Ceri Houlbrook’s Top 5 Hawaiian Experiences

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Guest Poster Ceri Houlbrook Travels to Hawaii in Search of Natural Beauty, Serenity, and Adventure.

How do I describe Hawaii without resorting to clichés? The answer: I can’t. You see, words like ‘paradise’, ‘picture-perfect’ and ‘dream-destination’ may be terribly hackneyed, but they’re also incredibly accurate.

The islands of Hawaii USA remain unrivalled in their natural beauty, with rugged cliffs, lush forests, looming volcanoes, and miles upon miles of white, sandy beaches, bejeweled with palm trees and lapped by the turquoise waters of the Pacific. Not to mention the warm, friendly locals, or the centuries of vibrant cultural history that is still very much alive today. Nowhere else in the world can really compare to the ‘Aloha State’ as a holiday destination. Clichéd? Maybe. But certainly true.

For much of the journey, you’re teetering on the edge of a cliff, with a 1000-foot drop between you and the ocean below, and having to navigate hairpin bends on a path as narrow as a razor’s edge.

The six inhabited islands of Hawaii are as diverse as you can get, from the lively Oahu, home to the cosmopolitan city of Honolulu, to the sophisticated resorts of Lanai. For me, though, it was the island of Moloka‘i that appealed the most. A mere 61 kilometres long, and 16 across at its widest point, Moloka‘i has a certain old-fashioned, small-island charm to it. Life here is slow and peaceful, the land rural, with no bustling cities and high-rise hotels. I was lucky enough to spend two weeks on this beautiful, undeveloped island, and I amassed a wealth of memories (as well as close to a thousand digital photographs!) to take back home with me, but for the sake of this blog entry, I’ve managed to narrow them down to my top five Hawaiian experiences:

Sunset on the Moloka‘i Princess

To reach Moloka‘i, I hopped aboard the Moloka‘i Princess, a ferry that crosses the Kalohi channel from Maui to Kaunakakai Harbour twice a day. Promised a stunning sunset, I opted for the afternoon crossing – and I was not disappointed. Standing at the bow of the boat, Titanic-style, with the wind whipping my hair, I watched as the island, silhouetted black against a russet and crimson sky, drew closer. All around, the ocean shimmered with specks of gold and copper in the lingering light, and the jagged cliffs of Moloka‘i loomed above us as we drew into the harbour. As first impressions go, this was certainly memorable!

Hiking in the sacred Halawa Valley

Halawa Valley, which is believed to have been occupied by Polynesians from as early as 650 AD, is known as a sacred valley because of the dozens of hidden heiau (places of worship) it houses. As well as being rife with history, the valley also boasts natural beauty: lush vegetation, towering waterfalls cascading down into deep, cool pools (perfect for a dip on a hot day), and stunning views. The hike itself was fairly easy-going, despite the dense jungle and a few precarious river-crossings, but as it cuts through private land, I had to arrange a guide through the Aqua Hotel Molokai. However, the guide himself, a local, was so knowledgeable about the land and the history that he really brought the place alive for me.

Riding a mule through Kalaupapa Historical Park

This could easily be the most exciting – and terrifying – experience of my holiday. A mule ride along the coast to the secluded historic town of Kalaupapa, once a colony for leprosy victims, may sound like a peaceful, serene way to spend the day, but trust me, it’s not. For much of the journey, you’re teetering on the edge of a cliff, with a 1000-foot drop between you and the ocean below, and having to navigate hairpin bends on a path as narrow as a razor’s edge. Scary? Yes. But worth it. The mules seem to know exactly what they’re doing and never put a foot (or hoof) wrong, and once I got over my initial fear (and opened my eyes again) I was able to enjoy the stunning views as my trusty steed carried me deep into Kalaupapa Historical Park. I’ll be honest though – once the ride was over, I was glad to put my feet on solid ground again!

Camping on Papohaku Beach

Picture this: three miles of soft white sands, palm trees swaying in the breeze, crystal-clear waves lapping at the shoreline, and not another single soul in sight. This was my ‘hotel’ on Moloka‘i. Papohaku, one of the largest beaches in Hawaii, remains also one of the least populated and least developed, with only restrooms, showers, and facilities for camping and barbecuing. For roughly £5 ($8 US) a night you can pitch your tent on the sands and enjoy having a beautiful secluded beach all to yourself. Well, most of the time…

The Moloka‘i Ka Hula Piko

Every third week in May, Papohaku Beach hosts the Moloka‘i Ka Hula Piko, a cultural festival where hula schools from across Hawaii gather to celebrate. And so, for one week of my stay, the peace and tranquillity of Papohaku Beach was disturbed – but I’m not going to complain! It was one of – if not the – most fascinating experiences of my holiday; joining the hundreds of locals in their celebrations, watching the hula performances, browsing the art and craft stalls, and enjoying the luau feast: huli huli chicken, flavoured with pineapple juice, soy sauce, ginger, brown sugar, and wine, with a side of purple sweet potatoes (you won’t believe them until you see them) and finishing off with a slice of haupia, a traditional Hawaiian coconut dessert. Trust me; if you plan on eating out in Hawaii, then a local luau is the place to go.

And so with my trip to paradise sadly over, there is only one thing left to say: Until next time, Hawaii. Ā hui hou aku!

Ceri Houlbrook is from Manchester, England – no, she doesn’t support United - and her passions include reading, writing, hiking and travelling the globe in search of adventure!

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