The last tourist to see Hawaii at its very best was a traveling man named Captain James Cook, who arrived, first class, aboard the HMS Resolution in January of 1778. "They are remarkably cheerful and friendly. The country seems to be both well-wooded and watered," he wrote in his log—thereby starting what may be history's longest-running string of clichés about paradise.
If we are to believe all we hear about it, Hawaii is: the green jewel of the Pacific, a heaven cooled by trade winds, the lush land of swaying palms and swaying hips. Nut-brown maidens wearing grass skirts from here on down and not much but necklaces of flowers from here on up. That old tropic moon just hanging up there, pasted against the blue-black sky. Orchids, pineapples, coconuts. Flowered sportshirts that would get you thrown out of your old home town and motherly dresses called muumuus.
Hawaii is all those things at times, true. But Hawaii also is freeways and traffic jams and homemade smog hanging low over Honolulu and empty Miller High Life cans on the beach at Waikiki. It is fenced-off holes in the ground with signs noting that a new superluxury hotel will soon rise on this spot called the Hawaii Luau or the Pacific Upapalu or something like that. One and a half million visitors in 1969, 19.8% more coming this year and a high estimate of five million by 1975. The state now has 22,275 hotel rooms, with 38,000 projected for 1970 and a $32.5 million campaign by the major airlines to convince more people to come on out and join the crowd. A crisis is coming to the land, and if you are ever going to visit Hawaii you had better do it now, say this year or next, because paradise is almost lost.
Not entirely lost. Almost. The saving thing about Hawaii is that it comes in clumps, with eight major islands. The giants of the tourist industry have been concentrating so far mostly on Oahu, slowly turning it into a sort of Las Vegas with ukuleles. Getting to the other islands is simply a matter of inevitable logistics.
January 12, 1970
In fact, you may now skip Honolulu—that is, if getting away from it all is your goal—and search elsewhere for the strum of soft guitars and lovely hula hands. Life in Honolulu, and indeed on most of Oahu, has become pretty much like the inside of a bass drum, and as that noted early Hawaiian chieftain, Kamehameha, would surely have said, "A 'ohe o'u liki hoi-hoi" or "Who needs it?"
The way to see Hawaii, while there is still time, lies in doing what the resident Hawaiians do: get out of town. A little bit of elementary research will lead one to the inescapable conclusion that Honolulans sneakily retreat to such places as the big island of Hawaii to kick off their sandals and relax, or to pure, gemlike little hideaways on Maui or Molokai.
Understand, this is not new or startling news: people have been doing this for years and you are not likely to discover a beach where no other foot has trod—nor are you going to drop anchor in some virgin cove and look up to see dugout canoes full of natives paddling out to offer you bananas. Tourists and tour groups have been visiting these same locations for years, and the islands that make up the Hawaiian chain are all explored. Still, tour groups have a tendency to hurry one up a bit, to sightsee on a look-and-run basis, and there are resorts out there which have been briefly looked at but not really discovered in the sense of time spent exploring. Better yet, some of the smaller spots in the out islands do not cater to tour groups, and it is in such places that the feeling of discovery picks up. Hawaiians tend to be adventure-conscious anyway—perhaps it is something they pump into their pineapple juice at school—and they range far and wide around the archipelago for their sport.
It is an established fact of the sport world, for example, that some of the best game fishing anywhere lies not off Oahu but off Hawaii's Kona coast, out of a scruffy little community called Kailua-Kona. It was here that a 1,100-pound Pacific blue marlin was caught in 1987 (tying the world record) and it was here that a professional fishing skipper named Bart Miller, a barefooted escapee from the Professional Golfers Association, recently broke all world records by catching 100 marlin in 10 months—the biggest one a 900-pounder, ending up with an average of 267 pounds each. He also was the first man to catch five marlin in one day, each over 200 pounds. ("The secret," says Miller, "is to catch and use live tuna for bait and not to give up. Stay out all night if you have to." The other Kailua fishermen began to call him Captain Midnight.)
And there are other excellent reasons for getting away to the out islands. Hunting is what could modestly be called sensational on the slopes of Hawaii's Hualalai Mountain—parts of which have been copied from Colorado—where pheasant, grouse, partridge and monster turkeys flush out of the brown African grass, where there are plenty of Axis deer, wild Mauna Kea sheep and where hunters practically stumble over javelina. In fact, professional guide Eugene Ramos of Hawaii Trails will kick open the door of his Land Rover at the 8,000-foot level any day at dawn and say, "You wanted a wild goat? Maybe a trophy head for your den, say, mmm, a 23-inch spread on the horns?" The hunter will nod eagerly. "Well," Ramos will say, "look right over there."
Sailing also can be a quietly lonely pastime, which is what it should be, without tacking into a boatload of Rotarians, almost anywhere along the Kona coast. And on Maui, waterfalls fed by rain splash down miles of rocks to form secret swimming holes of pure, shimmering, clean water—with cliffs all around for diving. Joe Daniels, who has no official title but acts as a social director of the hideaway Hotel Hana Ranch, knows where the Waioka Pools are and, with practically no nudging, conducts horseback picnics out to them.
And why should one dodge surfboards and incoming outriggers at Waikiki, for example, when surely the world's best place is the black-sand Hamoa Beach at Hana—which is claimed by Author James Michener to be the most perfect Hawaiian beach in the world? There are a lot of old-time islanders, anxious to keep it to themselves, who feel he ought to have his typewriter taken away for that one.
The key to all of this, finding the hideaway Hawaii, is escape, a commodity that grows more and more scarce as civilization and the hotel builders stalk the land. The idea this year should be to spend an entire day, a week if possible, without seeing one person wearing that plastic-covered name tag on his flowered shirt. You know the tag. It says something like Slapdash Tours across the top. And then: "Hi there! My name is [penciled in] Horace Trindle. What's yours?"
But one must hurry. The Kona coast of Hawaii will be the next to go, although there is still time, a year or so perhaps, to see it in its unspoiled state before it becomes hotel row on the hillside. The hamlet of Kailua-Kona already has a parking problem, which is grimly prophetic, and the town now has its own delicatessen—which is a harbinger of bad times if there ever was one. Down at the far end of the town's main stem the Kona Hilton, which easily qualifies as one of the world's top 10 alltime ugly structures, is building a new addition to pump in more people, and all the land up toward Kona Village at Kaupulehu has been seized by developers who have something like a luxurious Levittown in mind.
But there are a few holdouts against the ravening crowd. Maui's little-known Hana Ranch, for example, is a working cattle spread first and a hotel second. It is one of the few resorts left that do not ardently solicit guests and is a place where, upon landing at the little airstrip, one is apt to be met by the manager in his own station wagon. On Molokai the rustic Hotel Molokai is in just the right state of falling apart to be comfortable and is much favored by deer hunters. The tiny (73 units) Kona Village resort on Hawaii is a discovery that one will never forget, complete with thatch-roof cottages and such-comforts as a wrecked 40-foot sloop on the beach which someone has thoughtfully converted into an outdoor bar.
Signal Companies, Inc., which owns Kona Village, intends to keep the place as pure as possible, spurred in part by the fact that it is one of the spots where Hawaiians themselves go to hide out, to swim, surf, hunt and sail. Randolph Gait, who runs it all from Honolulu but finds excuses to get over there as much as possible, has installed the world's most relaxed staff to operate the village. It includes Manager Klaus Kelterborn, a onetime Austrian ski instructor who still answers the telephone by shouting, "Here iss Klaus!" and Cyrus Green, a giant of a Hawaiian who will teach you to play the ukulele, dance the hula, sing Tiny Bubbles, catch fish or make a chi-chi (which is vodka, coconut syrup and pineapple juice; enough of them will make a vacationer wade out into the lagoon hunting for sharks). For extra touches not to be found at any other hideaway, the village maids put tiny fresh orchids on each guest's pillow when turning down the beds at night—and at the store there is a resident parrot named Mac who will bite any man who gets close but who coos lovingly at all women.
Across the Alenuihaha channel on Maui, Hana Ranch has surrounded itself with a tenderly groomed 18-hole pitch-and-putt course, each hole and tee marked by painted half-coconut shells, where the accepted golfing costume is bare feet and whatever else the guest feels he can get by with. "But the bar," says Assistant Manager Errol Kimura, "is our special pride. You have seen piano bars in big hotels? Or noisy cocktail lounges at resorts where you can't hear yourself think for the band and the clink of jewelry? Well, look at this."
Perfect. The Hana bar sits in the open air under an awninglike cover; it faces a lush green hillside where the drinker can contemplate the cows, who chew quietly and contemplate the drinker. And for a small extra charge, since the place is a working ranch, guests can saddle up and ride out with the Hawaiian cowboys and herd the same cows.
But life need not be all that pastoral. Any Hawaiian trip, if worked properly, can be full of capsule adventures, and there are a number of ways in which one can collect some souvenir lumps.
Hana's Hamoa Beach, never mind what Michener said about its beauty, also serves up a fine, hammering surf plus a strong undertow for the unwary. Best way to handle it is to 1) tell Jack, the lifeguard, to keep an eye on you and 2) don swim fins and use a paipo, which is a 44-inch-long bellyboard in anybody else's language. Anyone in reasonable condition can learn the fine art of bellyboarding in an hour or two, catching rides into the black sand that will leave you definitely dizzy and probably just as stoked as the ancient Hawaiians were over the same sport.
That's tame. Over at Kona Village there are real burial caves and real skeletons and bodies to be discovered. Manager Kelterborn and his wife Helen and their dog Pamplemousse will take you out to see them (although Pamplemousse will not go in the caves; he is scared to, uhh, death of them).
The burial caves are out on the lava beds that surround Kona Village. The mountains off to one side are pockmarked with old volcano cones—and when the last one erupted in 1801, its flow ran down to the sea, leaving the small green notch where the village now lies. "So you see," says Klaus, "there really wasn't any other place to bury anybody."
The village has thoughtfully provided miners' helmets and flashlights for the visiting explorers. And sure enough, there are the bodies, in remarkable states of preservation, stretched out in the lava chambers.
And if skeletons don't do it, Kona Village can offer other new diversions that one will never find in the more plush places. The village lagoon, for some marine biological reason, attracts a gang of Manta rays in the evenings just past sundown. And since Manta rays are tame—well, they act tame—their appearance always brings a yell, "Hey, the rays are here!" and people will dash out of the dining room to go swim with them. "You simply hold onto the leading edge of their wings," says Klaus, "and they will pull you around all over the lagoon." It makes for a perfect end to a day.
While the rest of Hawaii, most of the mainland and much of the world sink slowly into the sunset of commerce, such places prove that there are still travel, adventure and sport hideaways left if one searches them out. There is no need to rough it and camp out on the beach; you don't have to hide away that far. The idea is to simply step out of the tourist parade for a few days. There is still time to see Hawaii before the cliches close in completely. One might even get the ultimate, vacation kick—like the doctor from Seattle.
This gentleman, an eminent gynecologist whose name is a household word in research circles, came to Kona Village to escape, to swim and sail. A refugee from luxury hotels and name-tagged tour groups, he went native. He let his beard grow and he lost his shoes. He put aside his pants and shirts and wrapped himself in gaily colored lavalavas. He gradually grew nut-brown. And over a mai-tai at the shipwreck bar he told what happened.
"I was just sitting out there on the beach," he said happily. "I was sort of staring out at the water and thinking about the terrible prospects of going back to work. Then along came this new arrival from the States. A real New York type. Fresh shorts from Blooming-dale's, the flowered shirt, camera around his neck, dark glasses—the whole thing. He nudged me with his toe and said, 'You fella gettum up me alia same boat to go sail in the lagoon?'
"Imagine it! He thought I was a beachboy!" It made his whole vacation.