Over-Tourism and Tourists Behaving Badly- What You Can Do to Help

It seems like there is no end to sight to the stories about travelers behaving badly around the world. Recently, fed-up residents and business owners in Kyoto, Japan’s Gion-Shinbashi district joined together to form a “scenery preservation” committee to combat issues such “half-naked hikers, trespassing travellers and prolonged photo shoots.” Tourists have been caught kicking and destroying parts of caves all over the world including Thailand and the Caribbean that took thousands of years to form. An English family touring New Zealand behaved so badly they were eventually deported. Sadly, these are just a few examples but there are many more.

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Hobbiton in New Zealand. I found New Zealand to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I can’t imagine behaving so badly I got deported like the English family recently did.

Every summer there are news reports of tourists getting injured by animals at national parks in the United States. In Yellowstone National Park, officials say bison have injured more people in Yellowstone than any other animal. Wanting to get that “perfect” selfie with a wild animal, some people think nothing of standing beside a bison or even a bear, then they seem to be bewildered when the animal actually charges at them. So much trash and debris (like coins) has been thrown into some of the natural pools at Yellowstone National Park that they may never fully recover.

All of this really shouldn’t be too surprising. With lower airfares and easier access to countries comes more and more tourists, which increases the likelihood of improper behavior and over-tourism. Many places including Japan have recently implemented exit taxes to help with tourist infrastructure. Venice already has a tourist tax on hotels but recently started charging 11 Euros for day visitors to help with things like waste management. Tourist taxes are nothing new. Countries all over Europe, the Ukraine, and Asia have been charging extra fees to tourists for quite some time.

Beyond charging tourists extra fees, some places have started limiting the number of tourists per day. Beijing, the Galapagos Islands, the Seychelles, and Barcelona are among the growing list of places with limits on the number of visitors allowed per day. Not only are cities and islands limiting visitors, though. The Taj Mahal began limiting the number of visitors per day after a stampede occurred there in 2017.

At overcrowded Machu Picchu, the Peruvian government is actually increasing the number of daily maximum visitors to 5,940 people, which is more than double the number recommended by UNESCO. However, with the new system, people will be spread throughout the day by having timed visits either during the morning or afternoon. Previously, people could stay all day and weren’t required to have a guide the entire time. Now it is thought that it will be easier for guards to monitor visitors’ behavior.

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Machu Picchu in Peru

Cruise ships are often a huge part of the problem. This is especially a problem in Venice, Dubrovnik, and Santorini when these relatively small areas get flooded with hundreds or thousands of visitors at once coming from cruise ships. These areas have begun putting caps on the number of cruise ships that are allowed to dock per day and/or the number of visitors from cruise ships that are allowed to enter. They have also begun to move or limit places like souvenir shops and restaurants aimed specifically at tourists.

Some United States national parks are also over-crowded at the more popular destinations (like the Grand Canyon National Park and Zion National Park for example, two of the most-visited parks). There has been talk of timed entries into some of the parks but not much has been implemented so far. Parking and traffic congestion is just one of many problems in places like Yosemite National Park and Arches National Park.

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Bryce Canyon in March is absolutely stunning (with far less crowds too)!

What can you do to help?

Respect the land and people where you are visiting. Don’t litter, don’t write on anything not meant to be written on, don’t talk loudly at a religious site or take photos where it’s not appropriate, don’t take anything that you didn’t carry in when you came, and keep a safe distance from all animals in nature. In other words, respect other people’s property and the land, structures, animals, and nature you are lucky enough to be visiting.

Avoid the high season. I can’t emphasize this enough. A big part of the over-crowding problem is people traveling during the summer months. However, many places are cheaper, less crowded, and can even be more beautiful during the shoulder season or off-season. I fully understand that some people can only travel during the busy summer months due to family and/or work schedules. We do what we can.

Shop and eat at local establishments. This benefits local residents and helps the local economy. The food is often better too (compared to large chain restaurants, in my opinion).

Often large groups traveling together seem to cause concern and problems for locals, so the remedy for this is simply to limit the number of people you travel with, especially in heavily-touristed areas.

Go off the beaten path so instead of going to the packed beaches in the Philippines and Thailand, go to lesser-known beaches. Instead of going to Dubrovnik, go to Zadar or the island of Vis. Instead of going to Italy, go to Malta. Sure, many people still want to visit iconic places like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but if you also visit some lesser-known places instead of spending all of your time in that one over-touristed place, you may find you prefer them to the more popular touristy places.

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Malta, a cheaper, less-crowded alternative to Italy has beautiful beaches, amazing ruins, and delicious food!

Book a tour with a reputable eco-conscious company that will show you off-the-beaten path places that are equally if not more beautiful than the popular places.

Full disclaimer- I’m going to visit Machu Picchu later this year but will be doing so with a tour company that came highly recommended for their involvement with the community and treatment of their workers among other things. Also, I’ll be taking one of the lesser-known routes to get to the ruins. My point in bringing this up is to say you can still visit these places and not add to the problem if you do so in an ecologically-aware way. And have some respect. Respecting others and the environment around us is something we should always be doing, not just when we’re traveling.

What are your thoughts on tourists behaving badly and/or over-tourism? Any good stories you have to share? Any tips you have to pass along?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

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Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, North Carolina

I recently had the pleasure of attending a wedding at Duke Gardens in Durham, North Carolina. Duke Gardens is part of Duke University’s campus. For those of you not familiar with Duke University, it’s a private university founded by Methodists and Quakers in the present-day town of Trinity in 1838, and the school moved 70 miles to Durham in 1892. Duke University is filled with old stone buildings and is beautiful to walk around especially when all of the flowers and trees are in bloom during the spring.

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For someone like me, Duke Gardens is a place where I can easily spend hours walking around, but then I love botanical gardens. I’ve traveled to far-away places like the Canary Islands and have seen some stunning gardens around the world but Duke Gardens has to be on my top 10 list of best gardens I’ve been to. These are gardens that are beautiful regardless of the season because some areas might not be in bloom but others will be and there are enough evergreens and water areas that even in the dead of winter it would still be a wonderful place to visit.

Technically named the “Sarah P. Duke Gardens,” they consist of five miles of of allées, walks, and pathways throughout the gardens on 55 acres of landscaped and wooded areas within Duke University’s campus. Building of the gardens officially began in 1934 when a faculty member Dr. Frederick Moir Hanes convinced Sarah P. Duke to contribute $20,000 towards flowers in a ravine there. Unfortunately tens of thousands of flowers that were planted were washed away and destroyed by heavy rains and the gardens were destroyed at the time of Sarah P. Duke’s death in 1936. Dr. Hanes persuaded Mrs. Duke’s daughter to pay for a new garden on higher ground as a memorial to her mother. This time, the gardens were a success and today bring visitors from around the world to enjoy them.

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Duke Gardens is divided into a few different sections:  Historic Gardens, Doris Duke Center and Gardens, H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, and W.L. Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. Within each of these areas you’ll find everything from bridges to bogs to butterfly gardens and other specific gardens. There’s also the Terrace Shop where you can find Duke Gardens wall calendars, note cards, postcards and mugs along with plants and other garden supplies like plant stakes and decorative containers. You can also buy sandwiches and other snacks at the Terrace Cafe.

The gardens are enormous so you can easily spend a few hours here just walking around. My favorite areas are the Historic Gardens with all of the bulbs flowering, the row of cherry trees at the entrance, and the W.L. Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. The Asian-themed bridges are beautiful and I loved all of the details like handrails made out of bamboo.

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Finally, you can arrange walking tours or trolley tours on certain days and times (check the website here) for $10 per person and they typically last 1 to 1.5 hours. The grounds are open 365 days a year from 8 am to dusk and admission is free for a self-guided tour. If you park at the closest lot, you have to pay either $1 or $2 per hour depending on the time of year, but there is a free parking lot on the corner of Yearby Avenue and Anderson Street at the Duke University H Lot, about a 5 minute walk from the gardens.

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Oh, and I can’t forget to mention Duke University Chapel, which you can also walk to from Duke Gardens. The chapel was built from 1930 to 1932 in the Collegiate Gothic style and stands 210 feet tall. There are often concerts and events going on, which you have to purchase a ticket for, or you won’t be allowed to enter the chapel, so check the website here. You can also take free docent-led tours of the chapel that take approximately 45 minutes. Tours do not include access to the Chapel tower, which is unavailable to the public.

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Do you love botanical gardens like I do? Do you have favorite ones you’ve been to?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

Which Hawaiian Island is Right for You?

So far, I’ve been to four Hawaiian islands on three separate occasions:  Maui once, Hawaii (a.k.a. the Big Island) twice, Kauai twice, and Oahu once. I’m by far no expert on Hawaiian islands but I would like to share my experiences for people who have never been to Hawaii because I have gotten some questions. Hawaii is a popular bucket-list place for many people, so when they go, they want to make sure they’re going to be happy with their decision.

First and foremost, the most important question is which island should you go to? There are six islands that tourists can visit. In addition to the ones I listed above, there’s also Lanai and Molokai. Lanai is mostly (97% as of 2012) owned by former Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who wants to keep the island remote and luxurious. There are a couple of hotels, a few golf courses, and no traffic lights. People come here for rest and relaxation. Molokai, is almost the antithesis of Lanai, with no five-star luxury hotels. Half the population is of native Hawaiian heritage. This destination is ideal for adventure seekers, history buffs and those who want to experience old Hawaii, pre-1959.

Maui is the second-most visited island, and is best known for its beaches. You can drive the super-curvy Road to Hana, to see the rain-soaked side of the island. Another popular activity is to watch the sunrise from the Haleakala National Park. You can go with a group and cycle down the volcano or just drive there on your own and skip the bicycle tour if you have a rental car. Many people honeymoon in Maui and there’s even a phrase that you were “Mauied” if you got married in Maui. There’s no shortage of things to do, but Maui tends to get a bit touristy especially in Lahaina and Kaanapali Beach.

Oahu is the most-visited island and home to the state capital Honolulu. This island is best for couples, families and groups of friends seeking culture, entertainment and great food. There is a huge range of things to do from active pursuits like hiking, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, or taking tours of historical sites like Pearl Harbor and the Iolani Palace. Don’t think your only option is to stay at crowded Waikiki Beach, as there are many options on other parts of the island that aren’t so over-run with tourists.

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Oahu from Diamond Head State Monument

Kauai is known as the Garden Isle, and is perfect for those that enjoy getting out in nature. Hawaii’s best hiking trails can be found on Kauai, such as the famous 11-mile Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast. There are many other parks around Waimea Canyon, called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, where you can find trails of varying lengths and difficulty. Poipu in the south shore is fantastic for snorkeling and swimming year-round.

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Waimea Canyon in Kauai

Hawaii Island is also called the Big Island and is larger than all of the other islands combined. The world’s most active volcano, Kilauea, is here, as well as 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones. The Big Island is ideal for people who love hiking, families of all sizes and ages, and those that want to explore all that this beautiful island has to offer (in other words, everyone!). Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a place you definitely want to visit as well as Waipio Valley. You’ll find black sand beaches and probably spot some turtles here.

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A black rocky beach on the Big Island

I suggest combining a couple of islands for a vacation that’s longer than a week. If you can only stay up to seven days, just choose one island and see and do all that you can in that time. If you have ten days or more, you can comfortably see two islands. I personally like to spend a week on one island and five days on another island. With flight times, you’re looking at basically two weeks. For ten days, I would divide up the time equally as five days on one island and five days on the other, assuming it’s your first time to Hawaii.

Flights between islands are cheap and often but do still take up a chunk of your time, between getting to the airport early, going through security, flight time, and getting back out of the airport and to wherever your destination is for your second island. Most inter-island flights go through Oahu, too, so you may have a short layover en-route to your  destination island. There are only two inter-island passenger ferries in Hawaii. The Molokai Ferry departs twice daily from Lahaina, Maui, to the nearby island of Molokai, and takes about 90 minutes. The Maui-Lanai Expeditions Ferry departs five times a day from Lahaina, reaching Manele Bay on Lanai in 45 minutes.

That about covers the basics for Hawaiian islands. If you have any other questions or comments, I’d love to hear them! Share your Hawaiian experiences with me and others here as well!

For posts on my recent vacation to Hawaii, you can read about Kauai here:  Rediscovering Kauai, Hawaii and Some of My Favorite Things and about Oahu here:  My First Time in Oahu, Hawaii- Even Better than Expected.

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the Worst Travel Advice I’ve Ever Heard

We’ve all gotten bad advice from other seemingly well-meaning people. People just love giving out advice, which can be a good thing when things turn out well, but when it’s bad advice, of course we all wish we never would have followed the advice. Over the years I’ve either personally gotten bad travel advice or heard others giving it out, including everywhere from in person to podcasts to blogs to social media. It seems like everyone likes to give out advice on all things travel-related. Here are some of the most memorable pieces of bad advice I’ve either received or heard given to others.

“You should leave your child at home when you travel. They’re too young to appreciate it anyway.” When I asked my daughter in an interview for my blog, “What would you say to parents who say their child is too young to appreciate a place?” She replied, “That’s not true. Even if they don’t remember it later, they’ll still enjoy it in their own way when they visit it.” Appreciation is an extremely personal and difficult to define abstract thing anyway. Who’s to say that a 2 year old boy doesn’t appreciate an art museum just because he can’t properly vocalize his feelings. Just because he’s cranky doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy what’s before him. Perhaps it’s simply that he’s hungry or tired. Even an adult may not appreciate something that another would find beauty in but you don’t hear anyone tell another adult not to travel or go somewhere because they won’t appreciate it. I once heard someone say about Yosemite, “What’s the big deal anyway? It’s just a bunch of rocks and trees.” Let that one sink in for a moment.

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I’m sure there are people that would say The Grand Canyon is just a big hole in the ground

“Bring the two biggest suitcases you can check with the airline without paying extra for weight so you can bring more stuff.” There are so many things wrong with that statement to me, but I’ll just refer you to my blog post on packing light, which you can read here:  Never Check a Bag with an Airline Again.

“Wait until you retire to go to places outside the United States.” My thinking on this is the following, what if something happens to my health between now and when I retire and I’m not able to get around as easily as now or I can’t physically fly for long distances?  It’s far and away easier to travel when you’re younger for many reasons like jet lag is harder to deal with the older you get, many people have mobility issues when they get older, some rental car agencies won’t rent cars to people 70 years of age or older, many people have health issues that require them to see their multitude of doctors sometimes as often as every week, and the list goes on. Travel when you’re young, people. Don’t wait or it might never happen.

“Just fly with your infant in your lap as long as she’s under 2 years old since it’s free.” I’ve flown both with my daughter in my lap and I’ve paid for a seat for her before she was two years old and technically I wouldn’t have had to if I would have had her in my lap for the flight. My rule of thumb for this is if it’s a short flight (say 2 hours or less), it should be fine to hold them but for a long flight and certainly for an international flight, you and your baby will be more comfortable with their own seat. That’s not to say you can’t still hold your baby at times but when you need a break, like to eat or drink, go to the restroom, or just to give yourself a break, if your child doesn’t have their own seat, either you or your companion (if you’re traveling with one) will have to hold your child for the entire duration of the flight. Just know that most airlines recommend always purchasing a seat for your child primarily because of turbulence.

“Why travel to Japan (insert other countries here as well like Germany, Norway, etc.) when you can just go to Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center and experience the country there? In place of Epcot, I’ve also heard this about Las Vegas in regard to some of the themed casinos like Paris, in other words, Why go to Paris when you can just go to the Paris casino and hotel in Las Vegas.” This is obviously spoken by people who don’t travel much. Seriously, anyone who thinks going to the Italian section of Epcot Center in Florida is like visiting the country of Italy is sorely mistaken. Yes, you’ll find “Italian” food and “Italian” scenery, but it’s all Walt Disney’s version of what Italy should look like and the food should taste like. I’m sorry but I would take some food from a street vendor in Italy over the over-priced Americanized food in the Italian section of Epcot Center any day!

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The Venetian in Las Vegas is nice but I’d rather go to the real Venice myself!

“You should let a travel agent plan everything for you. That’s what I always do.” When I started planning my vacation to Peru, I thought of this and how I’ve heard it before. I’ve been planning vacations for my family completely by myself for about 15 years so this is nothing new for me, but Peru is one of the most difficult vacations I’ve planned for my family simply because of logistics in the country. For example, the conditions of the roads and the amount of crime in certain areas make it not so easy or even recommended to rent a car, so I’ve had to figure out alternate ways to get around. Of course people in their twenties just take buses all over Peru but I’m a bit older than that and honestly don’t really want to be crammed in a bus on someone else’s schedule for hours on end. Long story short, I’ve figured it out on my own but it did take some time. With all of the resources available online (some good, some bad information so read it all thoroughly) there’s really no reason why anyone can’t plan their own vacations. My advice is to start small and work your way up from there so don’t go and plan a three week trip to the Amazon rainforest if it’s the first trip you’ve ever planned by yourself. It’s like everything else, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

“It’s better to try to go to multiple countries instead of just one or two when you travel internationally. In fact, I always try to squeeze in as many places as I can.” I know many people, all Americans, who do this all the time. They don’t just go to Italy, but they go to Italy, France, and England. In one week. Maybe that sounds great to some people but that sounds a bit frenetic to me. When I travel, I prefer to spend more time in a country to get more of a feel for it and to be able to relax, rather than just hitting the “hot spots” like Paris, Rome, and London on a whirlwind tour. Of course that means I have less countries to brag about where I’ve been, but I’m OK with that. Sometimes it’s easy to cross the border and combine countries but in general, for me, slow travel is the way to go.

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When I went to Chile, I just went to Chile not Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina!

“An hour will be plenty of time for a layover in Madrid coming from the United States.” I was told this one by an Iberian airline agent over the phone when I called about changing my flight after I was notified of a change in flight times by the airline a couple of months before departure. Of course I highly doubted this was true and should have trusted my gut instinct, but I listened to the agent and of course I missed the next flight. There’s no way you can get through customs and get to your next gate in one hour at a big airport like Aeropuerto Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas and probably not for any airport in the world unless your gate is right next to where you come out of customs and you get extremely lucky!

What about you guys? What bad travel advice have you received?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Running in Kauai and Oahu Hawaii

If you follow my blog, you probably know I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states and am up to 46 half marathons in 44 states. Hawaii was actually the second state I ran a race in, Kona Marathon and Half Marathon, Hawaii-2nd state, so no, I didn’t run a half marathon in Hawaii this time. I have now run on four different Hawaiian islands, though, and I thoroughly enjoyed running on every one of them.

I often run when I’m on vacation, especially if I’m training for a race. Since I have a half marathon coming up in May and am thus in training mode, I knew I would be running while on vacation in Hawaii the end of February and first part of March. Sometimes I’ll look online beforehand to try to figure out the best running route but since I knew I’d be in Kauai for a week, I decided to just see what my choices were when I got there. I should have known better.

The first day I ran in Kauai things didn’t go so well. I just started off from my hotel and started running along a walking trail between the hotel and beach but ended up hitting dead-end after dead-end and ultimately ended up running along a busy 2-lane road on the way back to my hotel. I looked up Google maps to find a running trail and found one less than a mile from where I was staying (near Kapaa). This was the Ke Ala Hele Makalae multiuse trail and it turned out to be absolutely perfect.

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The Path that Goes by the Coast

Ke Ala Hele Makalae is Hawaiian for “The Path that Goes by the Coast,” and it hugs the eastern shoreline for about 7 miles in two segments that will eventually be connected and the path will ultimately go for 17 miles when completed. This is an asphalt/concrete rail-trail that partially follows a former railroad line once used to haul the island’s sugarcane. One section connects Lydgate Park to Wailua Beach Park, and the rest links Kapa’a to Ahihi Point. There is a 2-mile gap between the two segments (between Wailua Beach Park and Kapa’a), which you can bridge via road although the road is busy and the shoulder is narrow.

I ended up running the Ke Ala Hele Makalae trail on four mornings while I was in Kauai and I have to say after the first day, I looked forward to running there on later days. I’ve always loved running along a coastline where I have views of the ocean as well as rocky formations and sandy beaches and this trail had all that and more (like feral cats and chickens!). It was a bit crowded at times but not enough to bother or hinder me in any way. There isn’t any shade either so be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat and bring some hydration with you.

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I saw dozens of feral cats and chickens when running in Kauai!

Logistics:  for the southern segment, parking and restrooms are available at the north end of Lydgate Park off Nalu Road. For the northern segment, parking and restrooms are available at Waipouli Beach Park at the Lihi Boat Ramp on Kaloloku Road, as well as at Kapaa Beach Park at the end of Niu Street.

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Ocean views like this made it easy to run in Kauai!

After spending a week running in Kauai it was time to fly to Oahu. I have to admit, I was a bit sad to lose my beautiful running route in Kauai but I looked forward to finding one just as good in Oahu. However, history repeated itself and my first run in Oahu didn’t go very well. I tried multiple ways to find a good running path near my Airbnb before I was supposed to run but despite all that, I once again ended up running along a busy 2-lane road. This time at least there were mountains all around to admire and keep me distracted. Still, I knew there had to be a better place to run.

I went back to my room and tried researching running trails in Oahu but all I could come up with were places near Waikiki or Honolulu. Since my plan all along was to spend as little time in Waikiki as possible, that wasn’t going to work. I needed to find a place to run either on the east side or northern part of the island. I didn’t want to have to drive 45 minutes each way just to reach a good running path either.

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Part of the North Shore Bike Trail in Oahu

Finally after much debate and attempts at researching trails suitable for running online, I stumbled upon the North Shore Bike Trail, which is about 2.6 miles long. I added this to Waimea Bay Beach Park and made it work although there were parts in-between where I ran along the road. The bike trail is shaded in parts and has views of beautiful Pupukea Beach and Shark’s Cove. My daughter and I ran here and we rarely saw other people on the trail so it certainly wasn’t crowded and I can’t imagine it ever really being crowded.

After doing more research, I found the Kawai Nui Hiking Trail that’s on the southeastern side of Oahu but read that it can get muddy and since it had been raining a lot recently I didn’t attempt it, but that’s another option. Close to Pearl Harbor is the Neal S. Blaisdell Park that has biking and running paths. Just be aware that there are many homeless people in the area so you wouldn’t want to run there by yourself or when it’s not daylight. I personally didn’t feel unsafe during the day, but I wasn’t by myself and it was during the day.

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Running by Shark’s Cove in Pupukea in Oahu

Although I enjoyed running in Hawaii, I know it’s not for everyone. To some people, it would be too hot but I seem to do better in warmer temperatures than most people (and worse in colder temperatures). Also, not everyone would want to run while on vacation, but I truly enjoy running and look forward to it rather than dread it. Besides, the scenery certainly helped get me motivated to get out the door!

How about you guys- do you think you’d like running in Hawaii or do you tend to not run while on vacation? Would it be too hot for you to run comfortably? If you do run on vacation, how do you find your running routes?

Happy running!

Donna

 

My First Time in Oahu, Hawaii- Even Better than Expected

Many months ago when my husband and I were discussing where we wanted to go during our daughter’s school break the end of February/first part of March, Hawaii came up. As much as I’m dying to go to Portugal, I want to wait until the weather is more ideal than it would be the end of February. Hawaii, on the other hand, has perfect weather year-round. The last time we were in Hawaii, which was the second time for each of us, we went to Kauai and the big island and these had become our collective favorite islands. I think it was assumed we would return to the big island and Kauai this time as well.

At the time of our trip planning, the big island was having its most recent massive volcanic eruption. Sections of the island were closed and the air quality was poor. I knew of course things wouldn’t always be like that but I had no idea how long the lingering effects would go on. For example, would Volcanoes National Park or parts of it be closed when we wanted to go there? How long would the poor air quality linger? Not really wanting to take a chance and perhaps being overly-cautious, I suggested maybe we should skip the big island but go to another island instead, along with Kauai. Perhaps we should go to Oahu; after all, Oahu is the most-visited of the Hawaiian islands.

Although he didn’t say as much, I could tell my husband was highly doubtful of my suggestion to go to Oahu. He had been to Oahu many years ago with his mother and sister and had been less than impressed. He tells stories of having to step over body after body on Waikiki Beach and only having barely enough room to put his towel down. Pretty much all he remembers doing on that vacation is going to Waikiki Beach multiple days, driving to the North Shore for the day, and taking a day trip to the big island.

Nonetheless, I began researching Oahu and talking to some co-workers who I knew had been to Oahu several times. I decided we would go to Kauai for a week and Oahu for four days. However, I was adamant that we wouldn’t stay in the Waikiki or Honolulu areas. When I found this gem of a place on Airbnb, I was sold. Since it’s actually part of Paradise Bay Resort, you get resort amenities (more on that later) and free breakfast through Airbnb. We would be staying on the east side of Oahu in a bay, close enough to drive to plenty of good places to hike and pretty much anywhere else on the island we wanted but far enough from the massive crowds to enjoy some peace and quiet.

Flying into Oahu, I immediately noticed the colors of the water seemed somehow prettier than the other islands. The turquoise was more vivid and there was more variation in colors. Then I saw the sprawl of Honolulu and all of the buildings, homes, and hotels crammed together and I was glad I had found the resort in Kaneohe Bay. After we landed and collected our rental car, we drove to the Crazy Shirts outlet and got some lunch nearby. Then we went up to the top of the Diamond Head State Monument and the fun really started.

Diamond Head State Monument is undoubtedly one of the most crowded places I’ve ever been to but absolutely worth it for the views. From the trailhead to the summit of Diamond Head Crater is 0.8 miles one way with 560 feet increase in elevation from the crater floor. There are hundreds of stairs and you go through a couple of tunnels. If you don’t like crowds or small spaces, I wouldn’t advise going here. However, if you don’t mind pushing your way through hordes of people (sometimes you literally have to do this), you’ll be rewarded with amazing views like this:

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View from top of Diamond Head State Monument
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Another view from Diamond Head showing the masses of people around but amazing views

For the rest of our time in Oahu, we mostly spent our time hiking but we also went to the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC). One thing we discovered about the PCC is that you don’t in fact have to buy a ticket to walk around the grounds if you get there after 6 pm. General admission ticket prices (which are the cheapest offered) are $64.95 for adults and this includes a visitor’s center tour, self-guided tour through six different themed areas (like New Zealand), hands-on activities, a canoe ride, a brief movie, and a canoe show. However, if you’re content to walk through the themed areas on your own for a couple of hours in the evening, you can do so for free. There are also options that you can add on things like a luau, reserved seating, an evening show, and on and on with the most-inclusive package priced at $242.95.

Another non-hiking activity we did in Oahu was visit the Byodo-In Temple in Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. The Byodo-In Temple is a non-practicing Buddhist temple often used for weddings, funerals, and cremation services. I found the temple and grounds to be beautiful and peaceful. There is also a small gift shop on-site.

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Byodo-In Temple

Some of our favorite hiking spots were Waimea Valley and Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park. Waimea Valley also has a botanical garden with thousands of different types of plants from around the world and a waterfall that you can swim in. This valley has historically been home to kings, chiefs, and high priests. You can see many archaeological sites throughout the valley. Admission for visiting adults is $16.95 and you can arrange for complimentary tours and activities depending on the day and time (check the website).

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A Looking Glass Tree at Waimea Valley (as Alice in Wonderland fans, my daughter and I loved seeing this)
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Waterfall at Waimea Valley

Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park was established to nurture and foster native Hawaiian cultural traditions and the cultural landscape of rural windward Oʻahu. Established as a “living park”, there are thirty-one families living in the ahupuaʻa of Kahana. These families assist with interpretive programs that share the Hawaiian values and lifestyle. There are two hiking trails available to the public, Kapa’ele’ele Ko’a and Keaniani Lookout Trail is a one mile long loop trail that begins at the Orientation Center and takes about one hour. The trail passes two cultural sites and offers stunning views of Kahana Bay. Nakoa Trail is named for the koa trees found along this 2.5 mile loop trail through a tropical rain forest. The loop hike takes about 2 hours. The total length of the hike is 5 miles from the Orientation Center.

My family and I are all about trails with views, so we chose the Kapa’ele’ele Ko’a and Keaniani Lookout Trail. As per our former experience with hiking trails in Hawaii, this one was extremely muddy and slippery in parts. The trail wasn’t too difficult other than navigating through the mud until we reached one of the viewpoints of the bay. At this point, the trail became what I would call pretty dangerous, with sharp drop-offs on both sides of a thin walkway. My husband went up that section to take some photos but I chose to stay behind until he came back and we went back the way we came. Also, if you go on this trail, wear bug-spray because we didn’t and got eaten alive by mosquitoes.

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View from Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park

The final thing we did in Oahu that was a ton of fun was to go standup paddleboarding for the first time. Remember that awesome Airbnb we stayed at- well, Paradise Bay Resort offers free standup paddleboarding and kayaking lessons once a day on certain days. After a quick lesson of what to do (it’s pretty simple, honestly) we began paddleboarding around the small body of water (I guess you’d call it an inlet) directly behind the resort. Once I felt confident on my knees, I stood and pretty quickly felt like I had the hang of it. However, the winds were really strong that day and every time I tried to go out into the bay, the wind would push me backwards. Finally, I decided to just stay in the inlet. There were mangroves and I could still see into the bay so it was still scenic.

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Standup paddleboarding!

On our final day in Oahu, we tried to go to the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout but unfortunately the Pali Highway was closed when we were there. All was not lost, though. We made our way to Leonard’s Bakery to try some famous malasadas, which are Portuguese donuts without the hole. For the three of us, we ordered two each with Li Hing, cinnamon sugar, and original coating but when I opened the box in the car, I discovered they had given us several extras. We also got some of the custard-filled ones and extra ones of the others as well- bonus!

We decided to walk along the harbor area of Honolulu before heading to the airport and it was a nice way to end our time in Oahu. I know I for one was very glad I decided to take a chance and come to Oahu and I feel pretty sure my family would agree! Since we’re not really ones to go where the crowds are (with some exceptions like Diamond Head in this case) but we prefer to go a bit off the beaten path, the windward side was perfect for us.

Have you been to Oahu? Did you stay in popular Waikiki or somewhere else? Tell me about your experience in Hawaii.

Happy travels!

Donna

Rediscovering Kauai, Hawaii and Some of My Favorite Things

I’ve been to the Hawaiian island of Kauai twice; the first time my daughter was almost 2 years old and more recently with my teenage daughter. I feel like the island remained pretty much unchanged in those eleven years with the exception of more traffic and people on the island. However, my experiences both times were vastly different.

The first time I went to Kauai I went with my husband and his parents (and as I mentioned our daughter) and I felt like I was just kind of along for the ride. My mother-in-law had been to Kauai before and pretty much set our itinerary for Kauai and also our time on the big island, which we combined for our 12-day vacation. At the time, I had no problems letting someone else plan what I did on vacation and I don’t remember really even looking up things to do.

We went to the pool at the resort, went to some beaches, a luau, my husband and I hiked in Waimea Canyon while my in-laws watched our daughter, and one day we drove up the coast to see Princeville and the surrounding area. Honestly, I don’t remember much from that vacation other than what I just typed here. Don’t get me wrong. I had a fantastic time but looking back I feel like it was all kind of a blur of beaches and swimming pools with the luau and Waimea Canyon mixed in.

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My family’s first time in Kauai

Flash-forward to my more recent vacation to Kauai and there are quite a few differences. This time the three of us hiked in Waimea Canyon State Park, hiked part of Sleeping Giant Trail, and Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail with a sweet dog we took on a field trip from the Kauai Humane Society. We snorkeled on our own and swam through schools of fish, saw a spiny lobster, crab, and colorful fish of all shapes and sizes. We crawled through a small opening to get to Makauwahi Cave. We went ziplining and even flew through the air superman style on some of the lines (some of us went upside-down on some of the lines). My daughter and I also ran together several days and were rewarded with ocean views, volcanic rock formations, and sandy beaches along the way. Oh, and we also went to a luau complete with delicious local foods, musicians, several different Polynesian dances, and a fire show.

We’re an active family when we’re at home so it’s not surprising that our vacations are also active. That’s a good thing too, with all of the shave ice we ate! This was the first time I had ever tried Hawaiian shave ice. I always just thought it was like a snow cone. Oh how wrong I was! There is a difference in the quality of shave ice, as I found out. The best kinds are hand-formed with macadamia nut ice cream or vanilla ice cream on the bottom, with two or three flavors that evenly saturate the shave ice from top to bottom and sweet cream poured on top. The ice cream on bottom and cream on top sometimes cost extra (depends on the place) but they’re absolutely worth it.

Here are some of my favorite things in Kauai:

Koloa Zipline Tours– 8 lines, some of which you can go head-first superman style, tandem, upside down, or traditional. Tour lasts about 3.5 hours and you get a snack and water on the tour. Our guides were laid-back but safety-conscious so I felt like everything was completely safe and secure. The last line is the longest, at about 0.5 mile, with views of the reservoir, farmland with cattle, and of course trees below.

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We were actually much higher up than it looks like here!

Makauwahi Cave Reserve– free guided tours or go on your own. Although you do have to enter through a small opening, there are carpets on the ground and it’s very short, so you’re through it before you know it. You can view the caves from above, but can’t really get good views inside the cave from that vantage. If you get lost trying to find the entrance, just walk down to where a river meets the ocean and you should find it shortly after that.

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Makauwahi Cave Reserve

Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail– close to the Makauwahi Cave, this trail runs along the southern part of the island with views of limestone formations, cliffs, and ocean. The area has sharp, jagged rocks everywhere so it’s not a trail where you want to be wearing flip-flops. Bring sunscreen and water as there’s no shade and the sun is relentless. When we were there, signs were posted that the water at Maha’ulepu Beach was contaminated with bacteria and therefore unsafe to enter. All that being said, this place is truly beautiful and worth seeing.

Kauai Humane Society– field trips for well-behaved dogs can be arranged simply by showing up at the shelter, choosing a dog, doing a brief meet-and-greet with the dog, paying the $25 suggested donation (or more if you’re inclined), filling out a form, and taking the dog out along with some supplies in a backpack. Our dog, Priscilla, was truly one of the best-behaved dogs I’ve ever been around. She wasn’t afraid of anything and happily walked along the Maha’ulepu Trail and Beach with us. I hope sweet little Priscilla has found a home by now because she deserves it. One note if you do this, get there promptly at 11 am. The first day we went, we got there around 12:30 and there were no dogs left, so we went back the following day at 11 am and  had no problems getting a dog. I was told they usually have around 8 or 10 dogs per day that can go on field trips so often all of the dogs go out and are taken well before 1 pm.

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Walking the Maha’ulepu Trail with Priscilla from the Kauai Humane Society

Waimea Canyon State Park and Area– called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” this park is enormous and is adjacent to Koke’e State Park, Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, and a few Reserve Areas. What all that means is there are plenty of trails in this area. This time the 22 mile Kalalau Trail (my husband and I hiked part of it the previous time we were there) was closed so our daughter chose our trail to hike, the Awa’awapuhi Trail, which is in Koke’e State Park. The Awa’awapuhi Trail is a downhill hike 3.25 miles each way. When we were there it was extremely slick and muddy and we were glad to be wearing our Merrell hiking shoes. If we were really smart, we would have brought a change of shoes for when we got to our car. The trail isn’t terribly scenic until you reach the end but the ultimately the views are great and worth the hike.

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Waimea Canyon

Beaches for snorkeling- Lawa’i Beach and Poipu Beach Park. Conditions for snorkeling change throughout the year so check with locals to see what their recommendations are for snorkeling. Also, we found the best beaches for snorkeling are not good for swimming and vice versa. The coral shelf often extends close to the water’s edge so you need to watch your footing carefully. We went in with bare feet and got some cuts and scrapes on our feet and legs but nothing major. Water shoes would have been a better idea. We also didn’t have fins but just the mask and snorkel and that was fine for us because we’re strong swimmers but we saw plenty of other people with fins.

JoJo’s Shave Ice- I especially liked the Colada Special and Locals South Shore. My daughter said the Rainbow was one of her favorites. The 28-oz serving is huge and can easily be shared (or you can keep it all for yourself!). We also liked Uncle’s Shave Ice but theirs wasn’t hand-shaven and I read some spotty reviews. No matter where you get your shave ice, just be sure you get the sweet cream “over” and ice cream “under.” It really makes a big difference.

Have you been to Kauai before? What are some of your favorite things in Kauai? Have you revisited a place many years later and had vastly different experiences?

Happy travels!

Donna