‘Aloha’ is to Hawaii what ‘Namaste’ is to India. It is a greeting for both welcome and goodbye. So, wherever you go in Hawaii, Aloha is what you will hear most often. But beyond it being just a salutation, it’s a symbol of love, peace and respect. If you split the word, ‘alo’ means sharing in the present, and ‘ha’ means breath of life. The ‘Aloha Spirit’ is a law in Hawaii and is considered as a way of reaching self- perfection and self-realization of mind, body and soul. It means sending and receiving positive energy and living in harmony! On listening to all this, I could make instant connections to the Indian Namaste, which also honours the soul, the love and peace that resides in the opposite person.
The reason for this deep, insightful Hawaiian philosophy can be traced back to 1500 years when the Polynesians reached the archipelago in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They brought with them their religion, beliefs, customs, language, skills and craft. For several centuries they lived in isolation, cut off from the other civilizations surviving with limited resources and relying on nature and its elements. All art forms, including the traditional dance of Hula, are deeply connected to their love for the land and the surroundings which were crucial for their well- being.
Hawaii-The land of islands
Hawaii has eight major islands: Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, Big Island or Island of Hawaii, Niihau and Kahoolawe. Each island has a distinctive personality with unique offerings and experiences. Our trip to Hawaii was an award holiday that my husband had received for meeting his business numbers and being a top achiever globally. As his ‘significant other’ it was my privilege to join him on this holiday. In all humility, this was our fourth trip to Hawaii. My husband often teases me that even some of the top celebrities in India may not have visited it as many times as us.
On earlier two reward holidays to Hawaii, we had visited the Big Island, the largest and youngest island, which has active volcanoes. But since the island is newer it is rocky and stark and not as green as Kauai. We had visited the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and walked through lava tunnels. A helicopter ride had taken us to see the magnificent waterfalls and rainforests. So, if it is volcanoes that you want to see then this is the island to be on.
We had even visited the island of Oahu, which is the heart of Hawaii and home to Honolulu, the capital city. You might recall that during World War II, the Japanese had attacked the Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, forcing the US involvement in the war. One of the ships struck was the USS Arizona, and it remains sunken there till this day. The other battleship Missouri, on which the Japanese signed a treaty of unconditional surrender, is stationed here too. We had visited the World War II Memorial at Pearl Harbour and taken a tour of its museum so, if you are a history and naval buff then a visit to Oahu maybe what you might like.
Maui, which is home to Haleakala National Park that has the world’s largest dormant volcano, is what we had visited on our third trip to Hawaii. I recall going on a whale-watching cruise and this island being a lot greener than the Big Island.
Kauai-The Garden Island
So, this time around when my husband announced that the President’s Club award holiday was in Hawaii I wasn’t jumping with joy and perhaps a little disenchanted as I would have preferred visiting a new place. But when he mentioned it was at Kauai, an island we hadn’t visited before, it brought some happiness. Kauai is the oldest and northernmost island and is nicknamed the ‘Garden Island’ which is an accurate description. It’s emerald green valleys, tropical forests with meandering rivers and gushing waterfalls, and scenic vistas have an undeniable allure.
After more than 27 hours of flying time and around 40 hours of travel, we reached Kauai at around 8 at night. On landing at Lihue airport, we were greeted with the customary Aloha and ‘lei’ a garland of orchids. A short drive took us to our beachfront sprawling resort in Poipu south end of Kauai. Tired and exhausted after that marathon traveling, we simply crashed on our bed and knocked off.
Exploring the resort
The next morning after breakfast, we decided to take it easy and explore the resort property which was spread over a kilometre, the reason being that in Kauai no building can be taller than a coconut tree. Lush green gardens with colourful tropical flowers like hibiscus and bougainvillaea, multilayered pools and saltwater lagoons and cascading waterfalls were but some of the features of the magnificent resort. The hillside cliff overlooking the bay was from where daring youngsters would plunge into the sea seeking an adrenaline rush.
The pristine white beach and azure waters of the sea were perfect for lazing around and watching as surfers competed with the natural elements of wind and waves to stay afloat. Sun, sand and sea are what Hawaii is all about. All you need to do is just surrender to the Aloha Spirit, going with the flow to get some much-needed rest and rejuvenation for both body and spirit.
In the evening we watched a cultural performance of the ‘hula’, which is not just a dance but a way of life. Each hand gesture, movement of the body, including swaying of hips, has a meaning and interpretation. The Hawaiian language with only 12 characters meant that a lot of the history, mythology and culture was passed on through the oral tradition and expressed through art and dance. The dancers gracefully emoted as a singer chanted and sang songs connected with their roots and gods. Soon it was time for our welcome dinner, which was a mix of seafood, salads and thankfully some vegetarian options.
Kayaking in wild
The following day we were off to do some kayaking and trekking with a group of award winners and their spouses. After a brief orientation on kayaking and some dos and don’ts, by a certified guide, we hopped onto a double kayak. It took us a while to get our hand at it, and after much trial and error, we finally managed to follow our guide as we paddled down the Huleia River.
After almost an hour of paddling, we disembarked on the river bank and set off on a one- mile hike through the Huleia National Wildlife Refuge, a tropical forest. Our guide shared titbits of information of how the Polynesians made ropes from the vines in the forest and the medicinal properties of various plants and warned us from touching some for fear of developing an allergic reaction.
The lush green landscape with gushing waterfalls, pools amid native flora and fauna was perfect for soaking in the natural beauty. A couple of our group members even decided to jump from rope swings in the pools à la Tarzan. We then had a picnic lunch as we saw some jungle cocks roaming around freely. They flourish on the island as any predators do not threaten them. There are no snakes in Hawaii either. After all that, it was time for us to hike back to the riverfront from where a speed boat took us to our starting point.
Kilohona Plantation Estate tour
We did this tour the following day. This estate that once belonged to a sugar baron houses a 16,000-square-foot Tudor Mansion, a railway that provides a window to what life was in the 1900s. We boarded the stylish mahogany passenger cars of the railway. It took us on a 40-minute train ride through the sprawling plantation that boasts of a variety of orchards with tropical fruits, vegetable gardens, and other exotic flora. The train briefly halted, and we disembarked at the enclosure for feral pigs to feed them some flatbread.
After the train ride, we could try our hands at weaving coconut fonds, making a lei, or watch a ‘poi’ making. A native showed us how the taro plant’s steamed stems are peeled and mashed to make a pasty staple called ‘poi.’ Another native shelled coconut, with his bare hands so that we could relish the refreshing coconut water and savour the tender flesh inside. It was now time for us to have lunch at the Gaylord restaurant. After that, we strolled through the mansion which houses souvenir shops and admired the vintage sepia-toned photographs, hardwood floorings and other artefacts.
Octogenarian lady driver with a sense of humour
We had set aside the last day for the Waimea Canyon tour. The pickup bus arrived at the designated time in the morning, and we found our octogenarian lady driver cum guide waiting for us at the reception. She was a bundle of energy and rattled off exciting facts, stories and jokes in quick succession. “Yes, all the beaches in Hawaii are topless, and you are free to hang loose”, she emphatically spoke and then paused and cracked, “but only the men can be topless,” leaving us all in splits. The Steven Spielberg sci-fi thriller ‘Jurassic Park’ was shot on this island and our guide warned us not to be surprised if we encountered dinosaurs roaming around the forests.
Our first stop was at the Spouting Horn, which is a natural blowhole through which the ocean waves are sprayed high in the air. After watching this geographical water and rock wonder, we strolled through the premises which had kiosks selling Hawaiian souvenirs like masks, jewellery made from shells and pearls, aloha shirts with tropical prints and other knick-knacks.
It was at the Waimea Bay that Captain Cook, the first European to have set foot on Hawaii, had landed in 1778. In Waimea town, a statue of him stands in commemoration of this event. We then visited the island’s art capital Hanapepe and stopped at a vantage point to admire the scenic vistas.
The most famous attraction of Kauai is the Waimea Canyon. It is also nicknamed as the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’. We haven’t visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona, something which has long been on our wish list. So we thought that at least for the time being we could make do with the Waimea Canyon. We were told that this 14-mile-long canyon provided sweeping panoramic views of cliffs and valleys that plunged 3,600 feet deep. What took us by surprise was that the canyon bore a striking resemblance to the Western Ghats! The hill stations of Mahableshwar, Panchgani, Matheran and Lonavala! We realized what a treasure trove of geographical wonders India has. But we don’t know how to market these to the global tourists.
Hawaii is the only state in the US that produces coffee. Our last stop of the tour was a coffee plantation. Here we could sample the endless varieties of coffee and make purchases. There are tours that you can sign in for that take you around the coffee plantation.
In the evening was the farewell dinner and it was time to say goodbye to fellow award winners. Our trip to Kauai had come to an end. We picked up some souvenirs the next day and bid adieu to Hawaii.
It is difficult to pick and choose which island to visit in Hawaii. My suggestion would be to first decide on the experiences that you are looking for and then plan your trip. Whether it’s high adrenaline adventures or getting up close with volcanoes or just wanting to unwind and recharge on the sun-kissed beaches, the Aloha Spirit of Hawaii will captivate you and leave you spellbound.
Nearest Airport: Lihue is the nearest airport on the island of Kauai. Depending on the island you decide to explore you will have to choose your port of final disembarkation. We took a flight from Mumbai to Frankfurt and then another from Frankfurt to San Francisco and a final flight from San Francisco to Kauai.
Where to Stay: You can check for hotels on the net depending on comfort and budget. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Resort and Spa. There are timeshare holiday resorts that may be worthwhile.
Travel Tip: Although we chose to travel westwards over Europe and US mainland to go to Hawaii it is better to go via the east with a stopover in Japan or Korea. This is a shorter route. We used the Viator App for booking the 5-hour Waimea Canyon tour which cost us U.S. $ 69 per person.