After my son took a geology course in his freshman year at Williams College, he wanted to see the volcano on Hawaii. So we planned a short little trip over the 2016 Christmas holiday. This was only my third trip to the island chain and I came away even more unimpressed about Hawaii than on previous trips.
To the credit of the island population, the lifestyle is as slow as the meandering Pahoehoe lava flows around Mauna Loa. Of course, Hawaii has under gone sporadic and rapid changes to its culture much like the numerous tsunami tidal waves that crashed into the islands in the 20th century. The tourist experience can be as different as the desert-like conditions of Hawaii’s big island’s west side from the tropical rain forest of the east side of the island.
Our latest trip was to Hawaii’s big island. Other than zip line excursions, the variety of other outdoor activities are not marketed very well to tourists. We stumbled upon some great hikes on the western side. I enjoyed hiking up a couple of old cinder cones. But I was sad to see a lack of respect for the environment as some parks were strewn with junk and trash. There seems to be few restrictions on where four-wheel drive vehicles can go or how much of the landscape they can tear up.
Old town Hilo is kind of shabby, but can be preferable to the sanitized Waikaloa resort environment. Hilo has potential, but it is obvious that the city doesn’t care about the surroundings for either residents or tourists. Downtown Hilo and surrounding areas are generally trash strewn and filthy. Vacant lots are not always maintained by the property owners. Some have become storage facilities of junk next door to hotels. The predominance of homeless people lends an overall feeling of insecurity. We really didn’t want to leave our hotel room after dark.
We actually learned more about the Hilo side of the island from taking a guided tour. Our tour guide actually revealed more about the lack of educational and job opportunities on the island than information about the volcano. Every Hawaiian resident we met was cordial and welcoming. From the Hilo coffee farm, to servers, tour operators, and store owners, everyone was very friendly, and resigned. Hawaii is livable, but not paradise.
I like that Hawaii kind of takes a hands-off approach to life and development. That explains their independent to conservative political leanings in politics. I respect that Hawaii has their own approach to municipal management that tilts more to a live-and-let-live style. Unfortunately, between a lack of emphasis to preserve their environment from being trashed and threats from climate change, Hawaii may not be much of a tourist destination in the years to come.
Image Gallery and Videos
Pu’u Ku’ili Cinder Cone Hike
Waipio Valley Wailoa Stream Hike