See the West's biggest waves―and the world's best surfers―at classic beaches along Oahu's fabled North Shore

Sunset

Flying into Kona, the plane passes low over turquoise waterso clear I can see white sand and black lava rocks through itsshimmering depths. Beyond the shore, the land tilts up to formmountains cloaked in mist.

Not so long ago, I came to Hawaii, like most visitors, tovacation on those beaches, to swim in the crystalline shallows andwatch yellow butterfly fish glide over the reefs. Afterward, I'ddrip dry on a lounge chair by the beach, sipping a cool drink orlosing myself in a novel, before sun or soft breezes lulled me tosleep.

But a couple of years ago, another, more vital Hawaii began toreveal itself to me ― one that was far from the touristhotels.

On a grassy terrace above Kauai's Ke'e Beach, as a setting sunturned the sea to liquid gold, I discovered a Hawaii few visitorsever see. Hula dancers in grass skirts and shell leis, moving tothe beat of drums and the cadence of a chant, gracefully acted outthe story of a long-ago canoe voyage from Polynesia to Hawaii.

Watching the dancers, I began to wonder: Is a ceremony like thissimply an isolated remnant of a vanished past, or does a genuineHawaiian culture still exist?

The image of those dancers on a ledge above the sea still hauntsme. On this trip, I've decided to go beyond the beach and trek upinto those misty hills in search of the real Hawaii. At theairport, I jump into a taxi bearing a bumper sticker that readssimply, "Live aloha." I don't know what that means, but I'm aboutto find out.

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