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Hidden Hawaii

One of my favorite walks in Honolulu is in Maunawili, just over the Pali Highway from Honolulu. Turn onto Auloa Road from the highway and follow it to the end, where there is a marker indicating the beginning of the easy three-mile round-trip to Maunawili Falls. Wearing a bathing suit under my shorts, I enter the forest, passing abandoned plantations of coffee, sweet mountain apple, and guava. Eating from the trees as I go, I make my way to the foot of sacred Olomana Mountain through fragrant copses of yellow ginger. It may be muddy on the path, and it is necessary to ford Maunawili Stream a number of times. No dangerous creatures lurk in the damp undergrowth, thick with ferns and vines, but the forest is full of birds, who, with no natural enemies, build their nests on the ground. It is forbidden to pick the red lehua flower, sacred to the fire goddess Pele, as she will cause it to rain. At the bottom of the falls is a dark pool where I swim, mindful to ask the blessing of the lizard god Mo'o, who is said to live in its depths.

In the mid 19th century, King Kamehameha IV's wife, Queen Emma, built Hanaiakamalama (2913 Pali Hwy.; 808/595-3167) as a summer palace, in Nuuanu Valley off the Pali road. My mother would take us to Queen Emma's palace once a week for a picnic in the garden, with thermoses of Oahu Country Club iced tea, guava chiffon cake from Dee-Lite Bakery (1930 Dillingham Blvd., Kalihi; 808/847-5396), and warm manapua (Chinese buns filled with char siu pork) from the local grocery store. A fine example of a Greek Revival mansion, Hanaiakamalama seems poignant now, perhaps because the queen's son, Prince Albert, heir to the kingdom and named after the prince consort of England, died there. His koa cradle, dusted every morning, still stands alongside his parents' bed. The palace is a romantic reminder of the doomed Hawaiian monarchy.

Whenever I am in Honolulu, I visit Alii Antiques I & II (21 Maluniu St.; 808/261-1705) in Kailua. There are very few artifacts of Hawaiian sculpture left in the world, in part because the missionaries encouraged the Hawaiians to destroy their wooden gods. Those dissenters who refused to repudiate the spirits often buried the images, but they have long since disintegrated. The store, named for the Hawaiian word for chief or royalty, has 20th-century artifacts too: wooden bowls and trays, etched-glass platters and cocktail shakers from the thirties, long-sleeved silk aloha shirts, lauhala hats, and particularly good koa and lehua carved-wood lamps. And I always make sure to stop at Lai Fong (1118 Nuuanu St., Honolulu; 808/537-3497; call for appointment), an old curio shop in Chinatown. The store has been there for 70 years. There are delicate pineapple cuff links of carved ivory, old jewelry from the now-closed Ming's store in town and Gump's in San Francisco, and silk dresses from twenties Shanghai.

The Big Island

In the past, it was customary for families to keep several houses—beach shacks and mountain cabins, really—on the different islands. Some summers, my family went to Hanalei on the island of Kauai to a big wooden house on the beach. There was a screened porch on the second floor, where we children and our innumerable guests slept, with a row of 10 single beds, 10 little rickety bedside tables, and 10 lamps. There were 10 hooks on the walls for our few clothes. It was like the room Snow White shared with the Seven Dwarfs. We were in the water all day. We bathed in the outdoor shower. Sometimes when it was very hot we went to a cabin in the moun­tains of Kokee, in Kauai. Sometimes to a lovely white house on the beach at Punaluu on the north shore of Oahu. Sometimes to a beach house in Kona, on the Big Island.

A few hours from Kona, after driving through the cowboy enclave of  Waimea, is the small town of Hilo, which has maintained its provincial languor longer than most. It resembles, in the main street that faces Hilo Bay, a turn-of-the-20th-century town, complete with one- and two-story wooden buildings. All that is missing is a hitching post. Although a mall has been built less than 10 minutes away, the storefronts of Hilo retain their irresistible appeal.

There's a shop on Hilo's main street called Hana Hou (164 Kamehameha Ave.; 808/935-4555)—Hawaiian for "one more time." It is owned by the inventive Michele Zane-Faridi, who sells black South Sea pearls, vintage aloha shirts, sarongs and muumuus, and ivory and shell jewelry. She creates her own women's fashions based on designs of the forties and fifties. She also has a collection of the small-brimmed, round hats called Kona hats, an essential part of our wardrobe until the late sixties. Once you have decked yourself in a vintage dress or an aloha shirt, head down the highway to Richardson Ocean Park. The black-sand beach is planted with coconut palms. The path to the ocean winds past ancient fish ponds, cut into the lava rock, that once held the king's mullet and shrimp. The snorkeling around the edges of the bay is among the best on the island.


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