You don’t really know how diverse our country is until you’ve visited Hawaii. My wife and I did last month, and it was an eye-opener.
Here are some recollections.
First off, it’s a great way to experience Pacific polynesia without carrying a passport or changing money. Some say it’s Florida with mountains. But it’s more than that.
The residents, most of them a polyglot of southeast Asia, are fiercely American. Don’t tell them you’re from the United States. They are too, and they’re proud of it.
All U.S. coffee comes from there, as does most pineapple and macadamia nuts. The coffee plantations – there are 520 on the Big Island alone (think Kona coffee) – are enough to keep you in caffeine for a lifetime of meetings. The biggest producer, interestingly, is not on Hawaii’s Kona Coast, but on Kauai, where laid-back tours show you how coffee is made.
We visited three islands, each with its own specialty.
· Oahu has Waikiki, a Honolulu resort strip worthy of Miami Beach, but with Diamond Head as a backdrop.
· Kauai has Waimea Canyon. Mark Twain called it “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” and it doesn’t disappoint.
· Hawaii, the ‘Big Island,’ has volcanoes, including Kilauea, the most active in the world. But no red-hot lava, at least when we were there.
All three islands have incredible waterfalls you can reach by road, and all have flowers in profusion. No big surprise. There’s lots of rain and rich volcanic soil.
The drive across the Big Island, from windward Hilo (140 inches of rain a year) to leeward Kona (10 inches a year) is a primer in meteorology. Passing through the jungle-like east, you go through clouds and drizzle on the south slope of 13,796-foot-high Mauna Kea and emerge into sunshine and desert on the west. Like turning a switch!
Hawaii is unique in other ways as well.
· It’s in the middle of the Pacific and subject to heavy weather. Hilo and other coastal towns have clearly marked evacuation routes. Tsunamis kill more Hawaiians than any other natural event.
· When the islands aren’t getting rain, the sun is shining, and Hawaii takes advantage of it, generating more solar energy per capita than any other state. Rooftop solar panels are everywhere.
· And sports. Where else are there surfing leagues? And surfing tours? That’s right. Professional surfers go from event to event, catching waves wherever there’s prize money. Then there’s rowing. High schools have eight-person crews that race between the islands.
Unfortunately, paradise has its downsides. Everything is very expensive. Property values make Naples look like a bargain. Tourism is not for the faint-hearted; visiting there empties the wallet.
And taxes are astronomical. Perhaps taking a cue from California, Hawaiian officials have found a way to tax everything. The add-ons to hotel, restaurant and even car rental bills jack up costs by 20-30%. It’s creative government at its worst.
But, in spite of the downsides, Hawaii is not to be missed. It has diversity and texture and marvelous people. And a harbor in Oahu where history was changed on December 7, 1941.