If you learn one word while visiting Hawaii, make it “aloha” which translates to “al” – face-to-face and “ha” – the breath of life. Not just an all-purpose island greeting and farewell, aloha means love, friendship and responsibility – not simply for one another but for the earth. When you’re the most isolated population on the planet, widely separated from your nearest neighbours – Japan by 4,000 miles and California, by 2,400 miles – it’s imperative to preserve harmony and care for your surroundings. The Hawaiian “aloha spirit law” enacted in 1986 and born of the aloha mentality is not simply given lip service. It’s actively enforced.
If the challenges of a less-than-kindly outside world have you planning a Hawaiian holiday, why not experience the spirit of aloha on two completely different islands – Maui and Molokai?
Anakala Pilipo Solatorio blows his conch shell to welcome you to the Halawa Valley. Photo credit: Liz Fleming
The fifth largest of the major islands has passionately preserved the old traditions to remain largely what Hawaii once was. Though just as beautiful of any of her sisters, Molokai has somehow, luckily, gone unnoticed by the developers. With just a few hotels and restaurants, her charms aren’t commercial – they’re both natural and sensual. Immerse yourself in the sweet scent of the golden flowers in the orchard at the Molokai Plumeria Farm, strolling through what feels like endless rows of flowering trees, all exuding a sweet perfume. Later, enjoy the feeling of those soft, velvety petals in your hands as you learn to string them together to make a traditional Hawaiian lei.
For something deliciously different, visit the Purdy Macadamia Nut Farm for a slightly eccentric tour led by the owner who’ll sternly explain the merits of his growing systems but then graciously offer you a chance to savour the meaty, rich nuts and sweet macadamia honey.
Molokai is all about getting in touch with the natural world, so forget sleeping in one morning and instead, head to the Wa’akapaemua Canoe Club, where the welcoming members will add you to one of their canoe teams. You’ll love the sound of paddles dipping into the ocean in unison as waves slap against the sides of the huge canoes. It’ll be hard pulling to get out to the reefs but when you see the enormous sea turtles waiting, just below the waves, you’ll know every stroke was worth it.
A view of the historic leper colony site in Kalaupapa National Park. Photo credit: Dana Edmunds / Hawaii Tourism Authority
Hike to the sweeping cliffside at Kalaupapa National Park to see the remote site of the leper colony below, where hundreds of souls suffering from Hansen’s disease were once sent to live out their lives. A nearby museum houses photos and first-hand accounts that will give you an understanding of why despite the isolation, a sense of community grew so strong that a few residents have chosen to stay and live their last days there.
Discover why the small town of Kaunakakai has the best nightlife in Hawaii. Instead of downing expensive cocktails in the expensive frenzy of a nightclub, instead line up for a loaf of freshly baked bread, slathered with a sinfully fabulous combination of butter, cinnamon and sugar. No crowds, no over-heated clubs, no international deejays pumping out music. All you need for a great Molokai evening is to take your place at the back-street window of Kanemitsu Bakery. Make your purchase, then stand on the corner, chat with your friends and munch on that giant round loaf. It’s hot bread bliss.
Making a traditional Hawaiian lei at Molokai Plumeria Farm. Photo credit: Dana Edmunds / Hawaii Tourism Authority
All of this is Molokai – sweet, simple and serene – but the quintessential moment – the moment you feel that you’ve truly entered the heart of the island, comes when Anakala Pilipo Solatorio blows his conch shell to welcome you to his home, the Halawa Valley. The last survivor of the 1946 tsunami, chosen at the age of five to be the protector and the keeper of valley traditions, Anakala proudly wears a traditional leafy lei as he tells the history of his people and his place, in a soft, melodic voice. Gently, he explains his understanding of the aloha spirit and the responsibility we all share to protect our earth and each other. As he speaks, the breeze softly rustles the vines, the sound of the waterfall thunders in the distance and quite suddenly you realize you’ve found the heart of Hawaii.
The second largest of the islands, Maui is the Hawaii you dream of on frigid wintry days. The ultimate jet-setter’s paradise, Maui features white sand beaches and aquamarine waves all near elegant shopping malls oozing big name shops. Just shake the sand off your sandals before you stroll in to buy that Coach bag. High-end hotels, like the Fairmont Kea Lani, welcome you with wall-to-wall marble lobbies, sparkling fountains and glittering swimming pools. Whether you actually are rich and famous or not, Maui will certainly make you feel that way.
Maui’s natural wonders. Photo credit: Tor Johnson / Hawaii Tourism Authority
But Maui is much more than a beachy shopping opportunity. This lush island invites you to hike to the top of a 10,000 ft. volcano one early morning to watch the sun rise over the ocean, or swim behind clear, cascading waterfalls. Hop into a boat with a friendly guide to search for migrating humpback whales and watch dolphins leaping in the waves. Rent a board and hang ten – it seems the surf’s always up in Maui. Cool off later with a big cup of ‘shave ice’, a Maui treat that mixes crushed ice with any number of yummy flavourings to create a sort of high-end Hawaiian slushy.
On any island, the sea is always with you – the sound of the waves, the salt in the air, the glimpses of blue around every turn in the road. What sets Maui apart, however, is the way the residents of that sea are celebrated at the cleverly-designed Maui Ocean Center – the Aquarium of Hawaii. This popular site is home to every kind of local sea creature you can imagine, housing one of the largest collections of live Pacific corals in the world, as well as outdoor tide pools and a 750,000-gallon Open Ocean exhibit. When you’re not watching one of the presentations by skilled marine naturalists, walk through the 240-degree viewing tunnel. With creatures gliding and swimming above and beside you, you’ll feel as if you’re truly under the sea.
The Maui Ocean Center is home to every kind of local sea creature you can imagine. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority
For a whiff of something entirely different visit the Ali`i Kula Lavender farm on the slopes of Haleakala (House of the Sun), in what’s known as ‘upcountry Maui’. You’ll be immersed in the 45 species of lavender – as well as other beautiful, native Hawaiian species – grown there. If you’re really a lavender-lover, buy a garden lunch basket complete with a lavender-infused dessert to enjoy on the grounds. Be sure to arrive midmorning, so you can enjoy the intensifying scent as the sun evaporates the dew. Your head will be filled with it all day and your heart will take it home.
IF YOU GO The busiest month to visit the islands of Hawaii is July, followed closely by December. Rainfall is at its lowest from April through September, but hurricane season runs from the beginning of June through November. That said, April and May are ideal months with warm, dry days but January-March are also popular. Your travel advisor can assist with your booking and provide more information.
Written by Liz Fleming for Cruise and Travel Lifestyles (Winter/Spring 2019). Main photo:
Outrigger canoe at Molokai’s Wa’akapaemua Canoe Club. Photo credit: Tor Johnson / Hawaii Tourism Authority