Terrible Mistakes Hawaii Visitors Should Never Make

Terrible Mistakes Hawaii Visitors Should Never Make

You may have heard that on two separate occasions recently, Hawaii visitors drove down a boat ramp at the Big Island’s Honokohau Harbor and into the ocean by following GPS instructions. That’s a snafu not to be forgotten soon on Big Island. We’re scratching our heads because the Honokohau boat harbor does not look like the “puddle” one of the visitors suggested.

In the Instagram video embedded below, people fishing helped the visitor while they filmed the incident as the car sank into the harbor with the headlights still on. Even after realizing they had just driven into the ocean and as their vehicle is sinking, the visitor tried to remove their belongings before exiting.

The two who are filming said, “What a way to end the day, huh?, after they watched the visitor drive straight into the ocean. He said they were “screaming the whole time to get her attention but her GPS had told her to go there so she drove right in.”

Fortunately, only the car was harmed in both instances. But it got us thinking about how to have a blooper-free Hawaii vacation that doesn’t necessarily go viral on Instagram.

And moreover, on the topic of terrible mistakes, read on for some whoppers that happened to BOH editors.


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1. Disturbing Hawaii wildlife.

BOH: This includes green sea turtles and monk seals to start. You must keep a safe distance that is appropriate and required by law. We’ve witnessed all kinds of improprieties (by both visitors and residents, by the way), including visitors sitting on sea turtles and this article about visitors and monk seals.

2. Removing coral, sand, or rocks.

BOH: First, the removal of coral and sand is illegal in Hawaii. It’s also an affront to Hawaiian cultural beliefs. And when it comes to lava rock that’s related to the Goddess Pele, that’s offensive too. Please never disturb rocks at heiau (Hawaiian temples). Rock piling, too, is a misguided practice and offensive to Native Hawaiians.

3. Talking pidgin English.

BOH: Also known as Hawaii Creole, this has a fascinating history which was based on needing a common language among diverse people who all spoke different languages during Hawaii’s plantation days.

Visitors speaking pidgin isn’t really appropriate. It’s spoken by those who grew up in Hawaii and can be heard at the beach, in stores, and anywhere in neighborhood conversations. We suggest visitors stick with English.

4. Not looking beyond Hawaii beaches to experience authentic Hawaii.

BOH: Hawaii wants visitors to understand and experience something more. Please let us share that with you. On Oahu, that might include the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, the Honolulu Museum of Art, and Iolani Palace.

5. Not eating like people in Hawaii do.

BOH: Hawaii’s food is culturally rich and diverse, just like its residents. Eating at Denny’s and Mcdonald’s is all well and good, but it is monotone and a clearly missed opportunity. No matter your taste in food, Hawaii has something memorable for you to enjoy. That includes farmer’s markets nearly every day on all the islands. Also, try foods not seen on the mainland—including our restaurants in every price range and a fast-growing, vibrant food truck community. Depending on your taste buds, we’d also suggest iconic poke, shave ice of all varieties, including organic and renowned Hawaii malasadas.

6. Getting a severe Hawaii sunburn where you can no longer enjoy your vacation.

BOH: The Hawaii sun is more potent than you think or feel when in it. Refreshing water and trade winds can also confuse your senses, and you can get a severe sunburn on cloudy days. Hawaii state law requires reef-safe sunscreens only.

7. Cheap tipping

BOH: Please be generous with Hawaii’s overworked and overlooked hospitality workers. Many still work up to 3 jobs to afford to live here and be able to serve you.

8. Underestimate Hawaii’s unique pace.

BOH: We’ve seen visitors get married at 5 on the north shore, plan a 90-minute drive to the south shore, where they have dinner reservations at 7. It just doesn’t work, is stressful, and where’s the enjoyment in that anyway. We use Google Maps to see how long it takes at any time to drive between points A and B here in Hawaii. Even living here, we can get caught off guard by traffic and even short distances can take much longer than expected.

9. Getting your car broken into.

BOH: Leaving things visible in your rental car is nearly a guarantee of trouble. Before you go out, move things to your trunk without others watching.

10. Speeding, inappropriate U-turns and other turns, and honking

BOH: These won’t make friends and could result in far worse. We have seen and told you about visitors turning left at the last minute from the right lane, making illegal and unsafe u-turns on the highway, and honking the horn. That isn’t island behavior so please leave it on the mainland.

11. Dangerous Jaywalking.

One of BOH’s editors saw this just yesterday. A group of visitors walked across a dangerous highway, albeit two lanes, to get to a restaurant. Drivers won’t expect that, and you or someone else could get injured or killed.

12. Ignoring Hawaii ocean dangers.

Hawaii visitor drownings are frequent and 10x more common for visitors than residents. Swimming or snorkeling alone, where no lifeguard is present, is obvious. And underestimating the ocean or overestimating your abilities is a near guarantee of trouble.

13. Spending too much and unexpectedly.

BOH: This is one of the most frequent topics on Beat of Hawaii; like underestimating the cost of accommodations after first buying non-refundable Hawaii flights. Or not realizing that 50% taxes and fees could suddenly be added to that great Hawaii vacation rental or hotel rate.

14. Forgetting to check and re-checking bookings.

BOH: Did you check MyTSA before heading to the airport? Did you use FlightAware to see where whether your plane will be on time and where the incoming flight is? From personal experience, we’ve had reservations on the wrong dates and have missed or paid for things we couldn’t use.

One of us received a call from Hawaiian Airlines saying that a flight had been changed to another date. On checking, your editor realized that was a lucky thing. The flight he had initially booked was not for the day he had intended to fly. Without the airline’s change, there would have been a missed flight or worse.

15. Placing undue trust in travel reviews.

BOH: What a complex subject. We can’t live without them and yet we simply can’t have confidence in them the way we once naively did. We continue to believe that success or failure is based in part on reviews. Perhaps up to one-half of all travel reviews are financially motivated. BOH just had some travel debacles itself based on following TripAdvisor reviews — stay tuned for that.

16. Not bothering to recheck prices on cars, air, and hotel.

BOH: Check to be sure prices haven’t changed from the time of booking to the time of travel. As a result, it may be possible to get airline credit or otherwise improve rates by rebooking hawaii flights. It takes a little time but can be well worth it. We have sometimes saved 50% by re-booking our car rental the day before travel.

17. Trespassing on private property or ignoring warning signs.

BOH: Be careful here. Not respecting private property can land you in trouble on your Hawaii vacation. One visitor nearly died not long ago when nearly falling off a cliff!

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29 thoughts on “Terrible Mistakes Hawaii Visitors Should Never Make”

  1. RE #1: years ago the locals who grew up playing in the ocean as “the” thing to do when pau hana, used to “ride” the turtles, just like people ride horses on land. I once witnessed a turtle swim right up to a Hawaiian man, pause, waiting for him to mount, much like a hailed cab approaching a pedestrian. It’s one of my most fond memories. I get that it’s no longer considered politically correct in today’s world, but riding a willing turtle is no different than riding a horse, and is far less traumatic to the turtles than boats and jet skis bouncing off their backs, or having their nesting sites destroyed by roads, hotels, homes, condos, etc.

  2. Hi guys , one more to add to the list is to not snorkel within a week or so of flying to hawaii . You probably saw the article last week of the husband and wife on honeymoon and were snorkeling and husband died, was found unresponsive near the shore. Quite sad and then the people helping the wife found out the couples bags and phone and car were stolen at the beach . Numerous articles describe the danger of drowning while snorkeling after flying due to the effects of high altitude while flying on the lungs . ( the air pressure in the plane cabin is equivalent to 7000 feet elevation ). Do some research on this subject of snorkeling after flying and be safe. Enough dangers with the ocean , no reason to add one that can be prevented .

    1. Thank you for this information about flying and snorkeling. I’ve never heard a hint about this ever before. I will definitely do a Google search. Most visitors to Hawaii stay only one week and look forward to snorkeling. Honestly, this does not make sense to me but I will check it out.

      1. Here is an article on the subject of snorkel deaths : scubadivermag.com/the-hawaiian-snorkelling-deaths-mystery/

  3. Aloha Guys! You made me smile with the mention of malasadas (Portuguese Sweet Bread)! My dear mom-in-law’s family was from the Madeira islands, and she taught me how to make them. They are much better than regular donuts (and we love donuts! ha)

  4. Your blog should be required reading, with passing a pop quiz on it required before visitors can leave the airport. Every single time we go to our favorite beach, where seals and turtles often haul up to rest, we have to chase off tourists who are too close/harassing them. Please keep writing about this. Mahalo!

    1. Agree, Cathy. I have an Airbnb and with the men’s permission, I would like to print and include it in my welcome book!

  5. Your comments on visitor driving is comical. I see lot’s of courtesies and thank you shaka’s on Kauai which is nice. However, speeding, horn honking and illegal u-turns are common behaviors among locals as well. This is not just a tourist issue.

  6. After living here many years I have to say that sadly it seems even more locals now than tourists seem to be speeding and aggressive on the roads. Mostly the younger generation has forgotten to relax and be on island time.

    1. I agree with George H and Chris S. If you don’t want visitors to speed then set a good example by not doing it yourself. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve been doing 50 in 50 MPH zone on Kauai only to have a local blow by me at 60 in their island truck.

  7. I read your comment about visitors jaywalking to get to a restaurant. Jaywalking seems to still be illegal in Hawaii which makes sense to me. Beware if you come to California where I live. Governor Gavin Newsom passed the “Freedom To Walk Act” in September 2022. The act took effect January 2023. It is now legal to jaywalk in California.

  8. I appreciate the ‘cheap tipping’ comment but not sure what is appropriate. On mainland, I tip 20% for good service and 25 – 30% for excellent. Is that fair?

    1. That’s more than fair. However i don’t get the “work 3 jobs” part of that article. I usually overtip here (just to make up for cheapos), but it’s still their choice to work extra jobs to be able to live in paradise.

  9. I echo your tip on rechecking rates on rental cars, hotels and to some extent flights. I’ve been going down an escalator to baggage claim and have saves substantially on the rental car I’m about to pick up. While currently on holiday in Croatia, I found a midsized SUV for €125 less. Never prepay for just this reason. Maybe next time Kauai for anither coffee? BTW car rental only €152 for 12 days 😉

  10. Aloha BOH! Even though it was woven through the other topics, I’d also specifically like to add patience. Patience at the airports, patience at the rental car businesses, patience when driving, patience when trying to find parking, patience with dinner reservations and/or waiting times, patience with the bar staff, and patience with housekeeping and hotel staff among many others. It’s not necessarily ‘island time,’ but more a reflection of Aloha and everyone being stretched thin. As mentioned, many, many residents are working three jobs and paying 2-3,000 a month for a studio or a 1BR apartment or condo, to be able to live in paradise. When we visit, we just add extra time to our expectations and remember we are on vacation in Hawaii!

  11. I wonder if those jaywalkers are from Virginia? It is terrible here. Pedestrians have the right away at crosswalks. However, people just cross wherever they please and you have to watch constantly. Never saw this bad habit in other states as often as in Virginia.

  12. Dear Beat of Hawaii,

    I agree 100% with your recommendations on Visitor etiquette.
    Unfortunately, none of us can fix stupid. Mahalo Nui Loa for attempting to.
    You’re always spot on. I apologize in advance for any blow back you may be subject to.
    Much Aloha.

  13. I beg to differ with the comments that the photo is Keauhou Bay; it is indeed Honokohau Harbor looking back Mauka with the high school on the hill beyond. Keauhou Bay never has nearly as many boats as Honokohau.

  14. Amen to almost all your points. I slightly disagree on a blanket statement regarding Pidgin. When I moved here I joined a crew of telephone men, half who spoke mostly Pidgin. To the tourist I don’t suggest it, Unless you specifically have someone Teaching you Pidgin (which I worked hard at). I was told I was Kama’aina soon after that.

    Folks, don’t be dumb. Do not risk your life in the ocean, on the mountainside, or driving impaired. Just Google Hawaii tourist deaths to get an idea.

    Thanks BOH!

    1. Please don’t try to speak pigeon. Even after years and years you might think you got it, but you won’t. Locals can tell. It’s painful to listen to and to watch friends somehow thinking they now belong. That’s why people try to speak it, to belong and being accepted. If you are accepted it’s because of your actions, not butchered pigeon.

  15. Great article! Love the point on trespassing, there is a reason certain hiking trails are kapu. Although one correction, the photo included above is Keauhou Bay and not Honokohau Harbor.

  16. That is a picture of Keauhou harbor just south of Kona. Honokohau is North of Kona. DNLR must have mislabeled the photo.

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