Travelling Beyond Tourism

People travel for different reasons. Sometimes it’s for an escape: to get away from the cold weather and relax somewhere warm, where the only thoughts occupying your mind are where and when you’ll have your next meal. Other times, a trip can be cultural, spent outside of popular tourist attractions to absorb the rich history and culture of a destination. Some trips might have the best of both worlds, which was my experience this past winter break.

I had the opportunity to visit the Big Island of Hawaii. It was an important trip to me – one that will resonate for the rest of my life – and I’m not so sure the island would have had the same impact on me had I gone in blindly. It’s common when travelling to visit vacation destinations, such as Hawaii’s capital city Honolulu, with the intention of spending the duration of a stay at an all-inclusive resort and never leaving the most popular tourist-run cities. This type of trip is perfect for a relaxing holiday, all things considered, which is why it is such a popular option. However, while it’s abundant in relaxation and pampering, it does lack the authenticity that could be found in other areas of the island. “Authenticity” isn’t necessary on vacation, per-say. From my own personal experience, though, it made all the difference.

 

While most of us have been to various parts of the United States, Hawaii is a whole other story. The continental US holds a completely different culture than the island, and it’s for this reason that I consider Hawaii to be its own entity, far removed from the mainland (both literally and figuratively).

The food is an experience in and of itself: laulau (pork cooked in taro leaves), poi (a liquid paste made out of taro), poke (the Hawaiian version of sashimi), loco moco (rice topped with your meat of choice, a fried egg and gravy) and chicken long rice (my personal favourite – bean vermicelli noodles cooked with chicken and chicken broth) were a few staples. Rice was also the most popular food and came to be expected as the foundation of breakfast, lunch and dinner. I made sure to try and taste anything recommended to me at least once.

Photo by Eden Plater

Days were spent exploring different beaches and coves, most of which were free from other people. I spent my Hawaii trip with someone who grew up on the island who considers it his home base. This allowed me to take in the sheer variety of beaches and coves that are scattered around the island and explore ones that may be lesser known. One beach, named Lone Palm Beach, was a secluded black sand beach with a single palm tree that took a five-minute walk over lava rocks to reach. Another beach, called Hapuna Beach, was a bustling but still beautiful stretch of white sand that’s considered one of the nicest beaches in the world. I believed the beach sunsets I saw growing up in a Canadian waterfront city were some of the most beautiful sunsets I would ever see. All I can say is that they have some steep competition. 

Photo by Eden Plater

We also hiked the beautiful scenic trails the Big Island is known for. Hiking Pololu was one of the highlights for me; it took three hours to complete and had no shortage of stunning views, especially because we began our hike just as the sun was rising. Pololu is popular among locals and tourists, but we had the trail largely to ourselves. It leads 420 ft down through rocky switchbanks until you reach the valley and beach below, through which you find a shaded, muddy incline that leads up to a lookout point with a single wooden bench that overlooks the stunning valley below.

A bit of a surprise came to me upon driving past the base of the island’s most well-known dormant volcano, Mauna Kea. I had had no idea that protests were ongoing, with locals staging live-in protests at the base of the mountain. Tents, signs, and people scattered the side of the highway in protest of the Thirty Meter Telescope. The United States government’s plan to build a telescope on top of the mountain, which is considered sacred ground in Native Hawaiian culture and religion. The attitudes among the Hawaiian people who talked about the issue varied but leaned more towards support for the protestors. Having been a fight spanning years and years, it’s still such a large and ongoing point of tension for the locals who are fighting for their rights as people indigenous to the land. It’s surprising that many tourists visiting the island, including me, aren’t aware of all that is going on in the fight for Mauna Kea. As such a significant and sacred landmark for Hawaiians, it feels important that the mountain is recognized as such rather than simply as a popular excursion for tourists.

You can feel the energy (and the humidity) of the Big Island as soon as you step off the plane. It’s a rare thing to feel so at home in a place where you’ve only just arrived. Perhaps it was the people I spent my trip with that really made it what it was; it most definitely would not have been the same experience had I not had anyone to share it with. The island itself had much to do with making me feel at home, and my love for Hawaii only grew the more time I spent exploring and immersing myself within it. Although anyone who is lucky enough to vacation in the first place has every right to plan a classic tourist itinerary, exploring and going beyond the walls of resorts should also be encouraged. There’s so much more waiting for you if you only put yourself out there and seek something a little different. A little adventure never hurt anybody!