As someone who jumps at every opportunity I get to talk about my hometown, I was very hesitant when executives of The Lumberjack suggested I write a spotlight for our travel issue. I figured I could blame it on my lack of AP style knowledge or limited vocabulary, but I now realize that what I was really nervous about was how difficult it would be to put into words how much significance Hawai’i holds for people who call the islands home.

I get asked a lot of wacky questions about Hawai’i. Some honorable mentions include, “Do you guys have internet out there?,” “How did you learn to speak English so well?” and “What’s it like being able to go to the beach every day?” Although those questions are fun for witty responses, the one question I always have a difficult time answering is: “Why would you ever leave a place like Hawai’i?” And trust me, coming into week 15 of the semester, I think a lot about that question too.

O’ahu is known as “The Gathering Place,” home to talented artists, hardworking craftsmen, one-of-a-kind food culture, diverse families, surf enthusiasts and beach lovers alike! While all the islands are as picture-perfect as the next, each has its unique characteristics that keep them so endearing to outsiders. I grew up on the island of O’ahu on the outskirts of Honolulu. Being the capital of Hawai’i, Honolulu is a very familiar name to non-residents. Popular places like Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head Crater lure tourists from around the globe, but O’ahu goes far beyond the Waikiki strip.

Living in Flagstaff for the past two years has made me appreciate the humid, muggy atmosphere that O’ahu provides. The warmer months of April through October are when residents race to our lovely beaches and hiking trails. While Flagstaff may be lacking in oceanside views, the hiking trails on O’ahu are just as beautiful as our Aspen trees up north. O’ahu may not have golden trees and snow-peaked mountains, but the ridge trails along the Ko’olau mountains will surely impress with their luscious greenery and breathtaking bird's-eye view.

You can’t think of O’ahu without its postcard landscape coming to mind. Botanical gardens like Lyon Arboretum in Mānoa and Ho’omaluhia Gardens in Kāne’ohe are open to the public. Most of these gardens are devoted to preserving O’ahu’s native plant species. On the east coast, beaches like Hanauma Bay, Waimanalo and Lanikai are known for their calm, crystal-clear oceans. Up on the North Shore, the seas of Waimea, Pipeline and Sharks Cove are known for their surf culture and massive swells ranging from 30-50 feet during the winter months. 

Winter in O’ahu consists of tradewinds and excessive rainfall. Anything below 70 degrees is when the locals start wearing jackets and adding socks with their sandals. A positive to this weather is it gives our farmers markets and craft fairs a chance to shine. You can find these maker’s markets in schools, malls and even parking lots with a quick Google search. Local vendors sell everything from handmade jewelry to local food favorites. Malasadas, spam musubis, kalua pork and plate lunches with Hawaiian barbecue are a staple in Hawaiian cuisine and are worth a try. 

Native Hawaiian culture and Hawaiian history are something people raised in Hawai’i were taught as early as elementary school. Hawaiian philosophy emphasizes how the land provides the resources its people need to survive and in return, the people protect those resources. While this is an ancient belief, the people of Hawai’i still know the importance of giving back. 

Honolulu from an outside perspective seems like the perfect place, but growing up on a small island gets confining and when you are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, O’ahu definitely feels like a bubble. Leaving home always feels like a wish granted for the Hawai’i teenager. There are only so many beach trips and mall outings you can take before scenes get repetitive. When I graduated high school, I convinced myself I had grown out of Honolulu, and there wasn’t anything left for me to see on the island. 

Plus, our housing prices are one of the highest in America, residents often work multiple jobs to support themselves and it’s even harder to find a job compared to the endless opportunities on the mainland. It took me a moment to understand why so many O’ahu natives end up returning after living off-island for so long. 

While Honolulu is a very small city, the island has always given its people a sense of purpose. Being surrounded by a community that supports one another brings a feeling of comfort but also belonging. Though I have grown to love our mountain town, the longer I am away from O’ahu, the more I want to return to the people that make O’ahu worth coming back to.

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