A vacation should, practically by definition, help the traveler be happy. Hawaii has happiness in abundance; the sunshine, the beaches, the adventure, and especially the culture of Hawaii seems to engender happiness.
There’s a scene near the beginning of the movie “City Slickers,” in which the main character’s wife tells him to “go find his smile.” When I first saw City Slickers, I giggled at how treacly that line was, but now I’m an adult — I get it. Sometimes, the busy mundanities of work and home catch up with us. Billy Crystal went to a dude ranch to find his smile (dragged by a horse, he yelled, “I’m on vacation!”). I go to Hawaii.
The Big Island: The easternmost of the island chain is also its most geologically varied; travelers have been known to ski on Mauna Kea in the morning and surf off Kona side of the Big Island in the afternoon (seriously advanced surfers prefer to go to Peahi off the northern coast).
The Big Island has interesting monuments that are accessible to travelers. Captain Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay reminds us of the good and the bad that came with non-natives exploration of the South Pacific islands. While the bay is surrounded by cliffs, outdoorsy hikers reach it and the rest of us get there by boat. Catamarans make daily snorkel tour trips to Kealakua, generally regarded as the best snorkel spot on Kona side. Petroglyphs abound. And, of course, Kilauea, Hawaii’s most active volcano.
Maui: This island is consistently ranked at the top of travel lists as being one of the best tropical island vacation destinations in the world. It’s probably the easiest “first” Hawaiian island for many travelers, as much of Maui is built around making life happy for tourists. My children learned how to snorkel in Maui, in the gentle surf off Wailea Beach’s Fairmont Kea Lani.
The Road to Hana, Haleakala National Park, Iao Needle and Valley — they are all spectacular. Maui is much more than a family friendly tropical island. More intrepid soft adventure travelers are also very happy with vacations here. Memories of some of our happiest family vacations are on Maui, but there were enough honeymooners having romantic getaways there to indicate that it’s much, much more than a family vacation island.
Lanai: I haven’t been to Lanai (or Molokai, for that matter), but my fellow Vacation Gal loved its rustic charms and off-the-beaten-track feel. She had very happy travel times there, hiking and and exploring Lanai by jeep.
Oahu: Oahu is the most cosmopolitan of the main Hawaiian islands, and the most heavily populated. Honolulu and especially Waikiki can be crowded and bustling. This isn’t for everyone, but shoppers go crazy for the wide range of stores at Ala Moana Center and the tourist traps along Kalakaua Avenue.
Head north, or northwest, and see that Oahu is more than just one big Waikiki Beach area. The North Shore is where LOST was filmed, it’s obviously got undeveloped areas along with the famous Turtle Bay Resort — and Ko Olina, on the west side, is home to wonderful Ihilani Resort & Spa — this is a luxury resort area that will grow in popularity once Disney’s Aulani Resort & Spa opens. Swimming with wild dolphins off the coast of Oahu was one of my happiest travel experiences in recent years.
Kauai: Mark Twain called Waimea Canyon the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” and its lush green cliffs and canyons add to the natural wonders of Kauai. It’s hard to imagine a trip to this westermost Hawaiian island without exploring at least some of this incredible place.
What Waimea Canyon has that travelers may want to be prepared for, is plenty of rain. It has to: All those mountains and valleys of gorgeous, lush rainforest don’t get that way without rain. Kauai has the lovely, wonderful sunny south side of the island (Poipu Beach is here) and wetter interior. What it also has, I’m beginning to suspect, is whatever ingredients I need to make me utterly, absolutely happy.
Mark Twain was as impressed by Hawaii’s tropical beauty as am I. The orator also said, “wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.” On National Smile Month, it’s nice to take some time to reflect on where our smiles have been. The birthing center of a hospital, the Empire State Building Observatory, in the audience of the elementary school talent show, in a small cafe in Paris…my smiles have all been there. But the smiles I remember most, right now, are those that came from being in Hawaii. It is, simply, my happy place.
Every month a group of (happy) expert travel bloggers converge on a single topic. It being National Smile Month, here are some other links to make you smile.
Wanderlust and Lipstick: Best Books on Bhutan
Wandering Educators: Moving Overseas Will Make You Smile
Spot Cool Stuff: The World’s Best Chocolate Shops
Traveling with MJ: Travel Makes Me Smile
Ciao Bambino: Hunting for the Best Ice Cream