Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii

Post Published October 24, 2023

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Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii

Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii - Attempting to Take Lava Rocks Home as Souvenirs

One of the most common mistakes visitors make in Hawaii is trying to take lava rocks home as souvenirs. While it may seem harmless to pick up a small piece of hardened lava from the beach or near a volcano, this practice is actually illegal in Hawaii and can even be considered a felony offense if caught.

The reason taking lava rocks is banned is that these rocks hold deep cultural and spiritual meaning for Native Hawaiians. In Hawaiian culture, the lava rocks represent Pele, the goddess of fire, lightning, wind and volcanoes. Ancient Hawaiians believed that taking lava rocks meant taking away part of Pele's spirit. Even today, many locals consider removing lava rocks to be disrespectful to Hawaiian culture and folklore surrounding the islands' volcanic origins.
Beyond the cultural concerns, removing lava rocks also negatively impacts Hawaii's natural environment. When visitors take lava rock souvenirs, they remove part of the land itself, slowly eroding away the islands over time. Lava rock provides an important base ecosystem for many native species and helps limit coastal erosion from ocean waves and wind. Removing even small amounts of lava rock disturbs this delicate natural balance.

Park rangers and airport security take the lava rock ban very seriously. There are large signs posted around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park warning visitors not to take lava rocks or sand. Rangers frequently check bags and issue citations to those caught sneaking out even tiny pebble-sized pieces. At airports, agricultural agents x-ray luggage and will confiscate lava rocks being transported out of state. Offenders face fines of up to $500 per lava rock.

Despite the clearly posted warnings, rangers catch dozens of visitors each year trying to take lava rocks. In 2015 alone, over 2,000 pounds of lava rock were seized at Hawaii's airports. Visitors come up with creative smuggling methods like hiding rocks in their clothes, packing them in opaque bags, mailing them in boxes, and even coating them in chocolate to disguise them as candy. But ultimately most offenders get caught.

What else is in this post?

  1. Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii - Attempting to Take Lava Rocks Home as Souvenirs
  2. Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii - Hiking Without Proper Shoes or Water
  3. Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii - Getting Too Close to Marine Wildlife
  4. Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii - Touching the Endangered Monk Seals
  5. Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii - Visiting Sacred Sites in Revealing Clothing
  6. Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii - Trying to Surf with No Lessons
  7. Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii - Driving Slowly on Narrow Cliffside Roads
  8. Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii - Assuming Locals Want to Share Their Culture

Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii - Hiking Without Proper Shoes or Water

Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in HawaiiThe trails of Hawaii offer some of the most stunning scenery you'll ever encounter. Verdant rainforests, dramatic cliffs, and cascading waterfalls dazzle hikers lucky enough to experience them. However, many visitors make the mistake of attempting these trails improperly prepared. Hiking Hawaii's rugged terrain without proper footwear and water can turn a dream adventure into a dangerous nightmare.
Rushing headlong into a Hawaiian hike wearing flimsy flip flops or sandals is a recipe for disaster. The trails are often muddy, rocky, and slippery—nothing like a nice stroll along a sandy beach. Jagged lava rock tears apart thin-soled shoes. Mud sucks sneakers right off of feet. Hikers cruising the Kalalau Trail in beach shoes often end up barefoot just a mile or two in. At best, improper footwear leads to cuts and blisters. At worst, a turned ankle miles from help.

Proper hiking boots provide grip and ankle support to handle uneven and slippery terrain. Sturdy soles prevent sharp rocks from bruising feet. Waterproof materials keep your feet dry through stream crossings and muddy patches. Break in new hiking boots before your trip to avoid painful blisters. Alternatively, rent boots from outfitters like KapohoKine Adventures on the Big Island or Oahu Nature Tours.
Dehydration rapidly disables hikers unprepared with sufficient water. Hawaii's tropical climate means high temperatures and humidity on the trails. Sweat evaporates quickly in the heat, pulling fluid from your body faster than you might expect. Altitude combined with physical exertion accelerates water loss. Hiking up steep grades to volcano overlooks or waterfalls raises your heart rate. Before you know it, your water bottle is empty and your head is pounding.
Experts recommend carrying at least 2 liters of water per person for full day hikes in Hawaii. More for longer routes or in hotter conditions. CamelBak-style backpacks with water bladders ensure you always have water accessible without stopping. Fill up your bottle at every opportunity—before descending into valleys, as you pass waterfalls or streams. Proper hydration keeps your energy level high and mind clear to fully take in the island scenery surrounding you.

Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii - Getting Too Close to Marine Wildlife

Hawaii’s underwater paradise dazzles snorkelers and divers with a kaleidoscope of colorful fish and sea creatures. Gliding alongside sea turtles and dolphins creates lifelong memories. However, getting too close stresses vulnerable marine wildlife and even puts you in danger. Keeping a respectful distance ensures your experience leaves the animals and environment undisturbed.
Hawaii prohibits touching, disturbing or harassing protected marine species like turtles, dolphins and seals. But snorkelers and divers become so enthralled encountering these graceful creatures, they forget the rules. Sea turtles swimming just below the surface present a temptation difficult to resist. Despite laws banning it, overeager snorkelers chase after turtles trying to touch them. This stresses the turtles, causing them to swim rapidly away. Repeated harassment trains them to avoid popular snorkeling spots—robbing future visitors of magical encounters.

Dolphins elicit even greater excitement when they swim by. Their playful nature makes people want to get in the water and join them. But attempting to swim with wild dolphins essentially terrorizes them. These highly intelligent animals communicate distress through squeaks and body language. Trying to keep up with speeding dolphins forces them to burn precious energy. Separating calves from their mothers or driving pods into danger disrupts essential behaviors.

Even watching dolphins and whales from boats demands awareness. Getting too close or pursuing animals alters their migration path or feeding habits. Surrounding them on all sides blocks their ability to surface for air. The engine noise and invading bodies stresses mothers and calves. Responsible companies follow NOAA guidelines for safe viewing distances: 50 yards from dolphins/whales, 150 feet from seals/sea lions.
Attempting to get close to marine wildlife also endangers you. Sea creatures do not understand your body language or “just want to play.” A dolphin smacking you with its fluke can shatter bones. Their sharp teeth inflict serious wounds—as can the razor-like beaks of sea turtles. These reactions stem from fear, not aggression. Simply leaving animals alone prevents such terrifying outcomes.

Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii - Touching the Endangered Monk Seals

Among Hawaii's most famous inhabitants, monk seals captivate visitors longing for an up-close encounter. Their large, liquid eyes and playful nature give them an aura of approachability. However, monk seals are in fact an endangered species numbering less than 1,400 seals total in the wild. Getting too close or attempting to touch them seriously stresses populations already teetering on the brink.
Hawaiian monk seals differ from their more numerous Alaskan relatives in that they primarily haul out on beaches rather than ice flows. This makes them easily accessible to intrigued humans strolling the shoreline. Their propensity to rest in plain sight—often just feet from popular swimming beaches—seems like an invitation to curious tourists. Despite clear signage and rope barriers, clueless visitors ignore warnings and attempt to approach or even touch the seals.

Veteran Hawaii residents shake their heads in dismay at such foolishness. Lifelong diver Melvin Kahele recounts directing wayward tourists away from basking seals dozens of times. “These malihini [newcomers] see a cute resting monk seal and just make a beeline right for it. They get way too close trying to take selfies and even try to pet them. It’s like they have zero common sense.”

This misguided behavior undeniably stems from ignorance rather than malice. How could something so adorable pose any danger? But Hawaii Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement agents confirm that seals perceive human contact as a threat. Veteran officer Kaleo Keawe has written numerous citations for seal harassment. “People have this Disney-fied image of seals being sweet and tame. In reality they are powerful wild animals. Imagine a stranger walking up while you’re napping on the beach and poking you in the ribs—that’s what it’s like for them.”

Physical contact predictably elicits an aggressive reaction from the startled seals. Photographs of bloody gashes from seal bites circulate online as graphic warnings. But even lack of direct contact stresses seals, disrupting their rest cycles essential for hunting and reproducing. Repeated disturbance causes seals to abandon preferred beaches and pupping sites. Since Hawaiian monk seals breed and rear their young almost exclusively on the main islands, loss of habitat could devastate future generations.

The problem escalated to such an extent that in 2011 disturbance of endangered seals became a felony offense under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Fines now reach up to $50,000 and five years imprisonment for seal tampering. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agents surveil popular seal beaches using volunteers and remote observation. Yet even with stiffer penalties, people continue attempting to approach and touch the seals.

Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii - Visiting Sacred Sites in Revealing Clothing

Aloha Aina—Love of the Land—lies at the heart of Native Hawaiian culture. Ancient Hawaiians lived as caretakers of the islands, bound by sacred duty to malama ‘aina (care for the land). Traditional laws, known as kapu, governed every aspect of daily life to maintain harmony between humans and nature. Kapu violations angered the gods (akua), unleashing their destructive fury upon the people.

Modern Hawaii retains remnants of that reverence for the islands’ spiritual geography. Locals still observe kapu by not walking on certain beaches or sections of lava flows. Other areas remain the providence of Hawaiian practitioners, off-limits to outsiders. However, the meaning behind these sacred sites stays opaque to many malihini (newcomers).
Clueless tourists routinely trample over kapu unwittingly due to sheer ignorance. How many visitors to Hawaii know that Keauhou Bay held profound religious significance for ancient Hawaiians? Or that the Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park was once a sacred place of refuge (puʻuhonua)? Exploring these culturally significant locales dressed scantily inevitably offends.
Lifelong Kona resident Kalani Makekau shares how his skin crawls watching scantily-clad tourists tromp through Puʻuhonua. “Our kupuna (elders) instilled in us from childhood how puʻuhonua provided sanctuary from death for lawbreakers. The mana (spiritual power) lingers still today. Visitors entering virtually naked deeply desecrate such a venerated place.”

At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, rangers enforce kapu prohibiting beachwear near steaming volcanic vents. Signs clearly state “Kapu! Do Not Enter Crater in Beachwear.” Here Pele’s destructive forces remain continuously active. Yet rangers report hauling back countless flipflop-clad tourists attempting to approach Halemaʻumaʻu Crater in bikinis or shirtless clutching selfie sticks.
Kahu Hanale Perez of the Edith Kanakaʻole Foundation sighs in dismay recounting a teenage visitor trying to scale Mauna Kea in just a bra and shorts. “Our mauna is among our most sacred sites, home of Poliʻahu and other akua. Climbing in such a state, the keiki showed total spiritual disconnect from ʻāina.”

Locals also find revealing outfits worn at shops, restaurants and hotels highly disrespectful. Clothing deemed perfectly appropriate on the beach transgresses kapu in town. For deeply religious Hawaiians like Hanale, immodesty anywhere on the islands violates cultural norms. “We teach our keiki proper dress honors the sanctity of living on Hawaiʻi, the birthplace of Papa and Wākea. Tourists often miss that message.”

Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii - Trying to Surf with No Lessons

Picture it: You’ve arrived in Hawaii, the undisputed birthplace of surfing. As you watch the pros effortlessly glide along towering waves, you think “Hey, that doesn’t look so tough!” Before you know it, you’ve rented a board and paddled out, certain you’ll be shredding those gnarly breaks in no time. Well, my overconfident friend, that sequence almost never ends well for inexperienced surf wannabes. Attempting to surf without any training frequently leads to frustration at best and serious danger at worst.
Perhaps no activity symbolizes the Hawaiian islands more than surfing. Images of tan, muscular surfers gracefully riding barrels at Sunset Beach or Pipeline travel around the world, sparking dreams of experiencing that lifestyle. Pop culture reinforces the myth that anyone can hop on a board and instantly transform into a surf god. Movies like Blue Crush, Surf’s Up and Chasing Mavericks portray characters tackling walls of water within minutes of first touching a surfboard.

Reality paints a far less glamorous picture. Surfing requires mastering a challenging set of skills—paddling strength, wave judgment, popping up and balancing. Neophytes quickly discover their limits trying to match experienced surfers. Kauai surf instructor Ka’imi Naone sighed thinking of the hapless tourists he’s rescued floundering in heavy shore break. “Braddahs watch John John [Florence] or Kelly [Slater] making it look easy and think they can just paddle out at Hanalei Bay. Ten minutes later they’re gasping for air barely able to make it to shore.”

Surfing without basic training also endangers yourself and others. Surfboards turning into uncontrolled spears cause ugly injuries in crowded lineups. Switchfoot Surf Shop owner Keone Downing lamented the kooks ignoring lessons before crowding popular breaks like Queens or Canoes. “We caution them that other surfers will get angry and they may get hurt, but they still go out and make a mess. We pull 4-5 injured tourists out of the water every week.”

Beyond physical danger, refusing instruction also ruins your vacation. Struggling to catch waves while getting constantly yelled at sours your mellow Hawaiian vibes. Why suffer and flounder on a foamie when a single lesson could have you actually riding waves? Swallow your pride and invest a morning with a coach to unlock the skills of balancing, paddling and wave judgment. You’ll have way more fun and make local lineups happier.

Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii - Driving Slowly on Narrow Cliffside Roads

Picture it - you've just landed in Hawaii and picked up your rental car, a shiny new Mustang convertible. As you cruise along the coast, the temptation is huge to really open up the throttle and hug those cliffside turns, just like in the movies. Resist that urge at all costs, or your Hawaiian dream vacation could quickly turn into a nightmare.

Throughout the islands, narrow two-lane highways cling precariously to seaside cliffs and knife-edge mountain ridges. Local drivers navigate these roads effortlessly in everything from souped-up compacts to lumbering tour vans. However, slow and steady definitely wins the race for malihini unfamiliar with the terrain or road conditions. Excessive speed multiplies risk in ways you may not anticipate.
For one, many blind corners and hairpin switchbacks severely limit visibility. You never know when an oncoming car, bicyclist or even wandering chicken might suddenly appear directly in your path. Locals instinctively slow down approaching bends, ready to brake at a moment's notice. Barreling into turns with excessive speed leaves insufficient reaction time when surprises lurk just out of sight.
Additionally, frequent one-lane bridges mean traffic from the other direction has the right-of-way. Impatient drivers attempting risky passes or speeding into oncoming sections risk disastrous head-on collisions. Sections of crumbling asphalt edge and eroded shoulders leave zero margin for error. Veering even inches off-course spells almost certain doom.

Weather and road conditions can change rapidly as you traverse the diverse ecosystems of each island. High winds or abrupt downpours render those scenic coastal routes slippery and treacherous in an instant. Out-of-control cars plunging off rain-slicked cliffs into the sea represent a disturbingly common occurrence.

Local driver Kailani Keawe shared a nightmare tale of a reckless visitor nearly turning her commute into a death trip. "I was heading home along the Pali highway when this huge pickup came flying up behind me. The guy tailgated me for miles despite all the signs warning of falling rocks. He finally went to pass me on a blind uphill curve - nearly hit a tour bus head-on before swerving back at the last second."

The sheer drops granting those jaw-dropping coastal views also end lives when drivers lose control. One glance at the memorial crosses and flowers marking tragedy sites along the Road to Hana or Kahekili Highway illustrates the grim price of high speeds on narrow byways. Visitors anxious to complete the road to Hana in record time inevitably discover the ultimate cost of rushing.

Aloha Oops! 10 Facepalm Moments from Clueless Tourists in Hawaii - Assuming Locals Want to Share Their Culture

Visiting Hawaii inevitably immerses you in a mosaic of cultures—Native Hawaiian, Asian, Polynesian—that fascinate malihini eager to connect. Well-meaning tourists see locals and immediately pepper them with questions about traditions, practices, even intimate aspects of their lives. However, this instant interrogation often feels intrusive rather than a cultural exchange. Assuming locals want to satisfy your curiosity represents the height of haole entitlement.

Katie Nakamura still grimaces recalling a sunburned visitor grilling her endlessly after hearing her Japanese last name. “He kept asking if I grew up going to a Buddhist temple, knew any samurai traditions, all these totally inappropriate personal questions. I’m like, DUDE, I was born in Wahiawa!”

Locals resent feeling like walking exhibits rather than real people going about their day. Their ethnicity does not automatically render them spokespeople for entire cultures. Quizzing the first Hawaiian you meet about hula rituals or outrigger canoeing quickly ruins aloha vibes. Hawaiian rights advocate Keoni Downing observes how thoughtless questions about symbology or customs disrespect deep cultural beliefs. “Our traditions connect us to ancestors and ʻāina in profound ways. Casually discussing them with strangers denigrates their sanctity.”

Photographer Kai Garcia still feels uncomfortable when tourists at his gallery show insist he explain mini-lessons on Polynesian wayfinding, outrigger canoe construction and Hawaiian medicine. “Visitors see me as this exotic artifact who should share ancient knowledge. They mean well but it gets awkward fast.”

Local hospitality has limits—no native Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino or Japanese resident wants to spend their beach day or dinner hour schooling you on their heritage. Learning must flow both ways, with visitors first demonstrating respect, humility and cultural awareness.

Assume nothing before engaging locals on their own terms. Keoni recommends visitors approach any cultural interaction as a precious gift, not an entitlement. “We gladly share once we feel the mana, once their appreciation for our people rings true.”

Start by listening first before launching into your list of questions. Discover what each local chooses to share, rather than probing off the bat. Research basic history to avoid ignorant assumptions. Prioritize showing your aloha through service, as the Outrigger cultural immersion program models.

Cultural advocate Kumu Keala Ching reminds visitors that Hawaiians see themselves as stewards of their islands first. “We share our sacred knowledge only when we feel malihini care for ʻāina as family. Then they become lāhui, one people united to mālama Hawaiʻi.” Approach every local encounter with patience, humility and open heart. The gifts of true aloha will flow freely.

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