Secrets to the aloha spirit

Hawaiians are the most content people in the country. What can the rest of us learn from them?

Essay by Kaui Hart Hemmings; Hawaii guide by Kathleen N. Brenzel, Jeanne Cooper, Peter Fish, MacKenzie Geidt, and Matthew Jaffe



To see the island at its wildest and most rejuvenating, explore the rain forests and waterfalls of the Hamakua Coast, which runs northwest from Hilo to Waipio Valley. For fiery geological excitement, follow Danny Akaka’s lead and view Halema‘uma‘u Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Hamakua Coast

  • Akaka Falls State Park. An easy 0.4-mile walk leads to two spectacular waterfalls. $5/vehicle;
  • Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. An exotic paradise with 3,500 species of plants. $15;
  • Café Il Mondo. Italy meets the Big Island—e.g., in macadamia nut pesto. $$; 45-3626A Mamane St., Honoka‘a; 808/775-7711.
  • The Palms Cliff House Inn. Lanais at the plantation-style inn take in views of Pohakumanu Bay. From $239;
  • Waianuhea Bed & Breakfast. A sustainable retreat, poised between the coast and Mauna Kea. From $210;
  • Lava Lava Beach Club. On the Kohala Coast, southwest from Hamakua, four new cottages beside a glittering turquoise bay. From $450;

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

  • Kilauea. Head out at dusk or before sunrise to the overlook from Thomas A. Jaggar Museum and catch the glow and rumble of Halema‘uma‘u Crater’s lava lake. $10/vehicle;
  • Volcano Art Center. The gallery is a go-to place for original works by top printmakers, woodworkers, and ceramicists. 866/967-7565.
  • Kilauea Lodge & Restaurant. The lodge’s historic fireplace warms an eclectic dining experience that ranges from a German sausage plate to a local catch prepared Hawaiian-style with mango-chutney glaze and macadamia nuts. $$$; 19-3948 Old Volcano Rd., Volcano Village; 808/967-7366.
  • Volcano Rainforest Retreat. Shoji screens and Japanese soaking tubs add to the soulful allure of the retreat; wake up to the lilting calls of native ‘apapane birds. From $155; 2-night min.;
  • Volcano Village Lodge. Cottages with floor-to-ceiling windows and wraparound decks let you immerse yourself in the surrounding rain forest. From $280; 2-night min.;


If you think of Oahu only as home to Honolulu’s glittering hotels, the island’s more natural side will surprise you. But leeward Oahu carries you back to a sleepier, rural Hawaii. Frenetic Waikiki can be serene, once you experience it from the water. And Kaui Hart Hemmings’ Kailua neighborhood, on windward Oahu, has a pleasing small-town vibe, along with world-class beaches.


  • Kailua Bay. For kayak rentals and tours, check out eco-minded Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks; it also has an education center. Rentals from $59/half-day; 130 Kailua Rd.;
  • He‘eia Kea Pier General Store & Deli. Locally sourced, fresh-tasting island favorites like guava chicken and ahi poke thrive in a somewhat unlikely setting. $; end of He‘eia Kea Small Boat Harbor, 46-499 Kamehameha Hwy., Ka-ne‘ohe; 808/235-2192.
  • Papaya Paradise. Two quiet, simply furnished rooms with private entrances and baths share a large covered lanai and pool (with view of Mt. Olomana) in this licensed B&B a few blocks from Kailua Beach. $100; 3-night min.;

Leeward Oahu

This is the rough side of Oahu: Occasional homeless camps and car break-ins deter some tourists. But the island’s west side enfolds sandy beaches, deep valleys, and dramatic mountains; you’ll find luxurious lodging options at Ko Olina, on the coast’s south end.

  • Ka‘ena Point State Park. After a drab drive, inspiration awaits at little-visited, lifeguarded Yokohama Beach and along the moderately difficult 2.3-mile trail to scenic Ka‘ena Point Natural Area Reserve. End of Farrington Hwy., Ma-kua.
  • Island Country Markets. This upscale deli offers good grilled panini and plate lunches, plus local foodstuffs such as apple bananas and Maui’s Roselani Tropics ice cream. $; 92-1048 Olani St., Kapolei; 808/671-2231.
  • Malia’s Pasteles and Poke. Puerto Rican sugar cane workers arrived in Hawaii in 1900, bringing recipes for tamale-like pasteles and panadijas (turnovers). Mary Apana serves tasty versions, plus plate lunches and fresh poke, from her food truck. $; Fri–Sun; Pohakunui Ave. at Farrington Hwy., Na-na-kuli;
  • JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa. The discreet resorts (including this one) along the Ko Olina stretch of coast seem even more tranquil now that families flock to nearby Disney’s Aulani. Check website for rates;


  • Kayak/paddle/surf Waikiki Beach. Activities, at Hilton Hawaiian Village, has kayaks for rent ($40/hour, $60/2 hours; 808/949-4321). For surfing and stand-up paddleboard lessons, contact Hans Hedemann Surf School (
  • The Royal Hawaiian’s Azure Restaurant. It’s not inexpensive, but for ocean lovers, Azure offers both a beachside setting and some of the best seafood in Hawaii. $$$$; 808/921-4600.
  • Hilton Hawaiian Village. For water-sports lovers, the Hilton appeals for its spot on Waikiki’s less crowded west end and its access to Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon and Beach. From $229;
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