Monday, January 19, 2015

Hawaii...No Passport Required

Now for some of you, the title of this post may seem a bit absurd.  Of course there is no passport required to go to Hawaii if you are a US citizen.  It is a State for Pete's sake.  But you would be shocked to know how many of our fair countrymen and countrywomen have no clue that Hawaii is a no-passort-destination.  Some must think that the amount of water between one place and another determines whether or not passports are required.  Now those same folks who apparently flunked US geography in school must have a hard time with Canada and it's passport requirements because the whole non-water thing is really throwing them off now.

But I digress.  The reason my post is titled the way it is, is because I want travelers to understand that Hawaii offers a true cultural experience that is far different than any other US destination, and even some international destinations, but we have the luxury of not needing a passport to get there.

I hope this post catches your attention if Hawaii is a place you have never been interested in or have thought you would never be able to visit.  I want Hawaii on the forefront of your minds by the time you read this article.  So let me confess something right upfront...Hawaii was not on the top of my places to visit before this past November.  But that has all changed.  Hawaii and especially the islands of Maui and Kauai have topped the list of "my favorite places I have been around the world."  Why you ask?  Well let me tell ya.

First, the beauty of Hawaii is hard to match.  Some might argue that Fiji or Tahiti or the Maldives surpass the beauty of Hawaii, but that is not the case when you consider the diversity of the landscape that makes up the Hawaiian islands. There are not too many places on this planet where you can go from a sunny, tropical beach and drive to an snowcapped mountain...all on one island.  You want to see a lush rainforest?  Hawaii has it.  You want to see an active volcano? Hawaii has it.  You want to see the most incredible sunsets while walking along a palm tree-lined beach?  Head to Hawaii.  You want to watch a sunrise from an elevation of 10,000 above sea level?  You can do that in Hawaii. Everywhere you turn, there is something to see and try to hurry and capture with a picture because you know what you are seeing is going to be hard to give justice to back at home when telling your friends of the awesome things you saw in Hawaii.

I found myself in awe during my trip last November.  At certain points I even felt moved spiritually. That was especially true on the island of Kauai.  When you land on Kauai, it is easy to see why so many movie makers head to Kauai for their sets.  The lush rain forests and tall mountains coupled with the beaches and blue waters of the Pacific make it a perfect backdrop for any movie.  I now know why movies such as Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark and countless other films were shot on location in Kauai.   But my spiritual moment came one early morning when we boarded a luxury catamaran for an early morning snorkel and cruise along the Na Pali Coast.  I was not expecting that day to be such a "bucket-list" experience but it became that and more.  It is difficult to not feel a connection with creation when you are sailing along seeing the sun rise behind you and the Na Pali coast ahead of you.  In case you don't know, the Na Pail coast is a stretch of coast line that is only accessible by hiking, boating or by air.  The road that circles the island of Kauai ends at each end of the Na Pali coast.  It is completely preserved in its natural beauty and "beauty" is not giving it justice.

So just when I thought the trip along the coast was already perfect, things were kicked up a notch.  As we approached the main area of the coast where the jagged cliffs and mountains appear to fall straight off into the Pacific, where the mist of the crashing waves climb up those same cliffs and paint the most serene and awe-inspiring picture you have ever seen...all of the sudden the water became like glass and pods of spinner dolphins appeared out of nowhere almost as if to say, welcome to my paradise.   The dolphins jumped and played and swam along side and time felt like it stopped.  I remember just sitting there trying and I mean really trying to take in what I was seeing and it moved me.  It showed me or at least reminded me what travel is all about and it has forever changed me.

Now you probably think that there couldn't be much more but there is.  Just when I was already moved and deeply affected in such a positive way, one more thing happened that made me understand why I was already moving Hawaii to the top of my favorite places to see and visit.  On our way back to the dock, we were all resting and trying to take in what we had seen when again something magical happened.  The captain slowed down and asked us all to head to the bow of the boat.  First the blowing of air from its blow hole and then there it was, the large tail fin of a humpback whale.  That has always been a major bucket list item for me and now, thanks to visiting Kauai, is officially checked off the list.

All of that in just one day on the island of Kauai.  Now when you add our visits to Waimea Canyon (the Grand Canyon of the Pacific), the Na'Aina Botanical Gardens (where we not only learned about but saw an albatross nesting in their natural habitat), our kayaking adventure on the Hule'ia River, there is no wonder why I am now in such awe of what Hawaii offers.

There is not another single domestic location that can touch Hawaii when it comes to scenery and cultural experiences, not one.  The "aloha spirit" is still alive and well on the islands of Hawaii.  I wish I could really go into more of the culture and history that makes Hawaii so unique, but the post is getting long enough.  But please please understand that Hawaii is not like a trip down to Destin or southern California or Miami or any other domestic coastal vacation option.  You will feel like you have stepped off the plane and onto a place that is exotic and as "international" as Fiji or Thailand, or New Zealand etc., except for the fact that you are still on American soil where everyone speaks YOUR language and there is NO PASSPORT REQUIRED.

Hawaii has something to offer every type of vacationer.  Whether you are a hiker/biker, foodie, history buff, naturist, or just someone that wants to sit on the beach and sip an umbrella drink, Hawaii is the place for you.  Whether you prefer the finer things when it comes to accommodations (Grand Hyatt Kauai), or you are more budget-minded (Mana Kai in Maui), Hawaii is for you.

So if you are getting weary of the same old beach vacation choices and want to experience something new and exotic and exciting, please think about Hawaii.  And if you have been to Hawaii before but only Honolulu, don't let that be your only visit and make sure you try some of the other islands. Aloha!