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(2016 - Spring/Summer Issue)


Lying face down, I am drifting in that sweet spot between awake and asleep.

Johann, my massage therapist, is gently massaging Hawaiian salt onto my spine. Crashing waves in the background mix with the sound of Hawaiian music from a CD recorded especially for the Moana Lani spa. This is bliss.

It’s February, although that doesn’t really matter as Oahu has a consistent temperature close to 24 C, with seawater temperatures averaging between 24 and 27 C. The major difference is that the waves are bigger in winter, which is important if you surf.

A visit to Oahu 10 years ago with my two young sons focused on how many skateboard parks we could find in Honolulu. I decided this time that not leaving Honolulu would be like going to New York and not leaving Fifth Avenue—an unfair representation of all Oahu had to offer. My plan is to spend four days in Honolulu with a day trip on the West Shore for a whale-watching and snorkelling tour (addendum: take seasickness meds—the ocean on that side is wild), before spending the last two days at the Oahu Wanderlust Festival at the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore.

Sea to Table

On past trips to Oahu, I mostly remember luaus and eating pineapple until my mouth ached from the cuts. This time I hear “sea to table” and “farm to table” mentioned repeatedly, as locals emphasize they want to be more self-sufficient in case disaster cuts them off from imports. Approximately 85 per cent of food goods are imported, and in 2013, the government recognized this problem by passing a bill to help increase self-sufficiency.  

I experience a culinary high when chef Aquino, at Turtle Bay Resort’s Kula Grille, prepares his poke, a raw fish salad made from locally sourced fish, tableside (a fresh spin on the Caesar salad service of the ’90s). And at Chai’s Waikiki café, I experience my first taste of honey cream pineapple, a miniature pineapple locally grown and patented. Tops are cut off before they leave the growing site, so they can’t be propagated elsewhere. Less acidic than regular pineapple, the taste is so sweet you’d think it was mixed with condensed milk.

Next, I duck into Tiki’s Grill & Bar for a dose of Hawaiian kitsch with its tiki decor, order some pupus (appetizers) made with local ingredients such as Hawaiian ono fish and Kahuku sea asparagus, and pair it with a cocktail made from KõHana agricole rum, locally distilled from a rare, native Hawaiian sugar cane. This is the life.


First on the list is a stand-up paddleboard lesson at Duke’s Lagoon at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, named after the legendary Olympian, Duke Kahanamoku.

My instructor directs me: “Keep your toes behind the line, knees bent, paddle side to side, try standing up and sitting down, but most importantly, have fun! And it really is that easy, although,” he informs me, “moving out onto the open ocean with its waves and currents may cause many falls in the first couple of days while you figure out your balance.”

Later at a Glow Flow Yoga class at the Modern Honolulu, we paint ourselves with fluorescent body paints. The entire class takes place in the dark under black lights, while a live DJ artist spins pulsating beats in the background. It’s easily the most intensely unique yoga class I have ever experienced.

Next, a bike tour. Paoli, our guide from Pedal Bike Tours emphasizes, “There’s more to Waikiki than the beach.” Enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge of the history and culture, he takes us past a public golf course and leads us over to Ala Moana Beach, which Paoli encourages us to visit as an option to the busier, more touristy Waikiki.

My final stop before the Wanderlust Festival is a horseback riding excursion at the 1,619-hectare Kualoa Ranch on Oahu’s windward side, considered among the island’s most sacred places. Established in 1850, Kualoa is a working ranch. In addition to its herd of horses, the ranch sells free-range eggs, manages an oyster and shrimp farm, grows vegetables and raises cattle for beef. 

Like many young Hawaiians, our guide, Erica, attended university in California, but returned to the island as soon as she could. When she talks about ranch life, I hear passion in her voice: “Every day is different on the ranch—a different cloud formation, a new calf, a new flower here or a new plant there.” We ride to the Ka‘a‘awa Valley, one of the most filmed spots on Oahu, boasting the likes of Jurassic World and Lost. Breathtakingly beautiful and bordered by lush green mountains, I understand the attraction.

The Real Hawaii

Staying at the Moana Surfrider with its plantation-like luxury and charm (including afternoon tea service), it’s easy to learn about some of Oahu’s history. As the first hotel built in Waikiki in 1901, it is known as the “First Lady of Waikiki,” and despite several reincarnations, the Moana has managed to retain its historical underpinnings through museum-quality displays of photos and paraphernalia of Duke Kahanamoku and the Hawaii Calls radio program, broadcast here for 40 years.

However, it’s only when I meet Kumu Hula Liko Cooke, owner of Halau Kilipohe Nã Lei Lehua (a hula school), that I begin to learn about the real Hawaii. For starters, I learn a halau is not just a hula school. A hula halau is usually taught by a kumu hula (like Liko) who has undergone a ceremony to become such. The kumu hulas are chosen and spend many years learning how to dance modern and ancient hula, as well as the chants and culture of Hawaii. 

Liko explains there is a major resurgence in Hawaiians getting back to their roots. “There are many Hawaiian language schools here now,” she says, “and all of Hawaii would love for it to be like old Hawaii when we spoke the language and lived off the land. Of course, in today’s culture, that is not possible, but we are doing our best to become more sustainable and teaching our young where they come from.” 

An example of these Hawaiian roots is described in Liko’s story on why salt is important to Hawaiians. “Initially salt was important for food preservation. But,” she continues, “salt water is very cleansing, which is why when Hawaiians return home from afar the first thing they do is to go into the ocean to cleanse their bodies and rejuvenate themselves. This washes away any negativity they have brought home with them. Also, when there is trouble within the family we talk it out among family members, which we call ho‘oponopono. Once we reach an agreement we go into the ocean to cleanse. We call that hi‘uwai.” 

Any previous misconceptions I had of Hawaii being just the 50th state, albeit in a beautiful tropical setting, have changed. I am left wanting to learn more.

Travel Planner

For more information, visit the Oahu Visitors and Convention Bureau at gohawaii.com/en/oahu or call 1-877-525-OAHU or 1-800-GO HAWAII.

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