Oahu & Kauai

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THE SONG "ALOHA `OE" that starts this show is performed by George Kahumoku Jr.. Please visit his website where you'll find recordings on CD as well as his current tour schedule.


Introduction top

I'm Rudy Maxa on the island of Oahu. Now, you know about the sunset, the waving palms...secluded beaches. But did you know a royal palace exists in the 50th state? Or that Kauai has its own Grand Canyon? Stay with us. Next, it's the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Kauai on Smart Travels.

Hawaii's "aloha" means the joyful sharing of life energy. It's a spirit that prevails—from urban, complex Honolulu to the pristine island of Kauai. "Aloha" is a traveler's welcome to adventure, daydreams, and soaking up tradition along with sunshine. Once you've taken in the islands, Queen Liliokalani's words in Aloha oe ring true—"One fond embrace until we meet again."

Hawaii includes a 1500-mile chain of islands and reefs, but 99 percent of the land is on a group of eight islands. We'll visit Oahu, the third largest island, then we'll hop north to explore Kauai, the exquisite Garden Island.


The Go Hawaii Card gives you free admission to Oahu attractions and tours for one low price.


The Pink Palace top

Our first stop is Honolulu, where I've settled in at one of the "grand dames" of Oahu—the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

She's been a treasured landmark for eighty years. The "Pink Palace" still retains her Spanish Moor style of the 1920s—when wealthy tourists strolled into the lobby with servants and steamer trunks and, they partied—big time.

But before we 'party' let's take a look around the capitol of this 50th state of ours.


Honolulu top

It's popular to discount Honolulu as too touristy, nothing except glitzy high-rises. But linger here long enough and you'll see for yourself why "Oahu" has come to mean "the Gathering Place"—gathering together the most diverse peoples in the Pacific. You'll see, also, why more than 80 percent of the million residents in Hawaii live on this island.


Waikiki Beach / Outriggers top

For visitors to Oahu, water rules—getting in it, on it, under it—or soaking up the sun next to it. And fabled Waikiki Beach, a frenzied galaxy unto itself, still lures visitors to the water's edge—to the sublime white-sand shores, rolling surf, and the dramatic backdrop of the extinct volcano that is symbolic of Waikiki, Diamond Head

Getting out to observe the island from the water is a must. A catamaran with an expert in charge was our best way to go. Outriggers have spent 30,000-years in the survival and transport of Pacific Rim peoples. Best guess is that Hawaiians first came ashore between 300 and 500 AD. That's 1500 years of seafaring history.


Hawaii Maritime Center top

The Hawaii Maritime Center brings that history alive with displays from ancient canoes to modern ships. Tales unfold of the volcanic birth of the islands, and the voyages of Polynesian sailors and European explorers.

You can imagine yourself on board the Falls of Clyde, tooling along in full sail as this vessel last did in 1921. It's the only surviving original fully-rigged, four-masted ship left in the world.

The British merchant who breezed into this port in the late 1700s aptly named the tiny village "Fair Haven", later translated in Hawaiian to "Honolulu". Behind me is the port and over there is downtown Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii for over 150 years. No longer a tiny village, Honolulu is a perfect repository of Island history.


Iolani Palace top

Prominent in the capital district is Iolani Palace, the only official state palace in the United States. Lovingly built in 1882 by King Kalakaua, the Palace stood as Hawaii's royal residence and center of government. From the Palace grounds, islanders watched their national flag come down eleven years later. When Queen Liliuokalani tried to create a new Constitution that gave more power to Hawaiians, a "committee" of American businessmen staged a coup d'etat. They overthrew the Queen and eventually imprisoned her in the palace for eight months. In 1900, the Hawaiian Islands officially became a Territory of the US, and in 1959 our fiftieth state.


Restaurants top

When you're hungry in Oahu, the world is yours. Where else can one find a better mix of multi-cultural cuisine? Besides the Polynesians, for more than 80 years immigrants have brought their specialty foods—from China, Japan, Portugal, Puerto Rico, to name a few.

On a tip from a local, we stopped at the Irifune Japanese Restaurant, a short drive from Waikiki Beach.

It's no secret that Hawaii's cost of living is one of America's highest, but the per capita income is below average. So, if you explore off the beaten track, you will find a reasonably priced, delicious authentic meal. In fact, I think sushi and sashimi are the hamburgers and French fries of the islands.

soundbite: "Okay, here's the ahi sashimi...this is spicy almond sushi...and this is the ahi avocado tartar with wasabe sauce."


Bishop Museum top

A complex past shaped the core of this island state, and in the last hundred years, there's been a rebirth of appreciation for Hawaiian tradition and values. The Bishop Museum is THE place to study early Hawaiian culture, which ends in 1820 with the arrival of American missionaries. It's believed that Polynesians from the Marquesas first came to Hawaii between 300 and 500 AD, followed centuries later by Tahitians who conquered the islands. It's all here—25 million artifacts to bring alive the peoples of the Pacific and the story of migration to these islands.


You'll find visitor information at www.bishopmuseum.org.


Surfing top

We've returned to the madcap beach scene of Waikiki. Surfing was called the Sport of Kings because for generations only Hawaiian royalty were allowed to play. Duke Kahanomoku changed all that. In 1908, the first Hawaiian Olympics swimming champion organized an amateur surfing club. There was no turning back. Now the Duke is revered for bringing this once elite sport to the world. Today every one, except me, wants to be king of the surf...and for that they turn to the beach boys.

Didi Robello comes naturally to his beach boy career. His father started as a beach boy here in 1932 and his mother is related to the Duke.

Didi: "The ocean is dangerous anywhere...Out here we have a sandbar...some people, they figure they can't swim so they'll walk out to the sandbar...so they take a step and the current moves you sideways and the next thing you know you're screaming for help on a calm day."

Rudy: "What do you tell, maybe, a first time visitor to Hawaii? How should they make the most of their vacation here?"

Didi: "My advice would be to do the beach first. The shopping, the restaurants...that's all open at night and during bad weather. Over here you can have a beautiful day like it is today and tomorrow it can be stormy. So, do the beach stuff first, don't wait for your last day."


Hula Dancing top

And save time for Waikiki's 'grand dames.' Stroll past the Royal Hawaiian, to the elegant Sheraton Moana Surfrider built in 1901. Beyond her is the Halekulani Hotel, also a luxury old-timer. We've arrived for her sunset hour show.

We're here to experience and learn about the hula dance from Kanoe Miller who reigned as Miss Hawaii in 1973.

Kanoe: "The kind of dancing that I do is called Hula Auana which is modern hula meaning that I dance in a movement that goes back and forth from right to left; in the ancient dancing it was very static. Originally it was danced by men and it was used as a warm-up for warfare.

The hula originated in the Marquesas Islands, and according to legend, was brought here by the goddess Loka. Once the Christian missionaries came to Hawaii, hula was considered a pagan thing, so it was hidden and danced in secret. In the late 19th century, King Kalakaua declared that his people must renew their culture and invited them to dance again.

Kanoe: "Hula is Hawaii; it is the dance of Hawaii. It describes our environment. Hula is what one sees, what they feel, what they smell, taste, and hear. It is the dance of our culture."


Pearl Harbor Memorial top

We can't leave Oahu without making a stop at the most visited site on the Island—the Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

It was Sunday morning, December 7, 1941 when the Japanese Navy bombed the base and catapulted America into World War Two. The Memorial is built over remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona.

Daniel Martinez: "The ship is a tomb for over 900 sailors that died aboard the vessel. The ship itself in going to last a long time, perhaps 600 to 800 years.'

The Memorial brings home the impact of loss. There are the personal effects of a sailor—and the wall of names. The December 7th attack on Oahu's coast took the lives of 2000 people, nearly half of them from the USS Arizona.

Rudy: "How did the attack change the island of Oahu generally speaking?"

Daniel Martinez: "The people that worked in the fields were no longer working so much in those fields, as working in the war industries. After the war was over those that had enlisted in the service now had the opportunity to go to college and when you look at the 442 and 100th Battalion Japanese Americans that came from here, they become the next leaders of Hawaii, along with Chinese Americans and Filipino Americans. So Hawaii was changed forever by World War Two."


The Memorial is accessible only by National Park Service boat from the Visitor Center.


Pali Outlook top

Hawaii is no stranger to attack. Two hundred years ago, the islands were united only after a series of battles led by warrior and future king—Kamehameha the First.

It was 1795 when King Kamehameha tossed his enemies over the Pali. He had landed his huge armada of 1200 war canoes and 10,000 soldiers at Waikiki.

No wonder Oahu troops headed for the hills. Kamehameha sent his best warriors up, and over the cliffs went his enemy. In 1810, the Hawaiian Islands accepted the reign of King Kamehameha the Great, and his family dynasty ruled for 60 years. You'd never guess the Pali was once a battlefield. The view is magic.


Kailua Beach Park top

Over there is Kailua Beach Park...our final romp by the sea before we fly to Kauai.

For a break from the crowds of Waikiki, check out Kailua only a 30-minute drive from Honolulu. It offers a stunning, peaceful scene without a high-rise in sight. Here, you can take a lesson in boogie boarding and kayaking. One word of caution—when the winds are high, see if lifeguards have posted signs warning of Portuguese-man-of-war, the stinging jellyfish. All clear? Then in no time, you'll see why Kailua has been called the "Best Beach in the World"!

And what a way to go! The island of Oahu is gorgeous, the quiet beaches are there waiting for you to explore, and you can drive clear around the island in an easy afternoon. Paradise? You bet. And there's more. Kauai, here we come!


Kauai top

Kauai's natural beauty has earned it the title of "The Garden Island". And though it offers plenty of attractions for its steady stream of visitors, it still holds onto a local, small-town, rural ambience. For those who discover it, one trip is never enough.

Kauai is the farthest north of the Hawaiian Islands. We're concentrating on the southern part of the island, checking out areas around the main town of Lihue, the ancient center at Wailua Valley, and the Waimea Canyon area.


Waimea Canyon top

A truly spectacular introduction to the island is Waimea Canyon, the place Mark Twain dubbed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Buses now bring up day-trippers, but if you've got the time and your own wheels this spot deserves some extra attention. Although most visitors opt for just the view, trails into the canyon can turn the trip into something special.

Three-thousand feet deep and 10 miles long, the gorge definitely brings up the question, how did this stunner get made. Well, you have to go way back in geologic time. It started when a gigantic earthquake almost split Kauai in two. The newly-created volcanic island was moving and shaking. Then the island settled into a steady cycle of erosion, ever deepening and widening the split—a process continuing today.

Scientists tell us the Hawaiian islands are drifting north—very slowly. A hot spot of magma is breaking through the earth's crust; and each island has started off sitting on that spot. Over eons, the islands have drifted off the hot spot and continued north. Kauai was the first; it's the oldest—and the farthest north. The Big Island, the youngest, is still over the spot, spewing up lava.

As the oldest of the islands, Kauai's had plenty of time for mother nature to grind up fine sand for its many beaches.


Captain James Cook top

From these shores, you can look out over the waters where, in 1778, the Hawaiians first sighted the ships of Captain James Cook. Imagine the scene as the excited islanders, who had never seen such huge ships, crowded the shore—wailing and shouting. Cook only stayed a few days this time, but his visit forever changed life on the islands.


Wailua Valley top

To get a feel for how those early Hawaiians lived we're heading north to the Wailua valley. As the only navigable river on the island, the Wailua is usually full of pleasure boats. Kayaks and canoes get you down close and personal. Or you can take one of the tour boats and along the way pick up a little insight into Kauai's past.

Here was the traditional political center of the island. From this valley the paramount chief exercised his authority over some 30,000 people. Along the riverside, you can visit Kamokila, a re-creation of one of the many villages that once filled this valley. Although small by ancient standards you can get an understanding of how large extended families shared their thatched leaf homes as well as their daily tasks.

The early Hawaiians were skilled artisans, diligent farmers and fishermen, but they had no concept of private property. Rather, the chiefs oversaw a system of reciprocity that led to a sharing of all products.


For more information about visiting Kamokila, go to kamokila.com.


Kilohana Plantation top

But, of course, outside influences changed all that. A plantation system grew up that introduced private ownership and international trade. The profits from that trade produced some very gracious living. A remnant from that time is the Kilohana Plantation.

It's outside the main town of Lihue and features a mansion built in the 1930's by one of the island's big sugar families, the Wilcox's. The estate's been lovingly restored as a commercial enterprise—filled with art galleries and boutiques. Original furniture still graces the hallways of the 16,000 square-foot mansion. Its restaurant calls to mind garden parties back when sugar was king around here. And to top it off, carriage rides take you farther afield into the days of bygone elegance.


Koloa top

The little town of Koloa opens up more of the sugar story. Here's where the very first plantation in the islands was established. The picturesque little town has put together a self-guided tour that fills in some of the history. You can pick-up a copy and check out the points that interest you—from the abandoned mill on the edge of town to the statue honoring waves of immigrant workers. The Chinese were the first, arriving around 1850 to be followed by Japanese, Portuguese, Filipinos, Norwegians, Koreans, Puerto Ricans, Spaniards, and Russians. These laborers provided the ethic mix that characterizes Hawaii today. With them came their culture—their music, their food, their religion. All contributed to the unique culture of Hawaii.


Waimea Plantation Cottages top

The sugar plantations are mostly gone now, but visitors who go in for nostalgia can satisfy ourselves by staying at the Waimea Plantation Cottages.

Each cottage is a renovated home of former plantation workers—most dating from the early 1900's—and many were moved here from now defunct plantations around the island. The 27-acre site on Waimea Bay offers tranquility incarnate—here's where you hide away to write that great novel.


To make life even more easy for you, Waimea Plantation Cottages offers complimentary wireless internet access.

And oh how easy it is to forget how the laborers who lived in these cottages spent their days doing back breaking, hot, and dirty jobs.


Luau top

But workers and tourists alike need a night out, and in Kauai it could be Smith's Luau. Run by a local Hawaiian family, it demonstrates an authentic respect for things Hawaiian. It's a memorable evening in a dramatic setting.


McBryde Gardens top

Comes morning, we're taking a quick trip to the McBryde Gardens. Plantings began here in the late 1900's when Queen Emma used these grounds as a summer palace. As the National Tropical Botanical Garden, its 252 acres provide a peaceful place to remind us of why Kauai has been dubbed the Garden Island.


Aloha top

Well, it's time to say aloha. That's an interesting word. It's an expression of affection and a greeting, a kind of hello and farewell all in one. It is not a good-by, but rather a trust we'll meet again. So, in true Polynesian tradition I wish you aloha and mahalo—that's thank you—for joining us.


Interested in planning your vacation to Hawaii?
Start your trip at
Expedia.com/Oahu or Kauai.



The Go Hawaii Card gives you free admission to Oahu attractions and tours for one low price.

You'll find visitor information at www.bishopmuseum.org.

For more information about visiting Kamokila, go to kamokila.com.