Hawaii for the Senses
From the scent of Kona coffee to the sounds of hula and the flavors of a luau, the islands offer an experience like no other
By Katie SolanLocated 2,400 miles away from the continental United States and in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is practically a world unto itself. Visitors to its seven inhabited tropical islands can experience sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures that are uniquely Hawaiian, making a trip to the Aloha State truly worthwhile.
We've highlighted some of Hawaii's best "sensual" experiences. If any of these tempt your senses, you can plan a Hawaii vacation by calling Vacations To Go at (800) 998-6925. Or, visit Vacations To Go to view a complete list of Hawaiian resorts.
Passion for pineapple? Visit the Dole Pineapple Plantation in central Oahu, where you'll find more than just the spiky-skinned fruit. For a nominal fee, guests can ride the Pineapple Express train or make their way through the Pineapple Garden Maze, formed by more than 11,400 native plants. Visitors also can learn the proper way to grow, pick and cut pineapple and see more than 20 different varieties from around the world in a special garden.
Feast Hawaii-style. Early Hawaiian luaus were great feasts called 'aha 'aina, held to celebrate special occasions such as warriors returning home or a child's coming of age. "Luau," the Hawaiian term for the taro leaf, gradually replaced "'aha 'aina" as the name for these banquets. Taro, a starchy tuber with spinachlike leaves, is a staple in Hawaiian cuisine and among the foods typical to luaus today. They include: poi (a plum-colored paste made from the taro root), kalua pig (roasted in an underground oven, or "imu") and lau lau (meat or fish steamed in Hawaiian ti leaves). Many island resorts host luaus weekly.
Sweet treat. Hawaii's famous shave ice can best be described as a gourmet sno-cone. Like the mainland treat, it's also made from shaved ice and sugary-sweet syrup, but shave ice is known for its superfine ice that fully absorbs the flavored syrup and instantly melts in your mouth. This delectable treat can be found nearly everywhere in the state -- at coffee shops, mom-and-pop stores, lunch wagons, public events and, of course, shave ice stands. Try the classic "rainbow" with strawberry, banana and blue vanilla syrups, or add a scoop of ice cream at the bottom. Look for uniquely Hawaiian flavors such as coconut, lychee and lilikoi.
What's for lunch? To find an authentic taste of Hawaii's eclectic cuisine and culture, look no further than a paper plate. A heaping homage to the islands' immigrant heritage, plate lunches are served on paper or Styrofoam dishware and include two scoops of rice, one scoop of macaroni salad and an entree. Options include Japanese teriyaki, chicken katsu, Korean short ribs, soy sauce chicken, beef chili or even spaghetti. Plate lunches originated as hot, hearty meals served to immigrants working in the plantation fields, reflecting both American and Asian influences. Plate lunches can be found at restaurants, cafes, fast food-style chains and lunch wagons around the state.
Ice cream dreams. No lover of ice cream should leave Hawaii without experiencing Tropical Dreams, a "superpremium" variety produced right on the Big Island. The secret to this rich, dense ice cream is its high butterfat content (18 percent) and low air volume. (Supermarket brands contain about 10 percent butterfat and have high air volumes.) Tropical Dreams uses cream from island dairies and local fruits such as white pineapple, poha berry and dragon fruit. Favorite island flavors include white chocolate ginger, macadamia nut, coconut cream and Tahitian vanilla.
Art-see. A few popular island spots regularly celebrate the Hawaiian visual arts. Downtown Honolulu hosts First Fridays, in which more than 20 galleries and studios open their doors to the public for an evening that celebrates all things artistic. Held the first Friday of every month, the free event also includes live music, street entertainment and wine tastings. Kauai hosts a similar Art Night each Friday on Hanapepe's main street, celebrating the artists that have flocked to the Garden Island for its enchanting light, inspiring scenery and peaceful lifestyle.
Watch for whales. If you visit the islands between November and May, you can catch a glimpse of Hawaii's other seasonal visitors -- humpback whales. They travel south for the winter to breed in the warm waters off the islands, and most can be seen along the southern and western coasts of Maui. During peak season, they're easily spotted from the shore, or you can join a whale-watching boat tour for an up-close look.
Go green. Known locally as honu, green sea turtles really aren't green at all. They're named for the color of their body fat, green from all the algae they consume, and their mottled shells range in color from olive-brown to black. Nonetheless, Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park on the Big Island is a great place to spot these threatened reptiles, frequently seen swimming offshore or basking on the beach. A number of them also reside at the Fairmont Orchid hotel on the Big Island's Kohala Coast -- guests can see the creatures, which weigh up to 350 pounds, while snorkeling.
A local perspective. See Hawaii through the eyes of a local with the Na Ali'i walking tour offered at Outrigger Reef on the Beach in Waikiki. The two-hour tours are led by Woody Fern, one of Hawaii's renowned storytellers, who guides participants past cultural points of interest while sharing stories of Hawaii's former royalty and Waikiki's history. Guests will learn about the "Merrie Monarch" (King David Kalakaua), the beloved Queen Emma and the famous coconut grove at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, among others.
Sunrise, sunset. For a spectacular sunrise, wake up early and head to the 10,000-foot summit of Haleakala Crater in southeast Maui, the largest dormant volcano on Earth. Here you'll enjoy a prime seat to one of the best sights in Hawaii. If you're not an early riser, Hawaiian sunsets are gorgeous as well, and hotels along Waikiki Beach offer some great vantage points. Choice locales include The Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian, Tiki's Grill and Bar at the ResortQuest Waikiki Beach Hotel, House Without a Key at the Halekulani and the Prince Court at Hawaii Prince Hotel.
Buzz words. As the world's most isolated population center (2,400 miles away from the nearest mainland at California), Hawaii has developed a dialect all its own. Here are a few terms to listen for.
Aloha: A well-known expression for both "hello" and "goodbye," it can also signify
love. Aloha au ia oe means "I love you."
Mahalo: thank you
Kai: the sea
Pupu: hors d'oeuvres
Malihini: a newcomer or guest
Honk if you're Hawaiian. Hear the distinctive sound of Hawaii's state bird, the nene or Hawaiian goose. They emit a call very similar to that of the Canada goose, a resounding "honk" or "ha-wah." You can find this endangered species in the wild at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island and Haleakala National Park on Maui, or at the Honolulu Zoo.
Call of the conch. The pu, or Hawaiian conch shell, is a large seashell that, when blown, emits a trumpetlike sound that can carry as far as two miles. In ancient times, the call of the pu announced the beginning of ceremonies or accompanied chants. The tradition continues today, as the pu is used to open legislative sessions, present the royal court at hula festivals and commence other traditional ceremonies such as weddings or luaus.
Sounds of hula. Performed at most luaus, the hula is Hawaii's iconic dance known for its rhythmic moves, traditional costumes and native sounds. The mesmerizing dance exists in two main forms: the hula kahiko, danced to chants and drums, echoing the ancient, spiritual style of hula; and hula auana, more modern and graceful, performed to the sounds of the steel guitar, ukuleles and song. Listen also for the sounds of ili ili, water-worn pebbles clicked together castanet-style; ulili, a rattle made of spinning gourds; and the ka'eke'eke, a pipe made of bamboo.
Play the ukulele. Often described as a cross between a guitar and banjo, the diminutive ukulele has come to represent Hawaiian music. First brought to the islands by Portuguese immigrants in the late 1800s, Hawaiians adapted it as their own and it became an integral part of Hawaiian music. The instrument is relatively easy to play, and many resorts offer free ukulele lessons on-site.
A royal massage. While you're in the Aloha State, be sure to get the royal treatment with a lomilomi massage. The traditional massage of the ali'i ( Hawaiian royalty), the lomilomi is a special type of rub that combines long and gentle strokes with rhythmic, vigorous kneading. Massage therapists typically use their forearms and elbows. You'll leave relaxed, refreshed and ready to hit the beach. Most Hawaiian spa resorts offer the lomilomi.
Get husky in Hawaii. How fast can you husk a coconut? The Polynesian Cultural Center on the North Shore of Oahu will test your skills in stripping this hard and hairy native fruit, in which the time-honored primary tool is an incredibly sharp stick. Skilled huskers can do it in less than three seconds, but it's not uncommon for a first-timer to take close to an hour. Luaus often feature coconut-husking demonstrations, with a chance for guests to come up and try their hand at it.
Treasure hunt. For some of Hawaii's best beachcombing, visit Shipwreck Beach in Lanai. This eight-mile stretch of coast is just off Kalohi Channel, known for its powerful currents and numerous reefs, where many ships have met their watery ends (hence the beach's name). Brilliant shells and unique treasures wash ashore here, and you can still see the remains of two wrecks offshore. Stick to the land, though, as the ocean here is not suitable for swimming.
Tattoos for you. Polynesians have practiced the art of tattooing for more than 2,000 years. In the ancient tradition, most boys were tattooed before the age of 20. Geometric patterns, spirals, feather and leaf shapes or tiki faces would stretch from the back down to the legs, often covering the whole body. For a less permanent -- and less painful -- version of this cultural custom, check out the Maori and Marquesan villages at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Spa scents. In Hawaii, you can follow your nose to tranquility. Many destination spas offer aromatherapy-enhanced treatments that use fragrant essential oils made from native flowers or fruits. For example, the Honua Spa at Hotel Hana Maui uses a signature aromatherapy blend of iliahi, awapuhi, niu and vanilla orchid essences in its treatments. The Halekulani in Waikiki gives guests a choice of lavender, coconut, papaya-pineapple or manoa mint for its body scrubs, while the Mauna Lani Resort on the Big Island uses fresh coconut pulp and locally grown vanilla beans for its "Calming Cocanilla Experience."
In bloom. Stop and smell the flowers at Na'Aina Kai Botanical Gardens in Kauai, a 240-acre botanical delight comprised of 13 different gardens. Its Shower Tree Park brims with red hibiscus, firecracker flowers and bloom-laden fiddlewood trees, while the International Desert Garden features succulents and cactuses from around the globe. And you may not mind getting lost in the Poinciana Maze, a sprawling hedge labyrinth accented with colorful blooms.
Wake up and smell the coffee. The only U.S. state to commercially grow coffee, Hawaii is world-renowned for its Kona blend, grown in the rich volcanic soil of Kona on the Big Island. Kona coffee is favored for its consistent quality that's rich and medium-bodied with a complex, spicy taste. You can partake in a free tour and tasting at the Kona Lea Plantation, home of the Holualoa Kona Coffee Co.
A whiff of sulphur. Strong smells pervade Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, home of two of the world's most active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Volcanoes emit gases such as hydrogen sulfide, reminiscent of rotten eggs, and sulphur dioxide, which smells like a just-struck match. Kilauea (which means "spewing" in Hawaiian) has been continuously erupting since 1983; Mauna Loa ( Hawaiian for "long mountain") has erupted 33 times since 1843.
Easy breezy. Breathe in Pacific Ocean breezes at Kilauea Point on Kauai, a sheer cliff along a rough and wild coastline at the northernmost tip of Hawaii. Besides offering sea breezes and breathtaking views, Kilauea Point is known for its 1913 lighthouse, which stands as a beacon at the cliff's edge. A national wildlife refuge is also here, protecting 203 acres of seabirds, monk seals and island terrain.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in May/June 2007 . Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925 for current rates and details.