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Nifty 50: Hawaii Travel Report

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I’ve always wanted to travel in all 50 U.S. states. I’d been stuck on 49 since about 2005, when I crossed Alaska off my list. I finally made it to 50 last month, when E and I went to the big island of Hawaii.

This wasn’t one of my typical road trip vacations. We stayed for a week with a relative of E’s who lives in Kona (that gigantic, Little Shop of Horrors-esque agave plant in the photo shown above is on their side lawn), so we had a stable base location and ate almost all of our meals at home. But we ventured out for various day trips and activities — beaches, parks, snorkeling, etc. So instead of my usual day-by-day road trip travelogue, I’ve compiled a list of two dozen interesting things we encountered and did during our stay, beginning with…

1. The Southernmost Point

The southern tip of the big island is the southernmost point in the United States, so of course we had to go there. (As you may recall, we also went to the northwesternmost point in the contiguous United States during our last vacation.) It’s a suitably desolate spot that really does feel like the edge of the world, with waves crashing spectacularly into the lava rock.

The photo above, taken by E, shows me taking pics of a family we met out on the rocks. One of the family members then took some pics of us:

Here are some short videos (the first one by me, the second by E), just to give you a sense of the crashing waves:

Of course, the video and photos could have been taken anywhere. How do you know that we really went to the southernmost point? Here, check out my phone’s blue dot:

2. The Incredibly Blue Water

If you look again at those photos of the southernmost point, you can see that there was a beautiful band of light-blue water just offshore. This was a consistent thing everywhere we went. You can see it in the video above, and also in this next photo:

None of these images fully capture the crystalline beauty of this blue water. I couldn’t stop marveling over it.

3. The Lava Rock

Hawaii is a series of volcanic islands, and lava rock is everywhere. Sometimes, as shown in the photo above, you can really get a sense of how the lava was fluid, as if it hardened in mid-flow.

Many of the highways are also surrounded on both sides by large fields of lava rock. At first I mistakenly thought these were fields of soil, because the rock was often dark brown and looked like piles of dirt, with occasional patches of grass and other vegetation sprouting up here and there:


4. The Steam Vents

One day we went to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, where we went on some good hikes and walked through a lava tube. Unfortunately, none of the volcanoes were active, so we couldn’t see any red/orange lava, but we did get to see some steam vents, where the earth literally lets off steam. Here’s a little video I shot (you can see that some people have tossed money into the vent, like at a wishing well):

5. The Road Markings

As soon as we started driving around, I noticed these odd markings on the roadways — some were zigzags and others were more like shark’s teeth. They reminded me a bit of the University of Hawaii athletics logo. According to this report, the markings were added in 2015 as a traffic-calming measure: “Zigzag lines are painted on the street at busy intersections and in school zones to get motorists’ attention to slow down, making our streets and highways safer for everyone. Bold stripes like shark’s teeth are painted on blind curves and are especially effective at night due to the high reflectivity of the striping.”

The visual similarity to the U. of Hawaii logo is apparently just a coincidence, because this page says, “The zigzag concept was imported from Europe. It is currently used in only three locations in North America: Virginia, Hawaii, and Ottawa, Ontario.”

And speaking of highway graphics…

6. The State Highway Markers

Each state has its own state highway route marker design. I was surprised and, frankly, a bit disappointed by Hawaii’s — such a plain design for place with such vibrant colors. (The license plates feature a rainbow, which seems more appropriate.) Also, I don’t like how the number sits so low on the white background — feels like it should be vertically centered. Hrrmph.

7. The Giant Boot

Hawaii doesn’t have a lot of roadside Americana, but we enjoyed this giant cowboy boot in the town of Waimea, which was installed in 2008 to mark the centennial of four local residents winning a rodeo championship in Wyoming. Here are some additional pics:

8. The Birds

We saw these beautiful saffron finches everywhere. Imagine getting to see those every day — so gorgeous. Even prettier were the yellow-billed cardinals, but I didn’t get any pics of them.

But the most plentiful birds, by far, were chickens. We saw lots of them and heard even more of them — everywhere we went, a rooster was crowing. It was rather comical, like an absurdist laugh track that was always playing in the background.

9. The Geckos

The island is full of geckos scampering hither and thither. One of them somehow even ended up in our rental car! E spotted this one on a red tower ginger plant.

10. The Trees

We saw lots of trees that had grown at unusual angles, apparently due to constant wind exposure. The one shown above was the most spectacular example we saw; to fully appreciate it, you need to see it from a few more angles:

11. The Tiny Church

This minuscule Catholic church is located near where we were staying. And yes, it’s a real church. It was closed, but we peeked in the windows and could see the very small pews. (Not visible in this photo: a gecko on the wall next to the door.)

12. The Cliff Divers

Not far from the southernmost point, we came upon a bunch of young guys — they all seemed to be about 20 — who were jumping off the edge of a cliff and into the ocean, about a 35-foot drop. I asked one guy if I could video him, and he said sure; after he jumped, another guy came up behind him:

I would have done this myself if I’d been wearing a bathing suit. Instead, I just sat at the end of the cliff, which made E very nervous, so she took this photo from a distance:

13. The Fish Head

Not far from the cliff divers was a fisherman who’d caught a marlin and was hacking up its head with a meat cleaver, all of which was a bit surreal.

14. The Moose Branch

E loves antlers, so we were both very amused to see this beachside tree branch that looked sooooo much like a moose (which prompted me to say, “Hey, Rocky” in a Bullwinkle voice for what was probably an annoying number of times).

15. Shark!!

One day we went to a nearby beach and discovered that the ocean was off-limits because a 12-foot tiger shark had been spotted shortly before we arrived. The standard protocol is to close the waters for two hours and to call for a helicopter fly-by. If the copter pilot doesn’t see anything, then they allow people to go back in the water.

16. The Double Rainbow

It rained almost every day we were in Hawaii. Never for very long, and usually not very hard, but we had to use the windshield wipers for at least a few minutes every day. Then the rain would stop and it would be sunny again. I kept thinking, “These seem like perfect conditions for a rainbow,” but it never happened. Then one day we walked out of the house and there it was — a magnificent double rainbow. It was much brighter and more vivid than this photo indicates, too. Really magical!

17. The Wall of Hangers

While walking down a street in the town of Hilo, we passed a shop that had this excellent display of old wooden hangers on the wall. I like how most of them are slightly tilted downhill, and I also like how the handles form a huge array of question marks.

18. The Wall of Ukuleles

Not far from the shop with the hangers was a music shop with the biggest display of ukuleles I’ve ever seen! Granted, I don’t spend that much time in music shops, so maybe this isn’t all that atypical, but it seemed impressive to me.

19. Akaka Falls

Why are waterfalls so compelling and mesmerizing? I could watch even small ones for hours. Anyway, one day we went to Akaka Falls State Park, whose titular 442-foot waterfall is a stunner. Here’s a shot where you can see the full vertical drop into the gorge:

20. The Crazy Coincidence

At one point we were at a beachside bar and talked to a guy named John Wagner, who’s a retired U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent. (That’s his wife, whose name I no longer recall, seated next to him.) I asked if he used to wear a uniform on the job, and he said yes. So then I asked if he had any photos of himself in uniform, and he promptly pulled up a shot of himself throwing out the first pitch at a Mets game, in full uniform, on Aug. 14, 2014. Here’s a better view (photo by Josh Denmark):

As you can see, John is a lefty, as I am. So we bonded over that, over the Mets, and over uniforms. How bizarre that I would end up sitting next to such a person!

21. The Biggest Bills Fan in Hawaii

Hawaii is a long way from Buffalo, so I was surprised to see this car in the parking lot of a supermarket we visited. I especially liked the Bills-ized treatment of the Hawaiian islands:

As I was admiring the car, its owner walked up. Turns out he’s originally from Buffalo and his car is just the tip of his fandom iceberg — he also has a Bills key ring, a Bills wallet, a Bills tattoo, and probably a few other things I’m forgetting. Also: His name is Bill.

23. The Most Error-Filled Sign in Hawaii

One day we stopped at an antiques shop with an unusually sloppy-looking sign. The letters are all askew, misaligned, and mis-spaced, the “N” is upside-down, and then there’s “g ot antiques?”

Fortunately, the sign was much better at this next place…

24. Paul’s Place

Included for obvious reasons. Really like how the signmaker handled the apostrophe — perfect angle and spacing.


And there you have it. I should add that we also went to the Pacific Tsunami Museum, which was excellent — highly recommended! — although I didn’t get any photos.

My thanks, as always, for letting me share these travel experiences with you. You can see other travelogues from past years here.



Century Mark

Comments (37)

    “The zigzag concept was imported from Europe. It is currently used in only three locations in North America: Virginia, Hawaii, and Ottawa, Ontario.”

    Is Hawaii technically part of the North American continent? And by technically, I guess I mean geographically (or geologically).

    There is no real definition of “continent.” Hawai’i is a state, and the US is on the North American continent, therefore Hawai’i is part of North America. If Hawai’i were never admitted (or secedes), it would most likely become part of Oceania.

    It’s one of those things that you would think would be rigidly defined, but instead we rely on “everyone knows what a continent is.”

    Geographically, Hawaii is most definitely not part of the North American continent, or any continent. It’s an archipelago in the mid-Pacific, 2000 miles from the continental shelf.

    Thankfully, we are on Uni Watch, a website that abides pedantry. Though part of the US, Hawaii is no more a part of North America than the Papua states are a part of Asia (and not Micronesia) even though a constituent part of Indonesia (an Asian country).

    For the record: Hawaii is part of Oceania with Australia and New Zealand and the like

    Pretty cool trip! Thanks for sharing. Always have wanted to go to Hawaii. The road sign reminds me of a guitar pick.

    I saw guitar picks too.

    Thanks for sharing, Paul. You two look great! Cheers to hitting all 50!

    Love this. It brought back fond memories of my own enchanting experience a couple years ago on the island of Kauai. The stunning scenery and ever-present chickens are unforgettable.

    Great pics of your trip! Funny that you mentioned the blue water. I grew up in New England, and as you are aware, the LI Sound and North Atlantic is very dark looking. The first time I ever saw clear, aqua blue water in person was in my mid-20s, when I went on a vacation in Cancun. My girlfriend (now wife) and the couple we went with could not stop making fun of me for going on and on about it. I had seen photos of locations where the water looked like that, but always figured it was less impressive in person. Wrong. Photos don’t do it justice. So beautiful, and mesmerizing.

    Loved the pics. Many reminded me of a vacation we took to the Big Island 4 years ago. I do have a question about the cliff divers though. How did the get from the water back to the top?

    I remember seeing cliff divers in Mexico (much higher cliff) and it was such a big deal how they scaled the cliffs to get to the top. They would free climb them barefoot. It was amazing to see.

    Great pics from a great trip! I remember the windblown trees from my trip to the Big Island in 2005.

    Paul – Congrats on making it to all 50 states!!!! I think that is a cool accomplishment, and I hope somewhere you have a map all colored in to commemorate your travels.

    I have always wanted to complete the feat myself, unfortunately I still have a ways to go with some pretty big patches of geography left to cover.
    Did you spend a certain amount of time in every state? I mean are we counting airports stops/layover as a visit? Based on what I know of you, I’m thinking that would not count for you, but curious to hear your rule.

    Congratulations on reaching 50-I have an identical goal (34 + DC so far) as well as visiting all 7 continents (stuck at 2/7 right now).

    As a music shop frequenter I can confirm that a wall of ukuleles is rather abnormal!

    I love how your brain never stops thinking uni-related thoughts, even on vacation. And that you had the good luck to see things like the Bills car/ guy, though maybe it has something to do with “the prepared mind”…

    But am I just missing the joke, bc it doesn’t look like the blue dot on your phone is at the southernmost spot, which looks like it’s over to the east at the marked location on the map

    Paul, congratulations on visiting all 50 states.

    I completed the quest in 1995. My adult life goal was to complete by 2000, so I did it with five years to spare. Been to 49 states multiple times, Alaska only once.

    North Dakota was the last state on my list. Celebrated by spending a couple of days in the Fargo area and points west.

    Amazing stuff! I’m currently stuck in the 49 Club. Alaska is my white whale. I’ll get there some day…

    I have been fortunate to hit 25 of the 50 states (plus DC , obviously, and Puerto Rico). A number of the states I’ve visited have been for business, although I did have fun while visiting). I want to hit all states! How did you begin your traveling endeavor? Did you begin with New England and then branch out? Was there a elimination process? Based upon historic attractions in a particular state?

    I liked the fact that the Kona Airport’s permanent facilities (customs, bag check, booking) were conducted in the great wide open– or a least, they were in 1989.

    One of my former bosses always told my wife and I that Hawaii is “the only place that looks like the postcards.” After visiting a couple of times, we both definitely agreed.

    Thanks for sharing your fun photos and stories. No place better to shake off the winter blues than a trip to Hawaii! I do agree with you on the highway markers. It looks like maybe there should be something above the numerals. A state outline? The word Hawaii or HI? Did you try the payphones at Paul’s Place? I love random payphones as they are a dying breed.

    Thank you as always for the travelogues. When I take my kids all over the northeast for travel sports. I always try to emulate your trips and find unique and interesting places.

    Any future trip goals? TransCanada Highway trip through all 10 Canadian provinces? Lake Superior Circle Tour? or further away to Europe, Asia, Australia or elsewhere?

    It was much brighter and more vivid than this photo indicates, too. Really magical!

    The one bright spot during COVID for me was when I had to drive my brother to work. Because of him I was awake and outside at 6:15am, One morning I looked out into my back yard and saw a magnificent double rainbow that went from end to end. I got a great photo, but as you said, it was even better in person.

    Great travelogue, once again! Cool observations, nice pictures and what a place: even when rainy these bright colours of plants and birds are amazing.

    Congrats on hitting all 50! Surely I’m not the only one who came here for the Unis 20 years ago, but have stayed for the travelogues. I hope we’ll have an opportunity to follow your travels after the 25th!

    Excellent report, Paul. I’ve got the same 50-state bug and have five more to go. All in the northwestern quarter and both Dakotas.

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