Hunkering down in Hawaii: social distancing on the Big Island

As I write this from a very quiet lanai, overlooking beautiful gardens somewhere on the Big Island, it’s strange to think how much the world has changed in the past two weeks or so.  It’s incredibly quiet here.  The wind rustles the palms, a bright green gecko is stalking along the wall, colourful birds are hopping around the bushes, and a small herd of goats appears to have claimed the golf course in lieu of people.

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My current writing desk

Apart from the eerie quiet of the complex, you wouldn’t realise something was going on until you head out and see that all the shops and restaurants are closed, and walking through the once bustling shopping centre is like something out of a sci fi movie.

At the moment, we’re staying around our rental house, only popping out to one of the grocery stores, which have remained open.  We’ve been told the pools in the complex will probably be closed today or tomorrow, which given some of the behaviour we’ve witnessed is probably for the best!  Some people just can’t seem to grasp that they need to keep their distance and keep their coughs to themselves!

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Social Distancing!

If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know that we are lucky enough to visit Hawaii once or twice a year, usually travelling to Kauai, and then the Waikiki area of Oahu.

This time, we had planned to start our adventure on the Big Island of Hawaii, which was a first for me.  Originally we would have stayed here for 3 weeks, then go onto Kauai, finishing in Oahu.  We left the UK on the 1st March, deciding that as long as we took the precautions we always do when travelling, it would be safe to set off.

Looking back now, it’s crazy to think that I was fussing over which bottle of hand sanitiser to buy in the chemist in Heathrow Airport, “this one is just aloe scented, it’s not as nice as the one we have at home”.  We each took a bottle in our carry-on.  Within a week or two, this 99p item was selling on the internet for several times its value and had sold out everywhere!

Aside from some more enthusiastic disinfecting of surfaces, with people spraying or wiping their plane seats and tables, everything was pretty normal on our flights.  The planes must be the cleanest they have been! The flight to LA from London was quiet, as we had expected, so we had a spare seat – the Holy Grail of air travel.

For the first 2 weeks of our trip, everything was open as normal.  The only sign of things to come was the initial hoarding of toilet roll and disinfectant.  When we wandered into Longs Drugs one day to ask if they had any hand sanitiser, we were met with a laugh and “no, we had some this morning but it’s all gone”.

We were able to explore the Kailua-Kona area, before heading to the Hilo side of the island to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, and doing some fantastic hikes around the Kilauea crater.

Our plans changed once the Mayor of Kauai declared an intended curfew and “stay at home” mandate.  The restaurants then closed and there were also some bad floods happening on Kauai, so we decided to stay put on the Big Island.  One of the most important things to do, especially when you find yourself in a foreign country, is to follow the Government instructions.  There would have been no point in us trying to travel around and putting ourselves or other people in danger.

We’ve seen some negativity in the local media and social media against “visitors” to the island, and people wrongly believing that the majority of the cases in Hawaii were brought by either American or International arrivals.  This article was published recently in Hawaii News Now to give some clarification:

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) – The state Department of Health is worried Hawaii residents may be getting the wrong idea about visitors in the state during the coronavirus pandemic.

In an email received Friday night, Hawaii Department of Health Spokesperson Janice Okubo said, “I have been informed that there are residents of Hawai‘i who believe the COVID-19 positive cases here are all visitors to the state, and unfortunately, there is stigma developing against visitors in Hawaii.”

The email continued: “I am asking the media to help the public understand that of the 37 positive test results to date, 32 of them are the result of traveling residents. The majority of cases are residents who returned home after traveling.”

While I completely agree that travel to the islands should be limited or stopped at this time, there are people, like us, who have been here a month and have followed all guidelines for safety.  Unfortunately, there are also individuals who act in a disrespectful or obnoxious manner, who give all visitors a bad name!  The heritage and culture of the islands should always be respected, whether in a crisis or not.

However, at this point, the most important thing is that everyone who is currently on the islands, resident or not, does what they can to keep themselves and other people healthy!

As things are at the moment, our intention is to Shelter in Place on the Big Island until we can get our scheduled flight home (assuming flights start up again some time soon!).

In the meantime, this is obviously not the worst place to be “stranded”, and it gives me some time to write about the beautiful National Parks and other areas we have managed to explore on this incredible volcanic island.   The parks are now closed until further notice.

In my next posts, I will be writing about our hikes in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and other areas of Hawaii Island, as well as information on accommodation (which we found more challenging on this island!).  Hopefully this will give you something positive to read while you plan your next trip to paradise..

I’ll also do some shorter updates on the situation as we go along.  Every few days we’re still trying get out for some smaller hikes in the Waikoloa area, while keeping a social distance – so I’ll document some of these. 

We all hope that things improve and the World, and the Hawaiian islands “re-open” very soon for everyone to enjoy 😊

In the meantime, stay safe and healthy!

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Mahalo

Charlotte

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