I’ve been trying to pen this blog post for almost two weeks, and even though I’m sharing this with you now, I don’t really feel as though my words articulate exactly what my time in Hawaii was like.
Let me start by telling you a story about 5-year-old me. When I was growing up in Western Australia, there was a good phase of my life where I obsessed with dolphins. I had books by a photographer called Steve Parish who took these amazing photos of underwater creatures. I had a whole 15 pages of photos dedicated just to dolphins and it was one of my favourite books. I’m not quite sure what initially drew me to loving dolphins so much, but I remember pleading with my parents to take me to Monkey Mia so that I could pat the dolphins. When we visited the Gold Coast in 2005, I wanted to pay an obscene amount of money to swim with the dolphins at Sea World. I was devastated when my parents didn’t want to (understandably) pay for me to fulfil my dream, but by golly gosh, am I thankful now.
Snorkelling is just something you do in Hawaii. When I swam at Waikiki beach for the first time, the amount of people with snorkels really made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t really understand why people would want to just watch a bunch of people pick their wedgies in the ocean, but whatever floats your boat. Naturally, when we were researching our impending trip overseas, my best friend and I decided to go on a snorkelling expedition on the west side of O’ahu. I had never been snorkelling before. Heck, I had never really swum in the ocean beyond where I could stand up. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I just thought, if I’m going to snorkel, I should probably do it while I’m in Hawaii. Plus, YOLO and whatever. We were promised dolphin sightings but I didn’t get too excited. The last few boat tours I’d taken in Australia on family holidays were filled with empty promises so I was a little sceptical.
Thankfully I was very, very, very wrong. I can remember saying “HOLY F*CK” through my snorkel pipe over and over again, even though I knew no one could hear me. I was literally at that level of disbelief. I had three wild dolphins swimming about five metres underneath me, and then when I looked up, a pod of thirty dolphins were swimming so close to me I could have reached out and touched one. I don’t think my brain fully understood exactly what I was seeing/experiencing. It still feels like a dream, but it happened. Even if I have zero photos.
And if there’s one way I can describe what my first time going overseas was like, it’s that it felt like an absolute dream. Not so much in the sense that it was romantic or utopian, but that it didn’t feel like reality. We landed at 5:50am and I got to see the sunrise from the middle row of the plane. The fact that I didn’t have a window seat (so that I could take photos, duh) bothered me more than I’d like to admit. I didn’t get to see much but man, the colour. Light shades of banana yellow blending into the dustiest of pinks, mauves and light blues. Like a colour scheme from a Wes Anderson movie. I was listening to XO by Beyonce and tried really hard not to cry because I’m lame and have trouble with my emotions when I’m visually overwhelmed by stuff.
Hawaii, whilst part of the USA, felt more like a separate entity, caught between two worlds. The laid back, no worries attitude mixed with a sense of paranoia that anyone and everyone could sue you was quite the sight. Only the cash we carried in our hands and the big chain fast food restaurants reminded us that we were in a state of America. Sometimes I’d see something so quintessentially American, like a yellow school bus or a fire hydrant and be reminded that people freely carried guns and things were written in miles, feet and inches. Seriously, their interstate road signs are very strange. And why is called the interstate when you literally cannot drive interstate in Hawaii? #Justhawaaianthings
Similarly, the idea of being caught between two worlds extended to the rest of the island. On one side, hotel high-rises as far as the eye could see. The other? Quaint beach shacks akin to what you see in 50 First Dates. The two worlds separated by a tropical mountain range, unlike anything I had seen before.
Many people have asked me what surprised me most about Hawaii, and truthfully, it was the diversity in the landscape. On O’ahu alone, we encountered tropical rainforests, woodlands, baron fields similar to regional Victoria, jagged mountain ridges shaded in low-lying clouds, and of course, beaches as far as the eye could see. It’s easy to be swept up in the stereotypical palm trees and frangipani flowers, but in reality, the landscape has so much more to offer. It’s incredibly unique and I was honestly fascinated that I was exposed to so many different terrains on an island that can fit in my home state at least three times over.
We tackled a hiking trail that was supposedly moderate. I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing moderate about scrambling up a 45-degree slope using only a jungle of tree roots as steps. To make things more interesting, we were being guided by a guy who works in the U.S Navy. So pretty much, while my best friend and I were literally dying up the mountain, he was just racing ahead without breaking a sweat. My mind was like, ‘C'mon Carolyn, you can beat this dude,’ because I’m arrogantly competitive and my mind has no limit. I didn’t beat him (obviously) but I did make it to the top of the ridge and the views were possibly the coolest things I’ve ever seen with my eyeballs. #Worthit. #Blessed. I raced up over the safety barrier and sat up on a cliff with my legs hanging over the edge because apparently, I have a death wish. I owe our guide, Christian, a home-cooked dinner for encouraging my ass to walk up to that ridge because it was pretty damn spectacular. After we made the descent, we ate some poke (raw fish with rice, when in Hawaii guys) and then jumped off a wooden diving board into the ocean. I’ve said repetitively since returning that if I lived somewhere like Hawaii, there would never be a good reason for me to be sad or grumpy. The sun is constantly shining, everything is an hour away, you get to hike cool trails on your days off from work and swim in water so clear, you can literally still see your feet standing in water up to your neck.
Whilst we did spend a considerable amount of time staying in Waikiki, our second accommodation, Kalani, was like a tropical paradise. Nestled on the North Shore, on the side of a mountain, and in front of a house who’s owner sang to his pet goat every night. This is the stuff of dreams, people. The outside deck was surrounded by palms, bamboo and brightly coloured plants I’ve only ever dreamed of seeing in person. Bright green lizards roamed freely and rolling grass lawns were dotted with deck chairs and hammocks. There was even an outdoor shower, a novelty I kinda miss considering how cold it is here in Australia now. A short walk across the Kamehameha Highway took us to Sunset Beach and The Pipe. Essentially, where they hold the pro world surfing championships conveniently located on a wallpaper worthy beach. Seriously, I think if you Google ‘beach wallpaper’ this beach is the first photo that comes up.
The North Shore of O’ahu is a lot more laid back, but ironically more pretentious than the touristy areas. Mention Waikiki up there and your mouth will be washed out and purified with North Shore ocean water. Despite not loving the overall scenery as much, the North Shore had many good things to over. Most of these things came in the form of food. Bless the Gods that created Ted’s Bakery because their pie is one of the nicest things I’ve ever tasted. I got to eat pumpkin pie, guys! I don’t know how they make a vegetable taste so sweet (probably a tonne of sugar, it’s America, let’s be honest) but it was delicious. We also had tacos and quesadillas from a food truck with the best homemade salsa ever, tried freshly caught garlic shrimp prawns, ate at a vegetarian cafe that poops all over Veggie Bar in Melbourne and drank iced tea brewed on site at a produce farm we visited. In Waikiki, I ate the best udon I’ll probably consume outside of Japan, ate far too many burgers, indulged in shave ice (aka a massive snow cone), and ate at an Australian restaurant twice because sometimes you just want some vegemite on toast and a decent cup of coffee.
As much as I am happy to be back at home and into the routine of the crazy that is currently my life, Hawaii will always hold a very special place in my heart. Cheers to all the cool people I met on my travels. The banter alone has inspired me to travel again sooner rather than later. In particular, a shoutout to the Melbourne crew in room 200.
And the one thing I’ll never forget? The magical lights beaming from people’s houses as they crept up into the crevices of the mountain ranges.