You can hear the crunch of Hawaii singer Kimie Miner’s steps as she walks over the simultaneously smooth and jagged lava of Kilauea. The local musician sits down next to you, as a traditionally dressed halau hula (hula group) starts chanting and dancing. It feels like an impromptu performance, just for you, on top of an active volcano. Only thing is, you’re sitting in your sweatpants, on your couch, thousands of miles away.
That’s the beauty of virtual reality. Last month, the Hawaii Tourism Authority introduced Hawaii VR, a virtual reality app enabling anyone with a smart phone to transport themselves to the Hawaiian Islands, all without spending a dime and leaving your living room.
When you open the app, you become a paraglider floating above the Hawaiian Islands. You choose an island to visit and then drift down to land. Currently, you can “tour” two islands—Hawaii Island and Kauai.
On Hawaii Island, there’s the intimate hula performance at Kilauea. On Kauai, users find themselves transported to a small catamaran in the middle of the ocean, the towering, emerald Napali Coast, just off in the distance. You can sit down next to Kauai musician Kepa Kruse, as he strums ukulele, singing a freshly composed song about the iconic coastline. (Oahu and Maui will be available in an app update soon.) It’s part of Hawaii Tourism Authority’s campaign of “exploring Hawaii with a local.”
At times the visuals were blurry and the size ratios were a bit off, but overall it’s a solid beginning, and worth downloading to see these landmark areas of Hawaii showcased in a new way. Sure, it’s highly unlikely you’ll witness hula atop Kilauea, or embark on a Napali cruise with an award-winning musician, but there’s the allure of such an experience. The goal is it will encourage users, visitors and locals, to seek more culturally authentic and enriching activities.
Hawaii marketers, of course, hope users will be so inspired by the virtual experience, that they’ll close the app and book a flight. And for good reason: Nothing beats the real thing, cutting-edge technology aside.
Find Hawaii VR on the iOS App Store for iPhone using the search: Hawaii VR. The app is compatible with Google Cardboard devices, or if you’re a VR aficionado: Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR or HTC Vive.