When it comes to travel, I don’t believe in half measures. If you’re on a safari, go to the Serengeti. If you’re on a pilgrimage, go to the Holy Land. And if you’re on a honeymoon, go to Hawaii.
Our Hawaii honeymoon was originally scheduled for June 2020. Unfortunately, due to an unforeseen global pandemic, it had to be postponed. But this summer, two weeks after vaccination, we finally made it. We had to get tested for COVID-19 first (despite being vaccinated); we had to wear masks on a 12-hour flight; and we had to get tested, again, before flying to another island. But, to reiterate the main point: we finally made it.
We landed in Honolulu, Hawaii’s biggest and most tourist-ridden city, on the island of Oahu. Yes, even during COVID, swarms of tourists (us included) filled overpriced restaurants and teeming beaches. But though tourists deserve scorn when we’re loud and we crowd, we also all deserved a vacation: the recent college graduates, the golden anniversary celebrants, and, yes, the delayed honeymooners.
In Honolulu, we were impressed by the vistas of Diamond Head, an extinct volcano overlooking the ocean; the majesty of Iolani Palace, home of Hawaii’s tragic last monarchs; and the history of Pearl Harbor, where a memorial rests over a sunken battleship. On Oahu’s east side, we were impressed by the wonder of Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, 400 acres of Jurassic-style nature; the harmony of the Byodo-In Temple, a Buddhist shrine set against cloud-capped mountains; and the sublimity of giant sea turtles, the sight of which should (but sadly doesn’t) confer instant COVID immunity.
As I mentioned, we were tourists, so we also made leis (to complement our aloha wear), went to a tiki bar (where, due to the pandemic, dancing was forbidden), and attended a luau (beachside dinner theatre). As, at the luau, a half-naked Tongan juggled fire, we too juggled culture, nature, and kitsch in spite of danger, with some success.
After our second nose swab, we took a short flight to Maui, where the main evening activity is sitting on the beach watching the sunset. And for good reason. The sun does not stream on demand. It does not adjust its radiance based on an algorithm tracking your attention span. It shows up when it wants to show up, how it wants to show up, and demands your awe as it casts amber rays over black volcanic rock and crashing waves. As it should be.
At the northern tip of Maui, up a narrow and winding road, is an attraction to rival the sun: the Nakalele Blowhole. A warning sign says don’t get too close or you’ll be sucked in. By all means, don’t gaze into the hole; but you should hike down the rocks so you’re level with the water. Only there, and not from the “safe distance,” will you see rainbows magically appear each time the hole shoots water. There’s a lesson here, applicable to a pandemic, about taking calculated risks; but I won’t press the point.
No trip to Maui is complete without a spin on the Road to Hana. The Road to Hana, stretching down the island’s east coast, is a succession of hairpin turns, one-lane bridges, and breathtaking views. Yes, you’ll feel like you’re going to die at times; but that only makes you feel more alive when you hike to the bottom of a waterfall, stare up at a rainbow eucalyptus tree, circuit an ancient Haiwaiian temple, and lay down on a black-sand beach. Just make sure you leave enough time to drive back before nightfall, because that going-to-die feeling goes best with peak visibility.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the two abandoned Tim Hortons I spotted in the south of Maui. How did the flag-hugging, Hamilton-spawned Canadian coffee chain make it to the middle of the Pacific Ocean? I don’t know, but it was a welcome reminder of my hometown when I was about as far from home as I could be. That will be my next, more modest trip.
Ben Shragge is the digital editor of the HJN. He currently lives in Boston.