Finding happiness in Hawaii

Me to myself before the Hapalua Half-Marathon in Honolulu: I haven’t trained nearly enough. I can stop at the 11km mark and walk. In fact, I should stop at the 11km mark and walk. It will be much better for my calves.

My competitive side while running: No, no, no. You cannot let this person beat you. Or this person! Or that person. That person is running up the hill faster than you – they look 12 years old –  race them now!

Narrator at the close of the half: She basically ran the whole way.


It was funny how we ended up doing this – one of the awesome students on the Global Leaders’ programme organised a quid pro quo arrangement where some of us ran and some volunteered. We’d entered online from Japan, all unwittingly signing up to 13 miles (i.e. a half), thinking it was 13km.

Que será, será.

Hapalua is one of the many running events aimed at Japanese tourists (a huge market in Hawaii). While it was like doing Bikram yoga crossed with 1980s-style aerobic dance continually for several hours, there were plenty of drink/Gatorade stations to avoid dehydration and the scenery was wonderful. I only learned that driving around the area afterwards as I spent most of the last 10kms around Diamond Head trying not to collapse by looking at the ground and my feet. I also learned you shouldn’t store cash in running fanny packs (these are a thing), especially when you always pull out your phone from said fanny pack to change the song – goodbye cash money!

As a side-note, after doing this, I am now running the Auckland Marathon in October, but fundraising for the Mental Health Foundation of NZ (donations appreciated!).

This leg of the Fujitsu Global Leaders’ programme was a strenuous but fulfilling six weeks, with assignments upon assignments for 11 different topics – from philosophy to corporate finance, economics and international law, to name a few. We had brilliant lecturers, learned a lot of great stuff and we were also to lucky to work alongside real Hawaii-based companies to address certain strategic goals. My group (Dani from Indonesia, Rei from Japan, Alice from China and myself) produced an integrated offline and online marketing strategy and new shopping innovation to beloved Hawaiian brand, Hilo Hattie. Little side-note humblebrag: we were very proud to win the JAIMS President’s Award for Business Impact, alongside the Hawaii Bike group, who took out the Social Impact Award.

In spite of the intense workload, and my particularly persistent bout of bronchitis, I was able to enjoy some weekend activities that brought a lot of happiness. And that included confronting my fears by surfing at Waikiki after I was carried off that beach last time I visited Hawaii in 2015.

A quick summary of some of the favourites:

  • Surfing in Haleiwa Bay – I hadn’t surfed for a while before I arrived in Hawaii and I am a wuss so I opted for a lesson initially with Surf N Sea. The break we went to was perfect for beginners and also longboarding. You can pop straight up, ride the wave the whole way to the beach and then paddle back out round the outside. Too easy. There were also a bunch of hydrofoil surfers out, and while I know I am probably absolutely dreaming thinking I can do it, it looks like so much fun (and no paddling!)
  • North Shore nachos –  Cholos on the North Shore. That’s all I have to say.
  • North Shore coconut peanut butter – pretty much anything on the North Shore is awesome really.
  • Surfing in Waikiki – I finally faced my fears after my accident in Waikiki and had the best time. It was tiny and clean and so much fun. I hired a board from the Star Beachboys, right on Waikiki beach.
  • Night Diving with Manta Rays on the Big Island – now this one is a definite must do. I went through Big Island Divers. My GoPro decided to turn itself off as soon as we hit the ocean floor but the experience is so firmly imprinted in my brain I’m not sure if I need footage. These creatures are incredible. They dance and dive and twist and twirl around you and all you can hear is the whump-whump-whump of their huge pectoral fins as they approach with gaping mouths followed by a dramatic flip and a sassy flick of their cute skinny little manta tails. It’s not a difficult dive at all – straight down about 30 feet (enough for a GoPro Hero to decide to stop working) – and it can get a bit cold but as soon as the rays arrive you forget all about that. We were lucky to get to Big Island a few weeks before the volcanic eruptions and my heart goes out to all affected. Yesterday’s news states that lava is now pouring out of the 18th fissure. What a devastating time for such a beautiful paradise.
  • Snorkelling in Hanauma Bay ­– This is awesome a wonderful experience snorkelling through turquoise water and seeing tiny fish nestled in the coral reef, though I must disclose that I was viciously attacked. The bite was a whopping 1cm in diameter. It’s kind of like fighting with my brother when he was a small child – you can’t go and bite them back, even though they might deserve it.
  • Polynesian Cultural Center – I hadn’t heard of the PCC prior to heading there as part of our Ethnography class but I highly recommend it. It has different villages for a number of the Polynesian cultures (including Aotearoa and I’ve never felt so proud!) as well as an electrifying evening show complete with fire dances and haka. It has an interesting background too – it’s owned by the Mormon Church and those that work there are often students of the Brigham Young University (Mormon-owned/centric and also based in Hawaii).

For me something the PCC really highlighted was the concept of home and its importance of overall happiness. Slightly stressed and struck with sickness in 30-degree temperatures (not advisable), I’d mused earlier on in the trip about loneliness and how this can impact happiness. Coming to PCC made me feel astronomically better – seeing other Kiwis and New Zealand culture proudly on display really made me feel like I was home.

We also studied Native Hawaiian culture in the Multiculturism paper of our course. Hawaii – correct name “Hawai’I” – was originally a Native Hawaiian nation, complete with a constitutional monarchy that was first colonised, and then forcefully annexed, to the US, with Congress offering Native Hawaiians a mere apology in 1993, acknowledging the “suppression of the inherent sovereignty of the Native Hawaiian people” and “deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination”. Native Hawaiians now comprise the largest proportion of the island nation’s increasing number of homeless people. Homelessness is so rife it is now very clear in tourist areas such as Waikiki and is it really heart-breaking to see. Some spoke to people who weren’t there. One man had what looked like an amputated limb with a clearly infected wound on the end of it. A homeless couple, clearly intoxicated at 9am, had an argument on the street. This is reminiscent of the homeless people on Queen St, many of who are clearly out of their minds on synthetic cannabis in the very early morning. Also, similarly to Auckland, there was the frequent whurr of ambulance alarms, followed by paramedics standing by collapsed homeless people.

Doesn’t everyone deserve a home?

I think so. And I think it’s also a fundamental part of happiness. Not just in the physical sense but in the emotional sense too. A place you’re proud to associate with, wherever you are in the world. A place you can dream of, even if home is in a suitcase. A place where your heart is.

So I would add “home” to my list of the factors of happiness.

 “It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.” –  F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Hannah Norton is a former journalist and editor who now works in public relations. In her spare time, she also likes to write – and this website is a collation of her “work that’s not work” – from blog posts to short stories. She is based in New Zealand.

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