There are two sides to Hawaii — the lush tourism and fascinating history
Names like Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head conjure beauty and long, sandy shorelines. But how many of us know the history and tourism in Oahu. Have you visited the Bishop Museum and the Iolani Palace? These sights exemplify the stark differences between tourist Hawaii and natural Hawaii.
For my short-lived visit, I stayed in the far southwest corner of the island. However, I filled every day with activities, both natural and historic. When I suggested that I put together a post about the two sides of Hawaii — history and nature — the response was positive. So, here it is.
When traveling at the tail end (hopefully) of the pandemic, follow Hawaii’s protocols for visiting. I know several travelers who have been refused entry because of errors in where they received COVID tests.
The history and tourism in Oahu of the Hawaiian Islands
Prior to visiting Hawaii, I recommend that travelers read James Michener’s Hawaii. This novel based on history provides an overview of the islands and their development.
Michener looks at the different ethnic groups and how they came to be on the islands. The original group fled from Bora Bora. This formed the royalty of the island. Then the missionaries came. Michener leads the reader through the establishment of Chinese and Japanese families as members of the community and shows how each of them contributed to the development of the islands. Michener uses historical facts to develop the story of his novel.
From missionaries to businessmen
The novel begins in the ninth century and ends in the mid-1950s. The novel shows how the descendants of the original missionaries became the leading families in terms of business, wealth, and politics. The many intermarriages resulted in all of the originals becoming known as the family. Some married Hawaiians. Most were sent to America to be educated. When they left the ministry they went into business on the islands. Over the years, these businesses developed into the most powerful and successful ones on the islands.
Visit the Bishop Museum, founded in 1889 when the Islands were a kingdom. The museum originally was intended to house the legacy of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last heir to Kamehameha I. Bishop Museum boasts the largest collection of Hawaii and Pacific area artifacts in the world. The restored Picture Gallery provides a window into the nineteenth century. Pieces from the Museum’s extraordinary collection of oil paintings and rare books from the museum library will be displayed on a rotating basis.
Learn about the independent kingdom of Hawaii
The Iolani Royal Palace sits as the spiritual center of old Hawaii. This unique state started as an independent kingdom. The Iolani Palace, the home of the monarchy, had electricity, plumbing, and phone service prior to both the White House and Buckingham Palace. Much of the furniture which had been sold when the building was turned into an office. The building has been repurchased and restored. Here the businessmen who took over the government imprisoned the last Hawaiian Queen.
Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial are devoted to the surprise attack that started WWII with Japan. The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center is operated by the National Park Service and is open daily from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day). Admission and parking are free to all visitors. Get tickets online prior to coming to the memorial or the National Park Service gives out over 1,300 free walk-up tickets each day on a first come, first served basis. Be sure to arrive early for these walk-up tickets; the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center opens at 7 a.m.
The USS Arizona Memorial is built over the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona, the final resting place for many of the 1,177 crewmen killed on December 7, 1941, when their ship was bombed by the Japanese Naval Forces. This loss of life represents over half of the Americans killed during the worst naval disaster in American history.
Touristic Hawaii — History and tourism in Oahu
These sites mentioned above, except for the Arizona Memorial, are little known outside of Hawaii. Most visitors come to these islands to enjoy the wonderful weather, beaches, surfing, and tropical vegetation. Waikiki is a name known far and wide for luxury beach vacations and swaying palm trees. For me, this Honolulu beach is far too urban.
Since I had a rental car, I had the freedom to drive across the island. Rental cars are not terribly expensive and they make staying in vacation homes much easier and convenient.
See the Kapi’olani Farmers Market and a drive north from Diamond Head
I drove to the big Kapiʻolani Community College (KCC) farmers market and bought greens for dinner and papaya for the next day’s breakfast. The stalls were filled with exotic fruits and vegetables. The market operates on Saturday morning from 7:30 until 11 a.m. and on Tuesday evenings from 4-7 p.m.
A spectacular drive up Highway 72 takes visitors from Diamond Head to the Makapuu lighthouse. The setting for this point is wonderful and is reached by hiking about three miles (round trip) up a trail from a carpark. Parking can be tight and the trail is a path populated with families, strollers, pooches, and camera-clad sightseers. From the top of the point, the views northward up the Makapu’u beach stretching toward the North Shore is breathtaking.
Enjoy few tourists and wild nature on the western side of Hawaii
On the other side of the island, the drive up the western shore of Hawaii will quickly convince travelers that Hawaii is not only a haven for the wealthy. Here, small houses are packed into communities and cars seem to fill everyone’s yards. The beaches stretch for the most part rugged, but some seem manicured. This side of Hawaii escaped discovery by most guidebooks and tourists. It shows us the hidden rugged part and the uncrowded part of today’s history and tourism in Oahu.
At the far northern end of the shoreline, the road stops. It is a dead-end. Prior to the road ending, there is a small cave, Kaneana Cave, where legend says mankind emerged and his existence spread throughout the Waianae Coast. On the road back to civilization Makaha Beach Park has some good surfing and a nearby town with a collection of stores and a surprisingly good Hawaiian restaurant filled with locals, Hannara Restaurant. It serves everything from breakfast to Korean to Hawaiian specialties like Kalua Pig and cabbage, Lau Lau, Poi, and Loco Moco. If looking for local culture, this is the place.
It is tourist time again with Disney, Olina Beach, and a Luau
Finally, we come to the cluster of upscale hotels at Ko Olina. Here, the Four Seasons, Disney’s Aulani Resort, and Marriott’s Olina Beach Club rise side by side. At the far northern sector of the neighborhood, Paradise Cove Luau beckons. Some come to Hawaii and never leave this corner of Oahu. There is swimming in four lagoons and a manicured landscaped garden surrounding the area. The nearby Paradise Cove Luau is one of Oahu’s top entertainment venues, with a full show, rides on outrigger canoes, and a luau show complete with a roasted pig pulled freshly from the pit. A more perfect place to end your trip through the history and tourism in Oahu cannot be found.
To finish off any tour of Oahu make sure to make your way to Kamehameha Bakery for their Malasadas. The local transportation worker who told us about this place lit up when he described malasadas. Ours did, too, when we tasted them. These wonderful pastries and donuts provide a reason themselves to return to this industrial section of Honolulu, not too far from the airport. I’ll even bet your taxi driver knows his or her way to get here when visitors head to the airport to depart. Also, if kids are in tow, make sure to try Hawaiian shave ice (not shaved ice).
Photos © C.Leocha except where noted.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 11 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.