The Sony Open is being played right now (and every January) at the Waialae Country Club in the Honolulu neighborhood of Kahala on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. It’s not just wealthy golfers who love Kahala – it’s known throughout the islands as the place where old mone, new money, and crooked money goes to retire. The neighborhood has one of the largest concentrations of wealth in the State of Hawaii with an entire street of high multi-million dollar properties and estates – and the fancy front gates to prove it.
Kahala sits on the back side of Diamond Head but before you reach Aina Haina and Hawaii Kai. It’s a flat neighborhood within a 20-minute drive of downtown even with traffic and to get to Waikiki never takes longer than 5-10 minutes. There is a mix of old money and new money with the old time Hawaiian families having been there for up to a century and the newcomers mostly since WWII building bigger and more ostentatious mansions. One of the best things about Kahala is that the State of Hawaii has denied the residents the ability to shut down the Kahala beaches because free public access to all beaches is written into the Hawaiian constitution. Frankly, it’s a nice beach but it doesn’t compare with Lanikai, another beach that the wealthy would love to lock the rest of us out of.
On the far end, just past the country club, is the Kahala Hotel and Resort (hint: free dolphin show) – which used to be the Kahala Mandarin but changes owners from time to time. Kahala is a favorite location for celebrities and business moguls to purchase vacation homes and given the multi-million pricetags on the homes – it’s been a flippers paradise. Homes in Kahala range from $2 million upwards to $20 million with the beach side of the road being where the upper range sits.
There are lots of rumors and stories about movie stars and rich tycoons having places in Kahala – but I haven’t seen a single one of them confirmed by a reputable source. There is however, a bizarre story involving Genshiro Kawamoto, the Japanese billionaire and rumoured gangster. From the 1980s to the 2010s he bought up to thirty properties in Kahala and moved gaudy and bizarre statues to them. When the neighbors complained about his lack of upkeep and ugly statues, he moved three homeless families into three of his mansions. When he was buying, he would roll up in his limo, have his driver knock on the door and offer a 5 day quick title for cash well over the market value. Then he started bulldozing mansions that were perfectly fine, filling in swimming pools with concrete, and essentially trying to drive market values down. He was finally forced to sell, but not before proving himself the worst neighbor ever.
The people who sold were happy, the homeless families were happy, but no one else was thrilled until he was gone. There are many bizarrely vacant mansions that went to ruin during his Kahala hobby time.
There are past stories of Kahala famous people – Time Magazine founder Henry Luce, David Geffen of Geffen Records, and a few other not so well known rich folks. Rich white people started moving to Kahala after World War II. Back in the real old days, however – it was only pigs and cattle that lived in Kahala. It was where Kamehameha the Great landed his invasion from Maui in 1795. Most of Kahala became his descendents property, ending with Bernice Pauahi Bishop who transferred it the Bishop Estate Trust when she died. The Bishop Estate still owns the majority of Kahala – though not the houses along the beach which were converted from lease-hold to free-hold in the late 1960s when the residents sued and forced the Bishop Estate to sell them them land their houses sit on.
Honolulu, Hawaii on Oahu is my home. It’s the capital of the Hawaiian Islands and the State of Hawaii. It’s the largest city in Hawaii and the second largest city in Polynesia (Auckland is first). It is the most isolated city in the world and has a population of about 400,000 with close to 1 million in the consolidated metro area. Honolulu exists not just as a city but also as a county government – so our mayor is also our county executive. It’s a crazy and down to earth place that is completely different from anyplace else on Planet Earth.
Honolulu has a huge US military presence and hosts millions of tourists each year. It’s a major hub for fligths from Asia, Oceania, and North America with Honolulu International Airport serving as a sort of gateway where East meets West. The city sits on the southern coast of Oahu but actually the boundaries of the City and County of Honolulu extend northwest for nearly 2500 miles and include the Northwest Hawaiian Islands up to Midway Atoll.
When I moved here in 2001, I had come from a neighborhood/town called Fairhaven in Bellingham, Washington and I was surprised to learn that Honolulu actually translated as Fair Harbor or Fair Haven – which was pretty cool. The name fits. Honolulu is the safest city in the USA with lowest violent crime rate of any American place of comparable size – if you watch Hawaii 5-0 or Dog the Bounty Hunter, that might be hard to believe – but it’s the truth, not TV fiction. Honolulu is consistantly ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world with a perfect climate and peaceful, educated population. The downside is that it’s damn expensive to live here with the median price of a single family home in the million dollar range and rent ranging from $2,000 to $5000 per month. It is the second most expensive urban rental market in the USA.We have more homeless per capita than anywhere in the USA.
The archaeological evidence shows that Honolulu has been occupied for over a thousand years. King Kamehameha made it his capital after conquering Oahu at the battle of the Nu’uanu Pali in 1809. The first European to come to Honolulu was Captain William Brown – an Englishman who came in 1794. Many more followed. Honolulu became a main stopover for ships between Asia and North America.
Honolulu is the only American City that was once the capital of an independent kingdom and as such it is the only one that has a palace that was home to ruling royalty. Iolani Palace sits in the downtown historic district. There are tens of thousands of hotel rooms and vacation rentals in Honolulu which cater to the tourism industry – the economic lifeblood of modern Hawaii.
Visitors are often struck by how clean Honolulu is – which is a point of pride for residents. People who live here are called locals – although some have tried to make the term ‘Honoluluan’ stick since it doesn’t have the same racial overtone of local (generally locals are brown and haoles are white).
The tallest building presently is the First Hawaiian Center at 438 feet. There are numerous museums, attractions, monuments, and points of interest in Honolulu. Among them are Chinatown, the statue of King Kamehameha, Iolani Palace, the Bishop Musuem, the Honolulu Academy of Arts (Honolulu Art Museum), Hawaii State Art Museum, the murals of Kaka’ako, Waikiki, the Punchbowl memorial, Ala Moana shopping center, the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Aloha Tower, Diamond Head, a variety of botanical gardens, beautiful beaches, and much more.
The weather here can only be described as perfect staying mostly in the 70s and 80s (24-35 celsius). It rains every day and is sunny every day so the weather men have it easy. Partly cloudy with a chance of rain…every day. Which means rainbows daily. Lots and lots of rainbows. The water is usually the perfect temperature for a swim.
The population here is roughly spilt with slightly higher female to male ratio. Ethnicty is roughly 55% Asian, 20% Causcasion, 8% Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders , 11% mixed race, and the remaining 6% made up of African American, Latino, and other ethnicity. Median age is about 40 years old. The Asian population is broken down into 40% Japanese, 26% Flipino, 20% Chinese, 8% Korean, 4% Vietnamese, 2% being Indian, Thai, Cambodian, and Indonesian. Native Hawaiians make up only about 3% of the total population.
Honolulu ranks highly as one of the most fit cities in the USA. Each year there is the Honolulu Marathon and the Great Aloha Run as well as the Honolulu Triathalon. While we don’t have any professional sports teams here, we are big supporters of the University of Hawaii football, basketball, and volleyball programs as well as high school sports. Honolulu’s Little League team has won the world championship three times…most recently in 2018.
Honolulu has consulates for Japan, South Korea, the Phillipines, Micronesia, Australia, and the Marshall Islands. There are also numerous church and religions headquarters located here.
On a not so positive note, Honolulu often ranks with the worst traffic in the United States. A somewhat controversial rail system is being built to help with the problem but has run into numerous budget and time issues. It remains to be seen if if will help at all. Our bus system is frequently lauded as being very good, but in recent years has degraded and become unpleasant and too expensive for the slow speed of delivery. Lyft and Uber are readily available as well as bike-share and soon scooter share programs. Parking is a big issue in Honolulu and if you have a car but don’t have designated parking expect to spend a significant portion of your time waiting for a parking space at shops and in neighborhoods.
We have three interstates – which is funny if you think about it, but they are there to connect the major bases of Schofield Barracks (Army), Pearl Harbor (Navy), and Marine Corps Base Hawaii (Marines) as well as Hickam and Wheeler Fields (Air Force). The military are those most able to afford living on Oahu with plenty of subsidized housing, tax free and discounted shopping in the commisary and Navy Exchange shops, and discounts for nearly everything. It’s also nice for those military coming here that they are able to have their household goods and vehicles shipped here via tax dollars which living in base housing and shopping on base, they pay less of.
On the whole – Honolulu is a great place to live – if you can afford it. Most people can’t and for those who live here, that means working two, three, or more jobs. It’s a great place to visit, but unless you or being subsidized by the US government or are independently wealthy – don’t try to live here.
There are songs and dreams of Waikiki. All over the world there are cafes, restaurants, streets, and shops named for this little slice of paradise on the southern end of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Waikiki is properly written Waikīkī if you use the script that German missionaries created for the Hawaiian people – but mostly it’s really a word and a name you should say. The Hawaiians went for more than a thousand years without a written language and to be honest, written language seems to have brought more problems than solutions – so I don’t get too uptight about the punctuation – but some people do.
Waikiki might be the most famous tropical beach in the world. It is not the only beach in the Waikiki neighborhood though. There are actually seven of them. Queens, Kuhio, Kaimana, Gray’s, Fort DeRussy, and Duke’s (also known as Kahanumoku Beach and named for Duke Kahanamoku .) The name Waikiki means spouting fresh water and while it’s hard to believe today, it was once a swamp – but one without mosquitos (introduced by ship about 1840), snakes, gators, or other unpleasantness. Instead it was a paradise. The beach portion was pretty minor back then…and actually, the beach is almost entirely man made with sand brought from a variety of locations to make it.
The Ala Wai Canal on the ‘back side’ of Waikiki, was built to ‘drain the swamp’ and the emptied wetlands were filled with the dredgings. Prior to that, this was a retreat for Hawaiian Royalty – the literal Kings and Queens of Surf would lounge about in little more than their birthday suits among wetland agriculture, swimming ponds, and some small beaches . In the 1800s there were a couple of guest houses but the first ‘resort’ was at Sans Souci beach (now Kaimana). Many more would follow. And of course the resorts wanted beaches so they built them with sand from the North Shore, California, Maui, Fiji, Australia…an astounding number of places – but the truth is, Mother Nature doesn’t want a beach in Waikiki and she erodes the sand away constantly. If the beach were not ‘replenished’ or ‘nourished’ or more accurately restocked with foreign sand – it would not exist. The sand which washed out has also impacted the reef and changed the surf breaks.
Seawalls, piers, pillows, groins, and sand bags have all done their part to try to protect the commercialy important beach, but you can’t stop Mother Ocean. Still with scores of hotels that charge $500 per night for rooms – there is plenty of money to spend keeping the tide at bay. The first big hotels were the Moana Surf Rider and the Royal Hawaiian – built by the Matson Shipping company but the age of jet travel brought a lot more tourists and the cabanas at Halekulani were upgraded to Hawaii’s poshest hotel, the Hilton Hawaiian Village was born, and others have kept growing to match the ever increasing number of tourists who fulfill their dreams by coming here. You would think the resorts would pay for all of the beach ‘nourishment’ but actually, that falls on the people who live and work here for the low wages tourism offers. Tax dollars foot the bill and corporate dollars buy the politicians that distribute it.
Still, no one blames the tourists, the hotels, or the government because quite frankly, the beach is nice and even if most locals don’t get to enjoy the beach as much as they would like – we all get down there from time to time. There are surf competitions, a nightly free hula show, the lighting of the torches, and every high end shop or restaurant you can imagine all competing for those coveted tourist vacation dollars.
Waikiki is essentially the neighborhood from the Ala Wai Canal to the beach to the Diamond Head Lighthouse including Kapiolani Park, bequethed by and named for Queen Kapiolani, the wife of King Kalakaua (see statue of her above). The main roads in Waikiki are Kalakaua Avenue (named for King Kalakaua), Kuhio Avenue, and Ala Wai running parallel with the beach along with Kapahulu running inland (which will lead you to Leonard’s Bakery). There are also a large number of smaller cross roads. Kalakaua is the main drag for high end shopping. Kapahulu takes you out of Waikiki and to some great restaurants. Ala Wai takes you back to Ala Moana – and Kuhio is a little bit of a red light district – though not as bad as it used to be.
Waikiki is primarily a place known for surfing with a wide variety of breaks and waves. The statue of Duke Kahanamoku draws admirers and each year there are numerous competitions held there. If you want to learn how to surf, it is possibly the best place in the world to do so. Other attractions here are the Honolulu Zoo, the Waikiki Aquarium, and the International Marketplace .It is also where most people start and finish their Hawaii vacations…which is a bit of a shame – because with a great guide, it’s easy to realize that Waikiki is just another manufactured tourist destination next to the beach – but Honolulu, Oahu, the Big Island, Kauai, Maui, Lanai, and Molokai are where you will actually discover Hawaii. I’m not saying that Waikiki isn’t great, because it is great, but it’s not the best that Hawaii has to offer – though it is the best place to start and finish your trip here.
The name Oahu has no meaning in the Hawaiian language except for the place itself. The island is nicknamed ‘The Gathering Place’ and for over a millenium, this small 596 squrare mile patch of land in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean has been exactly that. A gathering place. Oahu is the third largest but the most densely populated of the Hawaiian Islands. Oahu is my home. I love Oahu. And I love sharing Oahu.
The highest mountain on this island is Mt. Ka’ala at 4003 feet and the coastline stretches about 227 miles. Oahu is not a circle, it has more of a diamond shape at 44 miles by 30 miles at the longest and widest points. There are roughly a million people living here but as many as a quarter million visitors at any given time.
Oahu was formed by two ancient and massive shield volcanos which have eroded away over millions of years leaving two towering and dramatic mountain ranges – The Wai’anaie and the Ko’olau. There are amazing waterfalls, hikes, and other treasures hidden in the mountains.
The largest city on Oahu is the largest city in the state as well – Honolulu. Over 80% of the population of Oahu lives in the Honolulu urban area – and everyone on this island is within both the city and the county limits since we are administrated by the City and County of Honolulu. If you live in Honolulu or on Oahu, you are not an Oahuan or a Honoluluite – you are simply a ‘local’ – although if you are white, you are a haole no matter what – so deal with it. Honolulu though, is only a small portion of the total island.
Even if you’ve never been to Oahu or heard of it – you have probably heard of Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline, and the North Shore. These are a couple of the very well known places, but this island has many towns (even though they are all technically Honolulu). Looking at the map, Oahu is divided into five distinct regions. North Shore, South Shore, Windward (East) Side, West Side, and Central Oahu. Another distinction is ‘Town Side’ which indicates Honolulu itself if you are anywhere on the island but also includes Kaneohe and Kailua if you are on the less populated parts of the Windward Coast. Other distinct towns are Kapolei, Waianae, Makaha, Ewa, Makaha, Kahuku, Laie, Hale’iwa, Waialua, Milalani, Wahiawa, Waipahu, and more. Honolulu also has many distinct neighborhoods such as Kaka’ako, Waikiki, Salt Lake, Chinatown, Downtown, Historic District, and Kaimuki.
Directions can be confusing – Ewa means West but only if you are East of Ewa – and Diamond Head means East unless you are East of Diamond Head. Mauka means towards the mountains. Makai means towards the ocean.
It rains somehwere on Oahu every day. This is the land of rainbows. In fact, the longest rainshower in the world happened on this island from August 27, 1993 to April 30, 1994 – 247 days of rain. Take that and smoke it in your ark, Noah. Even when it rains the weather is pleasant ranging from 68 F – 92 F. It is hotter and dryer in summer and a bit cooler and definitely wetter in winter.
Oahu has been inhabited for around 1600 years but Europeans didn’t come here until 1779 – a year after Captain Cook first visited Hawaii. The first haole here was Captain Charles Clerke. Europeans brought disease, mosquitos, capitalism, missionaries, and invasive species – all of which still have a large influence today.
Oahu has been attacked only a handful of times – mostly by Hawaiians from other islands prior to unification of the Hawaiian Kingdom by Kamehameha the Great. In modern times it was attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. There are massive numbers of U.S. Military here at all times as well as over five million tourists per year.
Oahu is a visual delight and has been used as many different places in the world by countless films and TV shows. The island has ten of fourteen global microclimates which makes it an ideal film location. Some noteable people who are from Oahu are Barack Obama, Bruno Mars, Bette Midler, Nicole Kidman, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Theroux, Duke Kahanamoku, Jack Lord, Marcus Mariotta, Jack Johnson, Daniel Inouye, Michele Wie, Don Ho, and Jake Shimabukuru.
Oahu continually blows my mind with its beauty and awesomeness. Whether it is the North Shore, the West Side, the Windward Side or the South Shore this island’s beaches are among the most beautiful in the world. When you go into the mountains or into the center (the piko) of the island, you find stunning and scenic wonder – and if you get lucky enough to venture into the water you will find plenty above and below the surface to keep you smiling in delight. All of this and then you have the man-made beauty of the historic district, downtown, waikiki, the plantations, and the various statues, memorials, and more. But I don’t want to make you too giddy with the power of Oahu – so just enjoy these for now.
King David Kalakaua was the last king of the Hawaiian Kingdom. His sister, Queen Liliuokalani was the last monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom, overthrown by American sugar planters and American military interests. King Kalakaua built the palace as a symbol to the people of Hawai’i and a message to all the nations of the world that Hawai’i is an educated, civilized, and advanced society ready to take the place as one of the biright lights of advanced human civilizations.
King Kalakaua had met Thomas Edison and arranged to have electric lighting installed into ‘Iolani Palace as early as 1887. After meeting Alexander Graham Bell, he had a telephone installed in the palace. Indoor plumbing (with flush toilets) was original in the palace when it was completed in 1882. ‘Iolani Palace had a telephone, indoor plumbing, and electric lighting before the White House had any of the three.
To tour the interior of the palace you must first visit Hale Koa aka the ‘Iolani Barracks – this is on the palace grounds and should not be confused with the Hale Koa Hotel (House of Warriors) in Waikiki which is for U.S. servicemen and women. ‘Iolani Barracks was moved from the Diamond Head side of the palace grounds to where it currently sits. It was built in 1870 for the household royal guards of King Kamehameha V. Today it is where the gift shop, the ticket office, and a small video theatre are located. It was designed by Theodor Hacek, a German architect who also designed Queen’s Hospital.
On the ocean side from ‘Iolani Barracks is the Coronation Pavilion built in 1883 for the coronation of King Kalalkaua and his wife Queen Kapi’olani. On the grounds are large banyan trees originally planted as saplings by Queen Kapi’olani and a large kukui nut tree (candle nut) planted by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.
‘Iolani means royal hawk in Hawaiian language. The palace itself is built a a unique architectural style called American Florentine. The tour is a poignant reminder of all the Hawaiian people lost. Their kingdom, their monarchs, their self rule, and for many years – their heritage. There are docent tours in the morning but later in the day you can take the self guided audio tours provided. Tour and admission is $27 for adults and $6 for children (5-12). Babies and toddlers under five years old get free admission and there are discounts for kama’aina and military. You can also download the Iolani Palace app here. This is a surprisingly kid friendly tour and our seven-year-old had fun seeing where the real King and Queen of Hawaii lived. She was also livid when she found out that the conspirators charged Queen Liliuokalani with treason and imprisoned her in her bedroom after the kingdom was overthrown. Plan on spending 2-3 hours and if you bring a picnic, you can eat your lunch on the palace lawns after (or before) your tour.
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.
I love taking people to Tropical Farms, also known as the Macadamia Nut Place on the Windward Side of Oahu. It’s a different world compared to the rest of the tourist stops. Sure, there are still the Robert’s of Hawaii busses filled with Japanese, Chinese, or Middle American tourists (fun fact which may or may not be true – the average American bus tourist takes up at least twice the space of the average Chinese or Japanese tourist).
As you’re driving up the lush windward side, before you reach Kualoa Ranch, you see a couple of flags and a steep driveway – and you turn into it. Once you park you are greeted by an aloha shirted local with a big smile and a genuines sense of aloha. “Aloha, Welcome to Tropical Farms” – inside there is free coffee and plenty of free nut samples – garlic, cinnamon, caramel, honey, salted, plain – try them all. Also local jewelry, artisanal products, and products made from the miracle fruit – Noni. If it does even a quarter of what people claim – it’s truly a miracle.
In the back there are bins of fresh macadamia nuts you can crack open on lava rocks and of course, no shortage of chickens. One of the most authentic luau’s on the island takes place back there and there are tropical farm tours available with Samoan story tellers. On the property you will find guava, coffee, plenty of tropical flowers, and of course, macadamia. Macadamia, by the way, come originally from Australia – but they grow a little different here. You’ll see plenty of Aussies lining up with full baskets – because Tropical Farms charges half what the mac-nuts go for at home.
The best part about Tropical Farms though, is that it is a family place. You’ll find pictures of ‘Mom and Dad’ and ‘Dad’s’ surfboard (probably great-granddad’s now, actually) and much more. The crew working there are locals or family members and the aloha is genuine.
It’s no secret that I love Honolulu. It’s an incredibly walkable, bikeable, and public-transportation-able city. The weather is perfect. It has fantastic architecture and wonderful distinct neighborhoods – not to mention beaches, rain forest hikes, and more. But let’s get back to that architecture – I will get into the nitty gritty of the art deco, moorish, modern, and classic styles you find here in the future – but for now – I’d just like to share a gallery of pictures of buildings I’ve snapped in Honolulu. These are just pictures I’ve taken as I go about my daily life…and I think they illustrate a bit of why I love this city as much as I do.
For now just enjoy the wonderful architecture of Honolulu and ahui ho!
The Kamaka Ukulele is the gold standard in fine ukulele quality and there is a reason for that. The Kamaka family has been making the best ukes in the world since 1916 when Honolulu resident Sam Kamaka Sr began making the instruments in his Kaimuki basement. Since then the Hawaiian ukulele has made it’s way around the world in the hands of celebrities, musicians, comics, vaudeville stars, visitors, and Hawaii residents. Four generations of the Kamaka family have kept the Kamaka Ukulele factory running with the guiding principle of quality first.
Sam Sr and his two sons Fred Sr and Sam Jr are all three inductees into the Ukulele Hall of Fame. The elder Sam was the inventor of the ‘pineapple’ ukulele – it was 1918 and he just liked the idea of making the body a little more round – turns out it made the sound a little more rich. Sam Kamaka Sr. said to his sons, “If you make instruments and use the family name…don’t make junk,” and lucky for all of us, they listened. Fred Kamaka Sr and his brother Sam Kamaka, Jr – still run the Kamaka Ukulele Factory where twenty-five employees – mostly family members – continue to make the world’s best ukes.. The factory produces a maximum of 17 ukes per day…
As a long time ukulele fan, it was awesome to get to meet Fred Sr. (And Fred Jr.) and get to talk story with them and learn about the history of my favorite istrument…the true Hawaiian Ukulele. I also met Sam Jr’s son Chris Kamaka. He is the quality control officer and rejects one out of every five ukes produced in the factory because of inferior grain, sound defects, or other imperfections that would be invisible to the rest of us.
If you would like to visit the Kamaka Ukulele factory and meet some of the family, see how these beautiful instruments are made, and maybe even learn how to play a simple tune – it’s still possible. The factory, located in downtown Honolulu near Kaka’ako is open several days a week.
I love living in Honolulu. I work all the time and still don’t make enough money to pay all my expenses. I rarely have time to go to the beach. I have a smaller and much more expensive living space than I’ve had in a decade. I am stuck in my car looking for parking all the time. And still, I love living in Honolulu. There is no better place in the world as far as I’m concerned. Yes, it could be better, no it’s not perfect, yes, I run the risk of running out of money. It’s hard to explain…if these social and economic conditions, the crowding, the traffic, the expense, the need to work so much…if these conditions were somewhere else, I would be miserable, I would probably be suicidal – but here, I put a record of some goofy tiki-beach songs on or I step outside and see a rainbow or an old auntie crossing the road so slowly in her mumu that I end up being late for work or some gnarly looking truck driver just stops and tells me to go in violation to all traffic rules and common sense – or a homeless guy sitting in the median is playing his ukulele as I drive by or there is an art exhibit in city hall where the employees and their kids are the ones who have their art on display. I’m not kidding. I love living in Honolulu. It’s not easy – in fact, there’s nothing easy about it. Free time is hard to come by, it’s loud at night, the homeless make me cry, the zoo has gone downhill, the lines are long, the prices are insane, the beaches are crowded – and yet…there is no place like it in the world. I am so happy this city is my home.
This was a very fun day which I am reposting from a decade ago back on July 3, 2008. The photos were taken with my old Motorola Razor.
Total time: About 3.5 hours Total $: About $25 including lunch, groceries, and snacks. Total value: Priceless…check out the pictures if you don’t believe me.
It was just myself and my friend Antje and everyone else really missed out. We met up at the “Bad Ass Coffee Company” at the Aloha Tower Marketplace. Actually, Antje thought I meant the bad “ass coffee” company so she first went to Starbucks…an easy mistake. Anyway we took the elevator to the top of the Aloha Tower after a completely worthless search of our bags by the security guard. He has probably been sitting at that desk since the tower was built in 1926, but if we had been carrying anything bad, he certainly would have missed it in his minimal search. The signs describing the scenic wonders at the top of the tower were more than a little out of date. Nice views though.
From there we walked up Nuuanu stream where we had to hop a couple of fences and do some scrambling to get into the stream bed. Lot’s of old Chinese guys playing cards and homeless people sleeping along the way. We roughed it down the stream doing a lot of rock hopping and seeing frogs, fish, and birds along the way. We emerged in Chinatown at the Kuan Yin Temple and paid a short visit. After that another visit to what I thought I remembered being a taoist temple but that is now a shinto temple (maybe it always was).
Next was a visit to the Chinese Cultural Plaza where there were old men playing Chinese fiddles, mohawked kids in squeaky shoes, and surprisingly nimble old ladies teaching gum chomping little girls how to do traditional Chinese dance. A nice place to eat some dried mango and drink young coconut juice.
We walked into Chinatown proper and browsed some shops, looking at old buildings, and cruising the open markets where there was a bewildering variety of fish and vegetables…not to mention more than a few cockroaches. Don’t worry though, i still bought lots of dirt cheap groceries.
Next we browsed through more shops and ate the award winning food at Little Village. MMMMM!
Finally, a walk back to the tower and farewells until the next time.
On the west side of Honolulu, just near the big pink building (Tripler Army Hospital) – just on the edge of the Salt Lake Neighborhood but before you reach Aloha Stadium – is one of the most famous trees that you’ve seen but never heard of (unless you are Japanese). The tree is located in Moanalua Botanical Gardens, a privately held garden which is open to the public with a small admission fee.
The Hitachi Tree – the symbol of the Hitachi Company – a large monkeypod tree with a distinct umbrella shape that is so important to Hitachi that they have paid a license fee to use it since the early 1970’s.Currently the annual fee is about a half million US dollars. The tree is a huge draw to Japanese tourists, though most Americans or other nationalities have never heard of it.
The Hitachi Tree first originated through a TV commercial that aired in Japan in 1973. It symbolized the “comprehensive drive” and the “wide business range” of the Hitachi Group. It continues today as an image of the Hitachi Group’s working for communities through leveraging of its collective capacities and technologies, and the dedication of the individuals that the Group comprises. The tree is widely recognized, especially in Japan, and has become an important symbol of the Hitachi Group’s reliability, and earth-friendliness. It also enhances Hitachi’s brand value as a visual representation of its corporate slogan: “Inspire the Next.” Over the past 35 years, the Hitachi Tree has become a valuable Hitachi Group asset as a familiar and respected image in Hitachi’s expanding messages globally.
It is a magnificent tree – but the gardens around it are also worth visiting. The Moanalua Gardens contain the Hitachi Tree and the summer cottage of King Kamehameha V of Hawai’i which was moved from it’s original location up Nu’uanu Ave and Old Pali Road.. There are beautiful refelction ponds, a stream running through the gardens, a lovely visitor center, and large grassy areas that are perfect for picnics, days playing frisbee, or just lying under a huge trees and reading a book.
One word of advice though, don’t try to relax under the Hitachi tree – about once an hour a bus full of Japanese tourists will pull in and crowd the area to get a picture with the most famous tree in Japan.
To get there, take the H-1 Freeway West from Honolulu, when the freeway splits into the H-1 or the H-201, stay to the left on the H-201 and take the Moanalua/Pu’uloa Road exit. The entrance to the garden will be on the right side before you get off the ramp. It’s tricky, but you can do it. Watch for the sign that says Moanalua Gardens about midway down the ramp and turn right directly after it.
The Biki-Bike (https://gobiki.org) program in Honolulu is a winer. Getting around by bicycle is the best way to get around Honolulu and the Biki-Bike program opened that up to everyone. There were bike rental companies, but the beautiful thing about Biki-Bike is the sheer volume and accessibility. You can pick up a Biki-Bike in 100 station locations around Honolulu from Honolulu’s Chinatown to Waikiki. There are 1000 biki-bikes spread through the system at any given time.The bikes sit in the racks waiting for you to enter the code to take them. The bikes themselves are great with fat pothole resistant tires, built-in lights, and easy adjusting seats. These are multi-gear bikes that are kept in constant good maintenance – thank god it’s not the City and County of Honolulu or State of Hawai’i who are doing the maintenance – in about a week they would all be wrecks sitting in piles around the homeless camps – but that’s another story. Biki-Bikes are privately owned and totally kept up.
Fares are cheap at $3.50 per 30 minute ride or $15 a month for unlimited 30 minute rides. The idea of Biki is that you grab a bike to get where you are going, put it in a rack, and then when you need another ride, grab it from the rack. The 100 stations are spread out from West Honolulu to Diamond Head. I live west of Chinatown by a good bit so communing with Biki isn’t an option for me, but if it were, I would be doing it. As it is, parking in town (Honolulu) is a nightmare and sometimes it is far easier to park away from popular locations and then to Biki there. Visitors use the Bikis for exploring Waikiki and our Downtown Historic Districts. There is almost never good parking in Chinatown, near Iolani Palace and the Kamehameha Statue, or at the Mission Houses Museum, the Honolulu Art Museum, or amongst the highrises of downtown Honolulu for things like Hawaii State Art Museum (HISAM). Biki Bikes make those areas more accessible
Biki is a private public partnership. Bikeshare Hawai’i is a nonprofit group organized to administer Biki Bikes and the day to day operations and equipment are provided by two companies PBSC Urban Solutions and Secure Bike Share. This partnership works.
A friend from Oregon told me “We keep thinking about taking a trip to Hawai’i but Cancun always wins because it just seems to be a better value for our money.”
I respect the fact that people have to get the most value for their money, but the truth is – there is nowhere that compares to Hawai’i for the vacation of a lifetime. Here are the top five reasons why Hawai’i is still the best vacation destination for anyone.
1) Hawai’i is safe. Violent crimes are extremely rare here. We do not have kindnappings, gang violence, or drug cartels to deal with here. Yes, your rental car may get broken into when you leave your purse in it and yes the cost of your hotel (and everything else) borders on the ridiculous – but unless you are acting like a drunken idiot – your chances of a violent encounter are close to zero.
2) Hawai’i is exotic. In Honolulu there are fifteen languages that are spoken on a daily basis by a large number of residents. (English, Mandarin, Japanese, Tongan, Fijian, Micronesian, Spanish, Portuguese, Samoan, Cantonese, Hawaiian, Pidgin, Korean, Visayan and Illongo) In addition there are many other smaller ethnic groups here which have vibrant communities. Hawai’i residents practice Christianity, Shinto, Taoism, Buddhism, and modern Native Hawaiian traditions. You can have Japenese food for breakfast, Korean for lunch, and Moroccan for dinner.
3) Hawai’i has volcanoes, tropical rain forest, great ocean beaches, and a healthy tourist infrastructure. It’s incredibly rare to hear horror stories from tourists who come to Hawai’i. In fact, I only have met one woman who didn’t enjoy Hawai’i and she said it was because she missed her swimming pool at home…so, not exactly a normal tourist.
4) Hawai’i is a part of the United States but not a part of North America. This means that for Americans, there are no visas, no changing money, no need to bring a language guide book, no extra vaccinations, and lots of the same protections they get at home. For international travelers – Hawai’i is a chance to experience the most unique culture in the American Empire.
5) Hawai’i has a rich history of war, conquest, betrayal, and colonization and a vibrant natural history that includes more endemic plant and bird species than anywhere else on the planet. Hawai’i is the most remote place on the planet and the species that made it here became different from those in every other place. It’s my belief that this is also true of the human culture here, though Americanization is destroying that uniqueness at an unbelievable rate.