Planning to visit soon? Hawaii is an incredibly beautiful place, with daily rainbows, all types of weather and ecosystems, and an astounding variety of flowers. It’s also got its own culture. Visitors who try to learn a little about what to expect will always have a better overall experience.
1. All the streets have the same name, if you’re a visitor. For instance, in my area there’s a Pu’u Poni and Pu’u Momi road. There are several King Kamehameha Highways on Oahu. And downtown, every other street name is Hawaiian a language with only thirteen letters and generally long. It’s very easy for visitors to confuse the streets; worse, if you miss your turn, you may have several one-way and dead-end streets to get through before you find a way back. Instead of constantly getting lost, try to ride the bus as much as you can, rather than driving yourself. Schedules should be available at your hotel.
2. Slow down! Hawaii believes in a laid-back lifestyle. This is a place where you should stop rushing to get from place to place and instead enjoy the scenery, the flowers, the scents and gentle rains of the islands.
3. Honking in traffic is rude. Just don’t do it. You’re on the islands, not the mainland, and when you honk, people get offended. Just take your time, and absorb the laid-back atmosphere.
4. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Because the Hawaiian sun is so hot but the cooling trade winds blow in almost constantly, you’ll lose more water than you realize. Take a bottle of water with you, and drink even when you don’t feel thirsty. This goes double for any time you’re drinking alcohol during the day outside. You can dehydrate amazingly quickly.
5. Wear sunscreen, even on overcast days. Even if you don’t burn. The temperature in Hawaii almost always hovers between 75 and 89 degrees Fahrenheit, making it feel deceptively cool, but here you’re very close to the equator, and you’ll get more sun than you may expect. You will notice, too, that a lot of kama’aina (local people) wear long sleeves, long pants, and hats. There is a reason for this.
6. Umbrellas are good for more than just rain. Many people, particularly Asian women, carry umbrellas as parasols during midday to protect them from the heat and damage of the sun’s rays. Because Hawaiian rainshowers can be sudden and occasionally intense, it’s not a bad idea to carry an umbrella with you anyway.
7. Most of the Waikiki area has free wireless internet – just search and log on. You can work from the beach here; I’ve done it!
8. “Local” is a favorite word, but you better never refer to the rest of the US as “the states.” It is “the mainland.” The Aloha spirit – a sort of loving welcome those who live on the island try to extend to visitors and guests – will grow quite frigid if the locals detect any condescension or exclusion coming from you, the tourist.
9. Don’t bring your pets or outside produce. Hawaii has a very delicate ecosystem, and outside livestock is put under strict quarantine. Your fresh apples should be tossed to avoid any contamination.
10. Try Hawaiian food, but don’t expect to like it. Poi tastes kind of like watered-down mushed-up yams, if it’s fresh; if it’s not fresh, it’s sour and vile. Kalua pork and other roasted meats tend to be a little on the dry side. Rice and macaroni salad are served with everything, just in case it’s not bland enough. The best Hawaiian dishes I’ve found are chicken katsu (the spicy sauce makes the dish) and saimin, a wonderful noodle soup so ubiquitous Hawaiian McDonald’s serves it. (Saimin was first developed by plantation workers, who just tossed whatever they had into a community soup pot.) And if you like coconut, you must try haupia, a thin coconut pudding with a strong nutty flavor.
11. There are good luaus and bad luaus. The most important thing to remember is that a luau is not the same as a buffet, and not all luaus are even buffet style; the second most important, that luaus serve up both food and entertainment. For example, on Oahu the cuisine at the Polynesian Cultural Center is a serious disappointment, though the Center itself is fantastic in entertainment quality. The jarringly-named Germaine’s Luau is said to be the tastiest on the island, if the entertainment isn’t quite as good. Paradise Cove splits the difference, and many of the hotel luaus are good as well. Be prepared to spend a lot for a really good luau. The best luaus are probably the ones in Maui.
12. Dress code is almost always casual. Aloha wear is a good choice for almost any destination, even simple sarongs over swimsuits. You can pick up aloha wear anywhere, from Wal-Mart or Goodwill (cheapest) to Hilo Hattie’s (widest selection). You can also fill a variety of emergency needs from the common ABC stores, which are the equivalent of convenience stores designed especially for tourists.
13. Learn the difference between the islands. The most popular four islands for visitors are Oahu, the Big Island, Maui, and Kauai. Of these, Oahu is most heavily populated (with 75% of Hawaii’s people) and boasts the famous North Shore surfing area, Pearl Harbor, Hanauma Bay, and Honolulu; the Big Island is the only seriously active volcanic isle; Maui is classy and tropical; and Kauai has the most beautiful natural areas, including amazing waterfalls and perfect beaches (and is probably the best honeymoon island). The other islands may not be welcoming to visitors for various reasons, or may be too small to offer great tourist sites for first-time visitors. Know what you’re going to see before you visit.