In October 2014 we flew into Honolulu and were greeted with the most beautiful word in the Hawaiian language: “Aloha” ! The token Hawaiian Leis were fragrant and cool against our necks, and the stretch limo was an unexpected treat for my first visit to the 50th state.
The next 13 days, we visited the four main islands of O’ahu, Kauai, Maui and the Big Island.
Our hotel was on Waikiki beach and we had a beautiful view of the mountains. Immediately it became apparent why Hawaii is called “The Rainbow State”. There seemed to always be a rainbow in the sky.
We visited the white marble-clad USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, the National Cemetery of the Pacific, the State Capitol, Kamehameha’s statute, the historic Lolani Palace, and had the honor of meeting some veterans of that sad, tragic day at Pearl Harbor.
Our third day in O’ahu we journeyed along its famous North Shore in search of a perfect wave. These waves create a surf mecca for all the best surfers. A stop in the surfing town of Haleiwa highlighted why surfers gather from all over the world to ride waves ranging from 2 to 40 feet. Rich with island history, Haleiwa is now the social and artistic hub of North Shore, offering such famous beaches as Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline, and Sunset Beach. And of course, no beach day is complete without savoring one of Hawaii’s favorite treats…shaved ice.
Only a short flight took us to the “Garden Isle” of Kauai, the oldest island in the chain. Only here, on the outer islands, can you find the timeless world of ancient Polynesia. Here we visited Kilohana Plantation and rode on an authentic historic railway, discovering the local culture and history of a working farm. We were able to see exotic fruits growing, and meet some of the wild pigs and chickens that roam this tiny island freely and unmolested. In fact, whenever a tourist asks the inevitable question: “Why don’t they just eat the chickens?” The answer is usually: “They do cook them in a pot of boiling water and local lava rock. When the rocks are tender, they throw away the chicken and eat the rocks!”
This tiny island was absolutely our favorite. It has far less commerce and tourism than the other main islands, and the lush beauty is everywhere. Of course, having a beach-side hotel never hurts….I could get used to this!!!!
This is also the Movie Capital of Hawaii, and many, many movies have been made here: Blue Hawaii, From Here to Eternity, King Kong, South Pacific, The Descendants, Pirates of the Caribbean, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Avatar, and Jurassic Park, to name only a few. TV programs were also filmed here: Fantasy Island and the opening shots of Gilligan’s Island.
Perhaps the most interesting movie throwback was a visit to the now-decaying Cocoa Beach Hotel, which was the set of Blue Hawaii. This real hotel hosted every celebrity of it’s day, and is now falling apart. As viewed in the movie, the huge setting with hundreds of palm trees were actually part of the hotel grounds, as was the beautiful lagoon that Elvis and his bride floated down on their wedding day. Elvis actually stayed in one of the little bungalows on these grounds, and because the set construction was delayed, they actually used the interior of his bungalow for many of the scenes. There was also a local singer, Larry Rivera, who played and sang in the wedding scene; and much to our surprise, Larry was at the gate of the old hotel and had clearance to allow us onto the grounds. He had his ukulele and sang for us while standing on one of the old movie barges on the lagoon. At age 80+ he still has a beautiful voice and is quite handsome and spry. He had CDs of his songs and was trying to make a meager living by playing to the tourist’s love of the movie. It was quite an experience and also sadness to see the old hotel falling down. However, we understand there are investors considering restoration soon. We hope so!
Before we left this exquisite island, we took one last helicopter ride. Swooping over the breathtaking Waimea Canyon, carved thousands of years ago by rivers, floods, and volcanic eruption of lava flow. At 10 miles long, 1 mile wide, and more than 3,500 feet deep, it is considered the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Helicopter was also the only way to quickly see the far side of the island that has few roads leading to its beautiful beaches and caves used to shoot so many of the scenes of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Called the “Valley Isle”, Maui is one of the most beautiful and popular outer islands. A mere 45-minutes flight from Kauai allowed us ample time our first day to visit the stunning Iao Valley and view the 2,000-foot high Ioa Needle, one of Maui’s famous natural land forms.
After lunch in the old royal capital of Lahaina, once home of the world’s largest whaling fleet, we traveled through sugar cane fields to the resort area of Kaanapali and our hotel. While many enjoyed the next day relaxing on the beach, we opted to take the legendary, Road to Hana Cliffside drive. On this 8-hour drive, one must have nerves of steel as you drive along narrow winding mountain roads that hang precariously over the blue Pacific. But the views are spectacular, and allows one to visit less-traveled beaches and sights.
The next morning we arose at 2:30AM and caught a bus for a sunrise view from the summit of Mt Halaekala. Rising over 10,000 feet above sea level, Haleakala is Maui’s “House of the Sun” in Hawaiian lore. We witnessed the breaking of a new day at the top of Mt Haleakala National Park and Pu’u Ula Overlook. The spectacular sunrise and new day was greeted by a Polynesian native ritual that was hauntingly beautiful. I personally am glad to have experience this once, but probably not again…just too d*** cold for me!
The afternoon was spent napping. That evening we were treated to a Hawaiian-style Polynesian luau featuring endless tropical drinks and a feast of roast pork, local dishes, and of course, poi…..can you say “wallpaper paste”?
Tomorrow, the Big Island.
BIG ISLAND, HAWAII
Also known as Hawaii Island, the Big Island is famous for its volcanoes and is larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined. The 20-minute drive from the airport in Kona to our hotel was like crossing a moonscape. Ancient black lava encrusted everything within sight; even to the beaches of the Pacific. Yet, one would see signs of plant life struggling up through the cracking lava.
Our resort was built right into the lava rocks and it was very interesting to walk along the walkways and paths cut into the lava itself.
Our last full day of this wonderful adventure was spent circumnavigating the entire Big Island. We toured the South Coast and Kealakekua Bay where we visited a Kona coffee plantation.
We then drove to the famed black sand beaches, where we were treated to a rare encounter of large sea turtles resting themselves on the beautiful black beaches.
Then it was on to the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea. We explored steam bluffs, a fern tree jungle, and the Thurston Lava Tube.
We concluded our day-long journey by driving past waterfalls of the Hamakua Coast and through the Parker Ranch in Waimea, famed for its cattle ranching,
We arrived back at our resort where we watched our last beautiful sunset in this beautiful 50th state that feels remote, yet so much like home.