Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Hawaii's Natural Splendor

There’s a reason Oprah has a vacation house here. I should’ve realized that the All-Knowing-She would never lead me astray. But here’s my guilty admission (sorry Oprah!) – that before actually setting foot in Hawaii, I mistakenly imagined America’s 50th state to be a cesspool - albeit one full of Sandal’s resorts (kill me now), beaches full of screaming, white middle-class children (whose parents aren’t conversant with the word “no”), and corporate-sponsored luaus (where married sales directors might wear plastic leis and simultaneously gawk at the hula dancers while “talking numbers” with the boys). So in other words: my personal idea of Hell.

Yet Oahu, Hawaii’s most populated island is nothing like this...instead it's all wide boulevards, well-trimmed green grass, and coconut trees. There are high end stores – Bulgari, Prada, and Ferragamo with mannequins in the windows dressed to kill. Dozens of affordable sushi restaurants, well-stocked convenience stores, and breezy sit down cafes where one can repair with a Mai Tai to a shaded corner line the side streets. Although these conveniences are certainly nice, they're amenities one can find in most large cities - and to me, Oahu’s real attractions are those of the natural variety. Its rainforests, volcanoes, waterfalls, surfable waves, and the cultural history of its people - these wonders are stunning both in their splendor and sheer enormity.

We spent the morning hiking near the Ko’olau volcano range on the windward side of the island, about a half-hour’s drive from downtown Waikiki. Climbing the steep trails was fun in that sort of a “hey if I don’t die this is going to be a really, really awesome experience” type of a way since the recent rains had reduced the paths to slick, muddy ski slopes with nary a railing or guard in sight. At points, the switchbacks up and down the mountain were treacherous, the corners crumbly and I could nearly hear the inaudible gasps as people clung onto vines, trees and anything that might help them keep their balance as we all gingerly navigated hairpin turns and silently contemplated who would get our cd collections should anything go awry. Yet it was all worth it upon reaching the falls…the thrill of standing beneath a wildly rushing curtain of water, of looking out at the horizon and down at the rainforest below, and of having trekked to a part of the mountain where wild boars, orchids and a panoply of birds chattered in the rainy mist – these are things that are worth returning back to the ship with muddy legs for, nevermind the insect bites and dreadlocks created by the use of Off! insect repellent in my hair.

After successfully navigating this four hour hike we rewarded ourselves with some Japanese food in downtown Waikiki and popped into The Royal Hawaiian Resort, colored in a Strawberry Shortcake-pink-and-white decorating scheme. Their Mai Tai Bar sits directly on the beach so from the cover of our umbrella we lazily gazed at surfers and sunbathers while sipping the Royal Pineapple daiquiri (served in the fruit itself), frozen Rose Cosmos, and naturally the Mai Tai. This vista, accompanied by the relaxing strains of live Hawaiian music and hula dancing, was perfect in that hazy summer afternoon kind of a way, and we ended the day with a few local beers before being forced to re-board the ship. The Kona Big Wave and Longboard brews were light and tasty, but the Mehana Volcano Red Ale was by far the best with its hoppy, slightly bitter finish.

No amount of snootiness from those who say Hawaii is “too” accessible can take away its charm – it really is an island that has something for everyone. Yes it's still American, but it feels more international than that. Plus - that beach, those frozen drinks, the vistas and the adventure – Hawaii rightly deserves all of its accolades. For a couple or a family looking to get away, it offers boundless options. Where else can you climb volcanoes, play a round of golf on a top course, swim in a waterfall and get pampered at a four star resort? Oprah, I stand corrected. Now if only her cute interior designer Nate Berkus would come and decorate my place….


ms. coots said...

Mele Kalikimaka.

ms. coots said...

Mele Kalikimaka.

becky said...

As i read this in 30 degree temperatures I hate you in a way that only a true friend can hate. Miss you everyday. Like you don't even wanna know.