It’s impossible to have a bad time in Hawaii. Believe me, I tried.
You could get off the most gruelling red-eye flight of your life and have your mood instantly lifted when you spy the palm trees that surround the airport.
Even the name ‘Hawaii’ rolls off the tongue with the gentle sway of a low-tide wave as it rushes to kiss the shore. Too much? OK, fair enough. What I’m saying is the spirit of ‘aloha’ has a way of turning even the most cynical traveller into a Lei-wearing, ukulele-playing, cliché-spouting free spirit.
With this in mind, if you want to get the most out of your next island getaway here are a few suggestions that’ll ensure to get maximum ‘mana’ washing over you (whether you’re ready for it or not).
#1 Watch A Sunset Over Waikiki
By day this ultra-famous beachfront ‘hood in Honolulu is the bustling, commercial heart of Hawaii. Lined with luxury resorts and glittering malls on one side, and one of the world’s most famous stretches of soft white sand on the other. There may be big spender vibes on the surface, but the whiff of traditional Hawaiian culture in the wind is enough to blow off the scent of free enterprise floating in the air.
Things take a turn around 6:40pm when the softening light throws a romantic glow over the grittier, congested sights. The beachside bars begin to hum with slack-key guitar and as if by magic they provide a soundtrack to the strangest migration of humans you’ll ever see.
As day turns into night, crowds redirect away from the plush plazas. Mouths agape, they watch as nature takes centre stage, colours exploding into saturated blue, flaming orange and purple.
Occasionally you’ll spy a sea turtle’s head bobbing up to take a breath before coasting lazily by the shore; you may even feel compelled to whisper in hushed tones, as though sitting in a soft sand auditorium, watching a performance where the star is nature, just doing its thing.
#2 Drive Saddle Road On The Big Island
Big Island has two distinct personalities. You’ve got the Kona side, with its alien-like fields of dried black lava that seem to go on forever. And on the other side lies the tropical oasis of Hilo, boasting dramatic waterfalls and lush rainforests.
Connecting them both is the unassuming but oh-so-incredible stretch of asphalt known as Saddle Road.
One of Big Island’s most fascinating facts is that it’s home to at least four of Hawaii’s disparate climate zones (the state boasts ten of the world’s 14). This utterly unique environment means it’s not unusual to pass parched desert through to fog-covered wetlands, with a shave close to the snow-covered peaks of Mauna Kea in between, all in a single drive.
#3 Eat Loco Moco At Maui’s Famous Kihei Caffe
Kihei Caffe was voted Maui’s best breakfast six years in a row by Maui No Ka Oi Magazine, so the hype is huge around this humble eatery (the lines snaking around the corner prove it). This is where you come for breakfasts that are big on servings and small on price, with a dash of culture on the side.
While you could come here and gorge yourself silly on pancakes and cinnamon rolls, it just wouldn’t be right to miss the local specialty, Loco Moco.
This sticky Hawaiian delicacy is made of rice, with a hamburger patty topped with a fried egg and slathered in gravy. It not only does it promise to satisfy even the most hungry ‘haole’, it’s also a bonafide hangover slayer.
Beat the rush by heading at 6:45am (I’m serious) or risk running into a dozens-deep zig-zagging line reminiscent of Seinfeld’s infamous ‘Soup Nazi’ episode (but without the attitude). We promise it’s all worth it.
#4 Take In A Sunrise From The Summit Of Mount Haleakala
With its jagged red rock scapes, it’s no surprise to learn that NASA tested the Mars rover on Haleakala’s beautifully barren terrain. Add to that the eerie mist that shimmies its way through the rolling dunes, it’s a spot that feels as close to another planet as most of us will get.
Lucky for you, all it takes to enjoy a sunrise on this mystical peak is the gumption to get up early… plus $10USD for the parking fee and a car with enough juice to drive some 3,000 metres up.
#5 Learn A Thing Or Two At Pearl Harbour
Nothing is sugar coated or glossed over at Pearl Harbour. As soon as you step into the grounds, you’re transported back to December 7, 1941, when Japan strategically actioned a surprise bomb strike on the military base, turning what would’ve been an otherwise ordinary day into one of the most devastating attacks of World War II.
Never is this more affecting than when you walk the solemn halls of the USS Arizona Memorial, a floating shrine built over the sunken midsection of the ill-fated ship.
As you stand and stare across the central section, looking out into the rusted remains of the USS Arizona, you’re reminded that many of the servicemen trapped inside during the attack were buried at sea due to the speed in which the vessel sank.
Heavy, we know.
Like we said, if there’s one place that’s going to force you to get in touch with your feelings, it’s Hawaii.
This feature originally appeared on AWOL.