The Hawaiian Islands are known for their romantic beaches, warm weather, and fun ocean activities.
Although the Islands’ beauty and charm are inviting, it is important to remember that Hawaii’s ocean waters and mountains are both wilderness environments. As such, visitors should always take appropriate precautions before hiking the rugged valleys and mountains or visiting the beaches on the Hawaiian Islands.
Hawaii stays pretty warm throughout the year, although there environments where you may experience a dramatic change in the temperature. Climate changes on the Islands will vary depending on the island you visit, the location and elevation, and the time of year. Eastern or Windward sides tend to be more rainy, while southern and western sides of islands tend to be more dry. In general, summer is known to be very dry with warm temperatures, while winter is filled with light showers and sometimes high winds.
Here are six hazards to look out for on a visit to the Hawaiian Islands.
Never turn your back on ocean waves. The ocean may look calm for a moment, but don’t forget there might be a wave on its way, especially in Hawaii. Always play facing the waves to avoid any surprise sets and injuries.
A Note on Hawaii’s Famous Waves. During the summer season, ocean conditions vary depending on the location of the island. The nature of the surf on each shore depends very much on the weather events happening thousands of miles away. Storms in the North Pacific generate the famous north shore waves during the winter season, while summer swells arrive on southern shores from the winter storms in the Southern Hemisphere.
During the summer, north shore beaches usually have calm waters, with small waves, except for those areas exposed to strong trade winds. Conversely, east and south shore swells can be large and rough with strong trade winds - these areas are typically good for surfing and windsurfing. A good example of this is Diamond Head beach on the south shore of Oahu, which can always sport high surf beyond the reef.
Be on the lookout for posted ocean safety signs. Posted signs are there to help protect and warn you of the hazardous conditions in the area. Some signs are permanent, while others are posted daily, depending on the beach and the conditions. If you are unsure about the sign or beach conditions, it is best to avoid the area or find the nearest lifeguard stand – this leads to the next point.
Do not swim when there are no lifeguards on duty. You may be a strong swimmer, but even the best swimmer in the world won’t be a match for Hawaii’s ocean currents and random weather changes; there need not be huge waves for there to be dangerous currents. It is always best to watch your children and avoid the shores when there is no lifeguard in sight or on duty. The lifeguards are there to watch over everyone’s safety on the beach. It’s best to use the buddy system when entering the water, regardless of how dangerous the current conditions are. If there is an emergency and you find yourself in need of lifeguard assistance, raise your hands above your head to get the attention of a nearby lifeguard and other swimmers or beachgoers.
It is important to respect and enjoy the colorful coral reefs. Snorkeling is one of the top ocean activities in the Hawaiian Islands and it is important to understand how to interact with your surroundings while enjoying this natural wonder. Coral has sharp edges that can easily cut skin. Although it may look and feel very rock-like, and cut easily, it is also very fragile. Therefore, it’s important to not stand on or touch coral so that you do not damage the fragile ecosystem.
In addition, most of the coral reefs have urchins and eels that may be hiding in small nooks and crannies. Sea urchins have sharp poisonous needles. If you happen to cut yourself on a sharp reef, or have been exposed to a sea urchin, quickly exit the water to carefully address the wound and disinfect area to prevent any infections.
TIP: To avoid ocean injuries, it is highly recommended for visiting guests to pack a pair of water or "reef" shoes.
Keep a lookout for jellyfish! Each month, about 8-12 days after every full moon, Hawaii receives a visit from the Box jelly. This invasion can last a few days.
The box jelly is commonly found on the south shore beaches of Oahu, including Waikiki. The box looks like a milky-colored plastic bag (note that the jelly pictured above is not a Box). Its body is can range from one to three inches long with tentacles up to two feet long. While the Hawaii box will deliver a less potent sting than box jellies found in other parts of the world, like Australia, they can still cause a significant sting, which can lead to shock in those that are sensitive to the venom.
The good news is that while these stings can be painful and scary, Hawaii, unlike other tropical destinations, has US-standard urgent care locations often within close proximity to the popular Oahu beaches where these stings can occur, so treatment is never too far off.
Beware of the Portuguese Man-O-War!
The Portuguese man-o’-war is not a jellyfish but a dangerous member of the Cnidarian phylum family. This sea creature is well known in Hawaii, due to its common sightings and painful stings. The Portuguese man-o-war often looks like either a blue or a purple bubble and ranges can have tentacles up to 30 feet long. The difference between the Portuguese man-o-war and the jellyfish, the man-o-war cannot swim, but uses its bubble as a sail to float across the water using the wind. It is often difficult to spot a man-o-war in the water; under most conditions, this sea creature usually gets pushed onto the beach by the ocean currents or wind, so be on the lookout for posted signs.
On Oahu, the beaches typically impacted by jellyfish include Waikiki, Ala Moana Beach Park, Haunama Bay, Queens Beach, near Diamond Head, and the Waianae Coast on Oahu. Poipu Beach on Kauai is also affected, and you will typically see posted warnings after a full moon has passed. Maui and Big Island beaches may also be impacted on occasion.
The ocean is not the only hazard in Hawaii. It is known that the Hawaiian Islands receive more sunlight than many other places on the U.S. Mainland, which means it’s easier to get a vacation-ruining sunburn. It is generally recommended to use 30 to 100 SPF sunscreen to avoid the sun’s harmful rays. Don’t forget to re-apply sunscreen every two hours and every time you exit the water. If you do not re-apply, you will have a higher chance of getting an unwanted sun burn during your vacation.
Tip: avoid tanning during the hours of 11AM – 2PM or when you are under ‘short shadow.’ During this time, the sun’s rays are the most intense and a burn can be uncomfortable to deal with while on vacation. If you or your friends and family do get sunburned during your stay, you can try applying natural aloe to the burn.
If you do decide to explore inland, take caution when hiking the valleys and mountains of Hawaii, as terrain is steep, often slippery, and rocks may be loose. When hiking in the Islands, it is recommended to have a map and stay on designated trails - better yet work with a guide! (note our Concierge can assist on this front). If a sign is posted at a trailhead that the trail is closed, find another to explore, as this often means that the rocks and ground are unstable and someone has already been injured.
Also, be sure to check the weather prior to hiking, as conditions can change quickly and dramatically, especially with heavy downpours in higher elevations. Clearly, do not hike under bad weather conditions and do not hike alone. For your safety, always tell someone where you are going and watch for caution signs.
When on a serious hike in Hawaii as elsewhere, it is recommended to pack essential gear: proper foot wear depending on the terrain, a backpack to hold your gear, water, a cellular device, flashlight, extra batteries or portable chargers, sunscreen, hat, rain jacket, first aid kit, extra food, trekking poles, whistle, a mirror for signaling, and always carry a map. When in doubt, do not hike.
For Exotic Estates’ guests, if you have any questions and concerns throughout your stay on the Hawaiian Islands, our trusted local Villa Specialists and Concierge are here to help. Whether you are looking for fun activities, advice, or suggestions - we are here to ensure that your vacation in Hawaii fun and memorable!