A trip to Hawaii should not be comparable to an episode of ‘The White Lotus.’
Even though it is a part of the United States, every destination has its own unwritten rules and customs, and Hawaii (also known as The Aloha State) is no exception. A portion of this disconnect can be attributed to the overused and frequently misunderstood term Aloha. It is more than just a word used to express emotions such as love, affection, peace, and sympathy; it is a way of life and a code of honor that emphasizes kindness and respect, and is reciprocated.
As Hawaii re-opens to the world, coupled with recent Hot Vaxxed Summer antics—harassing endangered species for Instagram selfies, trespassing on state land and having to be airlifted to safety, and general disregard for mask mandates—a it’s good idea to know what locals and residents consider pono (righteous) behavior, as well as some sure-fire ways to earn their respect and Aloha.
Return to the Land
In the same way that sipping a lilikoi mai tai at sunset or catching a wave at Waikiki Beach is a quintessential Hawaii experience, so too should a hands-on encounter with Hawaii’s precious aina be (land). The Hawaiians are conservation experts and have lived off their land for centuries using ingenious farming and fishing techniques. Through the Malama Hawaii Program, visitors can participate in a variety of voluntourism programs (a helicopter tour that concludes with a tree-planting activity, restoring a native Hawaiian fishpond, and harvesting taro at the iconic Kualoa Ranch) to malama (give back) and see a different side of Hawaii and what makes it so special. In exchange, visitors can receive free hotel nights or discounts on hotel stays, but the real reward is leaving Hawaii in a better state than when they arrived.
Respect the Animals
Keeping a 50-foot distance from a resting Hawaiian monk seal is the respectful (and legal) thing to do, unless you’re interested in paying a hefty fine. The critically endangered species (there are only about 1,400 seals), as well as honu (sea turtles), spinner dolphins, and humpback whales, are protected by state and federal law to ensure they receive adequate rest and are not subjected to physiological stress that could negatively impact their reproductive success.
“Observing marine life in Hawaii can be an unforgettable experience. And to keep these experiences positive for you and the wildlife, please observe proper viewing etiquette.” Jeff Walters, chief of the NOAA Fisheries Wildlife Management and Conservation Branch for the Pacific Islands Region, shares his thoughts. “Many species, such as the Hawaiian monk seal, are not only endangered but also endemic, which means they are found nowhere else on the planet. Under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles, and all whales and dolphins are safeguarded. Additionally, visitors should be aware that these animals hold significant cultural significance in traditional Hawaiian culture. By adhering to our viewing guidelines for marine wildlife, we can all remain safe, law-abiding, and considerate while enjoying an enriching viewing experience.”
Keep to the marked trails
No one enjoys following in the footsteps of the masses, but venturing off the beaten path in Hawaii is fraught with difficulties. The hike along the Ko’olau mountain range in Oahu’s Haiku Stairs, which consists of more than 3,000 steps, is technically illegal as of September 8, when the Honolulu City Council voted unanimously to remove the stairs (although there is a compelling argument to keep it open under managed access by the Friends of Haiku group). The Stairs to Heaven is not the only Instagram-famous location that is technically off-limits to the public; Bamboo Forest and Kaihalulu along the Road to Hana have also been the scene of numerous incidents. The real issue is safety and the drain on resources involved in air rescue, not illegal trespassing. What is the price? Individuals who willfully disobey warning and no trespassing signs could be responsible for the full or partial cost of search and rescue if Bill SB700 is enacted. This cost could range from $10,000 to $20,000 or more.
Know Your Limits, Particularly Around Water
Before running into the surf, the locals check the surf forecast and observe the movement of the waves and swell and take the necessary precautions out of respect for the ocean and its power. Therefore, if a location is marked off-limits (officially or unofficially) or a “No Surfing” sign is posted, it is best to adhere to the rules or risk being swept out to sea or encountering a shark. Similarly, those in the know avoid getting too close to blow holes, as it is too easy to be knocked down and sucked into a cave or engulfed by the crashing waves.
Observe Caution on the Road to Hana
Newsflash! The 65-mile-long Road to Hana in Maui is more than a tourist attraction; it’s the only road in and out of Hana, so drivers must exercise caution (always pull over for local traffic) and common sense (don’t randomly stop on a bridge and block traffic). The Hawaii Department of Traffic has installed approximately 70 “No Parking” signs on Hana Highway, with a $35 fine and a $200 surcharge for stopping illegally on a state highway. Spend some time in the area so you can explore waterfalls and beaches that are difficult to access at your own pace, or join a guided tour that will take you to all the “secret” sites safely. Regardless of your choice, you should approach this incredibly unique location with the mindset of slowing down and appreciating it in order to understand the fervor.
View but Do Not Touch
The same rule that applies to Hawaii’s protected animals also applies to Hawaii’s lava rocks and coral reefs: admire them, leave them alone, and do not take any home with you. Lava rocks are regarded as sacred, and if Pele’s Curse is to be believed, bad luck will befall anyone who attempts to take one as a souvenir; the same is true for sand, rock, and pumice. With the recent eruption of the Klauea volcano on the Big Island, even though it may seem obvious not to touch the lava, the opportunity to get close to some lava (and touch it) may be too enticing for some individuals.
Actually Study Hawaiian Culture and History
Understanding the length and breadth of native Hawaiian history and culture will take a lifetime (and then some), but it gives you a deeper appreciation for why things are the way they are in Hawaii. Some facts are understandably unsettling (such as the 1893 US-led coup of the Hawaiian government), but Queen Liliuokalani’s speech protesting the overthrow is particularly illuminating regarding the Hawaiian mentality and propensity for treating others with respect, kindness, and Aloha. Plan to visit the Iolani Palace and Bishop Museum in Hilo, Hawaii, or attend the annual Merrie Monarch Festival. The week-long cultural event held every spring is a celebration of Hawaiian culture, with the main event being a three-day hula competition in which the best hula dancers (male and female) compete without coconut shell bras.
Carry (and Wear) Your Face Shield
Do not be this individual, who is arrested for punching a security guard for refusing to wear a face mask: There is still a mask requirement in Hawaii, which means that anyone over the age of five is required to wear a mask whenever they are indoors. Indoor gatherings are limited to a maximum of 10 people, while outdoor gatherings are limited to a maximum of 25 people (until December 1st).
Do not circumvent mandatory quarantine regulations.
Depending on your (or a family member’s) vaccination status and point of departure, entry to Hawaii can be complicated and may necessitate a 10-day quarantine if the required documentation is not presented. The Safe Travels Hawaii regulations outline the process in detail with various scenarios (direct international, indirect international travel, etc.) To avoid quarantine, unvaccinated individuals must submit a negative test result from a trusted testing/travel partner within 72 hours (and upload the results to Safe Travels Hawaii for a QR code). If you are caught evading quarantine, you will be arrested and subject to a hefty fine.
Explore car-free options whenever possible
You envision long coastal roads with swaying coconut trees and the occasional chicken crossing the road when driving in Hawaii. What you don’t bargain for is bumper-to-bumper traffic and crowded highways (the H-1 on Oahu gets congested, so be warned), but hey, people work in paradise and not everyone resides in the city center. Instead of adding to the problem, consider using bike-share services such as Hi Bike on Hawaii Island and Biki on Oahu (during high season, you’ll also save quite a bit on car rental) and booking accommodations that offer car-free options to get around. On Kauai, where only one road circles the island from Polihale to Ke’e, the Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort makes it easier to get around and explore the historic beachside community of Old Kapaa Town.
The combination of a new bike and walk path and a fleet of new bike cruisers, each with a basket and a bike lock, puts our resort guests within biking/walking distance of a variety of shops and restaurants in Kapa’a. Chris Machorek, general manager, has shares.
Try foods grown locally.
Try your fill of poke, kalua pork, and loco moco, but Hawaii has a wide variety of locally-grown crops (over 40% of the land is farmland), and trying some of the canoe crops is one way to support the local economy and learn about the culture of the early Polynesian settlers. Megan Fox, executive director of Malama Kauai, explains, “Crops transported in their canoes play a vital role in modern agriculture, particularly for indigenous farmers.” “Kalo (or taro) is among the most significant. Poi is commonly associated with kalua pork, but it is also used in luau stew and laulau, both of which are made from the leaves of the taro plant. Another popular fruit is ulu or breadfruit. Once you’ve tried our apple bananas, you’ll find it difficult to eat bananas from the grocery store again!”
Assist the Homeless Population
In Hawaii, homelessness has always been an issue. And while organizations such as Home Aid Hawaii and Hui Aloha are helping to make a difference (donations are welcome), there is still much that can be done. Plan to volunteer at a food bank or organize an online food drive. Consider donating locally produced food through the online store of Malama Kauai, which offers produce bags to those in need and tax-deductible donations. “All programs not only support local farmers, but also aim to increase food access for those in need, including the homeless, the elderly, and children” (children). As they say in New Zealand, “we’re all in this together” shares in Fox
Topic: Are You a Bad Tourist When You Go to Hawaii? 12 Ways to Avoid Being One
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