I Hiked the Koko Crater Trail In Hawaii During My Layover and It Was Life-Changing
My planned out Hawaii vaca led to an unexpected (and amazing) adventure.
When my younger sister, a sophomore in college, decided to spend her fall semester in Honolulu (lucky!); the health and travel writer (and over planner) in me quickly started thinking of all the ways I could visit-and what to do in Hawaii.
Over the course of her four-month stint, I made the 12-hour trek to Hawaii twice. I planned out a few days on the Big Island, where we toured an active volcano at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, ATV'd to roaring waterfalls, and splurged on local beers at the Kona Brewing Company. We visited Kauai (and were wowed by paddle boarding the calm waters of Hanalei Bay, surrounded by peaks of green mountains in front of the cliffside St. Regis). We swam with surfers on Oahu's North Shore and we explored sweet seaside towns like Haleiwa (which, BTW, is home to an amazing street-side shack serving up fresh acai bowls). As my second trip wound down, I felt like I had done *mostly* everything I had wanted to do.
Then, on the way to the airport, the airline emailed: Our flight was delayed by six hours. Just big enough of a delay to derail our plans-not only would we miss our connection in San Francisco; but we'd likely have to spend the night (read: a few hours in the middle of the night) at an airport hotel before flying back east. But it wasn't quite long enough to allow for another full day in the sun.
The anxious traveler in me panicked. I need to work tomorrow! I need my sleep! (I sleep nine-plus hours most nights.) What do we do?
Part of me considered hanging at the airport in the, admittedly, slim-to-none chance that seats opened up on another flight (or maybe the airline had made a mistake?).Fortunately, my fiancé, Christo-who's far less anxious and far less of an over planner than I am-reminded me of something we hadn't been able to squeeze in: hiking Koko Head, a 1,048 step near-vertical trek up a steep volcanic crater just outside of Honolulu (President Obama hikes it!).
It's the stuff wanderlust Instagram shots are made of. My sister had told me about it early on in her time on the island, but amidst all of our plans, we just hadn't gotten around to it.
Then, as we inched up on the airport, Christo plugged the destination into Google Maps. It was only 15 minutes away. So instead of returning the rental car, we headed to the hike.
I know that there are a ton of benefits of sneaking in a workout before a flight. Exercise can help lessen the blow out jet lag, fend off anxiety (much needed right then), and boost mood (because, c'mon, what a bummer it is to leave a place like Hawaii, right?). Still, I was hesitant. I was checking the time on my phone, refreshing my inbox (maybe our plane is leaving earlier?!), wracking my brain for reasons to rush.
We didn't though. We slowly started the ascent up the rickety railway-style steps (for what it's worth, walking 1,048 near vertical steps is a lot tougher than it sounds). The higher we got, the more I forgot about the time. Turning around, the views were coming into sight. We alternated running and walking sections, joking with hikers who were already on the descent about how nice it must feel on the other side.
The sweat started pouring. The sun was hot.
Soon, we had reached the end. Climbing to the top of the crater, totally sweaty, there they were: 360-degree panoramic views of the bright blue bay and the Pacific Ocean in the distance paired with green landscapes and faraway city skyscrapers speckled in. The wind was cool enough to dry your sweat. Up here, it wasn't so scalding. Then it hit me: I couldn't believe I almost missed something like this to sit around an airport terminal worrying.
The trek down sped by and we jetted over to the nearby Hanauma Bay, a calm cove that doubles as a nature preserve and is known for its snorkeling, to shower. We washed off, changed quickly, and zipped over to the airport just in time our new flight.
Even though the hike wasn't a long one (it's about 1.8 miles up and down), the seriously sweaty trek (and natural calming high that came with it) fed into a sense of accomplishment; not just because completing any hike is a victory, but because, for me, escaping that all-too-familiar cycle of anxiety and routine was freeing. We all have a tendency to get trapped in our own heads, in our own schedules-even on vacation. I've tried to make a point of letting go a bit.
Next month, I'm heading to Bar Harbor, Maine. Atop Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park is one of the first places to see the sunrise in the country.
At least, that's the plan as of now. Who knows what else we could see.