Posted by: GeekHiker | February 25, 2012

Highs And Lows

Hawai’i is a land of contrasts. True, their size is relatively small, but despite this differences of even short distances can render dramatic differences.

Take Hawai’i, The Big Island. Where I stayed, at the Hilo Bay Hostel in Hilo, gets over 120 inches of rain a year. The days can change from sunny and humid to rainy and cool and back again in the space of a few minutes. By contrast Kona, on the other side of the island (and a mere 60 miles away) gets only about 10 inches of rain a year, about the same as Los Angeles.

The two cities are contrasts themselves: Kona is the sunny, tourist-oriented side of the island, with plenty of available activities, from scuba to whale watching to snorkeling. Hilo, more populous, is the more work-a-day side of the island: mellow, not so touristy, very laid back.

Neither one really prepared me, though, for my move to Oah’u. I’d set up three nights at the YHA in Waikiki, only a couple of blocks from the beach and right next to the swanky, multi-hundred of dollars per night hotel.

Simply put, it wasn’t my scene.

Waikiki attracts an entirely different crowd from Hilo, and they fall into certain easily recognizable archetypes. Young newlyweds on Honeymoon. Families on vacation. Groups of giggly young women from Europe. Large groups of Japanese tourists.

I felt out-of-place.

Maybe it’s simply a matter of access: flights to Honolulu are direct, but getting out to Hilo (apart from a couple of direct Continental flights out of Los Angeles) is a bit more difficult, requires a little more effort. I’d been drawn to Hilo and The Big Island because, based on my reading, it was eminently suitable to an outdoorsy guy such as myself. Maybe that’s why it enabled me to meet the travelers that I did at the hostel: somewhat more independent-minded travelers Ones who had, for whatever reason, been drawn away from the crowds in Waikiki to seek out something a bit smaller and more remote.

The unfortunate truth is that my experience at the hostel didn’t match up with the one in Hilo either. Social activity was pretty much nil: I didn’t talk to any of my roommates (and not for lack of effort) until the last night. The common room was filled with groups of the aforementioned giggly girls from Europe, who mostly bunched together like you’d expect any group of teenagers to do, or watched episodes of “South Park” on the TV. Also in the room were some older guys that, well, I simply can’t describe in any other way besides “creepy”.

I did accomplish one goal: I finally made it out to see Pearl Harbor, a frustratingly slow experience by bus due to the fact that there was also a marathon of some sort going on that day. My second day, desperate to save the my experience on Oah’u, I rented a car (thank you, cheap hostel discount) but, due to my own poor planning, found myself locked out of the things I wanted to do. The trailhead parking for Diamond Head was full by the time I arrived at 9:00 AM. The cove I wanted to go snorkeling in was closed, as it is every Tuesday, to give the fauna there a break from the humans. The museum I wanted to go to was also closed on Tuesday, though I don’t know if it was because the artifacts also needed a break from human intrusion.

I ended up driving up the coast, finally, on a whim, indulging the total tourist in me and visiting Kualoa Ranch, taking the hour-long, $25 tour through the valley of “Jurassic Park” and “Lost” before driving back, running a couple of errands, and returning the car.

It probably doesn’t help my experiences that, either due to massive allergies that weren’t present on Hilo or a cold (I have no idea which one I’m suffering from as I write this, though I suspect the former), I’ve been feeling rather terrible. And, just to up the total quotient of whine, I’ll even toss in the fact that I’ve got a giant blister on one of my toes, making walking painful.

Still, as I sit here on the plane to my next destination, I don’t have any regrets. I liked Hawai’i, and wish in many ways that I had stayed longer, explored some of the other islands, spent more time in a few locations. In truth, my main reason for visiting the islands is that, simply put, it was cheaper to travel there and then onto my next destination than a direct flight.

Still, I think there are also some lessons to be learned from my experience in Waikiki. One is the fact that, despite it all, I’m still perfectly capable of jealousy. Yeah, sure, I’ll admit it up front: I’d like to be one of those young happy couples, living it up and having fun in Paradise. Or one of the groups of friends, hitting the happy hours around Waikiki for over-priced, watered-down drinks and enjoying every bloody minute of it.

The second, and maybe more important lesson, is that maybe I need to start doing what’s appropriate for the situation I’m in; a thought which might require a bit of clarification. I realize now that what I was trying to do in Waikiki was what I usually try to do: head off to pursue my own interests, be it a historical site, a museum, a drive, or a hike. In that regard, though, I was a colossal failure, my plans thwarted at every turn. Looking back, maybe what I should have done was what everyone else in Waikiki was doing: hit the beach, gone for a swim, signed up for a snorkeling tour or a surfing lesson. In other words: since I was in a beach oriented, totally tourist-oriented resort atmosphere I should have, well, resort-ed.

Pursuing ones own desires is all well and good, but sometimes maybe it’s better to go with the flow.

Especially when the current is strong.


  1. I went to Hawaii last year (Oahu and Maui), and I had a very similar experience to yours. Oahu was definitely not my scene either, as I’m not a fan of drinking/shopping/prancing around showing off my overpriced Coach bag. I’m not sure that “going with the flow” is always the best option though; I usually feel more alone and left out when I’m trying to fit into a crowd that’s doing something I don’t enjoy than I do when I’m pursuing something solitary that I do enjoy. For me, my best experiences on Oahu were the slightly less touristy ones – driving to Long Beach, going to the farmer’s market, taking photos in Chinatown.

  2. When in Rome, right? 😉

    I don’t know if you’re planning to stop in Hawaii on your way back (from New Zealand???) but I think you’d really enjoy Kauai. It’s incredibly beautiful, really low key, and has some great hiking. Food for thought!

    I hope you keep us posted on where you go next. It’s nice to read about your travels!

  3. Are you going to Indonesia, by any chance?

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