How Not to Die in Hawaii

by EmmaP

Standing in the most glorious Hawaiian farm kitchen, peering over the shoulder of my gracious host; I watched a Facebook video of some daring young people jump off a rock into a very suspect looking swell of water. My host was questioning her son ‘is that you? Please don’t do that it’s very dangerous.’ It looked to me to be a jump of insanity, but people out here are the daring types – I, however, am not quite so radical.

Kaua’i the ‘grandmother’ of the main Hawaiian islands is beyond beautiful, and has a rich, lush, diverse landscape. If you are into nature and the outdoors, it offers everything you could imagine and more. Kaua’i is the furthest island away from Hawaii (the big island) and as a consequence has less tourists than its neighbours, and still retains a certain air of quietness with a local feel. If you like walking, water-sports, waterfalls, stargazing and film-set scenery I would strongly suggest you visit Kaua’i, this place does not disappoint.

I went on a simple hike, on a ridge, in Koke’e State Park probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, but managed to get freaked out right at the end, because of the fear of falling to my death. My friend planted the seed of doubt, and once it was lodged into my psyche it was quite difficult to remove.

Hearing locals give each other advice on how to avoid death is alarmingly common on the island of Kaua’i, whether it be hiking trails or certain parts of the ocean. The terrain out here can be dangerous, and as such demands respect. There is a risk associated with many outdoor pursuits, in any country. The main fatalities here take place in the ocean. I am here in Summer time, when things are calm. But, to me, the sea means business. I always considered myself quite a competent swimmer, but I now realise that that is of little to no use, once the sea has you in its clutches.

My friend was explaining what to do when you get caught in a current. I was distressed at the thought and asked him to stop talking, he laughed and said ‘girl this exactly the talk you need to listen to.’ He had a point. The main rule of being in the ocean in Hawaii is never turn your back on the sea, seems obvious now, but before I was totally clueless. Secondly if you do find yourself in danger – don’t swim against the current (you will tire yourself out). Thirdly and most importantly, if you find yourself in danger – don’t panic. That’s what I have been told. Although, after attempting surfing and being slammed down by relatively tame waves, I am quite sure I would completely panic in the case of being dragged out into the ocean against my will. However, if you do panic and you are flailing around, it is unlikely that anyone will swim to your rescue.

It would seem that it’s usually tourists fall foul to either the sea, or the other hiking hazards, by generally being careless or lacking in local knowledge. Stopping to take pictures and slipping is more common than you would think. In addition all of the rock here is volcanic, which means it is crumbly and it can certainly not be relied upon to grab on to. I can break it in my hands, it’s kind of a mix between rock and soil and it’s slippy underfoot.

There is enough literature on how fabulous Hawaii is; and believe me it really is. But not so much practical advice on the perils of this environment. Local people do not trust all the content in the guide books, especially regarding snorkeling in the Winter time (not advised in certain areas). A lot of it is common sense, like in most things in life: if you don’t feel comfortable don’t do it.

Kaua’i is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, although the hazards seem numerous, my advice would be to get on a plane and visit immediately.