Top 10 reasons why I loved Hawaii much more than I expected

Apr 3, 2020

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Editor’s note: The team at The Points Guy loves to travel, but now is not the time for unnecessary trips. Health officials note that the fastest way to return to normalcy is to stop coming in contact with others. That includes ceasing travel. We are publishing some travel guides because we should all use this time to think about and plan our next adventures. TPG doesn’t advise booking trips for travel until later this year — and even then, be mindful of cancellation policies.

For most of my life, Hawaii seemed too far away to visit. Way too far. And too many hours in a confined state (an airplane) to get there. In my mathematical analysis, it was a case of too plus too equaling a no. And that didn’t even factor in the return trip in that same confined state.

However, opportunity and advancing age finally convinced me the reward was going to be worth the anxiety and physical restrictions that had for so long kept Hawaii off my to-do list. So recently my wife and I bit the bullet and visited the Aloha State for our first — and, we thought, only — time.

I am happy to report that I not only survived, I prospered. I didn’t just like it, I loved it.

Planning a trip to Hawaii? Visit TPG’s Hawaiian Islands destination hub for everything you need to plan your trip.

Here is a “Top 10 reasons why I loved Hawaii” list that I hope will serve as inspiration for all of you procrastinators — and bring back pleasant memories for those of you who have already been.

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Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith

10…Volcanoes

Since the islands owe their very existence to volcanic activity, omitting them would be akin to not acknowledging your ancestors in an autobiography.

In most studies, the formation of the Hawaiian Islands chain is directly traceable to one volcanic hotspot that has now been active for more than 75 million years. The Kilauea volcano has been enlarging the Big Island almost continuously for years and years and the next probable Hawaiian island, Loihi, is currently forming underwater about 40 miles southeast of Kilauea.

Related: The best ways to use credit card award-night certificates in Hawaii

(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)

Our visit occurred a year after Kilauea went silent following a very significant release in 2018. Lava flows and gurgling cauldrons did not greet us during our time there and the volcano-related red glows were absent.

But the sheer size of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa — also on the Big Island — and the hardened lava fields that bisect the landscape like petrified rivers truly impressed us. The dramatic geological and botanical alteration, the destruction and revival brought on by past eruptions, left us in awe.

Related: Planning the perfect visit to Volcanoes National Park

If Kilauea had been active and if we had had the chance to see the inner pulsations of our planet come to the surface, Hawaii’s volcanoes would have definitely earned a higher spot on our list.

(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)

9…Diversity of the terrain

It is pretty amazing that within a smallish island, 10 of the earth’s 14 temperate zones can be experienced.

On the island known as Hawaii, you can find hot, arid desert on the northwest coast, tropical rainforests on the east and an arctic polar environment in the middle on the summits of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. In between, there is a grand mixture of wet and dry and warm and cool. Standing in your shorts on the white-, green- or black-sand beaches, it is possible to see the snow-capped volcanic peaks only about an hour away.

Related: These are the best times to visit Hawaii

(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)

The atmospheric differences are so profound that if you go scuba diving one day, it is not advisable to go to a volcanic summit on the Big Island without at least a day in between in order to prevent you from suffering a case of “the bends” (also known as Caisson disease). On the Na Pali Coast on the island of Kauai, you have an almost perpendicular intersection of water and land as the restless Pacific runs into the jagged mountainous cliffs. A little farther inland, you pass one of the wettest spots on earth on your way to the impressive Waimea Canyon, the 3,000-foot-deep Grand Canyon of the Pacific.

Related: Leveraging a single card bonus for free flights to Hawaii for a whole family

(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)

8…Shave ice

Shave ice. It sounds like some sort of grammatical error. It looks like some sort of a colorful explosion. It tastes like some sort of delightful treat. I was skeptical that this could really be that big a deal, but shave ice is an iconic part of the Hawaiian experience. And, most important, it’s fun and refreshing, available and affordable.

Related: Why traveling to Hawaii is worth it

(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)

7…Dark skies

Oh my, this one is good. On a clear night away from resort lights, the sky in Hawaii explodes. The stars are bigger and brighter. They seem much closer and clearer. And there are so many. The night sky alone is almost enough reason to visit the Islands.

Related: Stargaze at these U.S. “dark sky” parks

6…The beaches

Let’s face it, the beaches are one of the first images you conjure when Hawaii is mentioned. They are that famous: Waikiki, North Shore, Hanalei Bay, Poipu, Sunset and Ka’anapali are some of the beaches you have heard about, read about or seen in movies, on TV and in travel magazines.

Since Hawaii is a series of islands, there are a lot of beaches and a lot of variety. They are white. They are black. They are green. They are red. The sand varies from lusciously soft and deep to firm and crusty. But, regardless of texture or color, all the beaches blend into waters so beautiful that they enhance and intensify the warmth, the feel and the allure of the sand beneath your bare feet.

Related: How to choose the right Hawaiian Island for you

We learned that the golden sand of Waikiki was originally imported on barges from California and the white sands of Kauai are mostly comprised of marine skeletons, coral and eroded seashells.

(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)

Now get those shoes off and enjoy. I’m not a beach person and even I was awed.

(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)

5…Waterfalls

Parts of Hawaii get a lot of rain — almost every day. The rainiest areas generally are on the eastern sides of the islands, except Kauai where the heaviest concentration is somewhat centralized. The rain is important for the lush growth, the spectacular rainbows and for the magnificent waterfalls.

Related: Hawaii or the Caribbean — Which should you visit?

Wailua Falls (YinYang / Getty Images)
Wailua Falls. (Photo by YinYang/Getty Images)

The Big Island of Hawaii, Maui and Kauai have the most famous falls with some easily accessible and some so remote they can only be seen with a helicopter or an extensive hike. Some gracefully cascade hundreds of feet down sheer cliffs and others roar over 20- to 80-foot drops. Any visit to Hawaii will surely include several waterfall experiences that you will categorize as trip highlights. Akaka Falls, near Hilo, was our personal favorite.

Related: Best ways to redeem points and miles on Hawaiian Airlines

Rainbow Falls in Hilo, Hawaii. (Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
Akaka Falls, near Hilo, Hawaii. (Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
Wailua Falls on Kauai, Hawaii. (Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)

4…Color

The colors of Hawaii are naturally enhanced as though you had intensified the vibrance and saturation levels. The colors pop! The flowers will make a hummingbird reach for sunglasses. The colors of the rainbow can be found everywhere and in the deepest of hues. Trees are so bright, they look like neon or LED lights. The water is mesmerizing with its shades of blue and green and every tone in between. Even churches and signs are eye-catching.

Related: The best ways to get to Hawaii using points and miles

(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)

3…Sunsets

Hawaiian sunsets are legendary and are anticipated daily by natives and visitors alike.

Kauai is simply magical (Summer Hull / The Points guy)
Kauai is magical. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

The location of the islands helps create the beauty of the day’s dying light. The temperate zone allows daily temps high enough to encourage water vapor to rise and some clouds to form. Clouds, as we all know, can enhance the color and spectacle of a sunset. Also, there is nothing but open Pacific to interfere with your line of sight as you look to the western horizon. When the Kilauea volcano is active, the ash emitted also scatters the light to further increase the color dispersion.

Related: 9 common mistakes tourists make in Hawaii

(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)

2…Pearl Harbor

As a child of the “greatest generation,” Pearl Harbor has always been a part of my life.

Not in a 24/7/365 way, but in a historical way. I was always cognizant of the impact Dec. 7, 1941, played in the lives of my parents, this nation and the world. It was a game-changer.

Our visit to Hawaii could only begin with a visit to the memorial. Pearl Harbor is a tourist destination but, despite the concessions and souvenirs, it’s more of a pilgrimage than a trip to a theme park. It’s a place of reverence, reflection, reminder and honor. There is a subdued solemnity there much like The Vietnam Wall and the 9/11 Memorial.

Pearl Harbor is a living history lesson and a visit provides insight into the what, the why and the wherefore of the “day that will live in infamy.” The heart and soul of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial is the USS Arizona Memorial that sits above the sunken battleship and the more than 1,100 crewmen who died aboard her. It’s an experience you will remember. An Arizona crewman, Lauren Bruner, was recently interred into the ship and will likely be the last as the two remaining survivors have indicated that they don’t want to be honored in this way.

(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo by the National Park Service)
(Photo by the National Park Service)
The USS Missouri, moored near the Arizona memorial. (Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)
(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)

1…Aloha Spirit

You have to love a culture that welcomes you with flowers and considers horn honking (except in case of emergency) as less-than-acceptable behavior. The Aloha Spirit is as a big a part of Hawaii as are all the other items on this list. It is Hawaii. It is a way of life, an attitude, a religion.

It’s a part of the history and the DNA of the Hawaiian people. It’s a casual and comfortable demonstration of respect, affection, appreciation and joy. It’s a smile, a wave and a gesture of friendship. Conversations and personal encounters often begin with an “aloha” (hello, love you, best wishes) and end with another “aloha” (goodbye, love you, best wishes) or a “mahalo” (thanks).

It is both tangible and abstract; you can both feel and sense the spirit. It is reassuring, communicable and inviting. It’s a perfect vacation atmosphere, welcoming you like family, treating you as a friend and honoring you as a guest. You kind of expect to hear a choir singing in the distance, “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.”

Related: Why you should fly Hawaiian Airlines to Hawaii

Bottom line

Before we went, this mainlander thought Hawaii must have something going for it if so many people make the trek, but it actually has everything going for it. I hope to be lucky enough to return one day.

(Photo courtesy of Buddy Smith)

Featured image by YinYang/Getty Images

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