Hawaii Discovery Guide

Overview

Located midway between the United States and Japan in the Pacific Ocean, Hawai’i, the fiftieth American state, is the quintessential image of a tropical paradise. The Aloha State’s six tourist-destination islands (the seventh and eighth, Ni’ihau and Kaho’olawe are rarely visited by outsiders) are at once an outdoor lover’s dream and a place to witness nature’s full fury and power. Nature is particularly at work on the Big Island (named Hawai’i), the southernmost and youngest island in the chain that boasts two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. People from all over the world come annually to witness the lava flows at the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors from the U.S., Japan, Canada and Europe made up the majority of tourists in 2007.

When most people think of Hawai’i, they conjure images of Honolulu’s Waikiki beach, floral leis, surfing, the iconic Aloha Shirt, grass skirts, pineapples and Elvis Presley. However, Hawai’i offers so much more than a vacation spent relaxing on the beach, hanging ten on the North Shore of O’ahu or gorging on poi and kalua pig at a lu’au. There’s turtle-watching on black sand beaches, whale watching in Maui and taking in world premiere movies at the all-island Hawai’i International Film Festival (Hawai’I is an ideal location for many film companies). The land that gave us Don Ho is also the birthplace of the 44th U.S. President, Barack Obama, who hails from the capital city of Honolulu. First Lady Michelle Obama has famously said, “You can’t really understand Barack until you understand Hawai’i.”

Although Hawai’i is a U.S. state, this former independent kingdom boasts its own fascinating language and traditions that date back 500 years ago when the Tahitians settled and 1,500 years ago when the first Polynesians used the stars to navigate their way to the Big Island. Majestic Hawai’ian temples (heiaus), historical sites such as the Puuhonua o Honaunau (Place of Refuge) on the Big Island and the Olowalu Petroglyphs on Maui tell the story of Hawai’ian history before the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778 and the arrival of Protestant missionaries in 1820. The Merrie Monarch Festival, a celebration of music and hula dance held in the Big Island city of Hilo, honors the rich arts and culture of Hawai’i. The Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie on O’ahu gives you a guided tour into the peoples that settled Hawai’i. Don’t miss spectacles such as the Legends of the Pacific that pay tribute to Hawai’ian mythology, an extensive lore that includes tales of the god Maui and the fiery volcano goddess Pele. In addition, O’ahu’s USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor gives a constant reminder of a turning point in United States history.

With mostly year-round beautiful weather (average highs and lows are 80 and 60, respectively), incredible dining options (Kona coffee and shave ice are musts) and an endless array of activities from snorkeling to horseback riding, Hawai’i remains one of the world’s most romantic and exotic destinations.

Tips for First Time Travellers

Hawaii is a year round destination. Expect to pay 40% more than what you’re used to paying; however if you travel during off season – April to December –prices are lower;
On arrival, pick up travel brochures from the visitor information desks in major airports or go to a branch of the Hawaii Visitors’ and Convention Bureau (HVCB);

Public transportation is not 100% reliable so the best way to get around is by car. Ensure you have a full tank at all times because gas stations are spaced out at great distances;
The locals go at a leisurely pace so allow plenty of time for any excursion you’re planning to take. Check the weather before setting out.

Protect yourself from the sun and wind. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunblock. Bring along plenty of water;

Check beach conditions. While most beaches are safe in the summer, they may not be as safe in the winter time. Wear protective footwear as there are corals that can scrape your feet or you could step on a sea urchin or jellyfish;

Hawaii is one of the best places for swimming, snorkeling, diving and surfing. For people who aren’t that crazy about the water, there’s plenty of opportunities for golf, horseback riding and walking/hiking.

Entertainment and Festivals

You’ll get accustomed to the lu-au style of eating. You will love the dances, characterized by Tahiti and Fiji influences. Many nightclubs in Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital, will let you dance until the wee hours of the morning; in some areas of the state, however, bars and restaurants tend to close earlier.

One festival that begins in the early part of summer is Lei Day. The lei is a flower garland put around the necks of visitors when they come to Hawaii. Summer is festival time when the culture, music and food of Hawaii are celebrated. Don’t miss the sports events as well.

Speaking of sports, the locals will most likely urge you to watch the tough competitions of the Ironman Triathlon. Aloha Week Festivals mark the last days of summer. In winter, you can watch the Triple Crown of Surfing and the Merrie Monarch Festival.

The People and the Islands

Over a million inhabitants live in Hawaii which is located mid point betwee the Far East and the US Mainland. The locals are 1/3 non-Asian, 1/3 Japanese and the rest of the population is made up of Filipinos, Chinese, Koreans and Samoans.

Hawaii has been described by travellers and geographers as the world’s most isolated archipelago. It is about 2,500 miles from the US West Coast and is composed of five major islands: O’ahu, Moloka’i, Maui, Hawaii and Kaua’i. It receives about six million visitors a year. Visitors can go island hopping by using the ferry or by purchasing cruise trips. The best way to get around, island-to-island, is still by car.

O’ahu

O’ahu is the state’s largest island in terms of visitors and population. Seventy-five percent of the people live here with a large concentration in Honolulu. Honolulu has two faces: a business district and Waikiki, a world-class resort.

Downtown Honolulu impresses visitors with its numerous Japanese shrines, sky-high buildings, a royal palace and the missionary-style houses constructed New England style. It has a bustling Chinatown, as well as numerous fish and seafood markets.

Stroll to the Kawaiaha’o Church, a structure made with coral blocks and erected in 1842. Right beside it is the Mission Houses Museum. A new England missionary, Reverend Hiram Bingham built it. As you make your way to Chinatown, you’ll be greeted by two huge marble lions that guard the entry point. Here you’ll find the Hawaii Theater, built Art-deco style, and the Izumo Taisha Shrine.

Waikiki Beach is 2.5 miles long, starting from the Hilton Hawaiian Village all the way up to Diamond Head. This strip of beach is packed with beachwear vendors, newlyweds and surfboard peddlers. You’ll also want to drop by historic Pearl Harbor which has been converted to a pilgrimage site.

Moloka’i and Maui

Moloka’i is not so ‘built up’ as Honolulu but that doesn’t mean it has nothing to be proud of. A must-see is the Kalaupapa National Historical Park which is surrounded by large cliffs and separated entirely from Moloka’i. It used to be a leper colony, but is now preserved as a memorial, although a few of its residents are aged patients who preferred to stay when the disease ended in 1969.

If you join hikers on the Kalaupapa Trail, you’ll see the mind-boggling Kauhako Crater which has a lake that is 800 feet deep. Do make a side trip to Hana, often called Hawaii’s only genuine Hawaiian town. It is not as modern but has a relaxed lifestyle and an enviable climate. Drive along the Hana Belt Road and you’ll get gorgeous views of waterfalls, rich vegetation, imposing cliffs and the Honomanu Bay with its black sand beach.

Hawaii Island

It is also called Big Island and you’ll get the chance to gaze at Mauna Loa, the earth’s most massive mountain, which rises 30,000 feet from the ocean floor. It is also here that you will get a glimpse of the world’s most active volcano – Kilauea. It forms part of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Honolulu is to sun while Hilo is to rain. Called “rainy old Hilo” by many, it rains for 278 days of the year. When in downtown Hilo, check out the Lyman Museum and Mission House and the Lili’uokalani Gardens landscaped with Japanese themes.

Kaua’i

They call Kaua’i the Garden Island and according to some travellers, is Hawaii’s most attractive destination. The sites of most interest to visitors are: Kilauea Point (fantastic beaches and marvelous areas for bird-watching), Waimea Canyon and the rugged cliffs along the Kalalau Trail.

Don’t leave Kaua’i without taking a tour of Waimea Canyon, known as the Pacific’s Grand Canyon. It grew out of an earthquake that almost split a town into two. If you want the best spot for viewing, take the Waimea Canyon Lookout.
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