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


Along Kauai’s North Shore, natural beauty soars to the supernatural; on the northeast side, tiny Anahola is a reminder of the rhythms of traditional Hawaiian life.


  • Stock up for a beach picnic by stopping at Duane’s Ono Char-Burger, in this sleepy little Hawaiian town where you’ll likely see wild chickens and might hear Hawaiian being spoken. $; between mileposts 13 and 14 on State 56; 808/822-9181.

North Shore

  • Makana. The strikingly steep-faced 1,115-foot peak, called Bali Ha‘i in South Pacific, hovers over verdant Limahuli Valley, home to Limahuli Garden and Preserve. Self-guided garden tours ($15) share Makana’s history as a launchpad for firebrands (torches in the ‘o-ahi ceremony) and other intriguing Hawaiian lore. West of milepost 9, State 560, Ha-‘ena;
  • Makua Beach (Tunnels). Hard to park near, harder to leave—this sandy strand boasts ideal snorkeling in calm weather and cavern-laced reefs farther out for expert surfers and divers. Leave your car at Ha‘ena Beach Park (near milepost 9 on State 560) and walk a few hundred feet east; Ha‘ena.
  • Nu‘alolo Kai. Below an uninhabited valley on the rugged Na Pali Coast lie a pristine, reef-fringed beach and the remains of an ancient village, accessible only via permitted raft tours. (Due to ocean conditions, landings are not guaranteed.) Capt. Andy’s Sailing year-round Nu‘alolo tours depart from Kekaha; $159 includes snorkel tour ($185 in summer); Kauai Sea Tours depart from Port Allen Apr–Oct; $150 ($140 online);
  • Mediterranean Gourmet. At Hanalei Colony Resort’s oceanfront restaurant, island greens and fresh fish add local flavor to a multiethnic menu that includes gluten-free options. $$$; 5-7132 State 560, Ha-‘ena; 808/826-9875.
  • Hanalei Colony Resort. With no TVs, stereos, or phones in these 48 condos, the waves crashing on little-visited Kepuhi Beach create the most noise. You can get a treatment (from $115) at on-site Hanalei Day Spa, specializing in Ayurvedic therapies. From $216;
  • Kauai Island Vacations. Luxury vacation rental houses include eight near Makua Beach. From $250; 5-night min.;


Molokai residents have fought for decades to keep development away from their 38-mile-long island. Sandy beaches line the west end, while the east end’s Halawa Valley shelters rain forest and waterfalls. On the south side stretches an immense barrier reef; on the north, the world’s highest sea cliffs isolate the former Kalaupapa leper colony, now a national historic park.

  • Sea cliffs. Take an air tour ($180), a mule ride ($199), or a hike down formidable Kalaupapa Trail to experience the cliffs’ (and Molokai’s) lonely grandeur. Guided hike from $50; Moloka‘i Outdoors,
  • Kualapu‘u Cookhouse. The menu notes, “If you’re in a hurry, you’re on the wrong island!” Most guests don’t mind the wait (or simple seating, BYOB, and cash-only policy) once the grilled fish and stir-fries arrive. $$$; 102 Farrington Rd., Kualapu‘u; 808/567-9655.
  • Outpost Natural Foods. Organic-food fans rely on this grocery store’s kitchen counter for local-fruit smoothies and veggie bur­gers. $; 70 Makaena Place, Kaunakakai; 808/553-3377.
  • Hotel Moloka‘i. It’s hard to imagine a more low-key hotel than this, the island’s only hotel, with 54 rooms in two-level A-frames, plus a basic pool and oceanfront restaurant (closed for renovation until summer, although the bar remains open). From $159;
  • Pu‘u O Hoku Ranch. For travelers who seek solitude: endangered ne-ne- (Hawaii’s state bird) and cattle roam on this tranquil 14,000-acre ranch and organic farm running down to Ha-lawa Valley. There are three cottages (one, two, or four bedrooms). From $200; 2-night min.;


The Magic Isle has its contradictions. Calm and lovely today, its ‘Iao Valley was where King Kamehameha I defeated Maui forces in his fight to unite Hawaii under his rule. Beach town Pa‘ia has two faces too: world-class surfer and windsurfer hangout, but also home to native Hawaiians whose island roots reach back centuries.

  • ‘Iao Valley State Monument. A 1,200-foot green pinnacle punctuates this serene enclave, home to a botanical garden, burbling stream, and short path to the ‘I-ao Needle overlook. $5 nonresident parking; end of ‘I-ao Valley Rd./Hwy. 32, Wailuku;
  • Pa‘ia. Hana Highway drivers may notice only plantation-era buildings and modern hippies, but for water lovers, Pa‘ia is the North Shore destination, with beach parks for expert surfers and windsurfers (Ho‘okipa Beach Park) and bodyboarders (H.A. Baldwin Park and Pa-‘ia Bay). 7 miles east of Kahului, at milepost 9.
  • Mana Foods. Pick up an organic breakfast burrito, picnic lunch, or dinner from the highly regarded deli counter and bakery at this health-foods institution. Gluten-free, vegan, and raw options abound, as well as more decadent pleasures like chocolate chip banana bread. $; 49 Baldwin Ave., Pa-‘ia; 808/579-8078.
  • The Inn at Mama’s Fish House. While the exquisite, expensive seafood restaurant ($$$$) is no secret, the accommodations next to Ku‘au Cove’s sandy crescent in Pa‘ia define “hidden gem.” Partly solar powered, the nine cottages feature full kitchens, with kitchenettes in the three suites. From $175;
  • Lumeria Maui. New Age luxury arrives in Makawao: artfully remodeled sugar-cane workers’ housing on 6 acres. A $25 resort fee includes wellness classes and breakfast at organic Harvest Café ($$$), due to open in early 2013. From $349;
  • Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono. An unusually stately bed-and-breakfast inn: The restored 1924 main house, a historic landmark, holds seven rooms, with three more in a modern cottage. From $165; 2-night min.;
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