By: Matthew Morris

Growing up, nature and the outdoors were two of the most important building blocks of my youth. Whether it was fishing, hiking, or looking for bugs and snakes, I always leapt at an opportunity to explore and experience nature. Growing up in Northeastern Pennsylvania provided me with a vast wilderness to explore. Since I was just a baby I have been in the forests and climbed the mountains of my home; though after 21 years, I have grown familiar and comfortable with the scenery and wildlife.

Recently, I had the opportunity to experience a completely different environment than what I had grown up with in Pennsylvania. A family wedding was held in Hawaii, and during the week of the family vacation and ceremony numerous excursions in Hawaii’s beautiful land would occurred. These excursions proved to be some of the most interesting and exciting experiences that I have had in the outdoors and provided me with some of the most breathtaking scenery of my life.

Upon arrival, I was shocked to find how diverse environments on the island could be. As we drove to our accommodations, I was shocked to see miles and miles of barren land; ground covered in hardened lava with strikingly different appearances was vastly different from the lush jungle that I imagined the island would be. I soon learned that due to weather and mountains, Big Island of Hawaii has a dry side – home to lava fields, dry grasses, and shrubs and small trees that could thrive in harsh soil – and a wet side with the lush and dense forest that I originally imagined.

Our first excursion took me to one of the most breathtaking sites of the whole trip – Waipi’o Valley (commonly referred to as the Valley of Kings) – a valley where steep cliff and stone faces meet the ocean. The difficult hike with a near 2,000-foot elevation change was glossed over by one incredible view after the other and complemented by a beach next to bright blue water at the bottom. This was one of my first looks at scenery I had only seen in movies and pictures. I could not have enjoyed it more.

Though the trip included many hikes with many beautiful views, one of my favorite overall aspects was the diversity in wildlife. One trip took us on a whale watch where we were lucky enough to see a full body breach (a super rare sight)! Outside of the ocean, beaches, tide pools, and forests were home to animals that I would never see in my hometown. The island is home to countless small lizards colored with magnificent greens, blues, and oranges. I was also amazed to see a number of sea turtles both on the beach and in the water. These animals, exotic to me, were common for the island and testament to the true diversity of the environment and nature.

My trip to Hawaii was truly amazing, showing me a new side of nature I hadn’t seen before. Experiencing such new and beautiful environments has only further sparked my passion and excitement to travel and experience new parts of the world, though it has also given me a new outlook on the nature I am used to. Each environment is unique and gorgeous with so much beauty to enjoy and experience.