San Francisco and the Hawaiian Islands - 2009
My friend Larry in Denver and I have shared a colourful Hawaiian shirt for many years, exchanging it on our birthdays and wearing it all over the world. I told the story of the 'travelling shirt' to the company in Honolulu who made it, and their President was generous enough to send us both a replacement and a copy of the glossy book marking the fiftieth anniversary of his company. This introduction to the Hawaiian Islands so caught our interest that we decided to visit.
Hawaii is some 7,500 miles from England and cannot be reached on a single flight, so we broke our journey with four days in San Francisco. It has always been one of my favourite North American cities ever since I visited it several times on business in the sixties and seventies, but Elsa had never been before. We stayed at a small boutique hotel close to Union Square, with a literary heritage that included books and quotations everywhere. We visited Fisherman's Wharf, took a Bay cruise, travelled extensively on the famous cable cars, watched the Blue Angels flying display, and spent a day touring some of the wineries in the Napa Valley to the north.
The Madonna Winery, our first tasting, has no connection with the singer. It was named when the production of alcohol during Prohibition was confined to supplying communion wine - lots of it! We sampled four wines at each of three locations, returning to our hotel in a very relaxed frame of mind.
Maui - Hawaii
We then took off for Maui, the second largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. During this five hour flight the captain invited his three hundred plus passengers to guess the precise time we would reach the geographic half way point - and I won with an estimate just 15 seconds out. So I now have an unusual album of Hawaiian music on CD, courtesy of United Airlines, which has proved ideal as background music for my holiday DVD.
Maui is known as the island of valleys, because the lava flows which formed it flow down from its two volcanoes like fingers, creating a series of spectacular valleys. The larger of the two volcanoes is Haleakala (House of the sun) in the east, over 10,000 feet high and offering commanding views from its summit. We drove our little hire car to the top and marvelled at the enormous crater which last erupted over four hundred years ago. There is an observatory at the summit which takes advantage of the clean air thousands of miles from the nearest mainland. We hiked to the rim, but you soon run out of puff at this height.
United Airlines offered a free hire car with all return flights to the USA so we had the benefit of personal transport, which we used to the full on Maui by driving over seven hundred miles in six days. As well as Haleakala our journeys took us to the remote village of Hana in the east, the circumnavigation of the western volcano Kahalewai (House of water), the main town of Kahului and the I'ao national park. For an island barely forty miles long with a population of only 120,000 there is much to see.
The island is breathtakingly beautiful, surprisingly unspoilt by either commerce or tourism and, by virtue of its remote location, mercifully uncrowded. Needless to say Captain Cook made it to Hawaii, where he met his death in a skirmish with the locals, but the Hawaiian flag incorporates our Union flag to this day as a symbol of mutual respect.
One of the highlights of our stay was taking a helicopter ride around the island. Because we did so towards the end of our visit we were able to see many of the routes we had driven from a different perspective, and enjoy many views that were inaccessible any other way.
On our final day in Maui we drove to the south east coast to visit Hawaii's only winery, where they produce wine not only from locally grown grapes but also from a variety of fruits. Sampling unusual wines in such a beautiful setting was delightful; our only regret was that we had no way of bringing any home.
The locals were friendly and helpful, sharing their famously relaxed lifestyle with their guests. On the final day of our stay on Maui the hotel staff sang us an emotive farewell and presented us each with a traditional lei. We both left with a lump in our throats!
Honolulu - Oahu
After a short thirty minute hop to Honolulu we left behind the tranquillity of Maui for the tourist bustle of Hawaii's capital city on the island of Oahu. Almost a million people live there, and it is much like any other big US city save for the amazing vista of Waikiki Beach. By luck we had chosen a small hotel which had been recently refurbished in a minimalist but luxurious Japanese style, which suited us perfectly. We were welcomed like old friends, quickly made friends with the barman and enjoyed his 'sidecar' cocktails, and appreciated the hotel as a quiet haven from the hurly burly outside. Nothing was too much trouble for the staff, and they delighted in telling us how to make the best and most economical use of our stay.
Oahu was much more humid than Maui, and we were grateful for air conditioning in the 80 to 95º F heat. The saving grace was an almost continuous breeze, trade winds from the west, which made the climate dramatically different on each side of the islands. This was particularly evident when we took a day trip to 'The Big Island' to see the most active volcano - sunshine to the west, but almost continuous rain to the east. There is little difference between summer and winter this close to the equator, so the islands are popular with visitors throughout the year, especially at Christmas to escape colder climes.
Our first visit on Oahu was to the USS Arizona memorial commemorating the hundreds of sailors who died when the ship was sunk in Pearl Harbour by the Japanese in 1941. I was amazed by the hordes of Japanese tourists who flocked to see the handiwork of their forbears; perhaps they view it as a great victory. The totally free visit began with a twenty minute film showing archive footage of the attack, and explained its consequences in a remarkably even handed way. Then we were ferried out to where the ship sank to stand on a purpose built bridge over the wreck. We all stood in awe of the calamity in a dignified and respectful manner. It was a moving experience paying tribute to the long dead.
While travelling in a taxi from the airport Elsa noticed the Tori Richards shop which produced the 'travelling shirt' I share with my friend Larry. So we took a short walk from our hotel to pay them a visit. We had a wonderful welcome. Elsa bought a dress and another Hawaiian shirt for me, and the company President gave us a choice of hat each, although sadly we never got to meet him.
On our second day we took a tourist flight to the Big Island to see the most active volcano in the archipelago, which unfortunately remained silent during our visit. The evidence of its recent activity was everywhere, with houses being routinely overwhelmed by lava. It may be the largest island, but I can see why so few people choose to live there. As well as the volcanoes, our day long tour took us to a candy factory and a spectacular orchid nursery, one of the island's few industries.
The Hawaiian language is alive and well, with just five vowels and seven consonants as the written word came late to the islands. We learned some useful words and phrases, but only remembered the rude ones: pipi means a starter for dinner, and poopoo means beef. The typical Polynesian physique is large and heavy for men, but the girls are elegant and beautiful. We loved the music and the traditional dancing.
On our last full day we took a circular coach tour of Oahu to see a little of the island outside Honolulu. The beaches are so inviting, although the surf makes many of them dangerous. In the middle of nowhere we came upon a Buddhist Temple complete with huge bell and Koi carp pond. The general landscape is mainly grand formations of solidified lava covered in exotic green vegetation. Our last stop was at a pineapple farm, where we enjoyed pineapple ice-cream. Hawaiian pineapples are much sweeter and more succulent than the ones we buy at home, which for us will never be the same again!
We judge our holiday to have been a great success. Everything went according to plan, and we returned with a broad understanding of the Hawaiian Islands and some wonderful memories. The people were in the main delightful - but it was fearfully expensive! I suspect it will be a once in a lifetime experience for us, unless our premium bonds come up trumps.
Our holiday was organised by Trailfinders.