HONOLULU (KHON2) — Being a tourist means being mindful of the place you’re visiting and to the people who call it home. Rules and common courtesy still apply during your vacation in Hawaii, a place that carries a painful history that should be treated with respect. With simple care and attention, you can do your part to be a good visitor.
Here are 10 things you shouldn’t do when visiting the islands.
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1. Underestimate the ocean.
Even if the waters seem calm, always be mindful that waves can be unpredictable. Staying off the rocky coastline and staying away from the shoreline during high surf are all preventative measures that could end up saving lives, especially if you’re at a beach with no lifeguards in the area. Even if you’re a good swimmer, make sure to read and obey warning signs!
2. Touch a monk seal, sea turtle, or other wildlife.
Never approach a Hawaiian monk seal. Not only is it disrespectful, it can cost you a $50,000 fine and up to five years in prison. It’s a felony under state and federal laws to touch or harass one of these creatures. Stay at least 50 feet (15 meters) away from the animals or 150 feet (45 meters) away from pups with their mothers. For sea turtles, stay 10 feet away. For dolphins and small whales, stay 50 yards away. Anyone who sees illegal activity is asked to call the NOAA hotline at (888)-256-9840.
3. Use sunscreen that isn’t reef-safe.
In 2021, Hawaii became the first state in the nation to ban the sale of sunscreen containing two chemicals: oxybenzone and octinoxate. These chemicals have been proven to be toxic to marine and life and cause coral bleaching. Safe and effective alternatives, according to the FDA, are sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. So make sure to check your products before stepping into the ocean!
4. Hike on an illegal trail or late at night.
Never go hiking alone, and always start early! You don’t want to end up on the late news with a search and rescue team trying to find where you are in the dark mountains. Hikers sometimes are unaware of their personal fitness level experience and misjudge the time it takes to complete a hike. Don’t hike on illegal trails either, even if you find photos and reviews on social media. They’re closed for a reason! Hikers who congest the streets to access these trails also annoy locals in the area.
5. Park wherever you want to take in the sights.
There are many sights to see while driving across the islands, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to stop in the middle of the road to take a snapshot. It also doesn’t mean you can park wherever you want, even if it’s a short stay. One great example of this is the scenic Road to Hana, officially known as Hana Highway, which has long been a point of interest for Maui’s visitors. Tourists who congest this area create a major problem for East Maui residents who rely on its accessibility in their everyday lives.
6. Bring back lava rocks as souvenirs.
Those lava rocks are beautiful, but make no mistake, they don’t make good souvenirs. Not only is it considered disrespectful to remove lava rocks from the ground on which they lay and help form Hawaii’s beautiful islands, many residents will tell you it’s also bad luck. If you’re looking to have a safe flight home, it’s best to leave the rocks where they are. Trust us.
7. Step on coral.
It’s no secret Hawaii is home to an array of beautiful marine life, and a big part of what keeps the state’s unique ecosystem thriving is its coral. Corals are fragile animals and a simple touch could be a death sentence for an entire colony. Oils from human skin can disrupt their mucous membranes, which serves to protect the animal from diseases and harmful bacterium the ocean may carry. Walking, standing and stepping on coral has the potential to impact all life in the surrounding area. When in Hawaii, it’s best to avoid shallow coral reefs and instead choose beaches that offer a sandy bed or enough water to separate your eager legs from the ocean floor.
8. Hold bonfires at the beach.
Almost every movie that takes place on an island has a bonfire scene, so you may be thinking bonfires on the beach make for a great way to spend your vacation. Well, you might want to consider the law. Bonfires on most state and county beaches in Hawaii are illegal and could cost you upwards of $5,000.
9. Stay in Waikiki the entire time.
There’s a lot of “don’t do’s” to remember. We get it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy all of what the islands have to offer. If you’re visiting, it’s likely you found a place of lodging in Waikiki. While the city has much to offer on it’s own, it’s important to note that there is an entire island to explore. The more west you go, the more you’ll get to see how residents live day by day, and you may be pleasantly surprised about all the things you can do when you step away from the shopping malls and busy roads.
10. Disrespect the culture.
This one sounds obvious, but it’s important to take a moment to think about what this means. Disrespecting the culture goes beyond touching coral and turtles or parking anywhere that resembles a parking spot. It’s being rude to people who are different from you or treating others like they are lesser because they don’t speak the way you speak. It’s making fun of hula dancing and mocking the Hawaiian identity.
Most of all, disrespecting the culture is neglecting to take care of the land, something that many Native Hawaiians consider part of their cultural identity. Be mindful of what the place you are visiting means to those who call it home. Littering, removing rocks from sacred grounds and failing to learn etiquette are all the ways you can easily disrespect culture. With simple care and attention, you can do your part to be a good visitor.