Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - By Les­lie An­thony

It’s a tra­di­tional Hawai­ian greet­ing that means ‘come in, eat,’ be­cause no mat­ter how the is­land of O‘ahu changes, its an­cient hos­pi­tal­ity stays the same

It’s a tra­di­tional Hawai­ian greet­ing that means ‘come in, eat,’ be­cause no mat­ter how the is­land of O‘ahu changes, that an­cient hos­pi­tal­ity stays the same

RID­ING OUT OF KUALOA Pri­vate Na­ture Re­serve, I duck into groves of wispy tamarind and gnarled mon­key pod trees hung with vines. As I round the foot of the Kualoa Range, the green­ery parts to re­veal the stark beauty of Ka‘a‘awa Val­ley. The forces of na­ture are writ large here: vol­canic ram­parts soar 1,000 me­tres on ei­ther side, fluted ridges and lush­ness em­blem­atic of al­most daily rain, while the sound of the Pa­cific crash­ing in Kane‘ohe Bay ar­rives on the wind. Paus­ing a mo­ment, my horse ducks its head to chomp grass, of­fer­ing only the re­sis­tance of an ex­tra bite when even­tu­ally spurred on­ward. It has been here be­fore, and its in­ter­est in the val­ley re­sides firmly at ground level. In a way I’ve been here, too — and no doubt so have you. Still, I’m over­whelmed by the vista. In real life, these ver­dant, jun­gle-clad peaks seem sur­real, al­most pre­his­toric, eas­ily con­jur­ing their place in the pa­rade of block­buster films and tele­vi­sion shows — Lost, Godzilla, King Kong and the en­tire Juras­sic Park fran­chise, to name a few — shot here. The orig­i­nal Hawai­ians con­sid­ered Ka‘a‘awa one of the most sa­cred places on the is­land of O‘ahu. Some­how, de­spite the pas­sage of so much gar­ish en­ter­prise, it has re­tained this aura of un­tram­melled par­adise, such that from the back of an in­do­lent horse one might still feel like an ad­ven­turer rid­ing into the un­known. Back­track­ing, I clop up grassy, windswept hill­sides be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing again into the tamarind-mon­key-pod tan­gle. Nei­ther of these trees is na­tive, but like O‘ahu’s di­verse hu­man cultures, they’ve made a home here, find­ing land­scape, weather and op­por­tu­ni­ties to their lik­ing.

THIRD LARGEST of the Hawai­ian Is­lands, O‘ahu’s his­tory has played a cen­tral role in other large-scale dra­mas — ge­o­logic, bi­o­logic and an­thro­po­logic — that have seen this land con­stantly re-imag­ined. Ris­ing from the ocean as a pair of shield vol­ca­noes a few mil­lion years ago, the seamounts have since eroded, leav­ing only the pre­cip­i­tous Wai‘anae and Ko‘olau ranges that di­vide O‘ahu into wind­ward (east) and lee­ward (west) sides. Col­o­nized by or­gan­isms car­ried on wind and waves, Hawaii’s blank-slate iso­la­tion (it’s 4,000 kilo­me­tres from the near­est con­ti­nent) re­sulted in a unique flora and fauna de­scended from a rel­a­tively few forms. The is­lands filled with birds, bugs and plants, but re­mained de­void of preda­tory mam­mals. That changed when the first Poly­ne­sians ar­rived

around AD 1200, in­tro­duc­ing rats, pigs, dogs and var­i­ous plants, a trend later ac­cel­er­ated by the is­lands’ cen­tral po­si­tion in the glob­al­iza­tion of mod­ern trade and com­merce. On the hu­man slate, O‘ahu mor­phed from the cap­i­tal of the King­dom of Hawai‘i to the cap­i­tal of an epony­mous Amer­i­can state in a cen­tury, its agri­cul­tural land­scape shift­ing from taro and sugar cane through cor­po­rate pineap­ple and ba­nana plan­ta­tions to to­day’s or­ganic farms rais­ing spe­cialty crops such as cashew, vanilla, dragon fruit and herbs. Farms, how­ever, aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of O‘ahu. That honour goes to beaches. And the first on most peo­ple’s agenda is sto­ried Waikiki. I make its ac­quain­tance while break­fast­ing at Duke’s Waikiki in the Outrig­ger Beach Re­sort. Duke Ka­hanamoku is Hawaii’s most rec­og­niz­able hero. A four-time Olympic swim­ming medal­list of the early mid20th cen­tury, he was also a surf am­bas­sador who helped pop­u­lar­ize the sport glob­ally. More leg­en­dar­ily, Ka­hanamoku once rode a mon­ster wave more than a kilo­me­tre and a half from Di­a­mond Head — a vol­canic crater at the far end of Waikiki — to where the restau­rant now stands fac­ing a turquoise ex­panse bob­bing with surfers, pad­dle­board­ers and outrig­ger ca­noes. You can sam­ple the revered restau­rant’s am­ple buf­fet and, as I do, graze the wealth of old travel posters and pho­tos of Ka­hanamoku’s re­mark­able life — a vis­age of old Hawaii lost. Hap­pily, there’s a resur­gence of au­then­tic Hawai­ian cul­ture that’s claim­ing the ar­chi­pel­ago’s erst­while her­itage from the car­toon­ish ver­sion por­trayed by Hol­ly­wood. As a re­sult, O‘ahu is chang­ing once again, a re­nais­sance in which “cul­tural am­bas­sador” is a grow­ing job de­scrip­tion and ev­ery­thing from din­ing to ad­ven­ture is fo­cused more on the is­land’s nat­u­ral and cul­tural val­ues. With four days to ex­pe­ri­ence what I can, there’s lit­tle time to waste. Af­ter break­fast, I dis­cover the best way to see Waikiki is by bike, cy­cling first out to Di­a­mond Head be­fore ex­plor­ing down­town’s broad boule­vards, pep­pered with high-end shops and eater­ies. Though Honolulu is in many ways a re­gret­table shock of sky­scrapers, here the con­crete canyons are ig­nited by the smell of flow­ers and the ring of bird­song. Be­hind the tow­ers lurk se­cret gar­dens and man­i­cured greenspaces that cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion — par­tic­u­larly around the Sher­a­ton Waikiki and ven­er­a­ble Royal Hawai­ian, ad­ja­cent prop­er­ties re­flect­ing ar­chi­tec­ture of dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods of the is­land’s tourism in­dus­try. The l egend of Hawai‘iloa, t he Poly­ne­sian nav­i­ga­tor who dis­cov­ered the Hawai­ian Is­lands, holds that he named O‘ahu for a son. A seat of kings, the is­land be­came known as “the gath­er­ing place” among an­cient Hawai­ians. Tourism os­ten­si­bly be­gan here when other is­landers re­ceived in­vi­ta­tions from the king, who’d con­structed overnight cab­ins for guests. From this sprang a tra­di­tion of hos­pi­tal­ity; in ad­di­tion to aloha (mean­ing hello/good­bye/af­fec­tion/love) another Hawai­ian greet­ing, means “come in, eat.” Five mil­lion vis­i­tors a year do just that, en­sur­ing O‘ahu’s econ­omy re­mains firmly rooted in tourism. But O‘ahu is also home to two-thirds of the state’s 1.4 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants, 80 per cent of whom live on the “citi­fied” lee­ward side in Honolulu and its en­cir­cling sprawl. As the is­lands’ only deep­wa­ter port, Honolulu con­tin­ues as a hub for both U.S. mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions and goods ar­riv­ing from abroad to be re­dis­tributed among the other is­lands.

O‘ahu is chang­ing once again, a re­nais­sance fo­cused more on the is­land’s nat­u­ral and cul­tural val­ues.

Din­ner at Mahina & Sun’s in the hip, laid­back Sur­f­jack Ho­tel & Swim Club (what other place hands you a note at check-in stat­ing they’re “stoked” to have you?) pro­vides a first taste of Hawaii’s nou­velle cui­sine. The eatery on seem­ingly ev­ery re­view­ers’ list as one of Hawaii’s best new restau­rants high­lights award­win­ning chef Ed Ken­ney’s mod­ern farmto-fork take on is­land fare, with lo­cally caught sus­tain­able seafood an­chor­ing the menu. All life here, it seems, re­volves around the sea — or on it.

WITH O‘AHU the de facto cen­tre of global surf cul­ture, one would be re­miss not to in­dulge. I plan to do so on the much-cel­e­brated North Shore. “North Shore” chan­nels such no­to­ri­ety you al­most ex­pect some­thing crazy to be go­ing on there. But out­side of its win­ter fury, when the surf world de­scends for big-wave rid­ing, it’s a quiet mix of beach and reef breaks. At Tur­tle Bay Re­sort, in­struc­tor Lance O’con­nor with the Hans Hede­mann surf school be­gins a les­son with dry­land train­ing on the 3.6-me­tre boards is­sued to be­gin­ners, run­ning through the se­quence of moves re­quired to reach a sta­ble stand­ing po­si­tion — the bug­bear for most learn­ers — be­fore pad­dling out to the break. O’con­nor con­fi­dently lo­cates me to catch a wave (im­prob­a­bly, by plac­ing a big toe on the tip of my board and tow­ing me into po­si­tion). My years as a failed surfer in Cal­i­for­nia decades ear­lier pay div­i­dends as I man­age to stand up on ev­ery wave I try for. But that’s where — as was the case all those years ago — it ends. Of seven waves, I man­age only three shaky rides into the shore. No mat­ter, I claim a de facto surf ses­sion, fun enough to yield a few sto­ries. I dry out with a sunny af­ter­noon on Climb­works’ zi­plines at Keana Farms, a unique op­er­a­tion where eight dou­ble lines fly you through iron­wood forests and over fra­grant plots of fruit and veg­eta­bles. Head­ing back to Honolulu tired and fam­ished, I fret over the lineup out­side pop­u­lar Marukame Udon, al­ready a block long at 6 p.m. But I needn’t worry as I un­cover de­li­cious Thai cui­sine at tiny Siam Square steps from the Sur­f­jack. This is Honolulu’s charm: though high­end shops and chain ho­tels con­front the trav­eller at ev­ery turn, back­streets brim with sur­prises. Even higher-end prop­er­ties are un­der­go­ing re-in­ven­tion, such as the re­fur­bished Four Sea­sons Re­sort O‘ahu at Ko Olina. Here, an ex­traor­di­nar­ily airy lobby leads in one di­rec­tion onto gar­dens and a stream pa­trolled by colour­ful koi, and in the other to a se­ries of ocean la­goons and beaches out­lined by a five-kilo­me­tre trail. One cool morn­ing, I run the trail to its end, a point where you hop across lava slabs while crabs scut­tle dili­gently away from each foot­fall. The deep blue of the sea here is cut by a preter­nat­u­ral green line on the hori­zon where it meets the aqua­ma­rine sky. That af­ter­noon I hike to Ka‘ena Point, O‘ahu’s far west­ern tip lo­cated at road’s end past Yoko­hama Beach. Ka‘ena Point was a sa­cred des­ti­na­tion to an­cient Hawai­ians, the place where newly re­leased souls met those of de­ceased an­ces­tors and friends — a jump­ing-off point to the spirit world. The re­mote trail fol­lows a for­mer rail bed at the base of a moun­tain, while the ocean con­tin­ues its re­lent­less as­sault on the land be­low, con­sum­ing the trail in places. The swell here is large, and oc­ca­sional blow­holes are seen in the lava. Af­ter six kilo­me­tres you en­ter a seabird sanc­tu­ary through a fence de­signed to keep out feral preda­tors such as mon­goose and rats. Here the world changes abruptly, as if you’ve stepped through a door where all re­verts to its nat­u­ral state. Al­ba­tross, frigate birds and shear­wa­ters hang in a stiff wind over dunes con­ceal­ing their nests. Monk seals lounge on the rocks, and spin­ner dol­phins frolic in the set­ting sun.

ON MY FI­NAL AF­TER­NOON, a two-hour he­li­copter tour of­fers a unique per­spec­tive on the is­land. Pi­lot Carl “Mooch” Reynoso, a for­mer mil­i­tary pi­lot, proves friendly and chatty with a wealth of knowl­edge. We fly first over Pearl Har­bor, site of the in­fa­mous

This is Honolulu’s charm: though high-end shops and ho­tels con­front the trav­eller at ev­ery turn, back­streets brim with sur­prises.

at­tack of Dec. 7, 1941. Some­how Mooch has clear­ance to hover over both a re­fur­bished memo­rial of the sunken USS Ari­zona and nu­clear sub­marines in dry dock. We fol­low the shore­line to Waikiki. As we ap­proach, I trace the line along which Ka­hanamoku would have rid­den his wave. Round­ing the is­land’s south­east corner at Koko Head, we head up the wind­ward side. Mooch points out tiny Moku o Lo‘e Is­land in Kane‘ohe Bay. Home to a ma­rine bi­ol­ogy in­sti­tute, it en­joyed a pre­vi­ous life hov­er­ing on the hori­zon in the open­ing se­quence of Gil­li­gan’s Is­land. Soon I’m fol­low­ing my horse­back ride into the Ka‘a‘awa Val­ley, touch­ing down atop an ad­ja­cent moun­tain where I’m dumb­founded by the view. Tak­ing off again, Mooch dives into the val­ley and banks to­ward its head be­fore turn­ing back out to sea. We pass re­mote Kal­i­uwa‘a Falls, which tum­bles 300 me­tres like a silk thread laid over green vel­vet, en route to the North Shore, Mooch switch­ing seam­lessly from talk of tak­ing en­emy fire to surf­ing the great breaks of Hawaii. I spy not only Tur­tle Bay but leg­endary Sun­set Beach, the Ban­zai Pipe­line and Waimea Bay, surfers dot­ting each. At one point, we pause off­shore while tan­dem sky­divers jump from their plane. Fi­nally, Ka‘ena Point comes into view. It looks ev­ery bit as rugged and wild from the air, and when Mooch rounds it to aim home­ward, I’m sad to think that two cir­cles are about to close — this one-of-a-kind aerial tour, and the four vi­brant days on O‘ahu it re­traced, be­gun on a horse in a val­ley that oc­ca­sion­ally fills with di­nosaurs.

A sun­set surf on O‘ahu’s north shore ( left), birth­place of surf cul­ture. Ka‘ena Point State Park in west­ern O‘ahu ( above). Horse­back rid­ing through the sa­cred Ka‘a‘awa Val­ley ( op­po­site); pre­vi­ous pages: Beach-fronted Waikīkī is touristy yet true to its roots.

Win­ter brings the big­gest waves to O‘ahu’s north shore ( above), draw­ing cham­pion surfers to com­pete and rook­ies to surf schools. The view from a trail at Ka‘ena Point in west­ern O’ahu ( op­po­site).

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