You’ll fall in a trance in this tropical paradise’s vast beauty.
Even though this series has taken four years to complete, I want to thank all the readers who have stayed tuned as I have shared my countless memories traversing the United States. It has been a truly surreal experience to have visited all 50 states and something I consider a remarkable accomplishment.
I wouldn’t have had the motivation to craft this series if it weren’t for the uniqueness of each state, and of course, the readers.
I can now look forward to circling the rest of our great planet, from the Outback of Australia to the city of Tokyo to the safaris of South Africa, and finally to Europe with world cities of London and Paris and the rugged, icy landscape of Iceland and Norway.
I am now able to finally say Aloha to being on the other side of visiting all 50 states and I want to say Mahalo to the readers for driving with me on this journey every mile of the way. Until we meet again for the next series…
Welcome to the final installment of Road To 50. When I first started this series back in 2019, I had already visited a chunk of the U.S., but in the last few years, I have been fortunate enough to visit a few remaining states such as Idaho, Montana, and now Hawaii.
Hawaii is known as a tropical paradise miles from the US mainland. Its culture is unique and rich, from luaus to hula dances to diverse cuisines and more.
This collection of islands is not only the paradise everyone thinks it is, but also a land of diverse biomes with grasslands, rainforests, and deserts inhabiting the compact land of the enclaves.
A gem of a location deep in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii will allure you with its natural beauty and sense of adventure the way I experienced firsthand as a visitor in my 50th and final state.
Part 1: The Cosmopolitan Charm Of Oahu
It was incredibly surreal to me after landing in Hawaii that I had finally accomplished a lifelong dream (and the purpose of this series.) All those flights, drives, travel itineraries and effort to make a visit to each state culminated in the final touchdown at Honolulu International Airport.
It was on that day, February 22, 2023, that I was finally able to take a moment and cherish the magnitude of what had just happened. I realized I will NEVER have that feeling of stepping foot into a new US state ever again. All those moments of excitement from the countdown, from states # 41, #42, #43 … etc. had eventually led to the top of the summit.
There was no better way to begin the celebration than in Oahu, the chief tourism hub for the state of Hawaii, filled with the vibrant nightlife and posh shopping strip of Waikiki to the skyscraper-filled downtown of Honolulu to the endless resorts and beaches.
A bulk of my week-long visit to the islands was spent in Oahu. Even after a lengthy 8-9 hour flight into Honolulu the night before, I was pumped and eager to climb its premier attraction – the volcanic cone Diamond Head – bright and early the next morning.
A sharp contrast from much of the rest of the country at that time, it was slightly humid and I could feel sweat trickle down my face as I began the daunting uphill climb to the summit of the mammoth and dormant Diamond Head.
The 45-minute hike featured narrow twists and turns on a jagged path littered with uneven and sometimes larger-sized rocks. One missed step could put a stop to the climb but I kept my persistence and scaled to the top, the last stairs feeling like two centuries to trek as my legs wanted to stop complying to my orders.
Atop the summit in a cramped concrete square surrounded by railings was a breathtaking panoramic view of Hawaii’s most populated island.
The massive Pacific Ocean was to the left, flowing peacefully, and offering various layers of color from light blue near the shoreline to darker further in the distance. Blue was all the eye could see as the ocean spanned for thousands of miles in the distance.
The metropolis of Honolulu with its abundant skyscrapers was to the front, with Waikiki beach looking minuscule in the middle. You could distinguish the line of buildings stretching from downtown in the back to Waikiki a bit closer, all mostly hugging the shoreline and its different hues creating a rainbow for the eyes to see from a distance.
The green valleys of Oahu were on full display to the right with various homes sprinkled in at points along different elevations. Behind me was the top of Diamond Head, filled with the greenery of thousands of trees. Nevertheless, the identifiable circular curve signaled the identity of the once active volcano with the sheer size enough to host hundreds of football fields.
It was a truly breathtaking sight to behold and a very rare moment as the charm of a city, the pure blue appeal of the ocean, lush green valleys, and a gargantuan volcano filled up an incredible 360 view. Where else could you find this?
The beauty of the Pacific was admirable but also situated in the valleys and grasslands of central Oahu was the Dole Plantation, a pineapple plantation permeated to the brim with a lifelong supply of pineapples.
There, a once-in-a-lifetime experience was defined by eating pineapple soft serve ice cream. Yes, traditional soft serve ice cream, but a light yellow and flavored with a pineapple taste. Only in Hawaii. Any taste of regular soft serve was completely masked by the taste of pineapple, as the truly authentic treat swirled in a cup offered me a memorable taste of what the plantation had to offer. I could still feel the pineapple flavor lingering in my mouth during a ride on the Pineapple Express, the plantation’s top-rated attraction that slowly lined various fields of fruit farms (avocado, lemon, lime…and much more) along with an endless supply of pineapples.
With Oahu’s natural sights crossed off my checklist, one of the only things that remained was to experience the charm of Waikiki and see if it lived up to all the hype. A short walk from the hotel I was staying at, Waikiki is essentially the twin of Rodeo Drive – a small strip in Honolulu filled with upscale shops meant to make you a fashion icon. In addition, it featured top-notch hotels, restaurants, and a gorgeous beachfront.
I took a stroll on Waikiki in early evening, packed with curious tourists allured by palm trees, shops, souvenirs, quick treats, and of course the Pacific Ocean.
Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Chanel, Dior, and more sheathed the street as tourists slowly sauntered across the jammed sidewalk. Motorcycles blasted music, street dancers amped up the crowds, ice cream shacks populated the corners, and it was popping.
Beach volleyball, tanners, surfers, and relaxed beach enthusiasts were sprawled across a compact Waikiki beach. Small waves of the water ruffled the shoreline and startled inattentive tourists.
I decided to stroll into the Waikiki Walkway, a small pier stretching a bit into the water, where the hustle and bustle was at a minimum.
The sun shone on the water during the young Hawaii evening at the end of the pier. In front was an endless Pacific, behind me was a row of palm trees with the Honolulu buildings standing tall and proud. If there was ever a moment where I felt a “I’m in paradise” moment, this was certainly it.
A trip to Oahu wouldn’t have been complete without visiting the Pearl Harbor Memorial, where I had a chance to pay respects to the sailors killed in the Attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Part 2: Traversing The One-of-A-Kind Natural Landscape of Big Island
Upon landing in the Big Island of Hawaii, I set out to explore something I never had before: volcanoes. Due to a recent eruption, my visit to the prodigious Volcanoes National Park on a rainy day was limited to a certain portion of the area but that didn’t stop me from attaining a terrific experience.
I drove up to Kilauea, a prominent and an active volcano in the park. As I approached the railing of the outlook, its gargantuan size was evident as it spanned into the distance. Towards the right end, I could see puffs of smoke wafting through the air – a calm gesture from a mighty beast at the time considering that the same volcano erupted in early January.
It was a rather windy day filled with bouts of rain, but the smoke stayed calm, unfazed by any pressure, and going about its business. The sleeping giant continued to let loose only a smidge of its power as I left, and I wondered what full force would have looked like.
Speaking of full force, I came face-to-face with Mauna Loa upon turning around, a massive volcano considered the largest on the planet that had just erupted in late November 2022. I could make out a hint of snow at the tippy top, with it probably being coated all over the peak if I was at a closer angle of view. The vast volcano stretched as far as the eye could see.
As an avid and excited explorer determined to visit rare wonders like volcanoes, the concept of the Southernmost Point in the U.S. was not all that exciting but a small feat to accomplish in the midst of a bigger one.
On my drive, grasslands expanded into the distance, cows peacefully munched on grass upon small ranches and wind turbines slowly fanning the land. It sincerely felt as if I were driving through the heartlands of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa.
I snapped out of those thoughts as the ocean became apparent and the force of gusty winds even on a clear day pushed my van to the side of the road.
As I approached the point, the wind was fierce, almost telling me to stay put and not reach the finish line with its brute force. Nevertheless, I urged through the challenges of the pesky wind and reached the end of the paved road only to meet a brief jagged walking path at the doorstep of the “southernmost point” (which is essentially a cliff overlooking the Pacific.) The sun’s rays pierced bright on the water, blinding me in the process but offering a spectacular and sunny view of the ocean. I wondered what lied ahead from there.
As a celebration of going further south than I had ever been before, I stopped at Punalu’u Bake Shop, the southernmost bakery in America (this is where the southernmost trend ends,) to grab a famous malasada, or fried doughnuts. The line was out the door at the tiny shop nestled in a small town near the point.
After waiting for what seemed like a day, I finally received the donut treat. Upon first bite, I could feel the softness and doughy texture accompanied with a backtaste from the sugary sprinkle all over the dessert. I wolfed down a couple and was only left wanting more.
As my voyage through this big island continued, the western part was home to a lush green rainforest filled with flourishing trees, reminiscent of a trip to the famous Amazon in South America. As I approached the popular Akaka Falls, rain started pounding my windshield with full force, signaling a true rainforest atmosphere. Green trees surrounded the narrow road and a tunnel of trees soon engulfed me, offering a warm welcome.
Upon reaching the lot for the falls, rain continued to hammer down, not letting up and delaying my descent to the falls. Upon finally getting some relief from the downpour, I descended on a small trail and entered a winding narrow path into a mysterious collection of trees.
The sidewalk was wet from fresh rainfall and the tree branches hanging over the trail were slowly dripping fresh rain droplets onto my face. A few minutes later, I felt I was engulfed in the heart of the Amazon with an endless array of colorful vegetation in every angle.
What critters could have possibly lied in the depths of this limitless greenery?
After continuing to cross through this seemingly never-ending rainforest, I eventually locked eyes on a beautiful, majestic waterfall perfectly pouring water down while being nestled in the middle of all the trees. Mist transformed into gray on all edges of the falls with greenery surrounding it. A picture-perfect moment.
Speaking of picture-perfect moments, I was met with an “ideal” Hawaiian sunset in the western coast town of Kailua-Kona during my stay in the Big Island. Upon walking along a quiet pier towards the water, a slightly orange sky, a small boat revving up in the water, and palm trees swaying to the direction of the wind displayed a true pop culture perception view of Hawaii. It was only fitting that an evening luau was taking place right next to me across the pier.
Big Island was certainly the most rugged of the islands – with a circumference of around 100+ miles, it’s much bigger than the others, and represents a frontier to be conquered.
It’s like you’re in two planets at once with the scorching heat of volcanoes and a desert in the middle and eastern part of the island, the beach kissing all edges of the island, a vast rainforest filled with torrential downpours circling the west, and windy grasslands like in the midwest reaching the southernmost edges.
Part 3: Canyon Adventures in Kauai
Though exhausted by the time I arrived at the final destination of my Hawaii expedition, the island of Kauai, I was exhilarated at the thought of another adventure.
Kauai is not the most populated island with an 80,000 population, nor the biggest at roughly 50 miles to circle around. But boy, did it pack the plushest valleys I had ever laid eyes on in my life as it was known as the wettest place on the planet for good reason.
Upon landing early in the morning in the town of Lihue, I immediately hopped in a rental car and drove for Waimea Canyon, dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
Perched in the southwest corner of the island, I began the steep uphill climb towards the canyon, as the road kept going up and up. It was a peaceful day, with the sun shining bright on the Pacific in the rearview since rain mercilessly fell 30 minutes before.
As the road kept winding upward, I stopped at various viewpoints to catch a clear view of the canyon to no avail. It’s the road less traveled, however, that can sometimes be the most exciting. Upon stopping at a couple of unexpected viewpoints on the side of the road, I was afforded some of the most stunning canyon views. Into the distance was an orange-colored canyon stretching into the distance. With a squint, I saw a small river diagonally flowing down at the floor of rock formations, which was actually covered in trees and small slopes. It was eerily quiet around me, not a cricket in sight.
I could only wonder if any brave explorer had dared voyage to the floor of the infinite and remote valley. Unlike many other canyons, this one was filled with verdure at the bottom and the orange rocks provided a picture perfect complement for Kauai’s soaked atmosphere.
As I drove down the steep road back towards civilization, I was greeted by the massive Pacific Ocean with a Grand Canyon doppelgänger in the rearview. Only in Hawaii.
I concluded my brief visit to the small island by checking out Hanalei the next day, a small beach town on the north shore of the island. There I tasted Lappert’s Ice Cream, a renowned location in the state for sweet treats. I went out of my comfort zone with macadamia nut flavor: a Hawaii special. The crunch of nuts and cream were not only the perfect complement but its sharp chill rejuvenated my early morning lull.
Hanalei’s pier was the one thing that caught my eye. On the beachfront while I was incessantly snapping pics on my iPhone, I caught a peek of a surfboard stapled to a tree by the water. I not only captured the surfboard, but an incredible image of clouds immersed in abundant green verdant valleys within swimming distance from the end of the pier. Can’t get a more vintage Hawaii shot than that. Thank you, surfboard.