I love Hawaii, and for good reason. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time there, and plan to do so again as soon as the pandemic allows me to. But I’ve also spent a lot of time reflecting on why that is.
What I’ve come to realize is that there’s more reasons for that than lying on the beach, which is awesome. It’s a stunning place with a complicated history and a deep connection to nature. Hawaii is a truly special venue that I feel privileged to travel to every time I’m there.
Experiencing the natural world
While a lot of people get caught up in Waikiki, which there’s absolutely nothing wrong with, the true beauty of Hawaii is all around the cities. As a general rule, Hawaii is extremely protective of nature, due in no small part to the fact that it is a huge part of why people go there.
Being on any of the islands can feel like you’re spending time in a National Park, which is what I love about this place. There are so many beautiful spots all over the four main islands that it can be hard to prioritize them in one trip.
My personal favorite spot on Oahu is Hanauma Bay. It is a Nature Preserve and a Marine Life Conservation District that limits the number of people who go. It also has strict rules about how you interact with the space. But it’s more than worth going. The marine life here is incredible.
On the other hand, the most picturesque spot on Kauai is…well, the entirety of Kauai. That island is a relaxing, natural place with rules about development to keep it that way. The Big Island has the same vibe, just with a massive volcano park in the middle of it.
The history of Hawaii
Saying that Hawaii has a complicated and difficult can be a bit of an understatement. But it’s something that’s worth understanding if you’re going to spend any time there, and it’s a history that runs deeper than the Mai Tais.
First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that the islands were settled by Polynesians hundred and hundreds of years before anyone else showed up. There are so many ways to experience that history through museums and more that it’s worth checking out.
But Japanese culture has also had an incredible impact on Hawaii. The Byodo-In Temple on Oahu is a magnificent testament to that relationship, one that welcomes visitors from around the world. Keeping in mind that I know this sounds kind of trite, but it’s a truly Zen experience being there.
It’s also hard to spend time in Hawaii and not acknowledge the impact mainland American society has had the islands, for better or worse. World War II history may be more alive in this region of the US more than anywhere else, for exceedingly obvious reasons.
To be or not to be a tourist
People can really come down on tourists, and for good reason. They can be rude, pushy and entitled. Lord knows I work hard not to be, and still find myself slipping into typical bad behaviors from time to time. I try, but I’m only human.
But you can do touristy stuff without being a stereotypical tourist. Hawaii can offer marvelous resort experiences, tours and more. If all you want to do is lay on the beach, have a nice meal and then sip some of the aforementioned Mai Tais, knock yourself out. Just don’t be a dick about it.
At the same time, you can enjoy less typical experiences that show the sides of Hawaii you can’t see from the resort. Honestly, all of it’s good. And I do it all while wearing one of several Aloha shirts, which definitely lets people know I’m not from the islands.
I’ve always found Hawaii to be a beautiful, soul-enriching place to go to. You can bet that as soon as we’re good to go travel-wise, I’ll be heading back there once again. One of these days, I might even decide just to start living there. Wouldn’t that be a dream come true?