The Honolulu Zoo – Go Early to See the Animals

When I first moved to Hawai’i back in 2001, I lived in Waikiki where I was managing a hostel. It was a good life, but when you live in a hostel, you have to find places where you can get away from the backpackers. For me, it was the Honolulu Zoo. I used to grab a book, pay my kama’aina admission and go sit in front of the chimpanzees (and yes, I found it funny that I’d leave the monkeyhouse of the hostel to go hang out in the monkeyhouse at the zoo).
I’d wander the paths of the zoo, sit in the grass, try to psychicly link up with Rusty the Orangutan (who was in a much smaller enclosure by himself in those days) or see if I could spot the lions, wild African dogs, or other shy predators in their world class enclosures. The Honolulu Zoo was magnificent.
I was excited to go back and visit old friends – in particular, I wondered if Rusty would still be alive. The good news is that he is. The bad news is that he was hiding in his enclosure and wouldn’t come out. The other bad news was that the zoo is sadly a bit dilapidated. There were still crowds of people in the zoo – attendance isn’t the problem.

I doubt that those crowds will be going back though. The chimp enclosure has closed several times in the past few years. Once, because a wily chimp named Pu’iwa managed to put holes in the concrete, scale the wall, and jump over the two electric wires back in May of 2017.


Rusty’s newer, more expensive, bigger enclosure has sort of slipped into being about the same as his old enclosure and his much fan-fared mate, Violet, who was brought so that he wouldn’t be alone – she was on one side of the enclosure and Rusty was all the way on the other – not nubial bliss – that’s for sure – more like ten years of unhappy marriage in a cage.

Granted, we were there on a hot day and after about 10 a.m. most of the animals were hiding – but it wasn’t just that. The grounds appear to be less well kept, the grass less watered, the overall feeling of the zoo was kind of – let go. The aviary was far from the spectacular exhibit it once was, the reptile house was closed along with the chimp cage and other exhibits  (a new ectotherm outdoor reptile exhibit has since been opened, but I haven’t seen it yet).

Louise the Hippo was alone and seemed depressed which isn’t surprising after her friend Rosie died suddenly amidst complications arising from construction of a new enclosure – hint – new enclosures shouldn’t kill the animals they are built for. The petting zoo had been updated and the zoo probably spent a lot of money to do that – but there were fewer animals and frankly, it wasn’t as good as before. In short, the Honolulu Zoo is a bit of a mess and to compound things – they actually raised the price of admission ($19 general admission/ $12 kama’aina or military) while closing exhibits – I felt a tiny bit cheated. That’s not a good thing. My daughter – who is six – had a great time – but honestly, she has a good time anywhere we can buy her Dippin Dots and see some animals. My wife couldn’t wait to leave – she found it depressing – and couldn’t understand why I had talked about it so fondly.

Sadly, not only did the Honolulu Zoo not live up to my stories, but it lagged behind smaller, less well funded, less interesting (well, less interesting before) zoos.  A look at Trip Advisor reviews shows that it wasn’t just us feeling the dilapidation…words and phrases like ‘disappointed’ ‘eh’ ‘small’ ‘didn’t see any animals’ ‘too expensive for what we got’ pop up again and again.
It doesn’t make me feel good to write this, but I can’t recommend the Honolulu Zoo as a place to visit any longer. The price just isn’t worth what you get for it. I hope that changes. I hope that the city and the zoo administration can figure out how to solve the problems. Here’s a good start – water the grass as much as your average golf course on Oahu and maybe hire a golf course grounds keeper, post the feeding times of the animals, lower the admission price by three dollars until all the exhibits are reopened, reopen the exhibits, get more baby goats and other baby animals in the petting zoo, put out a call for volunteers to help with feeding, groundskeeping, animal care, and more. And probably this is the biggest piece of advice I can offer – stop trying to earn more money and instead try to give more value – that’s the biggest issue with the zoo right now – there seems to be no one trying to give value and unless that happens – attendance and revenue will continue to plummet, enclosures will continue to degrade, accredidations will continue to be taken away, and eventually the zoo will just be another natatorium waiting for a developer to turn it into a resort.

If you decide to go to the Honolulu Zoo anyway…here are some tips 1) Go early or catch one of the concerts in the zoo or twilight specials 2) Set your expectations low 3) Don’t go on a rainy day as it often floods and visitors are forced to leave and 4) If you have military or Hawai’i ID, be sure to bring them since the discount is worth it.

Slideshow Saturday : Rainbows in Honolulu and on Oahu

One of the best things about living in Hawaii – and in particular living on Oahu is that IT RAINS SOMEWHERE ON THIS ISLAND EVERY DAY and it’s also sunny somewhere on this island every day. When you put those two things together you get an ancient legend about how when it rains – It’s actually Waikea – the God of the Heavens making love with Papa – the Goddess of the Earth. It’s sacred procreation and it’s also beautiful creation that gives us the explosions of colorful and wonderful flowers, green verdant jungle and foliage, and rainbows. There are rainbows every day in Hawaii – all you have to do is find them. I don’t take pictures of every one I see – I don’t take pictures of most of them – but I take a moment and feel some warmth and gratitude to Papa and Waikea and this land of beautiful rainbows. Here are a few of them I’ve taken pictures of recently – the rainbows here are something you really have to feel to appreciate – I hope you can feel these.

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Flashback Friday: Staying at Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki in Honolulu on Oahu in Hawai’i

First let’s look at that title. I can’t stress this enough because I hear it all the time. You are never IN an island unless you have crawled into a cave ON an island. Just like you would never say “We stayed ON Waikiki” or “We stayed ON Honolulu” (because you don’t stay ON districts or ON cities, you stay IN them) – so the same thing with islands – If you are talking about the STATE OF HAWAII then you can say you stayed IN Hawaii, but if you are talking about the ISLAND OF HAWAII (aka Big Island) then you stayed ON Hawaii. So, it’s possible to stay ON Hawaii and IN Hawaii at the same time but as far as I know, it’s never possible to stay IN Oahu because it’s the name of the island and not a town, city, county or state. So – hopefully that makes sense – it’s one of those things that really can get under your skin if you live here…which I do…but – now that the lecture is over – let’s look back to the first day I returned to Oahu with my family back in 2017. We played tourist for a couple of days and we stayed at the beautiful Hilton Hawaiian Village.

I knew we were going to need a hotel the first few nights because even though we had an apartment – it was empty – so I booked us a room far above the crowds in the Kalia Tower at Hilton Hawaiian Village – Waikiki’s most well known tourist resort. Yes, I could have booked longer in a room a bit farther from the beach and I could have gotten us a full week in a hostel private room – but I wanted my wife and daughter to know what it’s like to be a tourist and to stay in a big, nice, well appointed hotel room in a luxury resort with waterslides, five pools, and no need to go anywhere else. You never get to come to Hawaii again for the first time.

About a month before moving I’d gotten three new credit cards – a Hilton Honors American Express, a Hawaiian Airlines Mastercard, and an Alaska Airlines Visa. I knew that moving would be expensive and each of these cards offered generous sign up bonuses if you spent a certain amount in the first few months.

WARNING: TRAVEL HAWAII PRO-TIPS AHEAD!!!

Using the Hilton Honors American Express, I got a discount but then using the interenet. I found a cheaper rate than Hilton had sold me and I was given that price and a 25% discount as part of Hilton’s price guarantee.  When we checked in, they had a Hilton Honors express check-in – so I was able to zip us right past the massive crowds lined up to check in at 3pm and get us settled right away – at the express check-in, I asked for any available free upgrade (part of the card benefit) and was  upgraded from a partial view on a mid-floor to a full ocean view on a top floor. So, all told, I got the room for less than a third of the rack rate which was right aroung $625 – our room rate was $176 – which almost made me regret not booking more nights – except that $176 is still a lot of money to pay for a hotel room – at least for my income level.

The lines of people checking in were horrifying and I was incredibly grateful for the experss check-in. Our room was absolutely lovely. The view was wonderful, the wi-fi was complimentary (again part of Hilton Honors).  From this point forward we didn’t leave the resort until we checked out.

We swam in three of the five pools, ate Japanese breakfast at the little Japanese restaurant downstairs, and explored the grounds which had a water slide pool,  lots of beautiful Hawaiian plant landscaping, koi, tropical fish, tropical birds and more. I’d been telling Sophia about the penguins that lived there and she didn’t believe me and it turned out that she was right, the penguins had been moved to a mainland zoo.  But they used to be there – it’s probably best for the penguins that they are not there any longer.

We swam and played in the lagoon, had ice cream, went to the beach, paid way too much for sunscreen, swam in the waterslide pool, enjoyed the sun and heat with rain and rainbows while swimming in a different pool, and finally went back up to our beautiful room and enjoyed the view from the balcony before sleeping wonderfully in the big plush beds with big fluffy pillows in a perfect climate controlled room.

It felt wonderful to be back in Waikiki and it felt even better to have my family back here with me.

The Waikiki Aquarium in Honolulu, Hawaii – Get to know Hawai’i Underwater

Right off the bat, let’s get it straight – The Waikiki Aquarium in Honolulu is not Fishtanbul or even The Oregon Coast Aquarium – it’s not Monterey or the San Francisco Aquarium. It’s small, it’s a little bit dated, and it’s a great way to pass an hour or two when the weather isn’t great or you just want to escape from the beaches and the shops in Waikiki.

The Waikiki Aquarium is open from 9am to 5pm daily and adult admission is $12. It’s located at 2777 Kalakaua Ave in Waikiki. Just get on the road next to the beach and walk towards Diamond Head. Walk past the zoo, past the bandstand, past the statue of Queen Kapiolani and then you will see it on the water side (makai side).

My favorite exhibits are the sea horses and sea dragons and also the jellyfish but there are good exhibits about aquaculture, coral reefs, corals, clams, and even Hawaiian Monk Seals. The kids always love the touch parts where they can hold a hermit crab or touch a sea anenome. The sustainable fish farming exhibit is pretty awesome and if you are just looking for a break from the beach, there are plenty of places to set up with a laptop and enjoy the free wifi. Enjoy the Waikiki Aquarium!

Hawaii Food Tours – The Tastiest Tours on Oahu!

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of taking one of the tastiest tours in Hawaii. Anyone who has been on one of my tours, knows how much fun it is to get to sample the different treats from all over Oahu – but it’s not often that I get the chance to go out and discover hidden gems here on my own turf! This was one of those opportunities.

My new friend, Chef Matthew Gray picked me up at the Ala Moana Hotel with his fun team of foodies and a couple of other guests. There were nine of us all together. Now, just a heads up – Matthew, Gio, and Krystal took me to some incredible places – I’d been to a few of them – but mostly – they took me to hole in the wall places that after seventeen years of callling Oahu home and more than a decade as a guide – I had never been to! You might be waiting for me to spill the beans about where they took me – but I’m not going to. I’ll give you the gist of it, share a few pictures, and describe some of the foods we ate and a few of the secrets I learned – but to get the rest – you are going to have to take this awesome tour.

Heres’s the info to Book a Tour – Tell the Chef that Vagobond sent you:

For Information & Reservations
Call 808-926-FOOD (3663)
or Email Hawaii Food Tours

First off – I love that this wasn’t an all day tour. If you’re here on vacation you can take this tour and still have plenty of time to go out and enjoy the beach, play some golf, or even take another tour – personally though – after this tour was done, I just wanted to relax with a Mai Tai. They’ll give you some recommendations at the end for where you can do that – or you can figure it out. The tour lasted from roughly 9am to 2pm. I was the last pickup so 9:30am and the last dropoff at 2pm. We were a small group so if you are with more or less folks at different hotels than your tour time may vary a bit.

From Ala Moana we headed into Honolulu where we sampled a little bit of everything. We had baked maunapua for breakfast and from there we took a trip into Chinatown where we visited a rice noodle factory, explored the shops and stalls, and then had a delightful walking tour that ended with a wonderful urban picnic right next to a busy marketplace. The colors, smells, sounds, and tastes were overwhelming. Gio and Christina brought tasty treat after savory delight for us to sample. I’d love to spill the beans here and tell you where and what – but that wouldn’t be any fun at all.

 

Of course we had the rice noodles we’d just watched being made and a variety of fresh tropical fruits as well as Chinese and Korean meats and other treats with Chef Matthew’s yummy sauces (he’ll share the recipe after the tour). Finally, we went to one of the most famous bakeries in Hawaii and ended with a sugar overload before falling into food comas on the way back home.

Through the day we were entertained with history, stories, culture, and recipes. This was a lot of fun and I recommend it highly. Thanks for the great day Chef Matthew! A hui ho!

Aloha Stadium Marketplace – Where Locals Go To Shop

Aloha Stadium is a well known Honolulu landmark, not only is it where the Pro-Bowl used to get played but it is also the stadium where UH football games happen and more importantly for many – where the three-times-a-week Aloha Stadium Swapmeet happens. On Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays – for a dollar per person locals and tourists alike wander through hundreds of vendors selling everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to aloha shirts and shave ice to just good old fashioned junk – along the circular route you will find those and everything in between – antiques, coins, clothing, ukuleles, tools, fishing gear, surfboards, video games – this is truly where the locals come to do their shopping – or selling.

I’ve loaded up my junk and treasures on dozens of mornings and set out hopefully for the swap meet – and so far – at the end of the day, I’m not any closer to being rich than I was at the start. It’s hard to get even good garage sale prices from the shrewd bargainers who haunt the junk sections – but with a stall price of just $15 and tent rentals at only $20 – you don’t have to sell a lot to make a profit and a big part of going is the fun of interacting with tourists and locals. There are a whole host of colorful characters who are regulars there – homeless guys who use their meager earnings to buy things to sell at thrift shops, professional garage salers, hoarders, people who are trying to make their social security checks stretch, junk addicted hustlers, video game junkies, displaced otaku, retired policemen, crusty fishermen, treasure hunting aunties, and local farmers and artisans. There is nowhere else in Hawaii where you can mingle with such a wide array of real Hawai’i folk.

The Stadium was originally built for Hawaii’s AAA baseball team, The Hawai’i Islanders, but that didn’t work out and the Islanders moved away. The stadium is still there though despite calls to tear it down and build another over the past twenty years. And the marketplace is still there – as far as I can tell, this is the last regular marketplace for low dollar vendors since the International Marketplace and Dukes Lane have been gentrified and turned into yet another Waikiki Beverley Hills. The Aloha Stadium Swapmeet is a place to find art by the artists, people selling the contents of storage locker auctions, farmers selling produce, people selling discount produce from wholesalers, and as mentioned above – nearly everything else. What you generally won’t find at Aloha Stadium Swapmeet are guns or knives or weapons of any kind, fireworks or flammables, pornography, drugs or vaping, alcohol, or anything else that doesn’t fit with a family atmosphere.

So, go ahead, buy expensive produce and souvenirs at other places – or head to the Aloha Stadium Swapmeet and get them for the kama’aina price. The swap meet happens Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday (unless there is a game scheduled). You can show up as early as 6am but if you show up later than 10am, don’t expect to find any treasure or good apple bananas – those go early.

Ulupo Heiau in Kailua on Oahu, Hawaii – Ancient Hawaiian Temple Site

An often missed but fascinating site on Oahu is the Ulupō Heiau on the Windward side of the island near the beach town of Kailua. It sits on the eastern edge of Kawai Nui Marsh which is off to your left as you come into Kailua down the Pali Highway. Stories say that it was created by the Menehune, an ancient race of leprechan-like pre-Hawaiians who inhabited the islands before Tahitian voyagers got here. There are many such large Menehune credited structures throughout the islands. The name Ulupo means ‘night inspiration’. I can only imagine what it is like at night.

As you drive by, you can see the huge stone platform through the mango trees just past the Windward YMCA – if you go to the YMCA, you can park and walk around the back to acces the heiau. A heiau is a Hawaiian temple site. The Ulupo Heiau measures 140 x 180 feet and is as high as 30 feet at some points. The stones were brought from all over the island and at one point – it was a very important cultural site for the Hawaiian people of Oahu.

The area it sits in was important for Hawaiian agriculture with the production of banana(maya), taro (kalo), sugarcane (ko), breadfruit (ulu) and many other fruits and vegetables. In addition there were ancient fishponds in the area. All of this has led archaeologists to suppose that it was an agricultural temple site that grew into a more important heiau luakini – which would have had much more power associated with it.

Kailua, though a laid back beach town today, was once an important seat of power. The kings of Oahu maintained their residences here – as did the later conquering kings of Maui and King Kamehameha the great who united all the islands under his rule. After the conversion of the Hawaiian people to Christianity and the missionary and territory periods – the site lost much of it’s importance and was part of a cattle ranch.

In the 1960s, the site was partially restored and a plaque was put up but the accumulated rubbish of nearly a century filled the site. In the early 2000’s, I worked with groups of other volunteers to clean out the rubbish, restore the lo’i (taro ponds), and clean the site. Until recently, there were members of the reinstated Hawaiian government living on the site – or maybe they were simply homeless Hawaiian guys living on the site and taking care of the aina. In any event, they were forced out and I don’t know the details. I know that it was nice to have them there in the mid 2000s but when I visited in 2017 there was a somewhat creepy and dangerous feel to the place.

Yesterday’s visit seemed to be an improvement over that.

The Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii

The Pacific Aviation Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii is one of the top attractions on the island of Oahu. The entrance fee is $25, which is a little steep for a musuem, but if you are an aviation buff or a military history fan – this is a must-see. Two hangars filled with aircraft and exhibits as well as the iconic red and white control tower on Ford Island and outdoor aircraft displays.

There are some pretty cool displays including a Flying Tigers Exhibit and a Boeing Sternman Model 75 flown by former President George H. W. Bush. Exhibits include a focus on the attack at Pearl Harbor, a B-17 Bomber recovered from the swamps of New Guinea, and a wide range of military, civil, and civilian aircraft.


The Pacific Aviation Museum is an interesting stop and it should be since construction, maintenance, and acquisition costs most likely add up to $50 billion dollars or more.

We had a great day there. We found a day when admission was only $5 each (online only) because of a conference promoting careers in aviation for women and girls. There were special exhibits, information booths, and lots of fun to be had. There are frequently online deals like two admissions for the price of one, free aircraft simulator tours, and more on the museum website.

To get there from Honolulu, you take the H1 Freeway towards the Airport and Pearl Harbor. Since this is part of the Valor in the Pacific (Pearl Harbor) set of attractions -you will park at Pearl Harbor and go into the entrance of the main visitor center. Once inside head straight towards the ticket booth on the right side where you can purchase tickets to the Battleship Missouri, the USS Bowfin Submarine, and the Pacific Aviation Museum.

Once you have your ticket you will catch a bus from inside the facility that will take you across the bridge to Ford Island – this is the same bus that will take you to the Battleship Missouri. Just like Pearl Harbor, you can’t bring backpacks, bags, purses, or fanny packs with you – there is bag storage before the entrance to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.

There is a small tourist gift shop and a so-so canteen for sandwiches and snacks. Expect to spend 1-1.5 hours for a casual visit. Longer if you want to really dig into the museum and displays.

Saturday Slideshow – Lucky Live Hawai’i – Lucky Live Oahu – Lucky Live Honolulu

In Hawai’i we have a local language called Hawaiian Creole or Pidgin for short. You’ve heard it when you’ve watched Hawaii 5-0, you’ll hear it on the new Magnum P.I. You’ve heard it on Dog the Bounty Hunter and if you’ve been here – you’ve heard the bus drivers, valets, maids, surfers, beach boys, and other local folks use it. You probably didn’t understand it – and that’s okay. It has a sing-song quality that varies from island to island and consists of words from a dozen languages plus a bunch of made up words that are usually onamatopia. Example: Brah, like go kaukau? Or Howzit? Or Hoh, Lucky live Hawai’i. Yea, Lucky live Hawaii, Lucky live Oahu, Lucky live Honolulu. That’s what I’m feeling – this week’s slideshow might show a bit of why.

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Hilo, Hawai’i – from Kurtistown to Volcano to Akaka Falls – Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday – back in 2017 when I knew that I was moving back to Hawai’i and bringing my family with me – I had two plans and didn’t know which one would be better. The first was to move to Honolulu, find a job, find an apartment or house, and get ready to pay the quality of life tax. The second one was to move to Hilo, use the proceeds from the sale of my antique store in Oregon to buy a piece of land near the volcano, and then to live a sort of Hawaiian Mosquito Coast adventure…ultimately, I decided on Honolulu as being the best decision for the good of my family….but even after all the eruptions and hurricanes of the past year – there’s a part of me that wishes I had chose Kurtistown.  Here’s what I wrote back then:

It’s Father’s Day and I have to admit – this was one hell of a present to myself. Alright, actually, it is happenstance – I didn’t plan this as a Father’s Day gift – I wasn’t thinking about Father’s Day at all – but I was doing my damndest to be the best father I can.

I’m waking up and sitting in a big comfy bed with lots of feather pillows around me. I’ve brewed a cup of coffee and I’ve got a view right out my window and off the lanai of Hilo Bay as the Hawai’ian sun brings the silhouete of the Big Island to life. Happy Father’s Day!

The picture above actually shows where I’m sitting in bed. The Grand Naniloa Double Tree by Hilton in Hilo, Hawaii.These past few years I’ve been living in Reedsport, Oregon. I was a bit surprised when I was driving up to find that the bay on the back side of this hotel is called Reed’s Bay. That Reed fella got around. I’m not here on a vacation – at least that wasn’t my intention, but it did sort of work out that way.

I came here to look at a property south of here in Kurtistown. Sitting in Oregon, I wasn’t at all sure that I would be able to accomplish the 5-day mission I set out upon – land a job, secure a house or apartment on Oahu, and rediscover the lay of the land in Hawai’i. So, I had a backup plan. If, when I got to Oahu, it was just too expensive, too crowded, too much to bring my wife and little girl to – if there was no home for us on Oahu – I was going to purchase (perhaps) a remote cabin in the rainforest – a very real mega-fixer-upper on a beautiful piece of land – and I was going to move us there. The owner was willing to carry the loan, I had just enough for a down payment, and I’d figure out a way to make it work…that was the plan. So, before I left Oregon I booked three days on Oahu and a weekend trip to Hilo where I used my new Hilton Honors Amex to book two nights in the Grand Nani Loa and got a great package deal on a car.

Thankfully, Oahu welcomed me home with open arms. I got the job, I found a home and secured it, and by the time I flew to the Big Island on Friday – my work-family-mission in Hawai’i had already been accomplished. Still, there was a part of me that loved the idea of pulling a Mosquito Coast (Paul Theroux moves his family to a remote tropical jungle situation) and building a life in the jungles of Hawai’i. So, I arranged to tour it with the realtor at his earliest convenience and since he wasn’t available until Sunday morning – I got directions from the owner and drove out some serious country roads as soon as I got off the plane.

I loved the property. Pineapples, coconuts, bananas, haliconias, big ohia trees, wide grassy fields. It was actually the type of property I dream about living on – except for the mosquitos. And except for the house. The house was a disaster. It was livable – but to be honest, I’ve lived in huts, tents, and cars that were less grody. It had some very real structural issues as well. Plus, it was so far out and off the grid that there was no way I could move my wife and daughter there. Not just because of my responsibility, but because once she saw it – my wife would have revolted. The only way to move her there would have been in manacles and frankly, even if that was my style, I’m pretty sure it still wouldn’t have worked.

So, I cancelled the showing, let the owner know that it wasn’t going to happen…and set about rediscovering Hilo and a bit of the surrounding areas…from the posh comfort of my posh hotel room – when I checked in – the universe rewarded me for thinking about my wife and child by getting me an upgraded room…which, by the way, is why it always pays to be kind and understanding when your room isn’t ready and you are ready to check in…

Kamehameha the Great was the first king of the United Kingdom of the Hawaiian Islands. His actual name was Kalani Pai’ea Wohi o Kaleikini Keali’ikui Kamehameha o ‘Iolani i Kaiwikapu kau’i Ka Liholiho K’nui’kea – which history has shortened to Kamehameha the Great. There are multiple large impressive statues of King Kamehameha which each have interesting histories. The original was created by a sculptor in Italy which explains why King Kamehameha is standing like a Roman general and has vaguely Italian features…it was commissioned by King David Kalakaua to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival in Hawai’i – an event which probably would not have been celebrated had Kalakaua known he would be the last king of the islands and he would be overthrown by the missionaries who followed  – but he had no way of knowing that and so he ordered the statue and had it shipped around South America – where it sank. But wily King Kalakaua had insured it and so another was cast – but by the time it arrived, the first had been recovered and sent ahead. So there were two – one went up at Iolani Palace and the other went up near the birthplace of Kamehameha. But the photo below is neither of those.


This statue was commissioned by a resort on Kauai that seemed unaware that King Kamuali’i of Kauai was never conquered by Kamehameha – in fact, Kamehameha never set foot on Kauai. It was a politcal unification, not a military one – so the people of Kauai have strong feelings about a statue of Kamehameha being erected on their island – and made a big stink about it – which resulted in this beautiful statue being sent to Hilo – a place where Kamehameha was loved and revered. There is also a statue of Kamehameha in Washington DC which was in the hall of heroes next to Father Damien (Hawaii’s only saint) – each state has two heroes there…and Kamehameha was in the shadows until Barack Obama became President of the United States – at that point – it was emancipated and moved to Emancipation Hall. A much better spot.

I love Hilo. The whole Big Island of Hawai’i is a bit like the Oregon Coast in that the economy is rural and agricultural. And it is fairly wet on this side…and the economy seems a bit depressed when compared to Oahu or Maui. Just like Oregon is depressed when compared to California or Washington. In fact, in the past, when I’ve thought about the islands and their very distinct personalities – I’ve sometimes used a West Coast shorthand to describe them. Oahu is the like the Bay Area, Maui is like Los Angeles, Kauai is like Portland, and the Big Island is like Oregon although Kailua-Kona seems to have become more like Seattle. Lanai is like agricultural California and Ni’ihau is (as far as I know because I haven’t been there – more like actual Hawai’i. As for Molokai – it’s also more Hawai’ian than Haole – but it’s been ten years since I’ve been there – so I can’t say for sure. Anyway, that’s a very imperfect West Coast shorthand. Each island has a flavor and each district has a flavor and each town has a flavor.

The farmer’s market in Hilo is fantastic. The smells and sounds brought me back to a place I didn’t know I had forgotten. I was fortunate to be here on a Saturday when the local canoe clubs were having a big regatta – and one of the things I love about Big Island is that when families go to the beach, they really go…they bring huge tents and electricity and even one guy with a lazy boy recliner. I wanted to take a picture but he was just so comfortable and I didn’t want to intrude on that.

I drove down to Volcano and checked out the show Madam Pele is putting on. Fantastic. At night the spectable is extraordinary – but I didn’t really want to hang out. I’ve walked the lava fields before, poked pennies into the lava, and melted my shoes as well as seeing the nighttime wonders. This time, I just wanted to be there and then to move on.

It’s nice that I’ve been here before – I feel no pressure to do anything. I strolled through the Queen Lilioukalani Gardens and walked out to Coconut Island. I wandered through downtown and had a fantastic plate of Hawai’ian food at Hawai’ian Style Cafe – it’s been a while since I had laulau, poi,lomi-lomi salmon, long rice soup, or poke that was that good. I walked through Hilo leaving my rental car at the hotel and going miles and miles and miles. I browsed the bookstores and antique shops, bought a delicious cardamom muffin, and just soaked it in. Then I sat on the lanai at my hotel, looked at the water, and just breathed.

This morning, on Father’s Day, I counted my blessings. Being my daughter’s daddy is the best thing that this world has ever given me. I am so blessed. Then, I got a text from her thanking me for this privilege!

The Big Island is beautiful. There is no question about the stunning beauty, the abundance of beautiful birds and the wonders of nature. Akaka Falls and the Hamakua Coast, the majestic volcano mountains of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, and the wonderous sense of space. Being on the Big Island again was like meeting a girl you were crazy about but never really got to know very well a decade after you had both moved on with life. The Big Island is pregnant with possibilities. And, there are also some very real dangers.

The first that comes to mind is Rapid Ohia Death – this is a relatively new phenomenon where a form of Ceratocystis fimbriata – a root fungus is killing the large Ohia trees all over the island.

The Ohia tree (aka Ohia Lehua or sometimes just as Lehua thought that is usually the word used for the flower) is endemic to Hawai’i and is often one of the first plants to grow on lava – it is a tree closely associated with the volcano goddess Pele. I should point out that endemic means that a species developed here and is not found in nature anywhere else on the planet. There are five species of ohia that are endemic to Hawai’i. The Hawaiian islands are home to a great variety of endemic species because they are the most remote landmass on the planet and on the islands you can find nearly every climactic zone where life thrives from desert to tropical to temperate, etc. Unfortunately, the isolation in which speciation occurred made the unique species of these islands susceptable to disease and pressure from invasive species. A great many of the unique species of Hawai’i have gone extinct and a great many more are endangered. Many of the endangered species rely on the habitat created by the Ohia forests…so, in 2015 when huge swaths of Ohia began dying rapidly – there was panic. The fungus killing them has been identified, but the source of the fungus is unknown and a solution to the growing problem has not yet been discovered.

And of course, there are other Big Island dangers – volcanos, malaria, West Nile Virus, and other tropical mosquito borne pathogens.

The Big Island is bigger than all the other islands combined. I only saw a tiny portion of it on this trip, but it was enough to know that this place is precious. On my last morning on the Big Island (this trip) I drove North from Hilo to Hakalau Bay, I didn’t have time to hike or really dive in – I was just soaking in an impression. I stopped briefly at Akaka Falls and Kolekole State Park – I stopped to help a stranded motorist with a broken down car, but she was busy doing Facetime with her mom and said a tow-truck was on the way so I didn’t stick around. I just drove and enjoyed the driving.

I bought a plate lunch (to go) and then drove to the airport and returned my rental car. I did better on timing this go round – I was only one hour early for my flight but from Big Island to Oahu, I would have been fine with a half hour or maybe even 15 minutes. No wait, no line, no problem.