There is a ton the Hawaiian Islands can offer. From classic Waikiki on Maui to Polihua Beach on Lanai attracts green turtles. For me I choose the Big Island, the newest and largest in the chain to sooth my travel soul. Hawaii proper is a lot more rugged and less traveled then the other islands, giving it a rustic and authentic low-key vibe that to me screams island life. Those that call the Big Island home do so thoughtfully and are super welcoming and friendly to those who are invested in learning more. As far as attractions go, you can’t beat the Big Island with night dives, Volcano National Park, and some historic areas that are simply breathtaking. I wrote an extensive article about it below which has some very surreal and beautiful experiences in it I couldn’t show in the film … that’s the thing about Hawaii … there is always another layer deeper to go.

I never was much for the sea at night. The overwhelming amount of loud nothingness all around is moderately terrifying especially for a kid from Queens where the city is a perpetual night light. Even though not that far off the Hawaiian coast, Hawaii itself was very much in the middle of the ocean, and you feel that without question. 

My fears melted as I saw a party of ships happily bobbing in the outer bay. In the water were lilypads of lights with about a dozen people hanging off of them like a scene out of Avatar.. 

“Alright! Let’s get in!”

I slipped into the fresh Pacific ocean grabbing a handful of rope around a paddleboard with a high powered LED light that pointed straight down. I put my head under water and almost swallowed my snorkel whole; inches away from me were three massive Manta Rays, doing acrobatic flips in our spotlight. 

Night diving and snorkeling is one of the unique experiences that the Jack’s Diving Locker on the big island does exceptionally well (Jack’s Diving Locker, 75-5813 Ali‘i Dr, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740 +18083297585, $199 per person). The learning curve to get into the water is only minutes long, and the resulting experience is unlike anything I have ever seen. The lights attract plankton which in-turn attracts giant Rays which in-turn attracts us divers. They are otherworldly, beautiful and as jaw dropping as a underwater Cirque Du Soleil show from another planet.

It definitely set the bar high for my time exploring Hawaii, but fortunately the Big Island had lots to write home about. Having your mind blown works up a surprising appetite, so back in the tranquil town of Kailua-Kona I made a dash for dinner at Umekes (74-5599 Pawai Pl, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740 +18082380571)  where a ravenous long line had already formed outside. Traveling solo has its advantages as I Tetrised myself on a bar stool where Chrissi the bartender could see I was ready for a full gastronomic experience. 

In a place like Umekes it’s quite impossible for someone that really loves food to be able to order. Taro leaf roasted coconut oysters, fresh Ahi belly with unagi glaze, and a dish simply called “Get In My Belly” which is too decadent to even try to describe are just the liner notes to a symphonic menu. Fortunately Chrissi conducted a great feast for me, and left in her capable hands she brought a spread that would give me a taste of the best, through the eyes of a local. Truly the only way to experience the world in my book.

“Don’t think, just do it.” She whispered as she slid two shot glasses stealthily with a sideways squint. “Left, then right. Left… then right.” she repeated. I did as the doc ordered and my mouth started doing the electric slide. “That’s buffalo trace whiskey, and that’s a house made mango pickle shot. We call it a Buffalo Soldier. Welcome to Hawaii.” Welcome indeed. 

Mind dancing and completely stuffed I stumbled out into the balmy blackness of night, and despite my best intentions to get home, I was pulled next door by the tremendous ruckus. Kona Brewing Company (74-5612 Pawai Pl, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740 +18083342739) sneaks up on you. Located in a somewhat back alley perched atop a lava mound, it overlooks the small town and showers down live music and cold beer all night long. As I let their red ale chill me out I watched locals get down in fantastic fashion dancing the night away.

At the crack of dawn I shot across the center of the island on Route 200 destined for the city of Hilo on the East Coast. I arrived at their charming little airport that resembles a bus stop in paradise being completely open air with wood counters and beautiful foliage all around. Minutes later I was walking on the tarmac toward a shiny Bell 407 chopper that would be taking me over the mouth of active volcanoes. As I climbed on board and strapped in I realized there were no doors to the helicopter and immediately thought that the ocean at night wasn’t actually that frightening to begin with. 

I was surprised to be hanging out of a hovering machine directly over a smoking pit of brimstone within a few minutes. It is incredible not just from the unique perspective, but to realize how very close everyone lives to potential annihilation. I snapped away taking legendary shots of this raw and powerful nature, feeling the turbulent air slide our whirlybird around in the blue sky. Seeing the planet’s open wounds that close gives you a new beautiful perspective on what Mother Earth is really made of. 

Safely back in town I took a second to explore Hilo which has a lovely old town that is easily walkable with antique shops and friendly bars. I ducked into Hilo tavern where my new friend Jacob told me the score. “Bro, if you haven’t had them, you have to have the ribs. Trust.” As I took a bite, I almost immediately took a second. Bar food usually doesn’t require pause to analyze its complexity, but this … this was different, and Jacob’s big grin knew it. “Right bro?!”

“What is that?” I said with utter confusion as I tucked into the buttery and toasted, sweet umami glaze on the ribs that fell off the bone.

“You know those Spanish pigs that eat the chestnuts? Well we got those too. But ours … they eat Macadamia nuts. Right bro?”

Iberico be damned, these ribs were next level. Somehow denying a second round I was back on the road to the North. Along the way stopping at various waterfalls and demonic lava tubes that you could experience just by getting out of the car. I finally arrived in Honomu where I would be hanging above the earth once again. 

Hawaii Zipline Tours is the best example of what Ziplining can be. You are driven up to a stunning, working plantation where you are placed on a short zipline a foot off the ground just to get the feel of it. There are about a dozen lines, each getting progressively more intense. As you zip through the farm, you learn about the various types of vegetation, food, fruit and history this island holds sacred. You can even pick bananas and other local treats right off the vine as a snack. It’s so pleasant and lovely that you almost don’t realize that by the last line you are hundreds of feet above the ground flying at 40 miles per hour across a deep gorge in the earth. Almost

Having my fill of flying for a lifetime, I decided to head South. Route 130 would take me to the lava fields, which as it sounds, is a barren, unearthly place devoid of vegetation unlike the rest of this idyllic island. As the highway turned to a single lane paved road, then into a pure gravel path I thought I probably should have taken the extra insurance out on the car. After a good 30 minutes pushing a poor Toyota across what looked like a Martian parking lot I found my destination: Hakuma House

It may be odd to travel to see nothing, but that is in fact what Hakuma House is; nothing. It is a modest two level wood home that sits atop a massive lava flow. Around you there is absolutely nothing. No grass, no trees, no water, no mountains, no sound ever, nothing. You are on the world’s freshest skin and it is an experience like no other. 

As the sun sets I draw a bath in the outdoor clawfoot iron tub and put a bit of shampoo in to make it fancy. I extinguish the deafening sound of running water and slip into the tub looking out into the void of black, where the only sign that you are not just floating in space is the lack of stars at the horizon. For a minute I forget where I am, if anywhere, and let the emptiness fill me in a wonderful way. For a brief moment I think I understand what it is like to live here, to be Hawaiian, where nature is such a main character here, humans take a back seat to its needs. the things you would worry about in other places don’t apply here. Here there is only nature, her needs, and your desire to fulfill them, and that … that is a vacation from yourself that you never knew you needed. 

“Aloha.” At first I honestly thought the voice was in my head until I saw out of my gently closed lids a cascade of blonde hair. I was too relaxed to be startled if that makes any sense, otherwise the presence of this strange woman would have made me scream bloody murder.

“Hello.” I said followed by a quick “sorry, Aloha.” with a smile. 

Her name was Kalani and she said she lived in the community which made me laugh a bit considering how there wasn’t another house on site. She was a bit older than me, wearing a long flowing dress and her hair naturally down with a ribbon. She looked like she was made by nature and took no mind to the fact that she was talking to a naked man in a bubble bath on a lava field. 

“I can see you’re enjoying your experience here … I love when travelers find this place, it’s always a special type of person that wants to come here. To see what the power of nature is really about.” I had to agree with her, and as we chatted she asked me if I wanted to experience something else, something different. I already felt like I had transported myself to a new dimension, and of course said, yes, without any delay.

I threw a towel around me, and we walked down the road for a decent bit together chatting about where she was from and how she found such a unique place. As the conversation grew quiet we arrived at the destination, a simple A frame house that was long and beautiful. She welcomed me in, there was no door, just a beaded curtain, and inside it was rather empty, just some matts, pillows, and a few decorations that seemed hand made.

“Have you ever had Rekkei before?” I had, in Costa Rica I had done a documentary on a retreat there run by women, which was a magical experience as well. This however was more intimate and surreal. I felt like I was in a temple on the moon. 

She said that she would gladly perform her healing on me, but would not accept money for the transaction. Instead if I wouldn’t mind moving some rocks around in the back, she was building a wall, and the labor would be enough for the services to be performed. 

I love a good barter system, but had to laugh as I naked moved rather large pieces of pumice around a lava field in the moonlight. There are times you wish there were cameras around, and times you did not. This was strangely both those times in one. 

After a few large rocks she said it was quite enough, having worked up a proper sweat and brought me inside. She laid me on the cool, smooth wood floor and gave me some sweet water. She took a linen, damp cloth and wipe me down, then cool air made my skin tough. From here she started the ritual. 

If you’ve ever had Reiki you know that each practitioner does it differently. It’s extremely connective, personal, and intimate. Kalani passed her hands over my body with slow deliberate movement. Regardless if you believe or not in the power of Rekki, the experience is something that will definitely change you.

In the morning I woke to an unforgiving sun and heat. The black radiated the solar strength and gets you on the move effectively. As I let my lava flow home fade into the distance I began to swing up the West side of the island, but first, a quick stop at a secret little location that Kalani poured in my ear the night before. After some searching I found the divot in the road she spoke about and parked the car, and with a semi-treacherous descent down a small cliff I found myself on a perfect black beach completely secluded from the rest of the world. I wasn’t alone, there were a handful of other sun worshippers there, all completely nude. I joined in, stripping off what little clothes I had and sank into the coffee grounds beneath my feet. The Pacific ocean, warm and more blue than the sky, lapped at my legs. I let go again for a bit and just became part of the island, before realizing that there was a plane later that day that required my presence.

Back on the road I drove through Volcano National Park which is very unique. On the side of the road, if you know where to look you can dip into some hot springs to break up the monotony of long, vacant strips of highway. As soon as you turn the corner and start heading north life starts to creep back onto the island and the vegetation can’t be controlled. As I rolled into the town of Keokea I slid off the highway and headed to the shore. At the end of the road I found Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Park. I parked and went in to seek forgiveness. Let me explain.

Imagine you broke one of the sacred laws of ancient Hawaii and were to be put to death. There was no appeal process, but there was one chance you could have your life saved. If you were able, through some miracle, to make it through the island, evade your pursuers and arrive at this sacred location you would be given amnesty and forgiven by the gods. Of course the area had a 5 meter high razor sharp rock wall that not only surrounded the area, but was protected by the Special Forces version of Hawaiian guards that almost certainly guaranteed no one was getting in. 

While making the journey now only requires a 3.50 cent ticket and finding a parking space, the mystique of this area is no less diminished. The tall black volcanic walls still stand in defiance to time, and the crashing shore still rages in the distance that creates a howling echo that you can’t escape. As I pass through the walls I am completely alone which is another feature of this island that I adore; no matter where you go there are no throngs of tourists or souvenir huts like the other islands of Hawaii. You’re able to have an uninterrupted experience just you and the island. There, where the altar once stood, I stopped and took off my well traveled stetson hat and asked for forgiveness for whatever trespasses I had accumulated up until that point. From the mystical depths to the fiery heights, and through a night of quiet introspection on a barren  land, I now felt strangely prepared to have this moment actually mean something, releasing anything that might be holding me back. Then, just like that, I took a breath, and felt lighter. Freer. Thankful. 

I found myself at the counter of Rebel Kitchen (79-7399 Hawaiʻi Belt Rd, Kealakekua, HI 96750 +18083220616) enjoying the most heavenly Coconut Curry thinking about this amazing and strangely mystical trip. When I used to think Hawaii I would think of the beach and waves, sweet drinks filled with rum, and roasted pig with pineapple. Now, Hawaii wasn’t so much a place as a state of mind. Even the amazing activities got you so close to nature and offered such a unique and personal perspective that they were more for the soul then for the instagram. Certain nights on lava fields and pilgrimage to sacred sites were not for a tourist of place, but a tourist of the soul. My only regret was that the curry was all gone and there was a plane waiting for me. Perhaps, if I didn’t make too much noise, the check would come late and I’d miss my flight, possibly forever. Perhaps.