Hawaii is famous. People all over the world know it. Hawaii is also incredibly misunderstood. The marketers and the tourism industry showcase a Hawaii of white sand beaches, umbrella drinks, and endless summer. But those of us that have called Hawaii home know that the reality of living in Hawaii is so much more than the cliché. Hawaii is a confluence of forces- hot sunshine and torrential rain, East and West, luxury and poverty, windward and leeward, American military might and the Hawaiian monarchy. This confluence creates a depth and diversity of experience unlike anywhere else in America. Everyone’s experience of living in Hawaii is different. That’s why I put this question to friends and family who have lived here, “what do you love most about living in Hawaii?”.
Despite all the postcard images of sunny beaches in Hawaii- it really does rain here. Hawaii boasts three of the top ten wettest places on Earth. Hawaii has sunbaked landscapes and lush rainforests. The weather can vary dramatically across short distances. It can be raining across town while it’s sunny at the beach. The climate is beautiful here on the Big Island – especially in Hilo and the Hamakua Coast. We get these light mists and gentle rains and there is always a rainbow somewhere in the islands. The rain is warm like liquid sunshine.
“I miss the smell. The air. The clean beaches, water, and misty rain. I miss the flowers and the views. I miss the sounds- birds, rain, ocean, waterfalls, wind.”
From Mauka to Makai- mountains to the ocean- there are so many beautiful natural places in Hawaii. You can spend your days playing in the ocean, surfing, and basking in the sun. Or you can visit the mountains and rainforests, hiking, camping, and swimming in the waterfalls. You can bird watch or swim with sharks. Traditional Hawaiian culture has a deep-rooted respect and profound love for the natural world- “aloha ‘aina”. Love for the land and for the ocean remains a huge part of the culture and of life in Hawaii. The comments I received were overflowing with aloha ‘aina.
“You never feel far from nature.”
“The beaches and waterfalls.”
“I like that there is a strong culture of loving the outdoors here. And while surfing can be territorial, in every other aspect of the outdoors people are encouraging and welcoming. A couple of weeks ago we went to Ala Moana beach to try stand-up-paddle-boarding for the first time. A kind uncle told us where the best spot to enter the water was- with the least rockiness.”
“The beach, green Hilo town, and houses with big green yards.”
“Beautiful weather, free and beautiful hiking for all experience levels, free beach access, beautiful beaches, camping, being surrounded by nature, and tons of outdoor activities all year long.”
“The ocean and the nature.”
Although Hawaii is one of the United States, it has a unique history and a different culture from the other states. When Captain Cook stumbled upon Hawaii in 1778, he found a thriving and complex Polynesian civilization. Kamehameha united the Hawaiian Islands under the rule of a constitutional monarchy in 1795. In 1893, the monarchy was illegally overthrown by US military action and under the behest of wealthy American industry magnates. Territorial Hawaii was governed by wealthy American plantation owners who needed cheap labor to plant sugar for export to the American market. Immigrants were brought to Hawaii from China, Pacific Islands, Korea, Philippines, Portugal, Japan, and Puerto Rico- to name a few. Historic immigration to support plantation agriculture is only part of why Hawaii is so culturally diverse. People never stopped immigrating here from all-over. This means that despite being the most isolated land mass on Earth- there is an influx of new ideas and different perspectives. Modern Hawaiian culture is a mix of many cultures and is also something completely unique.
“The people who just take you in. That it is acceptable to wear gym shorts and slippers to work.”
“I miss island time.”
“Diverse cultures, a laid-back lifestyle, no strict dress codes, less judgement of lifestyle, more freedom, and acceptance to be and do as you please.”
“Being able to say hi, smile, and chat with total strangers and that’s part of the culture. Also, that there’s so much diversity, and not just ethnically. There’s no one way to be, no particular in-vogue fashion, or hobby that everyone follows. There are fishermen, cyclists, artists, and crafts folks, all in one little place. I really do love it here. It’s such a contrast to where I grew up, in the best ways.”
“I miss family. I miss the music. Pidgin. I miss smiling faces for no particular reason- big time! Everyone feels connected even if you don’t recognize them. A respect that is unparalleled where I live now. The sincere aloha and welcoming culture.”
“The laid-back atmosphere, and the feeling that you are isolated in a good way. The feeling that you aren’t part of the craziness of American politics. Culture is so special in Hawaii. I can’t wait to come home.”
“Being on the edge of Americanism both culturally and historically. It’s part of America but a different country altogether.”
Although the cost of living is 40-70% more expensive than the average cost of living in the US. Life in Hawaii is still full of abundance. The rich volcanic soil, the abundance of rainwater, and a year-round growing season create agricultural abundance. As Hawaiian plantation agriculture becomes a relic of the “old days”, it is being replaced by small-scale homestead farms. This lends itself to thriving farmer’s markets. Whether you are looking for fresh veggies, Ka’u coffee, or unusual tropical fruits- the farmer’s markets are the place to go.
“Rich land, agriculture, and abundance.”
“I love the farmers markets!”
“I miss the food.”
“I miss the fruit trees.”
“Farmer’s Market’s almost every single day.”
It’s clear that the love for this amazing place is overflowing. The Hawaiian lifestyle is as diverse as the people that live here but we all have something in common- we are all “lucky we live Hawaii”. Thanks to everyone who shared their perspectives on living in Hawaii. If you ask me, it’s the people that really make living in Hawaii so special.