There’s no doubt about it—Hawaiʻi is an island paradise known for its verdant landscape and sprawling, sunny beaches. But there’s a lot more to these tropical islands than meets the eye. If you’re a first-time visitor to Hawaiʻi, you may find yourself surprised and slightly confused by the reality of the paradise you’re visiting. Here are seven things to know before you make the trek across the Pacific:
1. Each island is different
Whatever your impressions of traditional Hawaiʻi may be, they likely vary island to island—this is because each island is so different! While Oʻahu is bustling and urban, Kauaʻi operates at a much slower, more laid back pace. And while the Big Island is home to an active volcano, on Maui you’ll find Haleakalā, where thousands of visitors and residents flock daily to watch the most spectacular sunrise and sunsets. Before booking your flight, do your research to determine which island is right for you. You may even want to consider visiting more than one to get a better sense of everything Hawaiʻi has to offer.
2. Familiarize yourself with lei etiquette
Upon arrival to the islands, you may notice people being greeted with lei, or floral garland. A lei greeting is a warm sign of affection and a means of welcoming visitors into a new place. And while it may look like a common practice, there is a certain etiquette that should be followed when giving and receiving lei. If you’re a first-time visitor and offered a lei, always accept it, as refusing a lei is viewed as disrespectful. As the lei presenter is placing the lei over your shoulders, he/she may embrace you in a hug or with a kiss; this is common practice, so don’t be alarmed! If you suffer from a flower allergy, you may politely remove the lei while offering your aplogy and explanation. PC: Sea Life Park.
3. Get ready to embrace SPAM (you have no choice)
While the flavor, texture and concept of SPAM may not be for everyone, it’s actually one of the most common and beloved foods in Hawaiʻi. Whether placed between pressed rice and nori in a musubi or found on a breakfast platter accompanied by scrambled eggs, SPAM certainly has a special place in Hawaiʻi’s heart.
If you’re visiting Hawaiʻi for the first time, you may be shocked by the state’s love affair with this canned meat. There’s even a special SPAM JAM event held every year in Waikīkī! But with all exotic foods, don’t knock it till you try it—Hawaiʻi’s take on SPAM may just surprise (and delight) you.
4. Understand the history and culture of hula
Hula is an iconic Hawaiian art form and traditional dance of Hawaiʻi. It’s played a vital role in Hawaiʻi’s distinctive culture since ancient times and boasts multiple origin stories. And while no one can definitively say when and how it first originated, there’s no denying that hula has one of the longest lifespans of any cultural artform. PC: HTA / Tor Johnson.
Fortunately, you don’t have to look very far to experience this dance that’s unique to Hawaiʻi. No matter which island you’re visiting, you’re likely to find a shopping center, museum, lūʻau or community show that offers an authentic weekly hula performance (and usually for free!). Visit our events page to stay up to date on hula happenings across the islands.
5. Learn the lingo
Living in such a cultural melting pot, residents of Hawaiʻi are often thought to share their own unique language beyond simply “Hawaiian.” Many locals speak a mix of English and Pidgin, a creole language based on English and Hawaiian. They also have their own unique slangs that you won’t hear anywhere else. Hawaiian words like aloha (hello, goodbye and love), mahalo (thank you) and ohana (family) and slang like “slippas” (slippers, or “flip flops”) and “howzit” (how’s it going) may quickly become familiar to your ears…and you may even start saying them yourself!
6. Dress for all weather conditions
Situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaiʻi boasts a tropical environment with lots of atmospheric changes. While most first-time visitors think of Hawaiʻi as hot and sunny, the islands also see their fair share of rain, humidity and (in certain places) even snow! Locals know all too well that Hawaiʻi weather is unpredictable, so dress for all contingencies! Carry an umbrella or rain jacket, even if you see cloudless blue skies from your hotel room. You never know when the weather may turn for the worse. PC: HTA / Tor Johnson.
7. Read up on Hawaiʻi’s royal history
More than any state in the nation, Hawaiʻi boasts a rich, regal and complex history unknown to those who are unfamiliar with the 50th state. Before traveling to Hawaiʻi, spend some time researching everything from Hawaiʻi’s aliʻi to the melting pot of cultures that thrive here today. Don’t worry—no one’s going to quiz you. But by keeping yourself informed of the rich aspects of Hawaiʻi’s history, you’re sure to appreciate these beautiful islands even more as you spend your days exploring.