Being cooped up lately, it’s hard not to think of all the places it would be nice to visit. A favorite destination of mine is the Hawaiian Islands. I have visited what I call “Nature’s Paradise” many times and always look forward to returning once again. To start with a little history, how did these islands in the Pacific Ocean become a United States territory and later our 50th state? The answer is complicated; but, in short, the Americans overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy.
The first known settlers were Polynesian voyagers who arrived on the islands sometime in the 8th century. By the mid-19th century, the sugar industry in Hawaii was well established on the islands, with America at its helm. One of the key figures was Sanford Ballard Dole, who was born in Hawaii to American parents. He was part of a group of American sugar planters who arranged a coup to overthrow Queen Liliuokalani and establish a provincial government, with Dole as president. This was done in 1893 with the knowledge of the U.S. minister to Hawaii and the backing of 300 U.S. Marines. Previously in 1887, a U.S. naval base had been established at Pearl Harbor and, in 1898, the Spanish-American War broke out; the strategic use of the naval base during the war convinced Congress to approve formal annexation. Two years later, Hawaii was organized into a formal U.S. territory and in 1959 entered the United States as the 50th state.
Beyond sugar, missionaries and planters of pineapples and other agriculture crops brought about great changes in Hawaiian political, cultural, economic and religious life through the years. Today the main industry of the Hawaiian Islands, in addition to military installations, is actually tourism.
The six main tourist islands are Oahu, which has the state capital Honolulu; Maui; Kauai; the big island of Hawaii; Molokai; and, Lanai. It is easy to visit at least two or three islands on a single visit depending how much time you have for your vacation. Due to the distance from the U.S. Mainland I would recommend no less than 10 days, if you want to visit more than one location. Flights between the islands are frequent and most are about 30-45 minutes. On many tours I led to the island, we made our plane arrivals at one of the main Hawaiian airports an exciting experience! Guests were greeted by a local in Hawaiian attire and were presented with a beautiful, fragrant flower lei and a kiss on each cheek. This certainly makes you feel that this vacation is going to be very special! One note of caution, never say you are “from the U.S.” to a Hawaiian, always say you came from the Mainland – it can be hard to imagine you are still in the U.S. when you look around at the breathtaking tropical locale, but Hawaiians don’t want to be left out – they are part of the U.S. too. There are flights from the Mainland to Oahu (Honolulu), Maui, Hawaii and Kauai depending where you are looking to start your visit.
OAHU - Known as The Gathering Place, Oahu is the most populous island and there you will find Honolulu, the state’s capital. The main area of Honolulu is Waikiki, which is the area of the large hotels, shopping, restaurants and the famous beach area, offering a beautiful view of Diamond Head, a dormant volcano. The main attraction on Oahu is the Pearl Harbor area. You can visit Pearl Harbor which is operated by the National Parks and U.S. Navy. There isn’t any charge for admission, but the tours are time regulated, based on when you arrive. There is a gift shop and museum to peruse and when your group number is called, the tour starts with a short film depicting the events of December 7, 1942. The Navy boat then takes you out on the water, for a memorable view of this historic location. At this time, they have removed the stop at the Arizona Memorial, as there are much needed repairs being completed. Next to the Pearl Harbor attraction is the Battleship Missouri which is where the Japanese surrendered on-board, ending the final portion of WW II. My last visit to Hawaii and Pearl Harbor was in 2017 with a group of 40+, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the attack. There were a handful of navy survivors on hand for the weeklong events at the site. It was a sobering experience which none of the group will ever forget.
Another attraction on Oahu is the U.S. Military Cemetery of the Pacific, known as “Punch Bowl.” There are thousands of U.S. military members buried in this beautifully maintained cemetery which is located in the crater of a former volcano. There are the remains of those who fought in WW II, Korea, Vietnam and present day conflicts. It is well worth visiting and paying respects to those who fought and protected us. There is also much more to see, so I would recommend renting a vehicle and riding around the entire island.
MAUI - Known as the Valley Isle, Maui is the second largest island in the state. Maui is my favorite island and the locals have a saying, “Maui is the Best,” and I agree. There is so much you can do here. On your arrival I suggest that you rent a car as you will need it to get around and enjoy the many activities. The place to stay on the island is on the leeward side where I recommend either Ka’anapali Beach area or Wailea. There are many hotels and condos where you can stay. Both areas have shopping, restaurants, golf and other attractions nearby. The town of Lahaina is close to Ka’anapali. Lahaina was the original capital of Hawaii from 1820-1845 and was known as a whaling town. Front Street in Lahaina features many boutique shops, art galleries and restaurants. Here tours for whale watching, submarine and boat excursions to both the islands of Lanai and Molokai, as well as deep sea fishing, can be arranged. In addition, if you are into snorkeling or scuba diving, there are tours to the crescent shaped island of Molokini which is outstanding for viewing tropical ocean marine life.
For the real adventurers there are two tours I recommend. You can get up very early in the morning and be taken up to the summit of Haleakala Volcano for the sunrise viewing as it appears over the rim. After, you can join a bike tour down the mountain through “Up Country,” where there are farms, cattle and towns like Paia, an interesting artsy area on the way down to the famous surfing beach. At the end of the tour you are taken back to your starting point.
Another adventure is either a self-drive or an arranged tour of the Road to Hana. This 56 mile drive around the island contains a very rough stretch of road, but there are many unique things to stop and see along the route like waterfalls, the seven sacred pools, Charles and Anne Lindberg’s grave site, the town of Hana and a multitude of bridges. If renting a car, check with the rental company to confirm that you are permitted to take your vehicle on the Hana Highway, as some companies have restrictions.
A luau is a one-time “must do” when visiting Hawaii. Other activities include swimming, hiking, golf, tennis, sailing, and watching the cliff divers at Black Rock during the sunset ceremony where they throw their lei into the water and dive off the rock into the ocean. While visiting, stop in an ABC Store for any of your drugstore, beach activity or souvenir needs – don’t forget to purchase one of the various varieties of Macadamia nuts.
KAUAI - Known as the Garden Isle, Kauai is has a tropical rainforest that covers most of the island and dramatic cliffs. The island is mostly know for agriculture; but, many movies were filmed there including “Blue Hawaii” starring Elvis Presley, “The Descendants” starring George Clooney, “Jurassic Park,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “South Pacific” and many more. The main tourist area is Poipu, which has great beaches, hotels and condos. This area is conveniently located near the airport. Main attractions on Kauai are the many waterfalls, champion golf courses and Waimea Canyon, known as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” which is 10 miles long. In addition there is Spouting Horn where a blowhole shoots water 65 feet into the air, Kokee Hiking Trails, and the Wailua River Cruise which in a short distance takes you to the famed Fern Grotto, a lava rock formation where many weddings take place and the Hawaiian Wedding song is sung during your visit. The Princeville area on the north shore is known for golf, but this area is also one of the wettest areas in the world with an average of 85 inches of rain annually.
HAWAII - Known as the Big Island, Hawaii has two main towns, Kona and Hilo. The island has natural beauty and ecological features that is a haven for nature lovers. Kona is the major tourist area with many hotels, golf courses and activities. Hilo is less on tourism and is more traditional to Hawaiian culture and close to the volcano area. On this island you will find black sand beaches from the many thousands of years of volcanic action. Most of the island has volcanic lava areas. The main attraction is Volcanoes National Park where two active volcanoes, Kilauea & Mauna Loa, are located. Other activities include Waipiu Valley, Hilo Botanical Gardens, whale watching between December and May, star gazing via the telescope on Mauna Kea, fishing, ATV adventures, snorkeling, and so much more. When visiting this island you will get an entirely different perspective from the other Hawaiian Islands.
You can visit the Hawaiian Islands by ship, starting in Oahu; or, by staying for several days on your choice of islands. I personally like to stay on the islands versus doing a cruise. It is more relaxing and you get a feel for the island, especially the people who live there. Hawaiians are very kind and caring, and will make your visit to their state a memorable experience. So, get out your Hawaiian shirt, don some flip-flops, kick back and enjoy America’s greatest tropical experience with a tropical Mai Tai or frosty Pina Colada in hand.
MAHALO and ALOHA!
If you have any travel questions for Herb Reisenfeld, The American Israelite’s travel columnist, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org