Hello, love, and goodbye—these are the definitions of the greeting aloha. And who would forget what Stitch said in one of Disney’s iconic films? “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” These words—aloha and ohana—give a glimpse of the Hawaiian Islands well-known for its beaches, pineapples, ukelele music, floral garlands (or leis), and hula dancing
A land of contrasts.
A trip across the island of Oahu shows the harmony that beats in Hawaii. The peaceful neighborhood of Waipahu wakes up early with its busy working people. While the capital Honolulu has a soaring skyline of high-rise offices and residences, the hundred-year-old Iolani royal palace and Victorian period buildings still stand. Tall mountains lush with trees and nature are always in the background, especially from the interstate freeway. At the Ko’olau range, thick clouds converge with the misty, forested mountains while their foot meets the modernity of Kaneohe City.
A land of excitement.
The landscape of Hawaii is alive with the jolt of adventure. One can hike the Diamond Head, the large volcanic tuff cone that complements the coastline of Honolulu. It hides a wilderness and terrain ripe for exploration. The 1.3-kilometer trek on the paved walkway, steep stairways, and a dark tunnel lead to the summit, where the hiker will marvel at the cityscape of the state capital and the vast blue ocean. Twenty-two minutes away is the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail, a two-kilometer hike to the lookout to island’s extreme eastern end. Meanwhile, at the sea, tourists can enjoy a dinner cruise aboard the Star of Honolulu or sunbathe at the beaches and lagoons across the island.
A land of identity.
Hawaii is not only for explorers and the sightseers—but it is also a rousing getaway for history buffs and armchair generals. How did the most remote island chain in the world become a piece of America in the Pacific? The Polynesian Cultural Center provides a fun, immersive experience of the thousand-year traditions in Oceania’s native civilizations. Indulge in Hawaiiana in the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, the state museum of Hawaii. It retells how the Polynesian wayfinders navigated thousands of kilometers in the blank Pacific, how their culture and the monarchy were established, and how Hawaii became the youngest state of the Union.
A land of valor.
One can relive the day when the Japanese planes attacked the United States Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Learn more in the exhibit galleries and go close to the USS Arizona Memorial, where over a thousand servicemen perished as the ship by the same name exploded and sank. From the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, tourists can take a bus ride through the Admiral Clarey Bridge to the Ford Island to visit the USS Battleship Missouri. Stand on the very spot where World War II ended and experience the daily life of battleship crewmen. On the Puowaina or “Hill of Sacrifice” lies National Cemetery of the Pacific, a graveyard dedicated for American soldiers who gave their lives in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The soothing peace in the memorial is a solemn reminder of their “sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”
A land of taste.
No journey is complete without tasting the food, and, in the case of Hawaiian cuisine, the taste buds do the traveling. Mashed taro or poi is the traditional staple food in Hawaii—think of it like rice, but gooey, starchy, and purple. The next one is poke, a cold dish of diced raw fish with sauce. For those who crave for exotic tastes, lau lau is a unique dish to try. It is a bundle of fish and pork wrapped in taro leaf that is steamed for two hours. The strong Polynesian umami flavor brings the modern tongue back to the native islanders’ time. The cultural melting pot in Oahu gives the locals a sense of home wherever their origin may be.
Hawaii is always portrayed as a tropical land of bliss and palm trees. The islands have been a world-famous summer destination for decades, but they are rediscovered by millions of tourists who share how breath-taking and magical their vacation was.
Travel blogs and reviews tend to describe Hawaii as a “paradise,” but what makes it so? As for me, I found profound aloha and a lasting ohana there. I may have left my family and newly-found friends, but I carry their affection and hospitality.
Aloha may mean both hello and goodbye, but it is the love in between that matters most. Hawaii may be the land of great culture and adventure, but, above all, it is the land of aloha—the land of love.