcano Tour and the Circle Island Tour. The Circle Island Tour is especially popular for people who want to see everything. The tour allows them to get their bearings and see what they want to explore more on their own. The Deluxe Volcano Tour is equally popular as it is the most visited attraction in all of Hawaii. When Kilauea started erupting again on December 23rd the interest in visiting the volcano increased.”

The Circle Island Tour offers a diverse itinerary of natural wonders and cultural stops. In addition to the volcano visit, guests stop for coffee in the morning, stroll a black sand beach, sample wine at Volcano Winery, and visit Rainbow Falls and Waipio Valley.

“Rainbow Falls is so named because visitors can often see a rainbow at the falls in the morning. It’s a spectacular 90-foot cascade that marries the rainwater from Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa,” says Paterson. 

I ask Paterson about the Big Island’s legendary lava tubes. “Most lava tubes are closed,” he says. “They are unsafe due to the volcanic eruption. That includes the most well-known Thurston Lava Tube.”

And what about the steam vents scattered throughout Hawaii Volcano National Park? “Steam vents are fascinating, because they remind us of how much activity there is underneath the surface. They serve as ‘release valves’ that reduce pressure at the actual sites of volcanic eruptions.”

What makes the Deluxe Volcano Tour special is that guests get to see the volcanic eruption at night. “Visiting the caldera at night affords a view that most people will only see once in a lifetime,” says Paterson. “The difference between seeing spewing lava at night versus is the day, is well, like ‘night and day’.” 

While these two tours cover a lot of ground, Kailani Tours’ other options are centered around Kailua-Kona attractions. 

The Cloud Forest, Coffee and Brewery Tour starts with a plantation tour and tasting at Mountain Thunder Coffee, and includes visits to the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park and Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary before culminating with a brewery tour and beer tasting at the Ola Brew Company. 

The Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary is a 70-acre privately owned preserve located at an elevation of 3,000 feet above sea level. “The sanctuary abounds with indigenous plants, 90% of which are unique to Hawaii,” says Paterson. “In some designated areas, a plethora of non-indigenous plants are carefully managed. There are over 100 varieties of bamboo, and gigantic tree ferns, some more than 30-feet tall.” 

The Kuleana Rum Tour offers an eclectic mix of history, natural beauty and local island spirits. “The Rum Tour takes guests to the Original Kamehameha Statue, Hawaii’s first king,” says Paterson. “Then we go to the Polulu Valley Lookout, one of the most amazing views on the island, with 500-foot cliffs overlooking a black sand beach. Then we go to Upolu Point, the birthplace of King Kamehameha and now the farm for Kuleana Rum Shack. Guests learn about the 40 different varieties of sweet cane juice and get to taste it. Touring the Kuleana Distillery allows guests to witness the evolution of sugarcane juice as it becomes rum. Finally, they select a flight of the best Hawaiian rum at the Rum Shack or grab a cocktail and enjoy authentic Hawaiian cuisine.”

No matter the tour, Kailani Tours offers a luxury experience unavailable anywhere else. “Most of our customers are looking for a higher level of service. Our tours include the best luxury vehicles, hot lavender scented towels and the best guides on the islands. And our pricing is all-inclusive. Customers never have to pull out their wallet to pay for any of the tastings or samplings.”

Kailani Tours guides, more than anything else, is what sets the company apart. “Our guides go through rigorous and regular training. We have senior guides matched up with junior guides who experience ride-alongs and one-on-one tutoring from their designated mentors,” says Paterson. “We also enroll all our guides in regular education classes conducted by our National Park. The quality of our guides is without a doubt the number one reason Kailani Tours has been so successful.”

Chris Paterson, who started on this adventure as a tour guide himself, no longer hosts trips personally. “I used to do about four Japanese tours and two English tours a week- up until 2017” says the University of Oregon Japanese Cultural Studies graduate. “But at that point the operations, marketing and financial responsibilities became too much.I do however, still answer our reservation line”

“At this point, I’d be terrible at it!”  

We doubt that Chris Paterson. We doubt that. 

For more information or to book a tour go to or call (808) 938-4057. And don’t forget to say hi to Chris.

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