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By Katy Nastro
| October 15, 2019
How well do you really know Hawai’i? You might feel familiar with the state, having worn a hibiscus-print shirt or drunk a mai tai from a wooden tiki head. Perhaps you’ve even surfed the internet pinning pictures of waterfalls and beach sunsets that make you feel like you’ve visited the tropical islands without ever having set foot on their fine-grained shores.
Now, with Hawaiian Airlines’ recent addition of a non-stop flight from Boston to Honolulu, it’s easier than ever to trade surfing the web for surfing real waves. While you’re at it, trade the typical Hawaiian tourist’s itinerary for a set of truly unique experiences you can have only on this set of dreamy islands.
Everyone telling you about poke bowls and dole whip?Try the local plate lunch, instead
Taking your taste buds on a trip is always a great way to start a vacation. Since you can find poke bowls and dole whip in most places, why not branch out from the ordinary and try a dish with history? Introducing the local plate lunch.
Pan-asian with a touch of European roots, and served in true American-sized portions, local plate lunch is a traditional meal made up of two scoops of white rice, a side of mayo-based macaroni salad, and a protein or two, such as kalua pork, chicken katsu, or teriyaki beef. In the late 1800s, immigrant plantation workers counted on this hearty lunch to fuel them for long, hard days. Now, you can find it being served at long-time local establishments like Rainbow Drive-In or Alicia’s Market in Honolulu.
If you prefer your cultural dishes with a more sophisticated edge, check out Mahina and Sons, located just off the main drag in Waikīkī on the island of O‘ahu. Try the buttered ‘Ulu (breadfruit) with chili pepper water aioli and fresh caught grilled Opa fish. ʻOno (yum)!
Everyone telling you to hit the beach at sunset?Try exploring a bit of desert
Hawaii’s beaches are gorgeous, there’s no doubt. But don’t overlook another sandy Hawaiian treasure: Keahiakawelo (Garden of the Gods) in Lānaʻi, a small island with a population of just over 3,000 and an ethereal beauty all of its own.
As Hawaiian legend has it, this landscape of boulders and red rock was created when a kahuna (priest) used every bit of vegetation in Keahiakawelo as kindling during a fire burning challenge. Rent an ATV at sunset to explore in a glowing ambiance of burnt orange, or go just before the sun goes down for some of the clearest views of Moloka‘i and O‘ahu, thanks to Keahiakawelo’s high elevation.
Everyone telling you that you must have a Maui Mai Tai?Opt for some Maui Brewing Co. beer
Maui’s 30 miles of red-, black-, and white-sand beaches go hand-in-hand with a beach cocktail…or two. You might even be tempted to indulge in a Mai Tai at 30,000 feet on your Hawaiian Airlines flight to start your island vacation early. While the rum-based concoction is certainly a treat, if you’re looking for more of a local experience (or longevity), try sipping on a beer from Hawaii’s largest craft brewery, Maui Brewing Co.
Since 2005, founders of Maui Brewing Co. Melanie and Garrett Marrero, have been turning local agriculture into deliciously satisfying beers. The family owned, locally sourced brewery began in Kahana, West Maui, but has grown so popular that they now operate three restaurants across Maui and O‘ahu in addition to their brewery in Kīhei, Maui.
“We wanted to honor the island and all of its wonderful natural produce to influence traditional styles of beer,” Garret Marrero says. For the brewery’s Porter beer, for instance, they toast real local coconuts in-house, using no extracts, to give it a unique flavor. “You’ll actually be able to smell the coconut toasting on when you take the brewery tour,” Marrero notes.
Now serving up locally sourced food, distilling their own local gin, and mixing up canned cocktails for your next Hawaiian beach day, Maui Brewing Co. has something for everyone.
Everyone telling you to check out local hot lava?Try sipping some hot Kona Coffee, instead
Recently, visitors have been trekking to Hawai’i Island, also known as “The Big Island,” to catch a glimpse of lava flow from Kīlauea, an active volcano that erupted just over a year ago. It’s unlikely that you’ll still be able to see hot lava streaming from Kīlauea, so instead, watch local coffee farmers produce a steamy cup of Kona Coffee with beans from the island’s volcanic earth.
The rich soil combined with consistent cloud coverage create a perfect growing environment for the coffee plants. Only coffee coming from the Kona districts of the Big Island can be labeled as such, making it a hot commodity (pun intended).
You can find over 650 coffee farms on the hills of Hualālai and Mauna Loa, but one of the oldest in the business is Greenwell Farms in Kealakekua, Hawai’i. Henry Greenwell started the farm in 1850, and later generations have preserved and grown the brand to notoriety as one of the most premium Kona coffee producers in the state. “A tour of our farm here at Greenwell is a step back in history,” says fourth generation farmer Tom Greenwell. “Local tour guides take visitors through a small planting of 100-plus-year-old trees planted by my great grandmother.” These trees still produce coffee cherry, which is one of many award-winning roasts and products visitors can sample at the end of their tour.
Everyone suggesting you rent a Jeep?Hit the pavement and explore by bike or foot
Many visitors come to Hawai’i, rent the two- or four-door topless Wrangler, and hit the winding island roads. There are dozens of amazing roads to cruise, but getting out into the fresh Hawaiian air can’t be beat. Dubbed the Garden Island, Kaua‘i is perfect for travelers who love the great outdoors.
Hike part of the luscious and dramatic Nāpali coast, which had a cameo in Jurassic Park, along the Kalalau trail. Or, head into the Waimea Canyon, sometimes referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, for unbeatable views. For the less experienced trailblazer, take in Kauai’s natural beauty by walking or biking the well-paved coastal Ke Ala Hele Makalae Path.
No matter which Hawaiian path you choose, guided tours are often available to provide historical context to a hike or a bit more adventure, like volcano biking tours at some of Hawaii’s National Parks.
Everyone telling you to see a surf contest?Watch a “Channel of Bones” competition, instead
Heading to the North Shore of O‘ahu to watch a surf contest is a classic Hawai’i experience. But there are a lot more competitions happening in the waters of Hawai’i than most people know. Case and point: Have you ever heard of the “Channel of Bones?”
The famed Kaiwi channel between the islands of O‘ahu and Moloka‘i gets its chilling name not only due to the literal Hawaiian translation of Kaiwi being “bone,” but also due to its notoriously powerful open water. In Hawaiian tradition, bones are considered sacred and should be treated with respect, and these waters are no exception. Many fear the lethal roughly 26-mile stretch, while others place the crossing at the top of their adventure bucket lists. “The wind, current, and waves can be unusually fierce on any given day, [so] underestimating it can be fatal,” says Moloka‘i 2 Oahu race director Mike Takahashi. “It is both beautiful and unforgiving at the same time.”
Water sport athletes from all over the world travel to take on the crossing as a right of passage. Prone paddle boarders, Stand Up Paddlers, and pros in Hawaiian outrigger canoes all hold annual competitions there. Come during the Hawaiian Airlines Moloka‘i Hoe, the most prestigious outrigger canoe race in the world and one of the oldest sporting events held in Hawai’i. Or, if board sports are more of your thing, check out the Moloka‘i 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships. The athletes need all the support they can get during the grueling race. “What the athletes experience is a wild blue ocean, magnificent beyond description, teeming with wildlife, and the occasional open ocean wave that they can surf for 50 yards or more,” Takahashi describes. “At the end, the sense of accomplishment makes all the training and preparation well worth it.”
The Hawaiian Islands supply travelers with a combination of famed and unique experiences, tastes, and scenery, all of which are unforgettable. There is no going wrong with the itinerary you choose, so the only question, really, is when will you book your trip?