Paradise found: part two

By | Category: Travel destinations

Hawaii is always celebrating but, with the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor on the horizon, Oahu has extra special reason to sing and dance – as JAT journo, Kaye Holland, discovers

Continued from Saturday

 

For further Hawaiian historical insights, head into the heart of Honolulu where you’ll find Iolani Palace – the only official state residence of royalty in the whole of the United States. Close by lies the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, so called in honour of the great granddaughter and last descendant of King Kamehameha unifier of the Hawaiian islands. The museum is home to the world’s largest collection of Polynesian cultural and scientific artefacts, but it was Pacific Hall that appealed the most to me. This newly renovated two story gallery celebrates the cultures and people of the Pacific and explores the early settlement of Hawaii.

Ok so now you’re filled with history and outdoor activity and what you really want is a killer cocktail…raise a glass to the colourful Mai Tai, Hawaii’s favourite drink. Victor Bergeron of Trader Vic’s restaurants first served the Mai Tai – which typically fuses two rums, fresh lime juice, orange Curacai, rock candy syrup and orgeat (almond syrup) – back in 1944 to his friends who, exclaimed in Tahitian “Maita’o roa ae” meaning “Out of this world!”

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Or so the legend goes… Either way, expect Mai Tais – lots and lots of Mai Tais – while on Oahu. The Mai Tai bar at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel ( a veritable pink palace that makes a refreshing change from London’s bland property palette of grey, beige and taupe) is a top spot to try this tropical drink. And don’t worry about the dress code – wearing shoes as opposed to flip flops is considered dressing up on Oahu.

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Maybe it’s the heat or one too many Mai Tais but, after a few hours at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel – which featured prominently in season six of Mad Men – life takes on a trance like quality….

Of course all that drinking, will make you hungry – fortunately Hawaii also offers a surprising breadth of eats. Locals are crazy about canned meat (called spam) and consequently an entire festival – take a bow The Spam Jam – celebrating everything spam has sprung up. Loco moco (a satisfying comfort food dish of rice, fried eggs, patty and gravy) is another ono grind (good eat) that’s served all over Oahu. However if you only eat one meal, make it the plate lunch. Consisting of two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and everything from kalua pork to Korean barbecue, chicken katsu, beef teriyaki or mahimahi, the plate lunch represents comfort food in every sense (even if it’s a disaster for the diet).

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When it comes to dessert, have you ever tried a dish called shaved ice? Well you can in Hawaii. These finely shaved snow cones – whose famous fans include Obama – are served with colourful flavours on the top, with a choice of ice cream or azuki beans on the bottom (don’t knock it until you have tried it) and are a great way to beat the Hawaiian heat. Two popular shaved ice spots include Matsumoto – a tin roofed 1950s style general store and Aoki’s, both on Oahu’s North Shore.

Yet for me, Hawaii is about its people – their spirit, strength and warmth. Wherever you go they’re waiting to greet you with a warm and heart-felt  aloha. Case in point? The coffee baristas who called out to me like they knew me even though I had only been on the island for two days… It’s exactly the kind of thing you won’t find going on in Britain anytime soon. You’ll find a welcome like this all over the island, for there is something in the Hawaiian make-up that is gracious and accommodating and considerate.

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Once you’ve settled in, you won’t have an easy time leaving –  I shed bucket loads of tears prior to boarding my fight back to Blighty. And when I landed in London and turned my phone on to be greeted with 63 Facebook updates, 22 texts and 17 missed calls, I groaned and almost caught the first flight out to Oahu. Because, although there’s WiFi almost everywhere – even in the middle of the rainforest where I was staying –  Hawaii has a way of making you unplug. So you won’t be surprised to read that I am seriously tempted to unpack my bags for good – despite the expense.

Yes Hawaii is pricey  – even if you Airbnb it – which explains why most locals juggle multiple jobs, just like Dennis Bacani. “Everyone in Hawaii has more than one job,” explains Dennis who works in a laboratory by day and as a shuttle driver by night. And on Tuesdays – Dennis’ one day off? He works as a tour guide showing tourists around his island because, while Oahu undoubtedly has awesome scenery, beauty doesn’t pay the bills…

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Yet cost issues (and as someone who lives in Londoner where even a mediocre filter coffee will set you back £3, I’m used to expense) aside, Hawaii is a magical place.

During my month on Oahu, I loved drifting off to the sound of the rainforest, never knowing what tomorrow would bring… hiking, hanging ten or simply enjoying ono grinds (good eats) with new friends. I learned to enjoy seeing where the day would take me – a world away from life in London where everything is mapped out for weeks, if not months, in advance.

All told, Oahu is a unique and special destination (and if you don’t agree, well we can’t be friends any longer). You’ll become more of yourself. You’ll discover more about who you are and how you want to live. Bottom line? Once you have been to Hawaii, it will never be far from your mind.

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Or as Andy Kealoha – a lifelong Waikiki entertainer and composer – famously phrased it:

“[Hawaii] My whole life is empty without you

I miss that magic about you

Magic beside the sea.”

 Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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