If you pronounce Hawaii properly it’s Hawai-i with a double-i, that sounds like the mating call of a colourful and rare bird – sweet, light and darn seductive. So I followed it. Graciously invited by GoHawaii, I went on a 5-day-long island-hopping trip to three of the eight main islands of Hawaii: Maui, Oahu and the Big Island. A trip to find that bird. And so much more beyond.

I had never been to the islands before. The box in my mind that contained “Hawaii” was mostly filled with Tikki cups and orchid petals, yet I sensed there would be much more to discover. In my defence, Hawaii seems to be one of those many destinations that you think you have an idea of, but really you don’t. Well, what can I say? I wasn’t entirely wrong about the flowers, but luckily the box is so much bigger than that. It’s hardly a box at all, if that makes any sense. So my journey wasn’t just a trip full of adventure, beauty and warmth, it also worked as a reminder to myself: see the world and unbox your thinking.

I’ll stop it now and get real: “The Aloha State” is the youngest of the 50 US states, but the history of Hawaii already started around 1500 years ago, when Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands arrived via canoe, miraculously guided by the stars. Hawaiians are still very proud of those skills and you can’t blame them – it’s pretty cool to not have to stare at a machine but into the skies to know where to go. Hawaii in general is capable of a lot of stuff, like the little wild child sister that already knows so much more than her older brothers. Her looks are fresh, but her spirit is old and hanging out with her will make you happy, a little bit wiser, and most importantly of all: deaf to the ticking clocks of the main land. You are far away and it’s awesome!

None of the eight islands and multiple smaller archipelagos are like the other, so there is a lot for you to unbox and discover. The long journey will surely be rewarded, and if you are open and curious you will meet wonderful and very diverse people, climb up volcanoes, breathe in the scent of the rainforest, enjoy some really good coffee and food and have the time of your life!

In an ideal world you’d be able to take a chunk of time off to see at least 2 or 3 of the islands and not be rushed, but even the little glimpse I had already made me fall hard and I’m more than happy to tell you why. So without further ado, here are my top 10 reasons to visit the Aloha State!

1. The love of Storytelling


Since I was little, I loved to listen to stories and eventually started writing my own as soon as I got to master the magic of the alphabet. Thus comes as no surprise that I dig the Hawaiian love for storytelling. If you hang out with the locals you will pretty soon be mesmerized by their myths and even the greatest rationalist may find themselves imagining Pele, the Hawaiian fire goddess, holding sway over the volcanoes, angrily spitting lava at one of her unfaithful lovers. It’s just the most perfect scenery for all kinds of stories and an important part of Hawaiian culture, transmitted via word, mouth or in a very fun way in the form of songs and dances, Make sure to connect with locals and hear some folklore when you visit.

If you are looking for an authentic place to do so, I highly recommend Kā‘anapali Beach Hotel on the west coast of Maui, where they really draw you into their narratives and culture. A stay there is a quite magical experience and super chill – everything feels very real and most of the local staff members have known each other forever, forming a tight family, that will warmly welcome you into their tales. A place to return to and so many more stories to hear about.

     

2. Your own personal adventure movie

Being in Hawaii’s nature feels like being in your own adventure movie; you almost wouldn’t be surprised if a very muddy Bruce Willis were to jump down from one of the velvety green mountains, or if the crooked rock in front of you suddenly turned into a dinosaur. So much adventure is awaiting you on all of the islands, here is some inspiration to begin with:

Oahu is the most populated of all the islands, but has its wild spots when leaving the buzz of Honolulu behind. One day we went to Kualoa Ranch, a private nature reserve that would make anyone lose track of time. Lush green hills mingle with dark, pointy rocks and there is a sense of enigma in the air that is next level story material. No surprise then that so many movies were shot here! You can discover this precious place on foot, with an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) or on a horse for added effect – in any case you’ll end up being muddy, happy and a true heroine or hero!

The whole big island of Hawaii is a great choice for all you adventure lovers as well and offers the most diverse spectrum of nature. This is the place to go if you opt for lush rainforests meeting endless, black fields of Lava in the Volcanoes National Park, We spent a whole day discovering the big island with Richie from Kapohokine Adventures and could not have asked for a better co-explorer. This guy is priceless and zip-lining over the wilderness of the waterfalls in the pouring rain is much more fun than it sounds! Bruce would be proud.

3. The great hospitality 


It may take a while to get to Hawaii, but you can really look forward to being welcomed warmly. The warmth of “aloha” culture will draw you in pretty quickly. On our very first night when we arrived at Outrigger Reef Resort at Waikīkī Beach on O’ahu, I was actually stoked to receive my first real lei, the traditional flower necklace as a welcome gift (best way to say Hi ever!). Some fresh, carefully interwoven flowers around your neck and warm, genuine smiles will quickly make you forget about your jet leg.

Waking up to the sound of the ocean and a big, fruity breakfast in good local company also helps. Mahalo!

     Outrigger Reef Resort Waikīkī

4. So much water. And sand.

This is a no-brainer. Hawaii is an island state and the Pacific ocean is gorgeous; it’s not a surfer’s and beach lover’s paradise for no reason! You will find some of the most beautiful beaches here and there is one for almost every mood or occasion and level of activity. Not moving at all is perfectly fine, but if you’re into flexing your muscles, I can tell you that doing some sun salutations at the world-famous Waikīki beach is pretty epic!

     Honolulu

5. The most scenic views

Speaking of epic, we need to talk about all the views that Hawaii offers You. If you stay at the right place you might wake up to this:

     Grand Naniloa Hotel, Hilo

And there is so much more stunning scenery to be viewed by looking down. The area around Hawaii’s oldest town Hilo on the main island is a good spot for those who love spectacular sights. If you are not afraid of heights, I recommend investing in a helicopter flight over the volcanoes – a truly unique experience that will make your heart beat faster in the most beautiful way. I have a thing for our planet and watching a volcano from above made me fall even harder. Most tours on the big island start from Hilo airport. Make sure to book in advance for a secure spot and a better price.

     Volcano National Park

6. The company of the sun

Another favorite was the view down from Haleakalā, a massive volcano in the East of Mauī the third island we visited. If you are in Maui you should not miss the sunrise there, it’s extraordinary! Even the sun seems different passing over Hawaii, and somehow throws the most crazy pastel shades over the clouds. If you decide to go to Haleakalā, consider that it’s a national park with a limited quota of visitors to protect the nature, so you’ll need to reserve a spot online in advance. However and wherever you are in Hawaii make sure to admire its sunrises and sundowns as often as possible; they will all be different and always a good time to calm down and just be.

     Haleakalā

7. All the colors

Something I already looked forward to when packing for Hawaii were all the colors that I was expecting to see, and luckily that assumption was right. The islands can pull off color for real and do their nickname “rainbow state” justice*. Mother nature drapes herself in her Sunday’s best on a daily basis and many of the locals actually wear all those crazy, colorful patterns that you might be expecting here – not just tourists. I loved the vibrant buzz of Honolulu’s famous district Waikīki for that reason and couldn’t get enough of parrots and palm leaves on textiles. I ended up going a bit crazy in the fabric market on Maui to take some vibrance home – this stuff is right up my alley. If you are not the crafty kind of person, just stroll around, enjoying the hues – the cute beach town Lahaina on Maui is a good spot to do this if you are in the area. And nature-wise, some bird watching can be great fun!

*Hawaii has the most occurring rainbows of all the states; the weather conditions here are perfect rainbow material.

8. …and all the flowers

Splendid flowers grow all around the islands and making hand-crafted costumes and necklaces out of them is an important part of Hawaiian culture – and creates some real fine art. There are different techniques and styles for various occasions and regions, no necklace is like another. Welcome garlands are often made out of orchids, mostly white or pink; if you have received one of these you are supposed to always wear it when your host is around, or risk being considered rude. What I really loved was that the Hawaiians think it’s important to give the flowers back to nature after they have died, so at the end of your stay take your flower necklace apart (remove the strings so as not to pollute the environment!) and throw the petals into the ocean. It’s a beautiful way of thinking.

9. The diversity

Due to its long history, different influences from various directions and all the different people that have visited, ruled or lived on the islands, Hawaiian culture is extremely diverse. Luckily nowadays it renders itself with a peaceful coexistence, culturally and nature-wise. It’s beautiful to become a part of this for a while, so soak it all in!

     Check out the Road to Hana to see a broad nature spectrum in a little road trip.

10. The Food. And the coffee

If you are familiar with the latest food trends, you may have heard of Poke, a typical Hawaiian dish with raw, marinated fish on rice and different toppings, most likely some seaweed and sesame. It has become a huge thing all over the US and Europe as well now – people seem to love the simplicity and the bold, clean flavors. I’m a huge proponent of the seaweed-on-everything-policy. The cuisine of Hawaii is just as diverse as the landscape, obviously with a big focus on seafood and the produce that grows here – such as pineapples, taro, macadamia nuts and a massive variety of fruits and vegetables, so there is something to eat for all kinds of tastebuds! They also produce amazing wine here, and some of the most special coffee beans. Since I’m all about the green stuff I really enjoyed a visit at Maui Tropical Plantation, where you can see all the fruity babies grow up, while enjoying the most beautiful nature around you. Within the plantation you can find the Mill House Restaurant, which is one of the best restaurants I have visited in a long while. The view is amazing and all the food home-grown and extremely fresh. Watch the sun go down over the mountains with a fresh cup of Kona coffee in your hands and just be happy! Aloha!

      Self-grown veggies and Kona coffee at the Mill House

Mill House, Maui

If you are unsure which islands to pick I’d definitely recommend the tour we did, because it gave me an excellent overview and made me understand the differences in between islands. I would really love to check out the other five too, so the next trip is already on my radar. You can find a lot of good information here.

Have fun exploring and Thank You to Hawaii Tourism Europe, who sponsored my trip to share my experience.

All photos © Tabea Mathern