Hawaii has always been a sort of legendary place that I would see in the media and movies. I never thought I would have the opportunity to visit. Recently it seems it has been a very popular vacation destination among my friends. A coworker, Mark’s sister, and separately Mark’s Parents all took trips to Hawaii this year. My parents also had a trip planned, and I am so grateful that they chose to include Mark and I on the journey!
Extremely early in the morning Mark, Mom, Dad, and I piled into a car with more luggage than fit comfortably, drinking coffees and running off little, or in Mark’s case- no, sleep. We drove to the airport and boarded our flight to…. Atlanta! The only successful Atlanta stop has been confined to an hour layover in the food court of Atlanta International Airport.
Then just one short 9 our flight later we landed in Honolulu!
Island Number One- Oahu
We did so many amazing things on the island of Oahu! We stayed at Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa, which was by far the most themed resort on the island. We got to sit in the hot tub, tan next to the pool, and ride the slides and lazy river. We took a dip in the ocean, swam with fish, watched the stars, and even took a painting class!
Outside the resort we found some amazing hikes and scenic overlooks! The trail at Diamondhead Mountain leads up to some spectacular views and a neat retired military lookout. Our scenic driving led to some of the most spectacular viewpoints I have ever seen. We experienced a snorkel tour at Waikiki Beach that included seeing turtles up close! As someone who has done a considerable amount of snorkeling in the Florida Keys- Hawaii is thousands of times better. The water wasn’t even THAT cold.
At the Pearl Harbor National Memorial we spent time learning about the events of December 7, 1941 when Japanese forces attacked the US Base at Pearl Harbor. We got to take a boat ride out to the USS Arizona Memorial and pay our respects to the sunken heroes. It was a sobering experience that highlighted the cost of war, with lost lives and terrible traumas for those left behind.
In another learning endeavor we experienced the Polynesian Cultural Center. It is owned and run by the BYU- Hawaii Campus and most of the staff are student workers, so it was a slightly more monotheistic telling of Polynesian Culture than is historically accurate, but it was by far the best educational experience on the island.
We got to go through a series of “islands” representing many of the Polynesian Countries. Very much like a small version of epcot, with no mickey mouse, food & wine, or fireworks. Each country had a cultural presentation done by members of the island’s community and an activity! I think the highlights were getting temporary tattoos and the cultural presentation in Aotearoa (New Zealand). Mark and I also attended a Ukulele class and Mark told the instructor he had never played ( an outright lie) and was the best student in the class.
After the islands we got to attend an AMAZING Luau performance with great buffet style local food, including a roasted pig (which of course I did not try). Then we walked through an area of gift shops before attending the big show of the night, when all of the islands did a performance to tell a story. It was amazing and the talent of the students was incredible.
Island Number Two- The Big Island
We island hopped over to Hilo for the remainder of our Hawaii experience. Hilo is a small hippy town on the Big Island away from the tourist side near Kona. It was amazing! We had locally brewed kombucha, ate at a pizza shop that survived a tsunami and had the most amazing oceanside rental.
The most amazing experience I had in Hawaii was the Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Tour. We loaded up into a bus with a group of like minded lovers of the stars and headed up the 14,000 foot summit. We stopped at the visitors center to have the best vegan chili I have ever eaten. The fact it was so cold I needed a parka and raining may have also impacted the category of the hot meal.
We continued up and over the clouds, where we had an amazing view of all the observation sites and telescopes. It was amazing to learn about the different telescopes.
We also learned more about Hawaii’s Thirty Meter Telescope Protests. It is an incredible movement by the local Hawaiian community to ensure that the telescope projects are accountable for the negative impacts that they are having on the land as well as the impact of having telescopes on a sacred mountain. If you want to learn more you can read about it here.
After we made it to the top we got to watch the most amazing sunset. Words can’t describe how wonderful the experience was. So here is an image of the stars instead. Mark took this with his google pixel.
After darkness set in we moved down the mountain and our guide set up a telescope. We got to see the best view of the stars that I have ever seen. It was humbling to know how small we are compared to the universe and just being able to lay on the ground and look up at the milky way was a life altering moment. As we loaded up into the ride down our guide played the Pale Blue Dot Speech by Carl Sagan. It was a much needed time of reflection after seeing such a spectacular view of our universe.
The great sights didn’t end with the sky, since the next day we went to Hawaii Volcano’s National Park. I have a (few) national park memory and stamp books and I never thought that I would fill the pages for the Hawaiian National Parks.
Hawaii Volcanoes was an otherworldly experience. We got to complete the scenic drive from volcano to ocean, hike through a lava tube, and see the smoke rise from a live volcano.
I cant forget to mention that earlier in the day we saw the Most Southern Point of the US ( yes… Key West is the Most Southern Continental) and a black sand beach!
Our next adventure was one that took us off of this earth… at least a little bit. We caught a helicopter tour from Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. Mark, Mom, and I had never been on a helicopter before and it blew us all away. We got to see the coast of The Big Island, the desert dry biome and the wet rainforest biome. It was an amazing experience and I don’t think any of us will be able to do something that matches it!
Our Helicopter Pilot pointed us in the direction of a nearby Pu’ukoholā Heiau National HIstoric Site. We learned about the Hawaiian king who united the islands into one people, as was foretold at his birth.
Our final day in Hawaii was slam packed with more adventure. We went back to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and got to see the lava flow bright red during the day from an amazing viewpoint. We also saw some Nene’s which are a indigenous goose.
We moved on to a coffee farm where we got to taste local grown and roasted coffees and learn how a coffee plant grows and how the berry becomes a coffee bean. Our final stop was a snorkel in Kona before heading to the airport. The Kona airport is all outdoors and has very local tropical vibes. We even had to climb up a jet bridge!
We landed in LA a few hours later, officially back on the mainland. Our amazing vacation is over, but the memories are forever with us.
And now we just have to survive the hurricane we are flying into! Publix cake anyone?