When Paradise Becomes Home: Oahu, Hawaii
Many travel blogs love to focus on the “best of the best” of a tourist destination when creating travel guides for their viewers, i.e. “Spend a day in Hawaii” and “Find the best hikes/beaches/food/photo opportunities in Hawaii.” With pricey flights and limited time, I totally understand the urgency to get all the must-see sights checked off your list before you’re back on the plane leaving the Daniel K. Inouye Airport. I will admit it, some days I even peruse those lists to see if there’s a new poke spot or hike that I might have missed in my 23 years of living on this island.
Recently, the travel trend of finding the “untouched” or hidden locations in the Hawaiian Islands has taken off. The attraction of this is a more private and special experience because you’re avoiding the large tourist crowds at popular destinations. While choosing the "touristy-tourist experience" or the "off-the-beaten track experience" might make sense to an eager visitor, this kind of travel behavior is causing local residents of Hawaii to feel like the island is being exploited.
I wrestled a lot with this when I left home because it made me question the things that I, along with so many others, enjoy doing/visiting in Hawaii. My departure removed the rose-tinted glasses that romanticized Hawaii as a paradise. It wasn’t until I took a step back that I was able to see the reality of the place I grew up in and started to love and appreciate facets of the islands that I had not before. For those of you who want to look beyond the popular activities and instead delve into the heart of Hawaii, I hope this article resonates with you.
“You never know what you have until you lose it.” Nothing made me realize how true that saying was until I landed back in Hawaii after my first three months in California. The stifling humidity, the laid back nature, the smiles you get when you hold the door open for a family at the grocery store, were the small things that I started to cherish during my breaks at home. It also made me realize why people traveled from all over the world to spend their vacation here, in my own backyard.
There is a quality about Hawaii that, until recently, I could not put into words. It is a sense of peace and confidence in the calm. The slow-paced view of life strikes a chord amidst my increasingly busy life as I enter adulthood. This rare philosophy found only here, offers an escape from how the rest of the world tells us to live. The expectation to move quickly and stay regimented is not as prevalent in the culture and people of Hawaii. Instead, there is a desire, a command to really see the people around you as family and to value the relationships you make. Your relationships are as important as the ones you’d make when someone is becoming a part of your family forever. I now see the activities widely regarded as Hawaii’s “best of the best” to be a reflection of a culture full of love, genuine kindness, and care. The laid back, yet caring persona, is an attitude that can be applied to any place you visit in the islands.
Here are some of my personal favorites spots:
1. The mountains and waterways, famously known from the Jurassic Park movie franchise, can be seen from a hike in the lush valley of Kaneohe. Instead of CGI dinosaurs, it is local fishermen and horses that wander these beautiful locations. The first time I completed this hike, I stayed at the top for two hours taking in all the sights, as the trade winds swept away the heat of summer afternoon.
2. A poke bowl with a heaping scoop of fresh raw ahi, seasoned with a mixture of Asian and Hawaiian ingredients, is a recipe passed on through three generations and the work of one committed owner getting up at dawn to find the freshest fish to serve you.
3. The concept of going to the beach always makes me laugh because it is an activity that requires you to just show up with little expectation. You can barbecue a bunch of steaks and play volleyball, or you can take a book and read by yourself until you race into the ocean to cool down. You can be as productive or as lazy as you want! Either way, the excitement to just take in the waves and shore is an example of a simple, uncalculated joy.
Whether you are moving to the islands or just visiting, my hope is that you find joy in the small moments of your big adventures. We locals use the phrase “talk story” to define conversations, either with complete strangers or your best friends, so don’t be afraid to do so here. Most people are friendly and happy to let you know more about what is going on in their favorite parts of the island. By taking an active approach to slow down, learn more, and take in your surroundings, you’re not only respecting the islands, but you are gaining a richer experience that truly is exclusively yours to own. <3
To follow along with Anne's Hawaiian life, check out her instagram: @anne.shiraishi