We all know why Hawaii is adult-friendly. But as we discovered with serious delight, the Big Island is also considerably keiki (Hawaiian for “little one”) friendly. Game-changer. Here’s the how and why:
- The island culture is relaxed. No heads turned at my naked babies splashing in the beachside showers. No eyebrows raised at the shoeless littles in the casual and charming eateries. We, the parents, similarly seemed perpetually tossed in a light coating of salt and sand. (And in fact, I didn’t brush my hair in 6-weeks.) Of course, we weren’t filthy-messy (and we actually rinsed 3x as often). We were (what I prefer to call ourselves) cute-beach-messy. And all we got for it were friendly winks and free apple bananas from the farmers at the market. Now that’s some island spirit I want to put in my sandy pocket and take home.
- The Kona/Kohala beaches are child-friendly (at least during our stay, from late September through early November). I have a running list of all my favorite keiki-friendly
beaches in draft form. But truly, I was able to take my two, non-swimming babes, alone, to at least 4-beaches within 20 minutes in confidence that I could create a relatively safe container for their ocean experience. Think beaches with mild waves, protected coves, little pools sheltered by lava rock, and warm sitting-friendly tide-pools full for crannies to hunt for snails, crabs and shells. (Noteworthy: The same season, however, was not particularly surf friendly; leaving papa with a 40-minute commute to the nearest surf break at Pine Trees.) We chose Hawaii specifically in order to offer our mountain babies a new relationship with water. Our mission? More-than accomplished. (Check back for the specific list of kid-friendly activities and beaches by name/location.)
- The island seems to specialize in food trucks, fresh fish shacks, beach BBQs, and modest looking eateries (think food that comes out of a small window) that will charm the snobbiest of foodies. The local fare is pretty naturally GF and paleo friendly (think poke bowls, sushi, slow cooked bbq chicken, and local grass-fed beef). But the best part is the outdoor nature of many of the eating establishments. And I don’t need to say more for anyone with kids. Set up at a picnic bench and set the little crazies free. Okay, they didn’t eat that much. But we did. So whatever. 🙂 #priorities.
Clean oceans; clean drinking water. This is a terribly sad fact, but I have sat in too many oceans abroad where a sewer is dumping fervently into the water nearby. And level of toxicity is a real item on my family gap year factor list. Honestly, it’s a depressing fact for this whole sad planet that we (humans) have raped and pillaged our own home. And still continue to beat it down in squandered-death. (I don’t want to cry, so I’ll move on.) Hawaii is a tiny nook that is still cared for (comparatively); kind of preserved in the 60’s actually. Enjoy it while it lasts, because as I was telling my toddler about the leatherback turtles (which will be extinct by the time he finishes high school), there’s an end in sight and it’s fast approaching. And, yes, Hawaii too is currently suffering a massive coral bleaching from the warming ocean (#globalwarmingissofuckingreal). So that extinction is already in progress. (On that fun note: How about the inevitable mass extinction of life on our planet as a reason for taking a family gap year?) Okay, okay, I’ll stop. On this trip, I swam with two black tip reef sharks, manta rays, half a dozen green sea turtles, a pod of wild spinner dolphins and a million mind-blowingly beautiful fish of which my 4-year old can name at least twenty. So witness while the opportunity lasts.
Organic farms, farm tours, a culture of farmer’s markets, and of course, tropical fruit. My children are currently cookoo for the local passion fruit, pineapple, and mango. And my girlfriend and I went a little crazy ourselves when we happened upon a field of ripe guava trees on the top of the 2nd ascent in the Pololu valley. I will admit to finding myself speechless this morning when my 4-year inquired, “Mom, this pineapple smoothie is sweeter than ice cream…why do I get to have this for breakfast?” #hum. But seriously, one of the primary reasons I chose Hawaii for this family trip was to show our littles where good food comes from. #trees. And to give them appreciation for the good people that help get it to us. #farmers. I’ve got a top 10 list for Things to Do With Littles in draft form and the personally guided tour by the owners of the Lokahi Garden Sanctuary organic farm top the list. My 4-year harvested from all the following trees: avocado, mango, mandarin, lemon, grapefruit, coconut, cinnamon, curry leaf, papaya, dragon fruit, passion fruit (and more). Let us not forget the chicken-holding and duck-chasing – because he certainly won’t.
- Health and safety are two variables that quickly climb the priority ladder when littles come into your life. The presence of a Kaiser facility down the street (not going to lie) offers mental relief. And I am also privilege-checking myself and feeling grateful for the fact that we don’t have bars on our windows or have to lock up valuables in a safe when we’re out. Hawaii feels as safe as our tiny little mountain town where the proper place for the keys to the car is on the dash. (Others, by the way, contend; so don’t start leaving your keys on the dash.) The insects on the big island are also pretty harmless (although we did run into one of those jump-worthy monster centipedes). And although I’m sure it’s easy enough to find reputable child-care anywhere in the world, it was particularly easy in Hawaii with ready access to Care.com via which we found one of the best nannies we’ve ever worked with. When your children literally CRY for the sitter, it sure makes date night guilt-free.
- NICEST PEOPLE EVER in HAWAII. I’m capitalizing this for a reason: I have rarely in my life been so astonished with the consistent kindness of an American people. (Maybe they don’t consider themselves American?) And not fake or overly-cheery
kindness, but that rare, gentle, inquisitive, authentic kindness. My expectations were low. After all, tourists are the WORST. And this island is crawling in them/us. So the locals seem more than entitled to snobbery. But the reality has been exactly the opposite: The local in line at the famers market helps me answer my son’s questions about the foreign fruits; The local neighbor tells me which gates I can hop over for the best hikes; The local farmers coo and offer my kids free samples and fruit; The fancy hotel attendants just smile and welcome our public access to their gorgeous beaches as if we were paying guests; The roadside fruit stands are unattended and operate based on honesty. Even the signage on private lands politely reads: “Thank you for respecting our privacy” (instead of KEEP OUT). Everyone kind of just drives the speed limit here (both in reality and metaphor) and keeps it cool, light and real. Ultimately, we fathomed that the culture of kindness must have something to do with the deep breathing induced by the engulfing horizons of sky, sea, and milky-starry nights.