In 2001, I came to Hawaii with $100 and no plan. Through good fortune and good luck, I somehow became the manager of the most rocking backpacker hostel in Waikiki. The Polynesian Hostel Beach Club in Waikiki. It was a terrible time for my liver, but the rest of me enjoyed it immensely as I made friends from all over the world, fell in love with Hawaii and beautiful people from everywhere on the planet, and somehow managed to survive it all over the course of the next two years. These are some of the pictures I took during that time. I will leave it to facial recognition and people who know to identify those in the pictures. I am grateful to the former manager who stole a bunch of money and left the owner in the lurch needing a manager, I’m grateful to the owner who trusted me to become that manager, and I’m grateful to the people who came as strangers sometimes became staff and with a few glaring exceptions left as friends.
One of the prettiest places in the Hawaiian Islands – and thus anywhere in the world – is Kaneohe Bay on the Windward Side of Oahu – oppossite Honolulu. I’m sorry to tell you that you can’t experience the best parts of it unless you are in the U.S. Military in Hawaii or have base access. One more piece of paradise seized by the U.S. after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy. The base itself houses about 12,000 Marines, their families, and contractors. In 1918 it was a U.S. Army Base, then a naval base, finally the home of the 2nd Marine Division. It was bombed nine minutes before Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack. Today it is connected to Pearl Harbor by the H-3 Freeway.
What was once a scenic fishing village in a perfect sheltered bay is now a Marine Corps Base which covers an entire city sized peninsula and a town that mostly serves to take care of the servicemen and women who live there. The word kane means man and the word ohe means bamboo – so one might argue this is a ‘straw man’ – but the local story says that an ancient woman who lived there suffered from her husband’s cruelty and compared him to a sharp piece of bamboo.
There are about 40,000 non-military residents with no tourist infrastructure except for a hotel on the base. Also on the base are several beautiful beaches, one of the island’s best windward surf spots, and the ancient Mokapu volcano. Off the base you will find car dealerships, fast food, a pretty decent mall, a couple of golf courses, cemetaries, and a number of strip malls. There is an enjoyable miniature golf course, a small boat harbor, and a couple of mud or rock beaches which locals use for fishing.
In ancient times this was very productive farmland due to the sunlight, fertile soil, and heavy rainfall – today there are some banana patches in the area but not much more. To get an idea of how the Hawaiians saw this area it is essential to visit Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens where specific Hawaiian sections, walking trails and more show you a bit of Kaneohe as it was. Also a visit to He’eia Fishpond is recommended to see why the Hawaiians only had to work 4 hours a day and lived for a thousand years while importing nothing. (Hint, they effectively used the land to provide for themselves).
Hawaii has a rich history of conquest, betrayal, love, adventure and romance. That history doesn’t start with the coming of Europeans or even with the uniting of the Hawaiian Islands under the first King Kamehameha – it goes much further back and it is those ancient times when you find the excitement, romance, and adventure. The later kings and queens of Hawaii were fairly domestic in terms of their rule (with the exceptions of King Kalakaua and King Kamehameha). Queen Lilioukalani, of course, was beloved as the last monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom and because of the injustice done to her and the Hawaiian people in that act and what followed – but the early Kings and Queens – to me – it was they who truly represent who the Hawaiian people really are – and of course, King Kamehameha I (below) represents incredibly well.
Fierce, loyal, independent, and ambitious….The history of Hawaiian Kings and Queens was transmitted by oral history so in some cases we know almost nothing and in others we have celebrated deeds. Written language didn’t come to the Hawaiian Islands until the 1800’s – at which point most of these monarchs were long gone. I’ve tried to piece together some of the lineages from online sources and Ross Cordy’s excellent Rise and Fall of the Oahu Kingdom – but have certainly made a few errors as there are differing accounts – none of which are backed by written history.
First of all – understand that there were four main islands which all had ali’i nui (monarchs) – Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii. Lanai and Kahoolawe were typically under Maui control and Molokai was often under Oahu control though sometimes under Maui and sometimes independent.
The first known King of Oahu was a man named La’akona in about 1400 A.D. His line ruled from ‘Ewa until the 1600s when Queen Kala’imanuia came into power. She was a productive and peaceful Queen who focused on building fishponds and expanding wetland agriculture. Her three sons split the island and some chaos reigned until her grandson Kakuhihewa reunified the island. He was a renowned ruler and ruled from Kailua on the windward side. Four generations after him, the greatest Oahu King came to power. Kuali’i conquered Kauai, Molokai, parts of the Big Island, and attempted to gain control (unsuccessfully) over Maui, Kahoolawe, and Lanai. His eldest son Kumuhonua inherited the Oahu Kingdom. His younger son Moiheka was the King of Kauai. It is possible that his daughter became the kahina nui of Molokai. King Kumuhonua’s descendent Kiing Kahahana, was conquered in 1783 by King Kahekili II of Maui who King Kamehameha acknownledged as his biological father. The legitimate heir of Kahekili II was Kalanikapule – the same who was thrown from the cliffs of Nu’uanu Pali by the conquering King Kamehameha (his half brother) in 1795.
Kahekili II had one side of his body tattooed black so that he would resemble his namesake the Hawaiian God of Thunder (Kane Hekili). Kahekili II was the first great conqueror of Hawaii – he controlled all of the Hawaiian Islands except the Big Island of Hawaii. His conquest of King Kahahana of Oahu was a bloody affair where most of the Oahu royals were executed and their history erased. He had a house constructed of their bones!
When Kahekili II died his brother and son went to war for control. Eventually Kalanikapule was victorious but it left him weakened and his kingdom was conquered by King Kamehameha less than a year later. Kamehameha himself was said to be a descendent of Umi-a-Liloa, the first monarch to conquer the entire island of Hawaii. He was the son of a beautiful commoner and the high king Liloa. The king had left royal insignia that only those of high birth could possess…the boy was born and his mother hid his identity until the man who thought he was Umi’s father (her husband) was beating the boy, at which point she demanded he stop since the boy was actually his king! From here, Umi traveled to the Waipio Valley where the king lived and presented himself. He found great favor but was regarded jealously by his half-brother who he eventually overcame and made serve him. He married many high ranking women and through diplomacy and war eventually united nearly every district of the Big Island. His descendent Keawe’ikekahiali’iokamoku was the great-grandfather of King Kamehameha. For typing sake, we will refer to him as KIng Keawe.
King Keawe built alliances with all of the Kingdoms on all eight islands and built strong alliances based on marriage to high ranking chiefs and royals. His main problem during his reign was controlling the chiefs of Hilo but through war and diplomacy he managed to keep them from declaring independence. He was the common ancestor of both the Kamehameha and Kalakaua dynasties.
One of the most powerful monarchs in Hawaiian history was also one of the wives of King Kamehameha the great. Queen Regent Ka’ahumanu of Maui was the favorite wife of Kamehameha (he had many) and when he died, she was co-ruler of the kingdom over the next two reigns. It can be argued that not only did she conquer Kauai for him, but she also overthrew the entire religion of the Hawaiian people, and ruled longer than any other monarch. It is said that in private, the kings were forced to bow to her.
She was born in a sacred cave on Maui and died in the Manoa Valley on Oahu. When Kamehameha I died, she married King Kaumuali’i of Kauai to prevent the kingdom from splintering. She was the mother of Kamehameha II and ruled his kingdom and that of Kamehameha III with an iron fist. Her lineage was said to be one of the highest in the islands. She was the child of a fugitive prince of Hawaii and a princess of Maui. She married Kamehameha when she was thirteen and from that point pushed her husband to unify the Hawaiian Islands. At his death, she announced that he had wanted her to be co-ruler with the new Kamehameha II (Liholiho) and no one was willing to argue with her.
When Kamehameha II died, she retained power as her step-son Kauikeaouili became Kamehameha III. She was a fierce advocate of women’s rights. She was also a notoriously large woman who broke the kapu (rules) about what women could and could not eat. She singlehandedly overthrew the ancient Hawaiian religion and invited missionaries to teach a new religion in Hawaii.
Her second husband was the King of Kauai. Kaumuali’i.
Kaumuali’i and his island of Kauai were never conquered by Kamehameha but instead were conquered by Queen Ka’ahumanu and her intelligent diplomacy (and the threat of a bloody invasion by King Kamehameha’s vast armada). He offered a bloodless surrender and reigned as a vassal until 1821 when he was kidnapped by Ka’ahumanu and married to her. When he died, she forced his son into marriage with her as well.
Kaumuali’i’s first wife was the Queen Regent of Oahu – thus when the royals of Oahu were exterminated by Kahekili II, the Kauai royals were the last of the Oahu nobles.
Now – a quick look at the monarchs of the Unified Hawaiian Kingdom. We’ve already discussed Kamehameha I. He died in 1819 and was succeeded by his son, Kamehameha II (Liholiho) and his widow Ka’ahumanu. Kamehameha II ruled for only five years and died at the age of 24. He was an extravagent spender and a drunk. Ka’ahumanu was the actuall ruler. He died in London on his first trip abroad. He was married to his half-sister, Kamamalu, who stood over six feet tall. The two contracted measles in London and died.
Kamehameha III (Keaikeaouili) was the third king of the unified kingdom. He had the longest reign unless you consider Ka’ahumanu’s time as ruler. He changed the form of government from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one. He also created the division of land which allowed private ownership – both moves paved the way for the wealth and control of the descendents of American missionaries and settlers which eventually led to the overthrow of the kingdom.
He was succeeded by his nephew Alexander Liholiho who became Kamehameha IV. He was a good and beloved king who focused on the health and education of his people. He and his wife Queen Emma (granddaughter to John Young, English advisor to Kamehameha I) were loved by the people. He sought to protect Hawaii from growing American influence. He only ruled foer eight years. Disease was the great killer of the Hawaiian monarchs.
His brother Lot became Kamehameha V. Lot ruled for nine years. He had no heir. He continued the policies of his brother but with little success limiting the influence of missionaries and American migrants. His sister, Bernice Pauahi Bishop refused the throne on his deathbed which led to a constitutional crisis where a new line of monarchs had to be elected. The main candidates were the step-son of Kamehameha I, William Lunalilo, Queen Emma, widow of Kamehameha iV and David Kalakaua – descendent of King Keawe – common ancestor of both he and Kamehameha the Great.
The first elected King of Hawai’i was William Lunalilo. He was popular and known as ‘The People’s King’ but only ruled for a year and left no heirs. Once again there was an election.
The winner of that election was King David Kalakaua .He was a remarkable man who excelled in writing, architecture, music, design, and more. He was an adventurer and had grand aspirations for building a Pacific Kingdom with Hawaii in the center and all of the other islands of the Pacific in liege. Sadly, he died with his ambitions unfulfilled – a victim of the weak Hawaiian immune system (a result of 1000 years in isolation from the diseases of mankind). His wife Queen Kapiolani (left side), was the grand-daughter of King Kaumuali’i of Kauai. She was evicted from Iolani Palace after the overthrow of the kingdom and lived out her days in Waikiki. She bequeathed lands and hospitals to the people of Hawai’i.
King Kalakaua’s sister, Queen Lilioukalani (right side) inherited the throne after his death and was overthrown by sugar planters, missionaries, and American treachery. She fought peacefully and valiantly with politics and diplomacy to restore her kingdom but she was the last of the Hawaiian monarchs.
The last true heirs to the Hawaiian Throne were Princess Victoria Kaiulani – daughter of Kalakaua’s sister, David Kawananakoa, son of Queen Kapiolani’s sister, and Prince Jonah Kuhio, the adopted son of Queen Kapiolani and King Kalakaua. Since the kingdom was overthrown, none of them ever ascended. Today, there are descendents of David Kawanakoa who are considered the true heirs to the now non-existant Hawaiian throne. It should be noted, however, that some Native Hawaiian people reject such claims and point to the extended family of Kamehameha the Great as the true heirs. Through the years, there have been several attempts at re-establishing a Hawaiian monarchy – Honolulu Magazine has detailed those attemps in a series of excellent articles.
Starting in Chinatown and then heading towards Waikiki on King Street from Honolulu Will bring you through our financial district (just a couple of blocks, but we’re still proud of our clean and interesting downtown) and then you will suddenly find yourself with Iolani Palace on the left and the fictional Hawaii 5-0 Headquarters on the right. For the next two blocks, you have an intense amount of the history of Hawaii.
First on the left side you will have Iolani Palace, the palace built by King Kalakaua for the monarchs of Hawaii to live in. Oppossite that you have Ali’iolani Palace and the statue of King Kamehameha – popularly known as Hawaii 5-0 HQ – though in truth, Hawaii 5-0 is a fictional crime fighting unit.
Next on the left you come to the Hawaii State Library and the statue garden dedicated to Patsy Mink. Opposite this you have the Territorial Legislature Building.
You will pass an intersection and on the left you will see Honolulu City Hall (Honolulu Hale) – the government headquarters for the City and County of Honolulu – notable for it’s Moorish design and architecture. Directly across from Honolulu Hale – you will seethe Kawai’ihao Church – a magnificent building made of coral bricks and the first church in Hawai’i – the cemetary connected to it has the tomb of one of Hawaii’s King Lunaliho. Next to the Kawa’ihao Church are the Mission Houses – the homes of the first missionaries to come to Hawai’i and first western structures built in the Hawaiian Islands.
Oppossite the Mission Houses you will see a building that looks like it belongs on the campus of Harvard – this was a memorial building built to honor those first missionaries. Finally you will find the lovely Fasi Park where many Honolulu events and festivals are held and next to it the beautiful concrete monstrosity that is the Frank Fasi Federal Building – a stark Le Corbusier style concrete block building that looks like it could be a prison.
Finally, you will come to a lovely sculpture of a Hawaiian Fisherman cleaning his nets next to a full scale waterfall. Each of the architectural attractions is rich in history and can occupy Anywhere from thirty minutes to three hours.
One of the most delightful little villages on Oahu is the surfing town of Hale’iwa. When I say surfing town, I don’t mean the town itself surfs- that would be silly – but the town does revolve around surfing. Once a plantation village where workers lived and bought what they needed to go about their lives, this village transformed into something else entirely when big wave surfing arrived. Today it is filled with boutiques, galleries, great restaurants, shave ice shops like Matsumoto Shave Ice, and plenty of surf shops. In fact, it is the perfect place to spend the day strolling, shopping, eating, and hanging out with friends and family.
Hale’iwa still has much of the slow paced country village feel about it combined with a chilled out surfer vibe which sits on top of a mouth watering culinary destination and an innovative artisanal movement. Hale’iwa epitomizes the Hawaiian ‘country’ scene without being backward or pretentious.
The town sits between the villages of Pupukea to the East an Waialua to the West. Pupukea is little more than a grocery store, a fire station, and some food trucks (which happen to be sitting at the gateway to the world’s best surfing beaches and the amazing snorkeling at Shark’s Cove) and Waialua has died back to mainly farms,the North Shore Soap Factory and old sugar mill complex. Waialua Bay wraps around and comes into Hale’iwa and then turns into rocky shoreline before reaching world famous surfing at Waimea Bay and the sacred temples in Waimea Valley and atop the hills in Pupukea. The small boat harbor in Hale’iwa is where many shark cage dives, dives, and sailing adventures leave from. To the south of Hale’iwa you will find the Dole Plantation and the town of Wahiawa.
The present day location was the site of an ancient Hawaiian fishing village where it was a common destination for the Hawaiian Ali’i (Royalty) to escape the heat of Honolulu or ‘Ewa in the summer months. People have occupied the area for nearly a thousand years. Hale’iwa got it’s first western style building in 1832 but wasn’t founded as a town until 1898 when Benjamin Dillingham, a local businessman who contracted to have the Hawaiian railway built from the sugar and pineapple fields of the North Shore to the shipping port of Honolulu, saw the potential for tourism and built a hotel at the northern terminus. He named the hotel for the nest of the black frigate bird, called the ‘iwa bird in Hawaiian language. Hale is the Hawaiian word for house, so – House of the Frigate Bird.
The hotel is long gone and village residents fight tooth and nail whenever anyone tries to bring a new hotel into the area. The last thing anyone wants is for Hale’iwa to turn into another Waikiki. If you want to stay on the North Shore, you need to either book a room at the expensive Turtle Bay Resort on the Northeast corner of the island or find a vacation rental. There are no other hotel options.
South East of Honolulu are the neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawaii Kai. These are upscale neighborhoods that you reach when you pass by Diamond Head and the ritzy Kahala neighborhood and continue on to Koko Head and Hanauma Bay. As a guide I often pass through here, but rarely stop. There are some houses to note as you go by – the wedding cake shaped house on the hill belongs to Keanu Reeves – or at least it used to. As a child, Barack Obama and his mother lived in a non-descript house in Aina Haina. The house used as the family home of Steve McGarrett on Hawaii 5-0 is in Aina Haina too.
Other than that, these are simply suburbs i a very pretty setting. Aina Haina was named after Robert Hind, a local dairyman – it literally means Hind’s Land. Hind owned the Hind-Clarke Dairy which is long gone, but the name remains. There are several pretty beach parks here.
Hawaii Kai is a bit more interesting as it is the former site of a royal fishpond. Prominent local developer Henry Kaiser dredged the Kuapa Pond in 1959 and used the tailings to fill in much of what is there today and create the Koko Marina. Together with the Bishop Estate, Kaiser turned the area into a world class marina and developed the surrounding suburbs.
There are several attractions nearby including Koko Head Crater, Hanauma Bay, Koko Head Stairs, Hawaii Kai golf course, Sandy’s Beach and just around the south shore Makapu’u Point, Sea Life Park, and more.
It’s been more than a decade since I’ve been to Molokai. I was suppossed to go back over this Christmas holiday, bring my family, meet up with friends – but the cost of living in Hawaii and a particularly painful dry period in tourism during October, November, and early December brought about the necessity of cancelling that trip so that my wife and I could work – this is life in Hawaii and sometimes we have to make hard choices to live here. I’m grateful to be able to live here and I hope that our friends have a wonderful time on ‘the Friendly Isle’ just as I did all those years ago.
I spent a week there that last time and the memories sometimes make me want to cry. The beauty of Molokai, the raw nature, the warmth of the people, and the feelings of having been in Hawaii how Hawai’i once was.
Molokai is the fifth largest in the Hawaiian chain. It is approximately 60km by 16km. It sits about 40 km from Oahu and is visible from Makapu’u Point on a clear day. Mt. Kamakou is the highest point on Molokai at about 1500 m (4960 feet) and it has a permanent population of about 7500 people. Molokai is a much more agricultural place than most of the islands and a much more Hawaiian place as well. It is said to be the birthplace of Hula.
Like all of the Hawaiian Islands, Molokai was born from ancient shield volcanos and has eroded now to a much smaller place than it was. It has a 40 km (25 mile) fringeing reef and the economy is largely dependent on fishing and farming. The main town is Kaunakakai.Of particular note on Molokai is the former Leper Colony town of Kalaupapa. It operated at a leper colony from 1866 to 1969 – more than a hundred years. Today, Hansen’s Disease (formerly called leprosy) is treatable but in those years it was deadly and misunderstood. More than 10,000 people were thrown into the remote colony with no assistance. Not allowed to have visitors and given minimum supplies. A Belgian priest based in Waikiki saw the treatment as inhumane and went there to help for sixteen years before contracting and dying of the disease himself. His name was Pater Damiaan de Veuster, in Hawaii he is known as Father Damian, to the Catholic Church he is Saint Damiaan.
Molokai Ranch, a Singapore based company tried to commercialize Molokai tourism for many years but after decades of anti-commercial activism – ceased all operations and put the ranch up for sale in 2017 for $260 million dollars. There is not much tourism on Molokai these days and there is high unemployment.
Lanai is owned by Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle Corporation. The people who live there are not owned by him. The last time I was there was in 2008. It was a short trip – mainly because I couldn’t afford to stay any longer. Lanai has two expensive resorts and the Lanai City Hotel which was fully booked except for the two nights I stayed there.
To be more specific, Ellison owns 97% of the island. There are some private homes and a small portion owned by the State of Hawaii – but he owns the rest. The island is 140 squrae miles and highest elevation is Mount Lana’ihale at 1026 meters (about 3,366 feet). There are about 3100 residents on Lanai. So, in a way, it’s a small town. It’s also the 6th largest island in the Hawaiian Island chain. The island is approximately 30 miles from Oahu and is visible from Oahu’s south shore on clear days. Residents are proud of the fact that there are no traffic lights on Lanai.
The name Lānai is of uncertain origin, but the island has historically been called Lānaʻi o Kauluāʻau, which can be rendered in English as “day of the conquest of Kauluāʻau.” This epithet refers to the legend of a Mauian prince who was banished to Lānaʻi for some of his wild pranks at his father’s court in Lāhainā. The island was reportedly haunted by Akua-ino, ghosts and goblins. Kauluāʻau chased them away and brought peace and order to the island and regained his father’s favor as a consequence.
In ancient times Lanai was ruled by the Maui chiefs and kings, this has translated to modern times when it is still considered a part of Maui County (along with Molokai and Kohoolawe). Lanai was a sugar growing and Hawaiian taro growing place until 1862 when it was purchased for the Mormons and subsequently stolen by Walter M. Gibson – who subsequently became the prime minister of the Hawaiian Kingdom under King Kalakaua.
Gibson’s adventures are another story but suffice to say, he lost the island and in 1921 Charles Gay planted the first pineapple. Today the island is known as the Pineapple Island mainly because the island was bought by James Dole of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (Dole Food Corporation and Dole Plantation). The island stayed part of Dole until it was purchased (with Dole) by David Murdock. He sold the island to Larry Ellison in 2012. The island hadn’t produced pineapple in two decades at that point. The island cost him $300 million. He remodeled the Four Season’s Lanai at Manele Bay and is restoring the other Four Seasons Resort at Ko’ele. Ellison has also funded many public works improvements.
Not many visitors go to Lanai – but those who do typically have the money to stay at the Four Seasons. The Lanai City Hotel is more of a locals place. There are three very nice golf courses on Lanai and a trap shooting range. These are also attractions for wealthy folks. As is the yacht harbor. There is a concrete ship which is crashed on a beach appropriately called Shipwreck Beach. It’s sort of an attracation.
Most people rent cars to see the remote places. I went hiking each day and managed to make it to most of the same places. Lanai isn’t that big. In addition to hiking to the Garden of the Gods, I was able to visit the Luahiwa Petroglyphs, the Pu’u Pehe Overlook and also spent some time lounging in Dole Park and exploring the plantation streets of Lanai City.
I want to go back to Lana’i someday – but not until I have more money.
While it’s probably not what it wants to be known for, the town of Waipahu’s most famous resident is probably Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked large amounts of classified information from U.S. intelligence agencies. Of course, there is much more to Waipahu than just Edward Snowden. Waipahu is a central Oahu town which used to be the heart of the sugarcane plantation industry.
A natural spring gives the town its name. Waipahu means ‘fresh water bursting upward. The spring was so important that Waipahu, now mostly forgotten or unknown by the many tourists who visit Oahu, was once the capital of the island and of the Oahu Kingdom which proceeded the unification of Hawaii by King Kamehameha.
Waipahu became important to sugar in 1897 when the Oahu Sugar Company formed there. Workers from Hawaii, Japan, China, Korea, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Norway and the Phillipines kept the mill going and the sugar growing. The history of the plantation and the plantation workers can be experienced and learned about at Hawaii’s Plantation Village – an often missed attraction located in Waipahu. It was established in 1973 and is a living history museum focused on that time and place.
Waipahu has about 40,000 residents today and includes several suburbs including Waikele where many visitors to Hawaii go to visit the outlet malls. Other suburbs are Waipio, Village Park, and Royal Kunia. The majority ethnic group in Wapahu is Filipino followed by Japanese and Chinese. Pacific Islander’s make up about 12% of the population, Caucasion and African-Americans maku up only about 5% of Waipahu’s population when combined. Waipahu has a growing Hispanic population at about 6%.
Waipahu has a notable Little League Baseball team which won the Little League World Series back in 2008.
How many lighthouses exist on Oahu? If you’re just here to find the answer quickly – there are six. If you want to go deeper than that though – read on.
Most people can only list one or two of the lighthouses on Oahu. Diamond Head Lighthouse is an obvious one and the one at Makapu’u Point is another that people will see if they are driving around the island. Both of them are special and beautiful.
The Lighthouse as Diamond Head is the home of the Coast Guard Admiral in charge of the Mid-Pacific Region. It is beloved by Oahu residents and has a beautiful old antique fresnel lense. It was built in 1899.
Equally loved (but sometimes forgotten because out-of-sight means out-of-mind)is the lighthouse at Makapu’u Point. You won’t see it if you are driving from the south shore up to Waimanalo unless you look backwards as you are going past Sea Life Park – but if you are driving the other direction – you can’t miss it. It was built in 1909 and its hyper-radiant lens is visible for 28 miles – so, for those who are curious and have hiked the Makapu’u point trail and seen the island of Molokai off in the distance – it can be seen with the naked eye from there (22 miles).
Perhaps more loved than both is the Aloha Tower in Honolulu – which most people have no idea is even a lighthouse! It is the oldest lighthouse on Oahu and while it has a clock in it, it was actually built to help guide ships into Honolulu Harbor. It was not a vanity project! The grounds are mostly Hawaii Pacific University but there is a Gordon Bierch Brewery there – so you can grab a beer after you admire the lighthouse.
The other lighthouses are less well known. There is the Kaena Point Lighthouse which is now a collapsed ruin on the westernmost point of Oahu – it has been replaced by a metal tower. The hike to get there is worth it – beautiful easy walk through bird preserves and isolated beaches.
Pyramid Rock on the Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe is the home for another lighthouse – it is not accessible to the public – just like the entire base. It’s too bad because this is one of the most beautiful areas on Oahu.
Finally, there is the lighthouse at Barber’s Point. This lighthouse has a modern lense but an old body, it was built in 1888 and has saved many souls from smashing on the reefs of Oahu. It is an active lighthouse in beautiful surroundings – so beautiful that one of Hawaii’s most popular luau’s is set nearby. It’s off the radar for most visitor’s but is worth the trip if you have a car and some time.
It was my intention to meet up with friends on Maui and have a Merry Christmas trip to the island of Molokai this year – but things don’t always work out the way you plan. In this case, the fake nuclear attack, near misses with hurricanes, and Big Island volcanic eruptions (plus the largely unspoken economic crisis that is looming) hit our tourism based income incredibly hard this year. As the holidays loomed, my wife and I were left with the choice of working in Honolulu during the Christmas break or taking our annual holiday – due to our budget – we opted to go with working.
We will have Christmas Day off together but during all the other days of our daughter’s school break, one or the other (sometimes both) of us will be working. We’ve enrolled Sophia in a Christmas break day camp, so she will still get to have lots of holiday themed fun – and frankly- that’s the most important thing to us. We’re lucky – actually. This year, there are a lot of workers such as those who work for TSA, Homeland Security, or Border Patrol who won’t be collecting a paycheck. There are many families here on Oahu and throughout the Hawaiian Islands (and the USA) who are homeless and won’t be celebrating Christmas, getting presents, or spending any time with loved ones. There are many families who can’t afford to send their kids to day camps during the holiday and without school to watch over them while the parents work – many children are being left to their own devices – not through cruelty, but through necessity.
So, we are thankful. Hawaii is a strange place for Christmas in any event – we try really hard here with lots and lots of decorations and Christmas music- but if you’ve ever spent time anywhere else for Christmas – it just feels really odd to have perfect weather, warm water to swim in, and everyone wearing shorts and Santa hats. Merry Christmas in Hawaiian is Mele Kalikimaka. The Hawaiians in ancient times didn’t know anything about Christmas. They celebrated a four month period from about November to February called Makahiki when there was generally no work done, lots of games, contests, and all warfare and hostilities were called off. This is just one more way the Hawaiians lived better in the past than we do today.
There was no money, no economy, no imports, no exports, and nearly everyone could take four months of the year off from working or fighting to just enjoy life. When you average it out, the ancient Hawaiian family only needed a total of 4 hours of work per day to provide everything they needed in life. They didn’t need all this stuff we have now. I noticed something odd this year – people were frantic about their Christmas shopping, often neurotic and seemingly in a panic. In Hawaii, it’s not like other places – you’re expected to give good presents to all of your coworkers and friends and family – and that gets expensive fast. Then there’s the Secret Santa tradition – in the jobs I had on the mainland – Secret Santa was a way to ensure that everyone got one nice gift and no one had to spend too much – something like maximum $25 – and no other gifts needed. Not here – my wife’s work laid out the rules $25 minimum! And- they all went ahead and bought gifts for everyone else too…
Growing up, Christmas was never that fantastic for me or my siblings so as an adult, it really took becoming a parent for me to grow to love the holiday. When our daughter was old enough to open presents – I began to spoil her the best I could (okay, from birth, I admit it). I love watching her wake up and look for presents. I love the mystery. I’m going to admit something here though – I’ve always been really honest with her. I’ve never wanted to tell her lies about anything – and frankly – I became terrified that she would discover that I was lying about Santa Claus and feel it as some sort of betrayal of trust. I felt incredibly guilty about it. She had started to ask questions that were leading to the answer and in a moment of what may have been bad judgment – I just told her that Santa isn’t real. After that we worked through the way the whole process works.
When she was a baby, we took her to where the real Santa Claus lived in Demre, Turkey – so I went from there and explained the tradition. As it got closer to Christmas though, we both agreed to suspend reality and believe in Santa together. We have a tiny little tree in our tiny little apartment. I’ve kept all her presents hidden so I can put them out on Christmas morning – and just like last year on the Big Island (I snuck the presents in an extra suitcase) – Santa will be visiting us again. So we will leave him cookies and milk. I have to admit, it’s much more fun to suspend our disbelief together than it was to fool her – I think it’s going to be a lovely Christmas in Honolulu this year. We’ll go to the Beach on Christmas Day, build sand castles, and maybe go see a movie and eat Chinese food. Maybe next year we can restart our holiday travel tradition. Or maybe not. In any event, we wish you a Merry Christmas!
The number one tourist attraction in Hawaii is the Polynesian Cultural Center in the town of Laie. Laie is also known as ‘the Mormon town’ and with good reason. The Mormons were early settlers in Hawaii and virtually the entire town of Laie is of the Mormon faith. There is a Mormon temple, a Mormon University, and the Mormon owned Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC). Now that we’ve got that out of the way – I’d like to introduce you to the PCC – and in case you are wondering – the Mormons do a great job of separating the attraction from their faith – so there is no need to worry that you are going to be preached at. It just doesn’t happen. In fact, if you didn’t know it was owned by the Mormons, you would never guess it.
A bit of history – the PCC was born from an effort to raise funds to build their temple. Native Hawaiian people had celebrated a harvest festival in the area called a hukilau – it was a sort of luau where everyone helped to gather and prepare food and everyone was welcome. They invited guests from Waikiki and the hukilau was a big hit. It grew into a weekly event, then it grew into a Hawaiian village, and eventually, it grewe into villages to celebrate all of the Polynesian Island Cultures.
Inside the PCC there are villages with cultural activities, presentations, and more. The villages represented are Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and Aotearoa (New Zealand). There are also movies, luaus, a beautiful canoe pageant, hilarious shows, and the breathtaking broadway style show ‘HA: Breath of Life’. There is much more there as well with the Hawaiian Sports Hall of Fame, the Ukulele Experience, the Hukilau Village, and so much live entertainment that you won’t ever become bored.
Located in Laie on the Windward side of Oahu on Kamehameha Highway. Open 12-6 Monday through Saturday. Tickets will cost you anywhere from $70 to $250 per adult. This is an all day sort of event. If you go to tour the villages, enjoy the luau, and watch the show you will be there until 10pm.