Afterthoughts: I Grew Up in Hawai‘i. So Why Do I Feel Guilty Hitting Up Local Tourist Attractions?
I’m local, I swear!
At the first well-marked tourist stop along the Road to Hāna, my travel buddy and I pulled over to check out Twin Falls. It was only a short walk through a bamboo forest before we stumbled upon dozens of people hanging around the falls, climbing trees or dipping their toes into the cool water. We joined in, taking photos and exploring the trail before heading back to the highway to continue our long scenic daytrip, often running into the same tourists stop after stop. For miles, we pulled into every parking lot or shoulder that seemed to lead somewhere alluring to make sure we didn’t miss anything. Swim at Pua‘a Ka‘a Falls? Check. Eat wild strawberry guava? Check. Get lost in a ti plant maze? Check.
I hadn’t been to Maui since I was a kid, so this summer, I made a list of things I could only do there—eat at Lineage, go spelunking in a lava tube, explore a lavender farm. It’s an odd feeling to be both a local and a tourist at once. On one hand, I feel like an insider when I understand the jokes about Amanda Eller written in graffiti under a bridge. But on the other, I’m geeking out about wild nēnē. When I went to Kaua‘i two years ago, I drank my favorite local brews at the Dog House Beer Fest, yet I also splurged on a catamaran tour of the Nā Pali Coast with a bunch of out-of-towners, gliding alongside dolphins with the Moana soundtrack blaring.
SEE ALSO: Afterthoughts: Alone Time
photo: gary saito
There’s nothing wrong with exploring places I’ve never been alongside other first-timers, but I found myself constantly trying to point out that I’m local. On tours, I snuck into conversation that I’m from Honolulu. I asked for a kama‘āina discount everywhere, even if I was sure they didn’t offer one, just so they knew I’m from here, as if there’s some secret backroom or just-for-locals menu I’ll suddenly have access to. It’s not that I think I’m better than out-of-state visitors—it’s more of a wink between two friends, the same way I’ll instantly bond with someone in another state or country when I learn they’re from Hawai‘i. Finding out you have something in common is a great way to start a conversation.
Still, as fun as it is, playing tourist for a couple of days makes me feel guilty. Sometimes I think it’s because I don’t like to be in the way. I can’t imagine what it’s like to live in Hāna and work elsewhere, constantly having to pull over to let cars like mine pass as we hunt for a good photo op. Hawaiian Airlines says almost 3,000 people statewide live in one county and work in another. That’s enough of a commute without then having to deal with superfluous cars like mine in traffic. I also don’t like inconveniencing tourists who have maybe never tried shave ice but don’t want to wait in a long line behind me and all my friends. I want them to have a good experience.
In other cities, I don’t mind being that person. I don’t see the negative effects my tourism can have because I don’t have to deal with them. In Hawai‘i, I do. But that shouldn’t mean I can’t watch the sunset from Haleakalā, eat fresh goat cheese from a dairy farm or enjoy pineapple wine at a historic cottage. Because supporting these places is supporting Hawai‘i, and that’s something we all want.