50 States in 50 Days: Hawai’i – The Islands of Aloha

Posted by: Katherine Munchmeyer, Management Counselor

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Aerial view of Niihau Island in Hawaii, looking southwestward from the north. Taken by Christopher P. Becker (polihale.com) on 25 Sep 2007 from a helicopter.
Aerial view of Niihau Island in Hawaii, looking southwestward from the north. Taken by Christopher P. Becker (polihale.com) on 25 Sep 2007 from a helicopter.

Hawai’i, the Aloha State.  Eight magic islands where the sun will shine:  The Big Island of Hawai’i, Maui, Moloka’i, Lana’i, Kaho’olawe, O’ahu, Kaua’i, and Ni’ihau.  The names themselves evoke the exotic nature of this former island kingdom, now the 50th state in the Union.

Growing up in Hawai’i, I had no idea I was growing up in paradise.  As a kid I took for granted the tropical climate, the cooling trade winds, the white sandy beaches and clear blue waters.  As an adult, just writing about my home state makes me want to hop on a plane and head for the islands.  In fact I have done it – gotten on a plane on the east coast of the Mainland (as Islanders refer to the contiguous 48 states) in the morning, and jumped in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean in the afternoon.  That was “da kine” awesome day, man.

In fact, what brings tourists back time and again to the islands is precisely their beauty and gentleness.  Tourism is the single most important industry on the islands, overtaking agricultural cornerstones of sugar and pineapple.  Over 7 million come to visit this state whose own population is just under 1.5 million.  And who can blame them?  A cold day in Hawai’i rarely gets below 15C, while hot summer days usually stay below 30C.  And there is so much to see and do!  Of course, most people think of Hawai’i and its beaches.  The most famous is

View of Waikiki Beach area hotels.
View of Waikiki Beach area hotels.

Waikiki, which is framed by the classic outline of Diamond Head crater.  But travel around the island and you’ll find the unique Hanauma Bay, with its beautiful coral reef in the middle of another collapsed volcanic crater.  Put on your mask and snorkel and you can view the many colorful tropical fishes normally found behind the glass of exotic aquariums. The beach at Kailua is a great place for windsurfing, or a wedding at sunset. Up on the North Shore you can watch the surfers at Waiamea Bay – just be careful not to let those waves wash you away!  The best part about Hawai’i’s beaches is that they are all public.  Regardless of how exclusive the hotel or wealthy the estate, the property rights end where the sand begins.

The most popular destination is still the main island of O’ahu, where the capital Honolulu is located.  Honolulu is incidentally where Barack Obama was born, and where he graduated from Punahou School, my alma mater.  Maui is the second-most popular island.  The town of Lahaina still retains the flavor of its old whaling days.  You can climb Mount Hale’akala and witness the sunrise as did Mark Twain.  But my favorite is still the Big Island of Hawai’i.  It is here you can feel the power of Pele, the goddess of fire.  According to legend, Pele was exiled from her home in Tahiti by her father because she was always fighting with her sister, the Goddess of the Sea.  Pele created each of the Hawaiian islands, but her sister always put the fire out, until a final epic battle in which Pele died and was transformed into a goddess herself.  She now resides in the volcano Kilauea, which has been erupting along a rift zone continuously since 1983.  Hawaiian volcanoes are normally relatively gentle.  It is possible to visit the crater of Kilauea, and to walk over the recent lava paths to witness new land being formed as the new lava flows slowly into the sea.  But be careful how you treat Pele – legend also has it that if you take a piece of lava or otherwise anger the goddess she will bring you nothing but trouble!


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