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.
I have a friend in Toronto, Canada named Henry. He’s a second grader (like my daughter) and as a project for his class – he was suppossed to send Flat Stanley – a character from a book his class is reading – on a trip to somewhere. Henry’s family and I became friends when they visited Oahu several months ago. I spent a lovely day showing them around Oahu and by the end of it, we were all fast friends. Henry and my daughter have the same birthday, lost their first baby teeth at the same time, and are both amazing 7-year-old dancers – so of course, when he asked if I would show Flat Stanley around Oahu and Honolulu – I agreed.
Flat Stanley arrived and we decided to hit all the best spots. First, we went for a morning swim at Ala Moana Beach Park.
We went up to the North Shore and visited Kaena Point, the Westernmost point on the island where Stanley got all crazy on the ‘mana’ emanating from such a powerful point and he grew huge and began jumping on cars with the Waianae volcano in the background. Luckily a friendly pohaku (stone) calmed him down.
After that we went to the world famous Banzai Pipeline where we watched surfers on some decent sized waves and saw a deflated unicorn on the beach.
We then drove all the way down the Windward side of the island and I stopped to get a coffee at my favorite Kaneohe coffee shop ‘Muddy Waters’ – the coffee gave me energy and we stopped at my daughter’s school and then headed down to the South shore of the island where we watched dolphins at the Kahala Hotel – we made sure Flat Stanley was safe and wore a life jacket.
From there we drove back to the center of Oahu where we visited the Dole Plantation – Flat Stanley was excited about the train and the pinapple maze – but mostly he loved the Dole Whip!
We were going to take Flat Stanley snorkeling at one of our favorite spots…but it started to rain and it was getting a little late. So with that, we packed Flat Stanley back up, said goodbye, and put him on his way back to Toronto! We wished him Aloha and A Hui Ho! And also send the same wishes to Henry, his brother Charlie and their Mom and Dad. We’ll see you next time! ALOHA!