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How A Trip To Hawaii Shifted My Perspective As A Tourist
Life & Travel

How A Trip To Hawaii Shifted My Perspective As A Tourist

In recent months, there have been ongoing social media debates on whether it is okay to travel to the Hawaiian islands for tourism. I was supposed to visit in August, just after the devastating wildfires on the island of Maui. Though my trip was slated for its neighbor, the Big Island, I decided it was best that I postpone my getaway out of respect.


Nearly four months later, I rebooked my flight and was off to Kona, Hawaii, to ring in Sagittarius season with one of my close girlfriends. Still keeping those debates at the forefront of my mind, I knew that many locals expressed mixed opinions. Some felt that tourists— especially those of us from the mainland United States— came to the islands with a sense of entitlement and lack of regard for the struggles they face. On the other side of the coin are those who wanted tourism to pick back up fully, as it was their main source of income.

Photo courtesy of DeAnna Taylor

My first time to the state overall, I truly didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that I wanted to immerse myself in local culture as much as possible. I stayed at the luxurious Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection, just outside the town of Waimea. Often voted the number 1 resort on the Big Island, I was truly blown away by the property’s beauty.

Lined with tons of lush fauna and flora, it was the perfect choice for a week of R&R. We spent hours laying on the pristine beach, indulged in plenty of fresh seafood at the on-site restaurants (including the local staple, poke), got pampered at the resort spa and more. But, I think for me, the highlight was knowing the backstory of the land surrounding the hotel— a land said to almost be sacred in a sense.

Photo courtesy of DeAnna Taylor

Tucked almost directly in the center of five mountain ranges (Kohala, Hualalai, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea), Mauna Lani has been said to possess a certain energy that instantly puts you in a tranquil state. Unique in its own right, there have been times when guests could look out and see lava flowing from Mount Kilauea while Mount Mauna Kea was simultaneously hit with snow— a natural anomaly.

Just outside the hotel’s main building and pool areas were several protected fishponds and walking trails for guests to utilize and reflect around. During a morning nature walk with locally born and raised expert Ethan Souza, he told us many of the old folktales that had been passed down for generations as they related to the surrounding land.

Photo courtesy of DeAnna Taylor

“This is a hotel rooted in Hawaii, versus one simply built in Hawaii,” Souza shared. It was a quote that stuck out to me, especially as a frequent traveler, because it opened my mind up to the understanding that hotels are more than just fancy buildings for us to escape to. Some also hold tons of history and spiritual connections— especially Mauna Lani. And, because of that, I wanted to allow those principles to be the root of my trip.

“Here, we believe that the land is chief and man is the servant,” Souza added. I took that to mean that while I was there for my own rejuvenation after quite a busy year, it was also my duty as a visitor—and a human— to honor the land at all times. Whether that meant ensuring that I didn’t leave any trash on the beach, reducing my use of single-use plastics, or just respecting the wildlife and plant life around me.

Photo courtesy of DeAnna Taylor

In keeping with our theme of educating ourselves on local culture, my friend and I also opted for the resort’s sunrise canoe excursion. Meeting along the beach around 6:20 am, our group was ushered into a traditional double canoe led by our local guide, Keanu. We paddled for about 20 minutes to the middle of the ocean to our reflecting point just in front of Mount Mauna Kea— which, unbeknownst to many, is technically the tallest range in the world. As we awaited the sun’s arrival over the peak, Keanu explained to us how locals view natural elements like the sun as guiding forces to the start of their day. After a series of traditional chants that welcomed the sun, he encouraged us to then also set our intention for the day as the sun rose.

That moment was so powerful for me, and coupled with the things learned during the nature walk with Ethan, it allowed me to finish out the rest of my visit with a renewed mindset. Yes, I am here to relax and lap in a bit of paradisaical luxury, but also I should honor and respect the land and people that also made that possible. This same mindset is one that I plan to lean on during any trip that I take from here out. So thank you, Mauna Lani and Hawaii, for shifting my perspective.

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Feature image courtesy of DeAnna Taylor

 

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