There is something dreamy about Hawaii, pleasantly vivid with bright colors, rich fragrances, and lush flavors, its lilting language born on languid melodies in the air everywhere. Long after my vacation there ended, I found myself blissfully floating on these Pacific islands in my dreams. You see, Hawaii is more than a beach vacation. Informed by a unique history and culture, each island has its own personality and vibe.
First, the populous Oahu Island is home to the cosmopolitan city of Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, and world surfing championships. The island of Hawaii—also called the Big Island—is known for its volcanoes spewing forth new land from the center of earth. Then there’s Maui, a dramatic contrast of forest and desert, mountain and sea; and finally, Kaua’i the Garden Island, a laid back paradise of lush rain forest, dramatic cliffs and canyons, home to hippies and “uber-rich” with unsurpassed wilderness.
Aloha is the greeting you encounter in Hawaii, but it is more than a greeting. It’s an ethic, a way of life, and an acronym that teaches us how to live:
A – akahai, loving kindness, expressed with tenderness to others
L – lokahi, unity, expressed in harmony with others,
O – ‘olu’olu, agreeableness, expressed with pleasantness to others,
H -- ha’aha’a, humility, expressed with modesty
A – ahonui, patience expressed with perseverance.
The Aloha Spirit is taken to heart by the Hawaiians. It is even encoded in law. The Hawai`i Revised Statutes (1986), section 5-7.5 reads in part:
(a) “Aloha Spirit” is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others.
(b) In exercising their power on behalf of the people and in fulfillment of their responsibilities, obligations and service to the people, the legislature, governor, lieutenant governor, executive officers of each department, the chief justice, associate justices, and judges of the appellate, circuit, and district courts may contemplate and reside with the life force and give consideration to the “Aloha Spirit.”
Here is a Hawaiian teaching of the Aloha Spirit:
Aloha is being a part of all, and all being a part of me. When there is pain -- it is my pain. When there is joy -- it is also mine. I respect all that is as part of the Creator and part of me. I will not willfully harm anyone or anything. When food is needed, I will take only my need and explain why it is being taken. The earth, the sky, the sea are mine to care for, to cherish, and to protect. This is Hawaiian -- this is Aloha! From “Tales of the Night Rainbow” by Kaili’ohe Kame’ekua p. 19.
Here’s my highly personal list of things to do and see in Hawaii. It’s far from exhaustive. Don’t skip going to a luau; there are plenty to choose from and the traditional food and entertainment are worth it. I don’t feel the need to say more about the solemn memorials of Pearl Harbor and the Punchbowl National Cemetery. Go to Hawaii and you will find your own must-do’s and must-sees.
Oahu—A glimpse of old Hawaii
You can find a glimpse of old Hawaii on the island of Oahu at the Royal Hawaiian, the grand dame hotel on Waikiki Beach. Known as the Pink Palace of the Pacific, the resort was built in the 1920s by the Matson Steamship Line and launched tourism in Hawaii. Trade winds cool the open lobby and wide halls as you sink into the wicker chairs on the Coconut Lanai.
The elegance of a bygone era lives on here. This is where Bing Crosby, Shirley Temple, and generations of Hollywood royalty vacationed—their celebratory pastimes captured in vintage photos from the 1930s and 1940s on display in the hotel. The beachside Mai Tai Bar gave birth to the eponymous cocktail and also the alcohol-free Shirley Temple. Yes, history was made here.
The Hawaiians believed that a warrior must know how to hurt and how to heal, and lomi lomi is the art of healing. It is the traditional Hawaiian massage, and the secrets of its long stroke techniques are passed down from generation to generation within the family. One of the places you will find true lomi lomi practitioners is the Moana Lani Spa at the Moana Surfrider, the original Victorian-era hotel on Waikiki Beach next door to the Royal Hawaiian. This is also the only oceanfront spa on Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach.
Someone said if you’re not into water, there’s no reason to live in Hawaii. Surf culture rules, from the Pipeline Beach on the North Shore of Oahu, site of the world surf championships, to the endless iterations of sandal shops in Waikiki’s shopping mecca. Now there’s the surfer’s equivalent of cross-country skiing—stand up paddling. It’s a soulful practice that involves standing on a surfboard and paddling with an oar. I’m not a surfer but was up in five minutes, enjoying the view of Diamond Head from a hundred yards out from Waikiki Beach. The more actively inclined can try kite surfing—think surfboard attached to a kite.
The Big Island—Volcanoes! Lava!
Kilauea, one of the Big Island of Hawaii’s active volcanoes, is very active these days. As recently as December, molten lava was flowing into the sea on a daily basis, and you can walk right up and poke a stick in the red-hot stuff. Volcanoes are a cottage industry on the Big Island, with videographers and photographers specializing in shooting lava pictures. Sites like www.Hawaiianlavadaily.blogspot.com tell you what the volcano goddess Pele is doing today and features loving close-up shots of her handiwork.