One of the fabulous things with going to tropical and subtropical destinations is not the beaches and the palm trees, although that is sure to be a major driver for your trip decision.
But there is another reason to go to equatorial and subtropical destinations apart from going to those fabulous paperwhite beaches with crystal blue water, and that is to see the sky. You can not see it from big cities like Bangkok or Singapore, and it is often cloudy in the tropics. Even in island destinations like Hawaii the sky is cloudy more often than not, but the weather shifts fast.
We are not talking about the sky in daytime, mind you. There are places, like the Arabian dessert, which you may want to go to just to feel the deep blue emptiness, but for a city dweller like myself (and my children), the night sky is darkish with a few stars surrounding the moon. At a distance. Street lights dampen out all but the brightest stars - the only star our kids know is Venus, because it is bright enough to break through the streetlights.
While getting outside the city can offer breathtaking skies in northern climates as well, unless you happen to be there when there is an aurora, skies in the top two thirds of the northern hemisphere (and the lower two thirds of the southern) are no real competition for the equatorial skies. The view of the Milky Way weaving its way across the sky, punctuated by stars so close you can touch them, bright and colored, is so breathtaking you do not want to stay indoors.
It is worth going to a tropical island just to see that serene, undisturbed sky. Hawaii is unique in that regard, since the biggest mountain, Mauna Kea, is so tall its peak is above the clouds at all times. It is also no longer an active volcano, so there is no danger. Its slightly lower neighbor Mauna Kea is not dormant yet, but the lava today comes from Kilauea, a much smaller mountain. At least as of now.
The unique thing about Mauna Kea is not that you can ski at the top, but the observatory. Or observatories, because the location is uniquely suited for the study of the stars.
Not that you need a telescope to experience the majesty of the Polynesian sky. A hammock under the stars is enough. And plenty of insect repellent lotion, because when Hawaii was rediscovered by the Europeans and Americans, one of the gifts they brought for the natives were mosquitoes.
The biggest problem is the clouds. The island of Hawaii is so tall that it not only stands above the clouds, it also collects clouds. While this means fresh water is available (a big problem on tropical islands), it also means if you want to see the stars, you had better take a boat and leave the island. Or the cloud cover.
If you want beaches, you are even more out of luck. Very few places have mountains high enough to break the cloud cover and beautiful beaches. Most places have either.
This is the same for all the islands in the Pacific (and tropical islands in the Atlantic and Indian oceans as well). Except those that are close enough to a major land mass to share its weather.
And as luck would have it, the Ryukyu islands, which comprise the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa, are at the same latitude as the islands of Hawaii - but they are close enough to the Asian continent that they share the weather conditions with China. Which means cloudy summers, but clear skies in winter. Unfortunately, it also means summer is typhoon season.
But go there just when the water is warm enough for swimming, and you will get both beaches and starry skies. And you know what? The sand in Okinawa is star-shaped.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Tokyo to Sendai, previously of Bangkong and Honolulu. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning seven - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.