IN A NUTSHELL
The Hawaiian Islands is a chain of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The chain is still being formed by the hotspot under the Pacific Plate as the plate moves in a north-west direction at a rate of about four inches per year. The hotspot is currently under the Big Island and is making this island even bigger every day.
Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. that is made up entirely of islands. All the islands combined make up the state of Hawaii, however, the biggest island in the chain is named Hawaii. To avoid confusion, this island is nicknamed and referred to as “The Big Island” by all the locals – no one calls this island by its real name.
Due to the extreme elevation change, the location of where these underwater mountains are in the Pacific Ocean, and the fact there is no other terrain influence around at all, the climate on each side of the mountain varies more drastically than most other places in the world.
The north-eastern side of the mountains are very wet, covered in rain forests, and very beautiful whereas the south-western side of the mountains are the complete opposite: extremely dry and desert-like.
Not only does the climate change drastically from wet to dry from east to west, but also very hot to very cold from low elevation to high elevation. If you plan on driving to the top of any of the mountains, be prepared to pack you ski hat and mittens next to your flowered bikini or Speedo.
WHAT TO DO/SEE
Swimming. Waterfalls, natural swimming holes, beaches, etc.
Beaches. There are amazing beaches on every island and they are not all the same. The beaches vary in size, sand vs. rocks, wave height, secluded vs. touristy, and even color! Hawaii has some of the most diverse beach color that I’ve ever experienced: Beige, White, Black, Red, and Green!
Surfing… in Hawaii is also an experience and for those that really know what they’re doing. The extremely huge waves that Hawaii is known for come during the winter months [January-February] and usually on the north shores of the islands.
Hiking. There are many hikes on the islands ranging anywhere from 5 minutes on paved paths to four days up the extinct volcanoes.
Camping… can be tricky. Some parks are national parks, some are state, and others are county – all of which you need corresponding permits for [or so they say]. It’s quite annoying and rather frustrating to determine which parks are national, state, or county while backpacking and hitchhiking. If I was lucky enough to get a ride to a park that had camping or a nice beach to pitch a tent, I wasn’t about to ask the drive to wait while I checked out the sign to determine what kind of park it was – even if I did, I always arrived after the park hours anyway so it didn’t matter either way. My suggestion is just camp wherever you can find a place to camp and don’t worry about the permits. This is what I did and I was never approached by anyone about proof of permits or payment… although the locals and other blogs will tell you that camping is out of the question – don’t believe it.
Active Volcano. Visit Volcano National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii
Coconut Syrup. Enjoy your pancakes with a twist! Instead of the regular maple syrup, try your stack with the local coconut syrup! Both are always brought out for you to choose from, but… When in Hawaii!
When in Hawaii, you will notice a different language on signs, trash cans, information booklets, etc. Most of the words are common sense – “hello” isn’t the word written on a trash receptacle. However, not all are so easy to figure out by inductive reasoning. The ones that I found the most confusing and threw me for a loop were the words in reference to directions… I asked for directions to a store or campsite and had a lot of confusion. A Hawaiian isn’t going to say “drive towards the beach” or “head towards the volcano;” rarely will a Hawaiian even use “east” or “west.” Instead they use their own words for “towards the sea” or “towards the mountain.” Either learn these or purchase a GPS!
Hello/Goodbye = Aloha
Thank you [very much] = Mahalo [nui loa] Please = E ‘olu ‘olu
Towards the mountain = Mauka
Towards the sea = Makai