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Embracing the Hawaiian Culture

Porter Olson

Mention Hawaii and history in the same breath and chances are thoughts of Pearl Harbor come to mind. Yet the history and culture of Hawaii goes back far beyond that World War II tragedy. This is a land of gods and goddesses, of seafaring souls that crossed oceans in simple outrigger canoes and of a people influenced by Western Culture, but not overpowered by it. On your next visit to Hawaii, delve beyond the bikini-filled sands of Waikiki and the air-conditioned hotel rooms to discover the true Hawaii. Embrace the culture and discover the true meaning of Aloha.

Oahu - A Cultural Beginning

Oahu, particularly in Honolulu and Waikiki, is the most citified of the Hawaiian Islands. Steel and glass skyscrapers, rush hour traffic and crowds are all part of the picture. But scratch the surface even a little and you find the Hawaiian spirit of Aloha very much alive. Walk along a downtown street on any Friday and you will find suits and ties replaced by bold Aloha shirts and flowered leis. On Aloha Fridays even state officials get into the act.

Honolulu is also home to Iolani Palace, once the royal residence of King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii's last monarchs. Legend has it that some of the royal souls have never left. Another place to get a dose of Hawaiian culture is at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, northwest of downtown. The museum houses relics that precede Captain Cook's arrival and valuable insight into a people that sailed from the South Pacific to find a new home.

Iolani Palace

Iolani Palace

Travel from Honolulu to the tropical North Shore to take in a more recent cultural icon. Matsumoto Shave Ice has been serving sweet treats since 1951. The shave ice is a bit like a mainland snow cone, but with a different texture. The traditional shave ice is served with ice cream and sweet azuki beans in the bottom of the cone. Is it touristy? Yes and no. As more people discover Matsumoto's it becomes more crowded, but only the adventurous or the well-informed venture far enough out of Waikiki to make that discovery.

Maui - Heavenly Hana

Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh discovered Hana in the 1950s. It was a place where he could escape the public eye, relax and enjoy nature at its best. Lindbergh built a home in Kipahulu, an even quieter village a few miles past Hana. It had no air conditioning, no TV and few modern comforts, but it did have a million dollar view of the Pacific. In 1974, when Lindbergh knew he had cancer, he checked himself out of a hospital in New York and went back to his beloved Maui, where he passed away. He is buried under a java plum tree overlooking the ocean, near the Palapala Hoomau Church.

Hana has not changed much since Lindbergh discovered it. The road to Hana is now paved but you still wind your way around 600 hairpin turns and cross 54 single-lane bridges. You never know which turn will reward you with a panoramic view of the Pacific, framed by palm trees and cascades of tropical flowers. Allow at least four hours one way to do the road justice, giving you the chance to swim in a waterfall-fed pond or buy fresh pineapple juice or mango slices at a roadside stand.

Road to Hana

Plan on spending at least a night or two in Hana. If your tastes lean towards the luxurious, check out the Travaasa Hana, formerly known as the Hotel Hana Maui. The onsite spa offers traditional Hawaiian wellness therapies, including the Pohaku Wela Hot Stone treatment, believed to impart the powers of the earth, water, air and fire. Your Sea Ranch Cottage overlooking the Pacific is the perfect blend of subdued luxury and back to nature charm.

A more low keyed option is the Bamboo Inn on the shores of Hana Bay. The inn fronts an ancient Hawaiian village site that has been restored. A traditional fishing canoe sits in a thatched hale, or house, marking the center of the village. Hidden among the palm trees are three rustic ocean view suites, two of which offer outdoor showers and hot tubs with a view. Try to arrive before dark; the Bamboo Inn is isolated and can be hard to find.

Kauai - Waimea Plantation Life

In 1983, a mini series called "The Thorn Birds" hit TV screens across America. Based on the novel by Colleen McCullough, it was a story of forbidden love set partially in the cane fields of Australia. The Waimea Plantation Cottages on Kauai conveniently had its own fields of sugar cane and doubled for the land down under. The main cottage, now the property's reception area, served as a Queensland plantation home.

Long before "The Thorn Birds" these cottages housed sugar cane workers in the western town of Waimea, Kauai. Though each cottage now has indoor plumbing and a fairly modern kitchen, they have been sitting in the same coconut grove since the early 1900s. Some offer claw-foot bathtubs, others rattan or period mahogany furnishings. All feature a front porch overlooking the lawns and/or the sandy beach.

Guests are welcome to pick flowers and fruit from the expansive grounds, relax in a gently swaying hammock or swim in the oceanfront pool. Take away the cars, the Internet, TVs and the onsite spa and you are instantly transported back to the turn of the last century. Relax, a little bit of time travel never hurt anyone.

Big Island - Pele's Domain

Scientifically speaking, the Hawaiian Islands were created by the movement of the Pacific Plate over a hotspot in the Earth's crust. As the plate moves to the northwest, the hotspot spews lava, eventually creating a row of islands. According to Hawaiian tradition, Madame Pele the Fire Goddess is responsible for the island chain. She would create an island and the sea goddess Namakaokaha'i would flood it, forcing Pele to move to a new spot. Eventually she ended up on the Big Island where she lives today. Pele is getting ready to move again, evidenced by a new island, Loihi, that has yet to breach the ocean's surface.

Hawaiian Volcano

For now Pele resides in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where she continues to add acreage to the Big Island. The park's Ka'u Desert was the scene of a battle between the future King Kamehameha and rival Chief Keoua. The latter's army apparently angered Pele and were caught in one of her eruptions, their footprints fossilized in the lava landscape. To this day Hawaiians hold ceremonies in the park to honor Pele and throw offerings of gin or other liquors into Halemaumau Crater. Hawaiians picking ohelo berries in the park throw some into the crater as an offering. The small red berries make a tasty jam.

To fully enjoy your experience at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, stay in one of the low keyed inns or cottages in the rainforest town of Volcano, just outside the park entrance. One option is the Lotus Garden Cottages, with oversized doors and decks overlooking the forest. Another is Volcano Guest House, a series of self-contained antique-filled cottages and homes each on their own private road. Once the sun goes down you can almost feel Pele's presence as she walks the land, searching for places in need of a lava retouch. This is Hawaiian culture, personified.


When he is not traveling, Porter Olson is a writer for an affiliate of DirecTV, USDirect.com.

© SlowTrav.com, 2012

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