Don't be a 'Twonk'

More than simply a tourist, I consider myself a traveler who respects the rules, guidelines, the local culture of the place I am visiting. 

As much as I’d wanted to, I didn’t feed the wild animals at Yellowstone National Park or the cute sparrows hoping to catch a crumb at outdoor eating areas. I abstained from pocketing beautiful petrified rocks at Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park. I also don’t pick beautiful flowers from botanical gardens just because I thought they’d be lovely in my room.

Following rules and guidelines didn’t make my vacation experience any less wonderful or memorable. 

As someone who was born and raised in the islands, I do the same thing. I follow the same rules and guidelines and respect the island culture.

As a fellow traveler and local, I ask that everyone—travelers and residents—do the same.

Don’t touch Hawaiian monk seals or get on top of Hawaiian green sea turtles that rest on the beach (they’re a protected species!). Don’t litter the landscape with your trash. Don’t climb over barricades or disregard warning signs placed for your own protection at places like Halona Blowhole or Haiku Stairs. Don’t take rocks from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; if you do, you’ll learn your lesson the hard way. 

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. There are a lot of “don’ts,” but they won’t stop you from enjoying your experiences. Getting slapped with a fine, getting sucked into a blowhole, needing to be rescued from a hiking trail or experiencing pure bad luck upon returning home, will. 

I love photography and subscribe to UK-based professional photographer and youtuber Thomas Heaton. He recently visited Hawaii Island to capture the ever-changing lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. As all good photographers do, he went early to find a good spot in order to set up his camera and shoot as the sun was setting. During the outing, however, he became a bit irritated because of tourists who had crossed over the safety ropes to get their own shot; they effectively blocked the view for Heaton and other travelers. I would have reacted the same way. Other photographers, other travelers, would have felt the same. 

When Heaton politely asked the tourists to move out of the way, they did. Then along came our hero, the park ranger, to move others to the safe side of the safety rope.

Here’s why:

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park sent out a press release the other day regarding a newly established lava viewing area following a two-day closure caused by a large lava delta collapse on December 31. 

This collapse was preceded by a group of five tourists who had ignored rangers and warning signs, and had slipped under the safety rope into a closed area along the coast. Two park rangers had to chase after them and made them turn around—15 minutes before the area they were standing on collapsed into the ocean. Close call, I’d say, which would have been a disaster for them and their families.

Scientists from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory estimate that nearly all of the 26-acre lava delta is now gone along with more than four acres of older coastal cliff area that included the former lava viewing site.

People who choose to ignore warning signs and the people meant to safeguard them not only endanger themselves, but the lives of those whose responsibility it is to keep them away from danger. 


Eruption crew rangers work to reestablish the Kamokuna lava viewing site. NPS Photo / Janice Wei.

Eruption crew rangers work to reestablish white safety ropes at the Kamokuna viewing area. NPS Photo / Janice Wei.


As Heaton would say, don’t be a “twonk” and disrespect the location, your fellow travelers and the guidelines meant for your own protection.

Here’s to a safe, fun and twonk-less Hawaii experience!

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