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Hawaii wants you! The Hawaii Tourism Authority wants you to visit. GoHawaii wants you to visit. LonelyPlanet.com may not care whether or not you visit Hawaii, but LonelyPlanet.com’s Hawaii page does hint that the state is as close as one can get to an earthly paparadise. Lonely Planet also tells us that 50% of Hawaiian marriages are inter ethnic and that Hawaii’s state fish is the humuhumunukunukuapua’a (reef triggerfish). Now doesn’t that make you want to visit all the more?
Hawaii may be crawling with tourists, and you may even have been one of them at a time, but not all the main Hawaiian islands are tourist meccas. In fact, two are privately owned and one has become a wasteland. Of the others, some will wow you with their multicultural wonders, others are just so extraordinarily beautiful you can’t help but want to stay. Let’s learn a bit about the eight main Hawaiian islands. We’ll go roughly from west to east:
— Ni’ihau (“The Forbidden Isle”):
In 1864 King Kamehameha V raised a bit of cash–$10,000 in gold–by selling one of the Hawaiian islands, Ni’ihau, to a family of wealthy Scots known as the Sinclairs. Eliza McHucheson-Sinclair moved her family of farmers from New Zealand, where they had sold their land for a profit, and brought them to Honolulu. When they bought Ni’ihau they also effectively bought the 350 Native Hawaiian islanders at the time, turning them into tenants. The Sinclairs were devout fundamentalist Christians and decreed that all islanders should attend church, may not drink alcohol and should not smoke cigarettes. They distributed Bibles, translated into the Hawaiian language and forbade manual work on Sundays. After Eliza died one of her grandsons, Aubrey Robinson, became owner of Ni’ihau, and he passed along the islands to his own grandsons, Keith and Bruce Robinson. Keith Robinson is an active conservationist who has engaged in bitter battles with the Hawaiian government and with environmentalists over how best to preserve
endangered species, both animal and vegetative, on the island. Are the Robinsons admirable environmentalists who have dedicated their lives, not to mention their family fortune, to keep Ni’ihau pristine? Or, are the Robinsons old-school paternalistic plantation masters–potentially violent, if threatened–who want to keep Ni’ihau’s residents primitive and therefore “pure?” Robinson Crusader is a documentary about Keith Robinson and decide for yourself.
Today the less than two hundred residents of Ni’ihau are Native Hawaiian and primarily speak a particular dialect of Hawaiian language. Most residents are subsistence farmers or fishers or otherwise live low-tech lives. According to Wikipedia’s entry on Ni’ihau, rent is free on the island, meat is free…solar power is the exclusive source of electricity. There’s no telephone service on Ni’ihau, nor cars–residents get around on horseback or on bicycle. There are no hotels, not even a general store; barges deliver groceries from Kauai’. Tourism is effectively banned on Ni’ihau, though some helicopter tours are now allowed. Some of Ni’ihau’s beaches are legendarily strewn with garbage that has floated there from other islands, which probably would not be the case if every inch of the island was groomed for tourism.
[Visit the Ni’ihau Cultural Heritage Foundation | Jane’s Oceania’s take on Niihau | Learn more about Keith Robinson: “Hawaiian Plantsman Confounds Greenies.” | Alan Loyd introduces you to Niihau’s history and landscape in two YouTube videos: “Niihau–Hawaii’s Forbidden Island A Rare Tour”: Part 1 & Part 2 | (a link for grown-ups) “The Niihau Incident“–a Japanese pilot crash lands on Niihau after the attack on Pearl Harbor and meets a violent end]
— Kaua’i (“The Garden Isle”):
Kaua’i is a wonder. Canyons and cliffs and sprawling, almost-startling nature…. You don’t go to Kaua’i to sit on a beach–you go to Kaua’i to hike, to kayak, to have adventures. You may also go to Kaua’i to hobnob with movie stars. More than seventy Hollywood movies and TV shows have been filmed in Kaua’i, including the musical South Pacific, scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark and that shot in the opening credits of M*A*S*H with the helicopter flying over mountain top…if you’re of a certain age, you know the one. If you’re of an even more certain age, you’ll be most familiar with Kaua’i from movies by Elvis–the young Elvis. [Let Beth Fisher introduce you, by way of video, to Kaua’i; “Heaven on Earth (Except for the Mosquitos).”]
— O’ahu (“The Gathering Place”):
O’ahu is Hawai’i’s most modern, most ethnically diverse, most urban, most active island. Honolulu, Hawai’i’s biggest city, is the centerpiece of O’ahu, but there are natural wonders galore–surfing, snorkeling and swimming and even roasting in the sun. [Meet O’ahu.]
— Moloka’i (“The Friendly Isle”):
Why go to Moloka’i? If you read Lonely Planet’s list of the top 10 Moloka’i travel experiences the more likely question would be, “why not?” What kind of adventures on tiny Molokai made the top 10? Visit the nearly uninhabited dense tropical forest of the Halawa Valley. Bring your family to swim in he shallow water of the lagoon near Kumimi Beach. Hike along the world’s highest sea cliffs in Kalaupapa National Historical Park (though watch out for people with Hansen’s disease). Mountain bike in the Moloka’i Forest Reserve, snorkel and scuba dive on along the Moloka’i reef. Or, when all else fails, “go fly a kite.” Ultimately, though, “Moloka’i is one of the planet’s finest spots to do something very rare and special in today’s day and age: nothing at all.” [Hear the voices of Moloka’i’s people–the island’s greatest national research–in this video: “Molokai words of wisdom.”]
— Lana’i (“The Pineapple Isle”):
Lana’i was a relatively quiet and autonomous island for centuries until the first King Hamehameha violently asserted control in the late 1700’s, devastating most of the population. Settlers turned the island briefly into a Mormon stronghold before transforming it into the headquarters of a sugar company. In 1922, as described above, James Dole, president of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (later known as the Dole Food Company), bought the entire island to use as a pineapple plantation. Today the island belongs to billionaire David Howard Murdock who owns the parent company of Dole. As the pineapple and sugarcane plantations became less prominent the island has developed into a destination for tourists who flock there for its slow pace of life–there are no traffic lights or
shopping malls in LanaÊ»i City–and its romantic resorts. [“I Miss You My Lanai.”]
— Kaho’olawe (“The Target Isle”):
Kaho’olawe is off the main tourist path, but it is an important spiritual place for Hawaiians. For centuries the island has featured prominently in Hawaiian history, culture and religion. The 20th century, however, was rough on Kaho’olawe. There has been substantial deforestation and overgrazing by sheep, cattle and goats, leading to erosion of the island’s soil, several feet of which have blown off in the Pacific wind. The U.S. military’s use of the island as a place for frequent target practice hasn’t helped. Today the island’s soil appears to have an unnatural tinge of pink. [Can anything save Kaho’olawe’s environment? Watch “Kaho’olawe: A Sacred Island Restored.”]
— Maui (“The Valley Isle”):
Maui has jungles and volcanic craters and beaches and whale watching and luaus (more about them below) and fantastic multi-ethnic food and ritzy resorts and down-home bed and breakfasts and, well…everything. [This is what visitors see when they come to Maui. This is what you’re more likely to do when you live on Maui.]
— Hawai’i (“The Big Island”):
Hawai’i, “the Big Island,” is in fact twice as large as the all the other Hawaiian Islands combined. The Big Island has five volcanoes including its most active (Kilauea). The Big Island has towering mountains and vast lava fields and sandy white beaches and dense rainforests and stunning coral reefs. The Big Island is also home to much of Hawai’i’s culture–ancient temples and spiritual sites galore, as well as its second-largest city, Hilo. The Big Island has everything too! [“Six Great Spots on Hawaii’s Big Island.“]