Hawaii: Magical islands in the sun





I was told to pack some clothes for freezing weather. I thought they were joking at first – but the people at the Hawaii Tourism South-East Asia office in Kuala Lumpur were serious.

They were a helpful lot with the itinerary suggestions and insightful tips. And they kindly gave me the contacts for the respective tourism authorities of the various Hawaiian islands.

Big Island

I flew in to Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, and rushed off to catch my connecting flight to the Big Island of Hawaii, one of the eight main islands – and the biggest – in the island-state. It is twice the size of all the other islands combined. I only had time to check out the western part of the island for the two nights I was there in late October last year. Thanks to pointers from the Island of Hawaii Visitor’s Bureau, I made the most out of my time there.

The view from the Hilo Hawaii­an Hotel was amazing – the lagoon and the bay in front; and in the distance, Mauna (which means mountain) Kea and, to its left, Mauna Loa. The hotel felt surprisingly familiar – it reminded me of the hotels in Malaysia that I have seen in pictures from the 1970s. This was reinforced in Honololu, as it looked like KL in the 1970s, and there’s even an area resembling Kampung Baru.

The scenery throughout Hawaii state (or at least on the three islands I visited) is stunning, just like on TV and in the movies. For instance, at the remarkable Rainbow Falls, lots of “Oohs”, “Aahs” and clicking sounds could be heard. The falls supposedly hold the burial place of King Kameha­meha I, who united Hawaii under one kingdom in 1810.

My affable guide Arthur dragged me away, saying there was a long drive ahead along the Hamakua Coast. Continuous breathtaking vistas was the reward.

My first stop, the sacred Waipo Valley, is breathtaking with its verdant green and cliffs. The place where thousands of native Hawaiians used to live is now home to fewer than 100 people.

A lunch stop at the Parker Ranch Centre in Waimea was interesting, for two reasons. It seemed to have a line drawn through the town – one side, rainy and the other, sunny. Apparently, there are 11 climate zones on the island and they could be next to each other. Parker Ranch is owned by the family of John Parker, the sailor who jumped ship off Hawaii and ended up being one of the biggest landowners in the state.

The view from the writer’s hotel on the Big Island, with Mauna Kea in the background.

Maui is the getaway island for Hawaiians.

Maui

The island of Maui is to Hawaii what Langkawi is to Malaysia. It’s where the wealthy live or have their vacations. The beaches are amazing but I hardly had time to “test” them out, as I wanted to make it in time for the Laihana Historic trail which was highly recommended by the Maui Visitor’s Bureau.

The old Laihana Courthouse houses the Heritage Museum, and waiting there for us was a tall, silver-haired man decked out in a leafy headdress with a shell necklace and a batik pareo worn over shorts – our guide Keoki.

Through Keoki, I learnt the enthralling history of Hawaii and Maui. It was fascinating to find out that written language was only introduced in 1820 and that it was forbidden to speak Hawaiian after it was colonised, till as recently as 1978!

I couldn’t resist taking the Blue Hawaiian Helicopter tour – it was a dream come true. The rain was a dampener, though, and because I was seated on the other end of the copter (we were seated according to weight distribution) meant not-so-great pictures. Still, the experience was incomparable, overlooking Maui and the neighbouring secluded island of Molokai, with the world’s highest cliffs (1,010m) and the tallest waterfall (Oloupena, 900m) in the state.

And what’s Hawaii without a luau (with pig roasting in a sand pit, and hula dancers). I experienced two – at Old Laihana Luau and the Polynesian Cultural Centre on the island of Oahu.

A luau, just like in the old days. No, this is not Easter Island, but a valley at Kualoa Ranch.

Oahu

One of the highlights was the visit to the 1,619ha Kualoa Ranch, a cattle ranch, in the north of the island. There are lots of activities for adventure-seekers: all-terrain vehicles, ziplines and horse-riding.

One of the highlights was a “deja-vu” tour. For on this ranch, many movies and TV series have been, and are, filmed. (I missed out on seeing Dwayne Johnson and the cast of Hawaii Five-0 by a day.)

You’ll see several familiar sights from movies like Jurassic World and Jurassic Park, Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island (currently being screened in Malaysia). Super-exciting and fun!

The next day was a poignant one, when we visited Pearl Harbor, a must-do when in Oahu. The memorials are respectful of history, especially the Arizona Memorial and USS Missouri. (I’ll admit that I teared up a bit.) I’m thankful that the Oahu Visitor’s Bureau convinced me to go on this tour.

The shaka sign (meaning to hang loose) is strongly associated with Hawaii, as are the words aloha (welcome) and mahalo (thank you).

However, it was “wetness” of another sort when I hiked up to the summit of Diamond Head. The physical exertion and the sweat-soaked tee (and shorts) were worth the glorious views I got of Honolulu and the famed Waikiki Beach.

Perhaps because I was tired, but ending the night with a musical show ala Moana at the Magic of Polynesia saw me drifting into la-la-land.

My last night in Oahu started with an educational and entertaining visit to the Iolani Palace, the former royal residence from the time of King Kamehameha III, with its European influences. Across the road is the Ali’iolani Hale building with a statue of King Kamehameha I; fans of Five-0 will recognise it as the headquarters of that fictional police force.

Bishop Museum is also worth a stop as it is pretty much Hawaii’s museum of natural and cultural history.

I was lucky as my trip coincided with the famed Foodtopia; I had snagged tickets to the event! Well-known chefs from across the world converged at the Ko Olina Resort to offer us their concoctions – including Poi, the Hawaiian taro dish that’s all the rage now. The meals in Hawaii are giant-sized, even more so than the rest of America. Burp!

So I left with some wonderful memories, including of multiple rainbows every day (Hawaii is not called “the rainbow state” for nothing) and beautiful beaches which are all accessible to the public. Perfect, yes?

(STAR2)

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