Thursday May 13, 2021 – I’d been jonesing to be anywhere but home for over a year. COVID had been particularly hard on me, as I am migratory. I had partially sated my appetite for travel by daily walks at Rancho San Antonio, but the islands of Hawaii were beckoning. I hadn’t been since 2004, when I went with my boyfriend Richard to Maui. I ended up staying two more weeks in a tin-roofed shack in the middle of a Macadamia grove working for a lovely woman who owned Hale Ana in Makawao. The day Richard left, I had run into friends on the beach near Kihei. One of my friends, a fellow juggler, let me stay in his room at the resort. We practiced passing clubs and I got to be part of a hand on heart circle led by Stan Dale. It was wonderful.
This trip, I had hoped to stay for a month but Shawn could only stay one. Even that was pushing it with his work schedule. I regretted not booking more time but had bought a cheap ticket that couldn’t be changed. I had to be satisfied with a short jaunt. On the day of departure, I woke much earlier than I liked to arrive at the airport at 630am. When I have to wake up that early, I rarely sleep much the night before. My mind is afraid of forgetting something. We had an hour wait after getting through security. The usual COVID restrictions hassle required us to get a PCR test within 72 hours of the flight, then upload results to an app that was then scanned at the airport, hotel, etc. And of course wear a mask the entire time on the plane. We arrived in Oahu at 10:30am HST, and had decided out of frugality to take a local bus to pick up the rental car, which again we rented relatively cheaply from a private individual. Google maps wasn’t very helpful in finding buses and stops, so I asked and finally found the correct bus stop. After 15 minutes the bus arrived, and we made our way at a snail’s pace, eventually covering 10 miles over 3 hours. It would’ve been faster to run. En route to our destination of Mililani, we changed buses outside a naval station. The air was humid and lovely, and I was enamored with the red-crested cardinals perched in the Albizzia (aka Mimosa) trees near our stop. I have learned that almost all flora and fauna on the islands have been introduced. Well here was my first proof. Mimosas are native to the Middle East and Asia, while red-crested cardinals had been introduced around 1930 and were native to South America. They looked right at home. I shared my cashews and watched as they took their snacks to a high branch to eat in relative safety.
Spending our first three hours picking up a car was not how I’d hoped to spend my time on this tropical island. But on reflection, it was valuable because I saw places that tourists wouldn’t. When traveling I especially value experiencing life as a local. For most native Hawaiians, the bus is how to get around. The bus we were on stopped at every major crossing along Moanalua Road in Pearl City. The road reminded me the local flavor still seen along much of El Camino Real, a strip running through the most industrial sections of the SF peninsula. I pressed my face to the window, trying to get a view of life outside, and was surprised by the relative shoddiness of this shopping district. It seems most of the money spent on the island benefits tourists and military, not locals. Next we got back on the freeway and soon crossed over a large gulch burgeoning with plant life as we entered Waipio, another local hamlet. Housing tracts peppered the uplands and I could see a large part of the island from this vantage point as it sloped gently up toward the higher land.
Shawn seemed afraid he’d be pestering the car owner, so didn’t ask for the pickup location. I was getting anxious as we approached the town of Mililani since we had no idea where to disembark. I finally won out and exhorted him to call for more details. The car owner told us to disembark across from Mililani high school in a mega mall complex. That’s all we knew, and we stood like 2 runaways with our bags wondering what to do next. Shawn was testy and seemed angry at me for pushing him to call again. He said no, but finally consented and let me talk to the gentleman. I asked if he could pick us up and he said yes. I explained that our bags were very heavy and that we’d already traveled for 3 hours (not counting the plane flight). It was already a long day for me.
It had been drizzling lightly and we gratefully loaded our bags into the vehicle. He dropped us off at the rental parked inconspicuously on a residential street, and then headed to find food. Shawn was starving and needed to eat, and had a mood to match. We headed back to the mall, but only found chain pizza and burger joints. I found a Thai place about a mile away and we headed there, but learned it was takeout only. Shawn wanted a sit down meal. We crossed the street and spied a place called the Shack, which had a quaint ambience. We sat in the lanai with wood floors, statuary, and whose ceiling was covered with banana leaf. Seemed like a local favorite. I ordered lightly seared Ahi and a salad and we gratefully consumed our meal. Shawn suddenly realized he needed to get taxes sent postmarked May 17. I suggested that he do it now as there might be rules about sending taxes from the islands, even if they were technically part of the US. We found a small family-run print shop and he seemed to be in there forever printing his returns while I sat in the rain and read The Committed, the sequel to the Pulitzer Prize-winner The Sympathizer.
My patience was wearing thin after an hour, especially because it was 3:30 and we had a 4pm counseling session. I wanted to drive north to Haleiwa, a pretty town on the north shore I’d heard has retained its charm and authenticity. Shawn wanted to go to our condo and unpack, but I knew was about 45 minutes away in the other direction on the west side of the island, with no road north (the road dead ends just north of where we were staying). He grudgingly consented. We arrived in Haleiwa and I was immediately drawn to the stone arch on the road next to the Liliʻuokalani Protestant Church. I later found out that the church was founded by missionaries in 1832 and had originally been a grass house on the corner of Kamehameha Highway and Haleiwa Road. Queen Liliʻuokalani was a regular, making the long pilgrimage by carriage from Waikiki. In 1892 she donated a large clock which made one revolution every 16 years. Instead of hours of the day it spelled her name, the letters L-I-L-I-U-O-K-A-L-A-N-I.
We explored the outside of the church and I tried to peek inside to see if the clock was still there but it was dark. We walked a few blocks toward the sea, crossing a river into which local kids dove from steel bridge girders. I wanted to join them. They were having fun without paying a penny, while further down the river tourists spent big bucks to rent stand up boards. The irony reminded me of a local who thought tourists were crazy for being bent on burning themselves to a crisp while locals seek shade.
I’d forgot that we were on a mission to find a spot to talk to our couples therapist. A few feet beyond the river, we seated ourselves on the lawn of an outdoor restaurant next to a palm tree. It felt a bit surreal talking to Leia about a conflict from earlier in the week, though I could still feel my own charge, and Shawn was still angry. She asked us to reflect on the ways we needed to be right and asked us to see each other’s needs and feelings. After reflecting on take aways from the session, including our commitments to one another, I asked Shawn if he’d be willing to explore the north shore via car. We had different ideas of an island vacation. His is probably the normal one that most share. I wanted to be out till way past dark exploring every corner of the natural world I could.
I spied a traditional fish pond near the bridge and wanted to stop, but was afraid of trying Shawn’s patience. He continued driving until we reached Waimea Valley, known in traditional times as “the Valley of the Priests”. Luck would have it that although we were there after closing at 4pm, the road was open. It was the Thursday farmer’s market! After parking, we wandered into the arboretum, admiring plantings of taro and other traditional medicinal and food plants. Unaware that the arboretum was closed, I started walking up the river. I was torn from my reverie by a man in a cart who thought I was intentionally trespassing. Hiking the waterfall trail costs a pretty penny, and they want to keep it that way. I didn’t know about the trail and was mesmorized instead by the plants, my inner botanist haven a field day. I returned to the traditional-looking pavilion that housed the farmer’s market, admiring the homemade food on offer, primarily Philipino and Japanese in origin.
When I say that we wandered, I should instead say that we walked and explored separately. Shawn and I are very independent, need I say stubborn. I long to take turns being leader and follower, to get a chance to explore together and to not lose each another. There have been many times I’ve lost him for a period of time, including while traveling abroad. Childhood memories of getting lost in Sarajevo and almost kidnapped are hard to shake.
A bit of history about the valley: Waimea Valley was an ahupua‘a, a division of land stretching from the mountains to the sea. If you imagine the island like a pie, each slice is an ahupua‘a. Land was divided this way in early Hawai‘i primarily to ensure each community within the ahupua‘a had the resources they needed to survive. From the uka (uplands) region, plants that provided medicines were found, trees for constructing wa‘a (canoes) and hale (houses and other structures) were harvested, birds were caught and released for making hulu (feather) adornments. The kula (plains, midland) region was where most agricultural crops were farmed such as mai‘a (banana), kalo (taro), ‘ulu(breadfruit), ‘uala (sweet potato) and niu (coconut). The kai (seaside) region provided food and other resources from the ocean, including i‘a (fish), he‘e (octopus), pūpū (shells), limu (seaweed) and pa‘akai (salt). After Kamehameha the Great conquered O‘ahu in 1795, he recognized the importance and value of Waimea Valley and awarded it to his most trusted spiritual advisor, Hewahewa Nui. Waimea was chosen because of its abundant resources and geographical location on O’ahu. About seven years after the death of Kamehameha in 1819, Hewahewa came to live at Waimea and ruled as its chief. During this time, the traditional kapu (rule) system of laws had begun to crumble due to powerful foreign influences. Hewahewa, along with Kamehameha II and Ka‘ahumanu (his co-ruler), converted to Christianity, denounced Hawaiian gods and aided in ordering all heiau and religious idols destroyed.
Upon Hewahewa’s death in 1837, Waimea Valley was awarded to his granddaughter Pa‘alua. Following the Mahele Land Redistribution Act in 1848, the newly formed Land Commission offered to give her ownership of about half of the Valley on condition that she give up any claim to the rest. She was able to hold on to her land until 1884 when high debt forced her to mortgage and lease the land. Hawaiians believed they were part of the land and many did not understand the Western definition of land ownership. Her property was foreclosed after her death in 1886. Over the next 20 years property changed hands several times, and by the turn of the 20th century it was under the control of the Castle & Cook pineapple and sugar company. In the early 1900’s the valley was used for ranching and farming, and many Japanese farmers and the U.S. Military occupied the Valley. In the 1960’s and 1970’s Waimea was operated commercially as the Waimea Falls Ranch and Stables, which offered 75-cent stagecoach rides along with actors who rode along playing cowboys and Indians. Visitors could take guided tours and attend cliff-diving and hula shows. The history of the valley mirrors that of the islands. From indigenous ownership to extractive industries mostly by American businessmen, to the unfettered access of US military, to tourism. The ugly truth of US imperial colonization, a pattern repeated throughout islands in the Pacific as well as in Central and South America.
We drove back to Makaha Valley, darkness shrouding our vision of the island. It was nice to have such a roomy and lovely place to stay, albeit out of the way relative to the places I most wanted to explore.
Friday May 14. I woke up at 6:20am and watched the sky lighten. In minutes, the sun streamed over the mountains. Peacock calls echoed eerily through the mist. I’m almost never up at dawn so it was special to be high up and able to see how the sun traced its path across the valley. We were staying in a high rise condo complex in Makaha Valley. The Makaha Valley Towers are an ostentatious eyesore that mar an otherwise pristine landscape. I wondered who had been paid off to allow such a development. The valley is beautiful in a stark, desolate way. I was told that after a good rain, the fissures along the rock walls fill with waterfalls. I had slept on a luxurious king size memory foam mattress the night before and wondered how it had been hoisted up to the 7th floor. Did they use cranes to bring appliances and furniture to these apartments? Each room had huge sliding glass doors that opened onto a balcony that looked out toward the sea. Perhaps they’d lifted the mattress through these doors. I’m a light sleeper, so sharing a bed is problematic. I wake at the slightest sound, snoring, restless legs, too many covers. Suffice we sleep better in separate beds. We’d chosen this place in part because it was reasonable, had a very nice kitchen and living room, was spacious, and had 2 bedrooms with comfy beds. The owner had decked it out in an island theme, with hand woven rugs, traditional pineapple quilts, koa bowls, and basket furniture. It was cozy and had a beautiful view of the ocean and mountains.
I wanted to head out early but Shawn had a lot to do at work and didn’t want to be rushed. I suggested we eat breakfast before heading out – apparently the only place serving lattes within half an hour’s drive was Starbucks, which I consider the McDonald’s of coffee shops. Finally Shawn was done with his travails and we headed out. We had to get a parking permit from the office and I asked about the reason for a lava wall near the base of the mountain behind the tower complex. A staff member told me there had been a fierce rainstorm 40 years ago that washed out all the roads. A gully was also dug on the other side of the wall to divert water, mud, and rocks from future storms. A wall of rock and mud had slid en masse from the mountains and almost buried the condos. She said that now, due to changing climactic conditions, they haven’t had appreciable rain in years. And it’s been getting hotter.
We bid the peacocks farewell and stopped at Makaha Beach where I saw a traditional boat house storing traditional voyaging canoes. A tree next to the house was draped with leis made of braided tea leaves and plumeria. I crossed the beach and wet my feet in the pacific ocean. The sand was warm and the water felt wonderful. From there we headed 7 miles north to the road’s end at Yokohama Bay and Ka’ena Point State Park. I wanted to see the Layson’s albatross currently nesting in the park, as well as any monk seals that may have hauled out. It was a hot walk along the exposed lava rock trail. I had no idea how far the nature reserve was. I asked a fit older man walking with a surfboard about the trail. He said it was extremely hot and that I needed water, an eight mile round trip. He exhorted me to see the monk seal colony. I figured I’d just walk a little way as I hadn’t brought any water. But since Shawn had drinking water we ended up walking the whole way, getting quite burned along the way. Shawn’s calves were as red as lobsters. I loved seeing the albatrosses flying at a breakneck pace from one side of the point to the other.
On the way back, we met a woman who did marine mammal rescue. I had asked what to do about an albatross that had run into the mammal fence and was walking picking its way painfully over the volcanic rock outside the preserve boundary. She said she didn’t know much about birds but shared a wealth of information about other wildlife, telling us about a monk seal had just given birth near Waikiki beach. Jen, I found out, had moved here from the east coast, and seemed completely at home here. I called Turo, the car rental company to get permission to drive the rental vehicle. It was ironic to be calling from an exposed rock near albatross nesting grounds when I’d practically been at their headquarters in San Francisco a few days prior. After holding for an interminable period, I got the okay. Since we were staying miles away from any kind of public transit, hitchhiking would have been the only alternative.
We continued to walk back toward the car, me trying to focus on the scenery to try to ignore my parched throat. Two and one-half hours later, we arrived back at road’s end. We’d looked for semi-decent restaurants but hadn’t seen any nearby. Nor could I find any online. So we decided to buy groceries. Eat in style for half the cost. Even so, buying food at the grocery store in Hawaii is prohibitively expensive, almost twice as much as the mainland. How do these people survive? On the way back to the condo, I saw a man selling lumpia, a Philippine fried delicacy, on the side of the road. The answer to prohibitive food costs? Do what you have to.
Shawn was getting crisper by the minute and I suggested getting aloe gel. Long’s was unusually dark and we found out that it had lost power and was shuttered. Strange as it’d been open for business a few hours earlier. I resolved to find the plant along the road side. Since we were near a large local residential population I figured it might be growing in yards, since it is extremely helpful for burns. We stopped to harvest a huge mango whose fruit literally littered the road, picking up the smashed fruit whose peel reminds me of a Monet watercolor. They were extremely soft (pummeled would be a more apt description). Then I spied an aloe plant inside the neighbor’s yard. I walked up the drive to ask about taking a leaf or two. Luckily, Harry pulled into his drive not a moment later. He got out of his truck and I explained that we’d been badly burned walking to the point. He immediately broke off a piece of aloe and gave it to us, and asked if we needed more.
He laughed and asked if we’d gotten lost, since we were definitely not in tourist country. I told him I preferred his neck of the woods, and in response to questions about work, said he collected refuse. We were standing under a well-laden mango tree upon which I showered effusive praise. In response he picked four particularly lovely ones, using a picker as the lowest was easily 10 feet up. By the next morning they were transformed into banana mango yogurt smoothies, and served us for the rest of our stay. Freshly picked, a milky sap dripped from the branch-end of the fruit. Harry said he inherited the house from his in-laws, who had planted the garden more than 70 years ago. No wonder the mango trees were so huge! As we chatted in the front yard, a relative drove by and asked whether we were friends. He said no, though I secretly hoped we would be someday. By serendipity we had stumbled into this man full generosity and humor. It brought back memories of conversations with other locals I’d had on visits to the Big Island, Maui, and Kauai in days past.
Saturday May 15. I awoke to the sound of Shawn’s voice on the Saturday family chat. It was 7am. I wanted to get up and out and was already feeling like we had little time left, as Tuesday was our last real day. Shawn wanted to take his time and seemed irritated by my speediness. He gave me the okay to take the car and I headed to Honolulu. First stop, the historic district in Honolulu, especially the Kawaiahaʻo Church, at one time the national church of the Hawaiian Kingdom and chapel of the royal family. Its name means the water belonging to Hao, and was the location of a fine fountain of water belonging to a chief named Hao. I walked through its beautiful grounds, imagining the artesian well that must have emanated from near the site of this noted old native church.
It is popularly known as Hawaiʻi’s Westminster Abbey. Designed in the New England style of the Hawaiian missionaries, it was constructed between 1836 and 1842 of some 14,000 thousand-pound slabs of coral rock quarried from an offshore reef on the southern coast of Oʻahu. Hawaiian divers dove three to six metres below sea-level to chisel out each coral block with hand tools, and the blocks then were transported from the reef onto the shore. It was commissioned during the reigns of Kamehameha II and Kamehameha III, and has been called the “hale pule lahui”, the Great Stone Church, the Hawaiian Tabernacle (luakini), the Mother Church, the Kingʻs Church, the Kingʻs chapel, and the “Aliʻi Church”.
Imagining the efforts of the native divers who took over six years to build it took my breath away. While impressed, I couldn’t help feeling it to be a waste of the life force of those who had built it and of the precious coral of the sea. The arrogance of the missionaries bent on “elevating” these people. Nevertheless, I was mesmerized by the architecture of both the church and the Mission Houses built by these early missionaries, now designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark. I was also struck by the grandeur of Iolani Palace, the official residence of Hawaii’s monarchy, built in 1882 by the last king of Hawaii, King Kalakaua. It remained a royal residence until Queen Liliuokalani, the king’s sister and successor, was deposed and the Hawaiian monarchy overthrown in January 1893. The Palace served as capitol of the Provisional Government, Republic, Territory and State of Hawaii until 1969. I imagined Queen Liliuokalani, who chose to remain a prisoner here so her people would be free. Her ultimate sacrifice reflected her inherent nobility.
In the nearby neighborhood of Kaka’ako (historic Japantown), dozens of colorful murals line building facades and alleys. I wandered through a tangle of streets and found a particularly lovely and whimsical mural on Coral Street created by Derick Fabian in honor of the 10th year anniversary of POW! WOW! Hawai’i. It was inspired by the animated film My Neighbor Totoro. To glimpse the collection (and if you don’t mind her selfies), see https://andreapeacock.com/honolulu-instagram-guide/.
From this art-inspired funky district, I headed to see the mother monk seal and her pup. I parked near the place that Jen the marine mammal specialist had told me about yesterday, a classic hotel on the Waikiki strip. I walked between 2 hotels and headed toward the white sandy beach where I spied a gaggle of photographers with telephotos the size of elephant seal trunks. I found a spot and did my best to stoop to not block the view.
The monk seal had chosen a very fashionable beach. People drank designer cocktails on the veranda, most seemingly uninterested in her plight. Typical humans I thought. Her baby was tiny, and both looked exhausted, splayed out on their backs in the hot sand. Not only did the restaurant goers seem unaware, but several swimmers who hadn’t seen (or heeded) the signs swam into the small bay. The marine biologists shouted through bullhorns to no avail. One older woman who came upon shore was completely taken aback when she heard the shouts. She started trembling and crying, at which point I took pity on her and helped get her shoes from where she had started her swim several hotels down. It’s easy to vilify someone when you don’t know the whole story, as I had done before realizing that she was ignorant, not arrogant.
I felt a bit sheepish as a monk seal paparazzi, so left my friend and crossed the street to Kapiʻolani Regional Park. I stood under a particularly huge banyan tree which reminded me of some grandfather banyans I’d seen in Lahaina, Maui. I walked through the park, enjoying the beautiful plantings and impressive trees, then headed out on Paki Avenue to Diamond Head Road through the old money of Diamond Head. I marveled at the charming, one-of-a-kind homes nestled between the turquoise sea and the base of the crater. They reminded me of cottages I’ve seen perched between coast and cliff in Carmel-by-the-sea. Hidden among the lovely homes here were public beach parks, many donated by former landowners, in some cases mansion intact. I appreciate this kind of philanthropy. I walked on, then decided to double back as there were places I was hoping to see before their closing.
Having never been to Oahu, let alone this side of the island, I was on a purely exploratory mission. I drove past Diamond Head and the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, hoping to drive down to the bay. I didn’t have the time to make it worthwhile given the $20 entrance fee. Driving on, I stopped to admire stunning vistas, and especially liked Halona Blowhole Lookout and the Japanese Fishing Shrine (Umi Mamori Jizo). A memorial service is held at the shrine every November to remember local fisherman who lost their lives in the treacherous waves near this popular fishing spot. I stopped at Makapu‘u Point, the eastern most part of the island, to take in the view of the sand and water hundreds of feet below. I wanted to hike to the Makapu‘u Point lighthouse but didn’t have time.
Each island of Hawaii features some amazing state-run botanical gardens. I had especially hoped to see Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden in Kāneʻohe. Its setting is particularly stunning. Jagged, dramatic Koʻolau Mountains hover overhead, and a large reservoir provides a unique setting for tropical plants from Philippines, Malaysia, Tropical America, India, Sri Lanka, Melanesia, Hawaiʻi, Polynesia, and Africa. I’d have to come back another day, since I arrived just before closing at 350 pm. I drove on to Kailua, which I was told is a nice place to stay, through the oldest part of town to a tiny neighborhood with narrow streets. There I discovered the trailhead for Lanikai Pillbox. It was more like a vertical ascent than a trail, and I used a rope to pull myself to the top. Great views. It reminded me of the trail I had climbed in Vysoké Tatry, Slovakia.
I made a mental note of Buzz’s Steakhouse, which I passed on my way back and thought Shawn might like. About 5 miles onward, I came upon the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. Unfortunately it was also about to close. The witching hour appeared to be 4pm. I’d hoped to visit the manicured grounds and buildings associated with the Byodo-In Temple, a replica of a historic Japanese Buddhist temple in Uji, Japan. Discouraged, I drove north along the Kamehameha Highway until I spied a fishpond. Moliʻi Fishpond, constructed in the 1300’s, is one of four Hawaiian fishponds remaining on Oahu, along with Huilua, Kahaluu and Heʻeia. Fishponds were used for ocean husbandry and were unique in all of Polynesia to Hawaii. Moliʻi originally had five sluices which controlled seawater flow and fish harvesting. Three of the sluices are still in place, and in 1972 the pond was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I walked along the 4,000 feet wall which partitioned the pond from Kaneohe Bay. The pond’s construction is attributed to the Menehune, a mythological race of dwarf people in Hawaiian tradition who are said to live in the deep forests and hidden valleys of the Hawaiian Islands, far from human settlements (I don’t blame them). According to lore, they were superb craftspeople who built temples (heiau), fishponds, roads, canoes, and houses. I wondered whether Menehune were a euphemism for native Hawaiians. If I were they, I probably would have hid in the deep recesses of the island where the missionaries and businessmen couldn’t find me.
Satisfied with my new finds, I continued north till I spied the remains of an old building and smokestack of coral brick. I hopped over the fence to poke around the remains of a sugar cane mill. Dr. Gerrit P. Judd purchased 622 acres of ranch land at Kualoa for $1300, and also the island of Mokoliʻi just offshore, from King Kamehameha III. Dr. Judd was the first person to translate medical journals into the Hawaiian language for King Kamehameha, and apparently the king was grateful. In 1860 Dr. Judd bought 2200 additional acres, and in 1880 his son Charles bought another 1188 acres.
In 1863 Charles Judd and his brother-in-law Samuel Gardner Wilder started a sugarcane plantation and built a sugar mill, the Kualoa Plantation Sugar Mill. It was the first steam-powered mill on Oahu, built with the most modern machinery available from Scotland. Several years of low rainfall brought sugar farming to a close, and the mill closed in 1870. According to urban legend, in 1866, Wilder’s nine year old son Willy fell into a vat of syrup and died of burns a few days later. His mother left the mill, haunted by the memory of her son.
Kualoa Ranch is what remains of the 4,000 acre plantation. It has since been converted to a cattle ranch, tourist safari, and used as a movie set. More than 79 movies and TV shows have been filmed at Kualoa over the years, including Paradise, Hawaiian Style, Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, 50 First Dates, You, Me and Dupree, Hawaii Five-0, Mighty Joe Young, Pearl Harbor, Windtalkers, Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island, Jumanji, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Snatched, and Lost.
From the 13th to the 18th century, the valley was sacred to ancient Hawaiians, and Chief Laʻa-mai-kahiki settled there after visiting Kauaʻi and before returning to Tahiti. It was the site of the sacred drums of Kapahuʻula and Kaʻahuʻulapunawai as well as the sacred Hill of Kauakahiakahoʻowaha, the key to the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Oʻahu. As written in the Kumulipo, an ancient Hawaiian genealogical chant, Kualoa is where Papa and Wakea buried their first still born child, Haloa. It is said that the first kalo (taro) plant grew where Haloa was buried.
I wondered about the plight of the Hawaiians whose land and water rights had been given away by Hawaiian monarchs. How much of the land was strong-armed, and how much voluntarily given? I pondered this as the sky darkened, and imagined the ancient Hawaiian who revered this sacred place. Was there a way to return it to the sacred? Reluctantly, I began the long drive back.
Sunday May 16. I awoke early as usual. It was nice to have jet lag working in my favor, unlike the week I was unable to wake before 1pm after my arrival in Toulouse. Shawn and I had only 3 days left. Today I wanted to hike the Kaʻena Point Trail on the north shore in hopes of seeing monk seals. Shawn was up for the trip and we both hoped to find Oahu-grown coffee. We started our adventure by heading to Waialua and there discovered the Old Waialua sugar plantation. Like other sugar mills on the islands, the mill was started in 1865, and although it failed initially, the owner succeeded in convincing the monarchy to give them water that should have been the people’s. It was the insatiable thirst for water by greedy foreigners eager to make a buck in the mid 1800s that eventually pushed the US to rob Hawaii of its sovereignty. Capitalists on the island who wanted yet more water for their sugar cane plantations pleaded with US war ships looking for a pretext to invade. They didn’t need much motivation to pull the trigger. The Old Waialua sugar plantation ended up with the largest capacity for water storage in the state. The owners wooed the monarchy, convincing him to sell precious land and water rights. Same old story elsewhere. At its highest point of production, the mill was producing 20,000 tons of sugar. It was only abandoned in 1996 when operations stopped, I’m guessing because of water scarcity. It is now home to an eclectic mix of shops, where you can get your surfboard fixed, buy homemade soap or vegetables at the farmer’s market, partake of the community kitchen, or drink local coffee at the Old Sugar Mill Brand Waialua Coffee and Chocolate.
I made a beeline for the coffee place, housed in the main historical mill building. I loved the authentic feel of the place and eavesdropped on one of the “coffee tours” the owner was giving. I was offered samples of various types of Kona coffee, including peaberry, a rare anomaly in the growing process that creates only one bean within the coffee cherry rather than two. It’s supposed to be a much richer taste, but I couldn’t tell the difference. The tour continued outside to view the distant hills where we viewed the shade grown coffee plants. We got an up close look at several coffee and cacao plants growing near the mill complex. We also looked at a shed where coffee berries were drying with a roof that could be closed to keep out rain.
From the old plantation town of Waialua we drove west to the Kaʻena Point Trail. This trail was less exposed and hot than the trail we’d hiked a few days earlier on the west shore. Both trails led to Ka‘Ena Point, but today I wasn’t going to walk 5 miles round trip. I had hoped to see monk seals, and got my wish. We saw a few monk seals on a rocky beach in a small cove. A couple was watching one of the seals, and their son was playing in the water nearby. It was thanks to them that I spied the marine mammal. The jaggedness of the lava rock made walking challenging.
Back at the car we drove toward Waimea Valley. We had lucked into seeing it on Thursday when we first arrived on the island. I wanted to take another look. The valley still contains several historical structures including stone terraces and walls constructed during the time of the Hawaiian monarchy. Due to the nutrient-rich volcanic soil and heavy rainfall, the area supported one of the most prosperous farming communities in all of Polynesia and had complex fish ponds, domesticated animal pens, various large farming beds, and was famous for the cultivation of pink taro root stock, a coveted item to the Ali`i (the Hawaiian elite). Much of the garden floor was once cultivated for taro, sweet potato, and bananas, with new crops and orchards introduced by Europeans after their arrival. I longed to see the terraces and walls, but was adverse to the hefty entrance fee, plus I didn’t think I had enough time to explore adequately. It would have to wait for another time. We drove till dusk, then turned around and drove back the way we came. Traffic was thick on the two lane road. We were hungry and tired by the time we got back to the condo.
Monday, May 17. Second to last full day. We decided to drive to Honolulu and see the mother monk seal and explore the historical parts of town. I first showed Shawn the chique beach that momma seal had chosen for her pup. We gawked at the lovely pair, then headed to the back of Diamond Head crater to the Koko Crater Botanical Gardens, created in 1958 and focusing on the cultivation of rare and endangered dryland plants. Xeriscaping has transformed the 60 acres of dry landscape into a garden where plants suitable to desert-like conditions can flourish. Highlights include Hawaiian plants, African & Madagascan plants, cactus and succulent gardens, Plumeria grove, and Dryland palms. I felt like I was walking through a Dr. Seuss book. Plumeria are intoxicating, and their petals otherworldly in color. We walked through groves of the trees, then oases featuring Dryland palms, and finally cactus and succulent gardens. It was very hot and dry, and I was parched when we got back to the car.
From Koko Crater we drove around Diamond Head, and I showed Shawn the stunning vistas I had discovered two days earlier. I was determined to snorkel at least once before we left, since I’d lugged my gear all the way here. It was probably too windy on this side of the island for good snorkeling, but I stopped at the first beach park I saw. I saw local kids snorkeling here at Waimānalo Beach Park and took it as a sign. Most likely they lived nearby and snorkeled come hell or high water. No matter, I would give it a go. Shawn was smart and wrapped his coat around him as I braved the water in my bathing suit. I secured my mask and got used to the mouthpiece, blowing puffs of air through it and into the snorkel. I put my head under and had a look around. I spied the sandy ocean floor moving around via wave action, and found my way over to a big rock, hoping to find some fish. I saw a few, but the colors seemed tinged with gray, in part because of overcast. Undaunted, I looked for fish elsewhere, only to be disappointed by their few number and dull appearance. I got out of the surf, cold and salty, wrapped myself in a towel, and changed. My hair was full of salt and stuck to my head. Brought back childhood memories.
We headed to Kailua, where I hoped to have a nice meal at Buzz’s Steakhouse which seemed elegant yet casual. Shawn liked the look of the menu (lamb!) and we put our names on the list. While waiting, we walked across the street to Kailua Beach Park, a lovely bit of sand and some nice trees. I really like the beaches on this side of the island. There is lusher vegetation, giving it a more tropical feel. After a nice walk, we returned to a lovely meal of fish and lamb. And mango cheesecake to top it off.
We headed to the hidden neighborhood beach at the base of Kaiwa Ridge near the Lanikai Pillbox trailhead. I’d discovered it after hiking the trailhead a few days earlier. Kite surfers ripped back and forth across the surf, looking like snowboarders as they flew up on their boards 10 feet or more above the water. I wanted to try but wondered whether I had adequate upper body strength, especially needed when changing direction at a good clip. I wondered if watching them was how the cat felt seeing birds soaring just out of reach. I wanted to reach out and grab a kite.
I wanted to make it to Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden with ample time to spare. I was struck by the rich lush grounds and especially enjoyed the spice-bearing plants at the beginning of the trail, featuring such exotics as cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, and clove. As a chef, Shawn was very interested in seeing the spices in plant form. We spent over an hour wandering the lovely trails, walking along a reservoir to a thick bamboo forest on the other side where we got separated for 10 or 15 minutes. I panicked, wondering what to do if we didn’t find each other. Eventually we had a rendezvous near a lovely bridge that crossed a small stream. It’s good to have a contingency plan.
Feeling peaceful after nature immersion therapy, we drove to the Byodo-In Temple, which had special meaning for Shawn since he saw the original temple in Uji while living in Japan in the 1990s. We wandered around the grounds, and a very sweet woman gave us a tour of the crematorium housed in the inner sanctum of the temple. I got the sense that the temple and grounds were maintained thanks to the financial support of those whose loved ones were interred there. The spot was remarkably peaceful, a Japanese garden complete with koi pond, as well as a temple, all rolled into one. There were benches to aid visitors in quiet reflection and meditation, and a lovely path that permitted us to circumambulate the temple grounds.
We’d had a full day and decided to take a short cut home along the Burns Freeway. We had one more day and I hoped to explore a few trails that had been recommended, as well as the Polynesian Cultural Center. Though tickets were sold out months in advance, I thought we could look at the buildings and explore what was accessible. It is the only place of its kind in Hawaii, and promised to be both educational and exciting.
Tuesday May 18. I was excited to hike portions of the rugged coastline and mountains of the east side of the island, as well as to see the Cultural Center. We took the Burns Freeway shortcut and got off in Kaneohe, then headed north on the Kamehameha Highway. First stop on the itinerary was Kualoa Ranch. I wanted to show Shawn the remains of the Kualoa Plantation Sugar Mill. We wandered around the relics, then walked over to the Kualoa Ranch visitor, mostly designed to lure tourists into signing up for a safari on property grounds.
We continued north to Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park to explore the historic Huilua Fishpond and walk along the beautiful bay. Shawn’s foot had been hurting, so he took a raincheck on doing much hiking, preferring to meander along and find a place to sit and read. I left him and walked across the road to the Kapa’ele’ele Ko’a trailhead. Ten minutes into the hike I saw the remains of what looked like a heiau. This was definitely the rainy side of the island, evidenced by lush vegetal growth and slick mud. I had a steep climb up a narrow ravine, and was rewarded by bright pink orchid-looking blossoms further up the ridge. I walked till I had a good view of the coast below, paused for a minute, then headed back to the car. Shawn’s stomach was growling.
As we had only banana mango smoothies since last night’s dinner, we stopped at the next place we could find, seemingly the only place for miles, Keneke’s Grill at Punaluu. Serving meat with Hapa rice or Macaroni salad, the pulled pork was anything but. Shawn was less than thrilled with the selection, but watching the chickens and goats run around the grounds made up for the culinary lack. Filled up on starch, we continued our journey north. We stopped at the Ma’akua Ridge trailhead and I made one last hike for the day, up steep slopes to earn a spectacular view of the coast. I liked listening to the sounds of the forest: a bird call, the stream, the wind. I returned to the car feeling peaceful, and we drove to the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), a tourist attraction and a living museum. I didn’t know what to expect, but from the internet description, it looked fascinating. Ironically, in early 1962, LDS Church President authorized construction of the PCC to provide employment and scholarships for students at BYU-Hawaii and preserve the cultures of Polynesia. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s hukilau and luau beach gatherings held to earn money to rebuild a local chapel destroyed in a fire. The Hukilau Song was written following the composer’s visit to the LDS’ Lāʻi.e.’s hukilau. Given my ambivalence about LDS, I felt suspicious of the center’s goals.
Now for the physical layout of the place: a lagoon connects eight tropical villages which represent each of the major Polynesian cultures, including Hawaii, Samoa, Aotearoa (present-day New Zealand), Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga, and the Marquesas Islands. Performances and cultural learning experiences are held in traditional village settings where performers demonstrate arts and crafts from throughout Polynesia. In addition to the villages, the center has a special exhibit dedicated to Rapa Nui (Easter Island or Isla de Pascua) and a tribute to the LDS mission in the 1850s. Visitors can also participate in a luʻau, such as the Aliʻi Luʻau (“Royal Feast”), which offers traditional Polynesian fare, including pork cooked in an imu; watch a multicultural Polynesian show (currently “HA: Breath of Life”) which features songs and dances from throughout Polynesia, including the hula, tamure, otea, titi torea, haka, poi, meke, tauʻolunga, and Taualuga; and attend special events featuring Hawaiian, Samoan, Tahitian and Māori cultures including the Moanikeala Hula festival, World Fireknife Championships, and Micronesia Betel Nut Festival.
We arrived at 5:10pm, about 20 minutes before the center closed, though food vendors were available at the entrance in the Hukilau Marketplace till 9:30. This gave us a chance to check out the grounds, walk along the paths that wound on either side of the lagoon connecting the villages, and look at the exhibits. There was a plethora of information everywhere we turned. A huge mural encircled the inside of the capacious Hale Aloha cafe telling the story of the history of Hawaii, of course from the LDS point of view. As always, beware the source, as it influences how the story is told. Shawn and I share a love of exploring. He is particularly kinesthetic and delighted in running his hands over a voyaging canoe we found under a canoe shed in one of the villages. In another village we found coconut meat freshly cut from the shell, and I chewed on a piece. I was worried we would get kicked out for being there after hours and wanted to keep a low profile. I didn’t know at the time that the center was run by the LDS Church. If I had I might have been even more anxious about after hours exploration.
By the time we left the center, it was almost dusk. We continued to continue north and return home to Makaha Valley via the north shore. I peered out the window, luxuriating in the stunning views of sunset, waves, and rugged coastline.
Wednesday May 19. We were flying home today. Before returning the car to the mall in Mililani, we wanted to explore nearby Wahiawā Botanical Garden. The twenty-seven acre garden had been an experimental arboretum for sugar cane plantation owners back in the 1930s. We walked paved trails and were surrounded by plants that thrive in the shady, humid tropical rainforest of Central Oʻahu. Huge trees towered above us. Like most rainforests, it is packed with biodiversity. We also wanted a good cup of Joe, and found it at Surfer’s Coffee, located a few short blocks from the garden. The latte was superb and featured locally grown and roasted beans. Exactly what I’d hoped for.
We drove back to Mililani mall and dropped off the car to the ower, who did a walk around and seemed comfortable with its condition. From there, we trundled back to the airport on the local bus, where the driver let us off on the side of the road in the middle of construction. Apparently this bus didn’t cater to tourists. This had been an adventure till the end.