We have spent years finding the best spots to recommend you spend your valuable vacation time (and steering you away from the worst), and we also want to do our best to help you keep your ‘okole out of trouble. Though Hawai‘i can be idyllic, please remember this isn’t a theme park—its nature. Mother nature is hard, slippery, sharp and sometimes unpredictable. Nature is literally in the process of erasing the islands from the earth, and she doesn’t care if you get in the way. There is no substitute for your own observations and sound judgment. If you’re planning one of the activities you read about in our book or someplace else and your instinct tells you something is wrong, trust your judgment and go do somthing else.
First Things First
- One hazard that will affect most people (excluding the traffic on the H1 freeway) is the sun. O‘ahu, at 21° latitude, receives sunlight more directly than anywhere on the mainland. (The more overhead the sunlight is, the less atmosphere it filters through.) If you don’t want to spend your entire vacation in a hotel room smothered in aloe, wear a strong sunscreen.
- Weather—Always remember to check the weather conditions in the morning, before you go out. Keep in mind that things can change quickly and tropical weather should not be underestimated.Call 808-973-4380 for the NWS weather report or check out their website.
- Bring and drink a lot of water when you are out and about, especially when you’re hiking. Dehydration can sneak up on you. If you’re thirsty, it’s too late—you are already dehydrated.
- Know your limits. This is a hard one, especially if you’ve been testing the local mai tais for quality. (Hey, that’s our job…) Ocean currents, steep and slippery trails as well as inclement weather sometimes humble even the most fit athletes.
Most visitors are unprepared for the strength of Hawai‘i’s surf. Even if you’ve been around the ocean all your life, it’s a different beast here. Hawai‘i is in the middle of the largest ocean in the world, and the surf has thousands of miles to build. There are days when the water is smooth as glass, but it’s rare on O‘ahu. Often the surf is moderate, calling for respect and caution. And if the waves are taller than your 2nd floor hotel room, it’s time to make your own Corona Beer commercial on the beach, and watch the experienced and the audacious tempt the ocean’s patience. Don’t underestimate the ocean’s power. Hawai‘i is the undisputed drowning capital of the United States, and we don’t want you to join the statistics.
- The most serious water hazard is the surf. As a guideline, most beaches are calmer in the summer. (With south facing beaches calmer in the winter.) But this is only a guideline and high surf can be found anywhere on the island, any time of the year. For a surf forecast, call 808-973-4383, the Surf News Network at 808-572-7873, visit their website, or go to the weather and surf link on our web site.
- Rip currents form, cease and form again without warning, multiple times throughout the day. If caught in a rip current, do not try to swim against it. Stay calm, swim parallel to the shore until you break away from the current’s hold, then swim toward shore if possible. For more info, visit the NOAA page on rip currents.
- Never turn your back on the ocean. Swells can combine out at sea to produce “rogue waves” that come ashore with no warning. Calm seas are no guarantee of safety. Many people have ended up with a face full of sand because of large waves coming ashore during “calm seas.”
- Waves breaking right at the shore can be tempting. You may see local boogie boarders and body surfers pulling off amazing acrobatic feats only a few feet from the beach, in mere inches of water. That’s their thing, brah. They’ve been doing it their whole lives. Beach sand may feel soft underfoot, but it’s a different story when thousands of gallons of water are crashing on your head. Broken necks and backs are an all too common occurrence at places like Sandy Beach. Use caution.
- Hypothermia…yes, that’s not a typo. You lose a lot of body heat in the water, and it only takes a couple degrees of temperature drop to become hypothermic. Consider a light wetsuit if you’re going to be in the water for more than an hour. They help you float and prevent sunburn too.
- It can be difficult to recognize a distressed swimmer, but someone frantically splashing about and calling for help is a sure sign. First, call 911 then attempt to get help (lifeguard). Only assist if you have the proper training. Know your limitations. Often times the person attemping the rescue will become a victim themselves, and it makes a rescue more difficult.
- Never swim alone. Swimming with a friend makes for a more fun experience anyway.
- Though a potentially awesome experience, most visitors want to avoid an encounter with sharks. Never swim in the mouth of a river or in murky water. You won’t be able to see anyway, and sharks love murky water because they can sneak up on prey.
- Don’t let small children play in the water unsupervised.
- Wear fins in the water. One gripe we have with some of the ocean tour companies on O‘ahu is that they don’t provide fins. Consider buying a pair for your trip. They are inexpensive and readily available at most stores in Hawai‘i. Fins give you more power and speed and can help get you out of a sticky situation. If you’re comfortable in a mask and snorkel, they provide considerable peace of mind in addition to opening up the underwater world.
- If you’re going to spend any time at the shoreline or beach, water shoes are the best investment you’ll ever make. Often times a sandy beach can conceal sharp rocks and coral that you won’t see until it’s too late. You’ve never really cursed until you’ve cursed a hidden rock that attacked your toe. Water shoes accompany us whenever we go to any beach.
O‘ahu has a large and active population, and hikers will find the island filled with good hiking trails and other land based activities. Adventure can be found most anywhere in Hawai‘i, but like the ocean, personal responsibility, common sense and preparedness can mean the difference between the trip of a lifetime and a trip to the ER.
- Know where you are. This may sound silly, but it’s often overlooked. If you become lost or stuck but can make an emergency call, you want to be able to say where you are (even if you can’t pronounce the place). Even though all emergency calls from cell phones are supposed to transmit locational info, the more detail you can give to rescue personnel, the faster help will arrive. Know the name of the area, road and/or trail you will be on before heading out. Stay on marked trails whenever possible. Download our smartphone app and the geo-aware map will insure you always know where you are, even if you’re outside of cell phone range.
- If you plan to do a lot of hiking, contact the DLNR Division of State Parks at 808-274-3444 for information packets on their trails. Also the trails division of DLNR, Na Ala Hele has a complete list of maintained trials and closures.
- Have a plan. Let someone know where you’re going, and when you’re returning. This could be someone in your party who stays behind or even the hotel concierge.
- Be prepared for the conditions. Sturdy footwear—not flip-flops—are important in rough terrain. Bring plenty of water, snacks, rain gear, and small first aid kit to stay ahead of the game.
- If you’re lost and you call for help, please, stay where you are. It’s more difficult to find someone who has wandered out of the search area.
- Jumping off waterfalls, rocks or cliffs can be dangerous (otherwise it wouldn’t be fun, right?). We advise against this, but if you must, check what’s below the water’s surface before taking the plunge. Even if you think it will look cool in a facebook picture, keep your tongue safely tucked inside your mouth. We won’t get into the details, but trust us here.
- Respect private property signs. Even if you come across one on public land, property ownership changes hands often, and someplace that was publicly accessible one day, can be off limits the next. We are constantly re-checking access to every trail we recommend, but we can’t be everywhere, everyday (until our cloning machine gets back from the shop).
- Flash Floods are the most common way for hikers to get stranded. They can occur at anytime, though the wetter, winter months increase the chances. Remember, it doesn’t have to be raining where you are for a flash flood to occur. It could be sunny and 85° when you carelessly step over what appears to be small stream, but up in the mountains it could be raining, and within minutes that previous trickle of water could turn into an uncrossable raging river of biblical proportions. On O‘ahu, the north shore (windward) gets the most rain, but any river or drainage is capable of a flash flood. Current alerts can be found at the National Weather Service website.
Keeping Valuables Safe
Though Hawai‘i can be idyllic in many ways, we are not without our problems. Crimes do happen here, too, mainly petty theft. There are some things you can do that can prevent you from having to spend your time on the phone canceling your credit cards.
- Car break-ins can be a problem anywhere. Don’t leave anything of value in your car. (Well, maybe the seats can stay.) It takes only seconds to break a window, pop open a trunk, and grab everything in sight. Thieves are good at this and some specialize on waiting for people to go on a hike or jump on a boat, knowing they now have plenty of time after you leave. Plan on what you’ll need for the day and make sure you can carry it with you wherever you go (bringing a backpack is a great idea). If you do need to leave stuff behind, the trunk is your best bet. But put your items in there before you get to the trail or the dock. Seeing someone put something in the trunk just invites the crow bar to come out. The best rule to follow is: if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
- Limit valuables you take with you for the day. Take just a single card and small amount of cash with you and leave the rest in the safe. If something happens and your wallet or purse gets lost or stolen then one quick call and it’s canceled. Then you’ll still have some backup at the hotel you can use until the new Amex arrives. Make sure you have a secure place to store items. Room safes at hotels are common and many condos also have them. We list these in our resort reviews on this website.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Purse-snatchers and are not completely unknown in Hawai‘i, for the most part are on O‘ahu, and frequent the busy crowded places. Use the same common sense you would at home and you’ll be fine.
- Theft is not the only way to lose your valuables on vacation. So you’re on your honeymoon and that shinning ring just begs to be worn. Not a problem unless you’re going to the beach or on a hike. Water and mud can act as a lubricant and also cause fingers to shrink. Plus, newlyweds might have rings that haven’t been sized properly. We cannot tell you how many times we’ve seen people come out from a day of snorkeling or swimming and find that amazing symbol of their love is now at the bottom of the sea. It happens so often there are people that specialize finding lost jewelry. (Some charge, some don’t.) Leave the ring in the safe at the hotel if possible. If you are unlucky enough to need the services of someone to help find your sunken or buried treasure, try Don Bryant at 808-285-8370.