Lahaina, Hawaii



(Recently posted in Miama Herald)


This tropical town may be better known for its touristy souvenir shops and cafes, but a stroll along Lahaina’s waterfront yields a glimpse into Hawaii’s past, from its whaling days to King Kamehameha’s extracurricular activities.

Some walking tour maps suggest that you include 28 historic stops on your stroll – and start early in the day, so you don’t swoon from the heat as you contemplate Herman Melville’s cousin’s grave and a tennis court that was once the site of a sacred pond. We may be die-hard history buffs, but 28 seems like a lot. Besides, there’s a beach waiting – and the promise of margaritas.

So we’ve narrowed the field to an eye-popping eight and traced a path that leads from Lahaina’s spectacular banyan tree to dinner and cocktails. Consider it a Lahaina history appetizer. And if you’re still hungry for more, check out the extensive trail map designed by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation (, which has spent decades restoring and mapping 65 historically important sites in Kamehameha’s royal capital.

1. The Banyan Tree

This enormous tree is not just the centerpiece of Lahaina’s courthouse plaza. It’s a Hawaiian icon and one of the largest banyans in the U.S. The tree was just 8 feet tall when it was imported from India in 1873 and planted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of American Protestant missionaries.

Grab a coffee – or better yet, a scoop of Heavenly Hana ice cream at Lappert’s (693 Front St.) – to enjoy in the shade as you contemplate the history of this island nation and what happened when Christian missionaries arrived here. You’ll have no problem finding shade: The tree, which has 12 major trunks, is more than 60 feet tall. Its branches shade a 2/3-acre expanse of the park.

Details: Open 24/7 at Lahaina Banyan Court Park, 671 Front St., Lahaina

2. The Old Fort

The banyan is actually planted on the grounds of the historic Fort at Lahaina, which was built in 1832 to protect the town from cannon fire. In the first half of the 19th century, whaling ships anchored off Lahaina’s shores by the hundreds, their sailors eager to re-provision and enjoy a little shore leave. The carousing was cut short in 1825, when Hawaii’s royal family enacted a kapu – a religious ban – that prohibited prostitution and alcohol sales. Years of protests, rioting and death threats ensued, much of it aimed at missionaries, who sailors blamed for encouraging the royal decree.

In 1827, a British whaling ship fired cannons over a missionary’s house, which prompted the queen to order an old mud and sand fort rebuilt into something more substantial. Built from coral blocks, the 20-foot tall walls of the Old Fort were topped with 47 cannons. What you see here now is a partial reconstruction, done in 1964.

Details: Open 24/7. Find the ruins at the southwestern edge of the park.

3. Old Courthouse

See that cream-colored, Greek Revival building with the terra cotta tile roof? Originally built as the Lahaina Court and Customs House in 1860, this was the place where the Hawaiian flag was retired and the new U.S. flag raised in 1898, when the American government – incited by U.S. business titans and Sanford Dole, the son of missionaries to Hawaii and a cousin of the Dole pineapple family, whose empire rose in 1899 – annexed a sovereign country and deposed Queen Lili’uokalani.

Today, this beautiful building, which was renovated in 1998, is the home of the Lahaina Visitor Center and, upstairs, the Lahaina Heritage Museum (

Details: Open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Free admission. 648 Wharf St. at Banyan Tree Park

4. The Pioneer Inn

Maui’s first hotel was opened by a 6-foot, 5-inch Royal Canadian Mountie in 1901 at a time of immense change. Theodore Roosevelt had just become president. The Victorian era had just come to a close. And for the next 50 years, the Pioneer Inn would be Western Maui’s only lodging option – and a popular Hollywood filming site. Today, the hotel and saloon are owned by Best Western, so guests get air-conditioning and Keurig coffeemakers, along with that sense of history.

Before you go inside, though, stop and look at the Lahaina Lighthouse on the waterfront across the street from the hotel. King Kamehameha III had a 9-foot tall lighthouse built here in 1840, its lamp fueled with the whale oil procured in Lahaina’s waters. It predates any lighthouse on the U.S. Pacific coast. In 1866, the lighthouse was expanded to 26 feet and the whale oil was replaced by kerosene. The 55-foot tall lighthouse – with its Fresnel lens – you see today was built in 1905.

Details: 658 Wharf St., Lahaina;

5. Hauola Stone

Look for the brass marker pointing the way to a sacred stone half-submerged in the water. For centuries, it was used as a royal birthing seat. According to legend, a Hawaiian queen had to give birth in one of these chairlike stones, lapped by ocean waves, for her child to carry the royal lineage.

6. Baldwin Home Museum

Whatever your views on Hawaii’s missionary experience, Dwight Baldwin, a Harvard-educated doctor and missionary to Maui, is a figure worth celebrating for this fact alone: His insistence on vaccination in 1853 saved Maui, Molokai and Lanai’s residents from the smallpox epidemic that killed 12,000 people on Oahu and the Big Island. Baldwin spent months traveling from village to village to administer immunization shots.

Today, the Baldwin family home is a museum that offers a look back at 19th century missionary life, from medical equipment to mosquito net-draped beds and games of Konane, a Hawaiian game similar to Chinese checkers that uses black and white rocks on a wooden gameboard. The Masters’ Reading Room is right next door and worth a peek, as well.

Details: Tickets $5-$7. Open daily from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and until 8:30 p.m. on Fridays at 120 Dickenson St.; Lahaina

7. Wo Hing Museum

Chinese immigrants first arrived on Maui on 19th century trade or whaling ships. If you’ve driven the Road to Hana, you can thank Chinese labor for building that challenging road’s many bridges. In 1912, the Wo Hing Society – Wo means peace and harmony, Hing means prosperity – built this two-story building, with a temple upstairs. The first floor now houses a museum.

Details: Admission is $5-$7, but admission to the Baldwin House covers both museums. Open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily at 858 Front St., Lahaina;

8. U.S. Seamen’s Hospital

This stone-front building was commissioned as an inn for sailors in 1833 by Kamehameha III and later used as a hospital for injured seamen. It had a much more colorful purpose, too. Situated on the outskirts of town, it was a good mile from the missionary settlement – and the king needed a rendezvous spot for trysts with his sister, the Princess Nahi’ena’ena. The idea of sacred marriages between royal siblings is an ancient one, and it extends back through generations of Hawaiian royal lineage. As you might guess, the missionaries did not approve.

Details: 1024 Front St., Lahaina;

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Hawaii: Big Island

(Recently published on Wendy Perrin web site)

 bang-for-your-buck hotels
For romance and history, you can’t do better than Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. The decor is understated, with Balinese and Thai influences, but still true to its Hawaiian roots. It’s filled by great artworks from Laurence Rockefeller’s prize collection (the famous philanthropist opened the hotel in the 1960s). But you may not be able to focus on the paintings for very long: The hotel is on one of the island’s best beaches, where between November and May you’ll see an endless parade of whales and manta rays right off the shore. Best of all, the Deluxe Ocean View rooms are less expensive then the entry-level at some of the island’s other luxury hotels—and come with a fantastic buffet breakfast to boot. Our guests also receive extra special treatment at the Mauna Kea.

If you prefer pools to the beach, you’re better off at the Four Seasons Hualalai: It has seven pools, including one stocked with more than 4,000 tropical fish, a sea-side infinity pool, a lap pool, and a shaded kids’ pool.

For families, the Fairmont Orchid is a wonderful choice and a fantastic value. The hotel has many connecting rooms and large suites, with separate master bedrooms, that can comfortably accommodate five people, as well as a Gold floor, which offers food all day long with full breakfast, snacks, and quite a nice spread in the evening.

The hotel also has a children’s program, a huge pool, and plenty of space for little ones to run around. But what kids seem to most love about this hotel are the resident sea turtles; they live in the lagoon right near the beach. And for grown-ups, the Fairmont Orchid has one of the best spas on the island. We often arrange surprises for our guests who stay here, such as special room amenities, complimentary use of the pool cabanas, or gifts as mementos of their stay.

Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii

The Fairmont Orchid. Photo: Fairmont.

Restaurant the locals love
The Village Burger, a small hamburger joint in the Parker Ranch Shopping Center, cooks up made-to-order burgers and french fries so outstanding that you’ll want to go back again and again.

Must-have dishes
Well, this is Kona, so you have to try the coffee, and it’s Hawaii, so you have to try shaved ice. But as for a must-taste dish, you can’t leave the state without trying poke—a raw fish salad, usually made with ahi or yellow tail. Nearly every eatery has its own version. Da Poke Shack in Kailua-Kona is a good place to dive in—they make eight varieties, including one with avocado aioli and another with spicy garlic sesame oil.

Meal worth the splurge
Peter Merriman established Pacific Rim cuisine on the Big Island some two decades ago and spearheaded the locavore movement there as well. He’s still considered one of the five best chefs in Hawaii, and dinners at his flagship restaurant, Merriman’s, are amazing—and rival luxury-hotel restaurant prices. Still, this is an experience. The restaurant, in the town of Waimea, occupies a nondescript building that looks more like a modest home than a fancy eatery. But inside, the kitchen prepares a wonderful lamb dish, seafood entrées that change depending on the catch of the day, and, one of the house specialties, freshly caught monchong crusted with macadamia nuts and served with Japanese vegetables. Everything is fresh and grown on the island.

A good alternative to dinner is lunch. It’s a little less expensive and equally as creative. Try the Ahi Poke Bowl made there with garlic and macadamia-nut rice.

Brown’s Beach House at the Fairmont Orchid is another outstanding restaurant in a romantic setting right on the beach—go around sunset, when there’s a guitar player to entertain you during dinner. The menu is varied, very creative, and changes nightly, though the attention to presentation and excellent service never vary.

What to See and Do

boat at shore dripping with lava, big island, hawaii

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Don’t miss
Waipi’o Valley, a lush valley with a spectacular beach (Waipi’o means “curved water” in the Hawaiian language). It’s a holy and mystical place full of ancient Hawaiian lore and can be difficult to access: A 4WD vehicle is necessary for the very steep road down into the valley, and the switchback hiking trail is difficult. For a less rigorous adventure, nearby Pololū Valley has a beautiful hike to a black-sand beach; follow up with lunch in Hawi at Bamboo Restaurant or Sushi Rock.

A helicopter tour of the Volcanoes National Park area. Try either Blue Hawaiian or Paradise Helicopter—both have excellent pilots who won’t just fly you over the stunning craters but will give you a great geology lesson while you’re up there, explaining exactly how the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands is still constantly forming. But don’t just see the volcanoes from above. Spend some time first on foot in the park itself, and then hop on the chopper in Hilo.

The drive on Saddle Road, up to the observatories near the top of 4,200-foot-high Mauna Kea, passes a landscape so barren and otherworldly that you’ll feel like you’re driving on the surface of the moon, seeing the same sights as Neil Armstrong did.

Waipio Valley lookout, Big Island, Hawaii

Waipio Valley lookout, Big Island, Hawaii. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Don’t bother
Hilo may be the island’s capital, but it’s still a small town, and you don’t need more than a day or two there. A few places worth visiting in Hilo are the Imiloa Astronomy Center (a great planetarium); the Lyman Museum, which contains an exceptionally beautiful rock and mineral collection; and the Suisan Fish Market, where fishermen bring their catch starting at 6 a.m. for the daily auction. The Pacific Tsunami Museum is also worth a stop; it documents the disastrous tsunami that hit the island in 1960. Foodwise, the pickings are slim in Hilo, but Café Pesto is a good neighborhood Italian spot (which isn’t that easy to find in Hawaii), and if you happen to be in town on Wednesday or Sunday be sure to stop by the farmers’ market to check out all the exotic flowers and fruits.

Hidden gem
The seahorse farm located just past the Kona Airport is a must for children and grown-ups alike. It’s a high-tech organic aqua farm with fantastic tours Monday through Friday that explain all about these ancient and unusual creatures, as well as the science behind running the farm and a little insight into the world of ocean conservation. Ticket prices are steep—$28 for kids and $38 for adults—but it’s well worth it.

Black Sand Beach, Hawaii

A black-sand beach on the Big Island. Photo courtesy Susan Tanzman.

Best beaches
The half-mile white-sand Hapuna Beach—the one often seen in advertisements and television shows touting an island paradise—is one of the island’s most beautiful and easily accessible beaches.

For another perfect white-sand strand—but this one without the crowds—try Makalawena Beach near Kekaha Kai Sate Park, in Kona. You’ll have to maneuver an unpaved road for a short distance and walk a bit from the parking area, but that is part of the charm.

Best for snorkeling
Kealakekua Bay (also known as Kay Bay), on the western edge of the island, is a spectacular marine sanctuary; since the snorkeling site can only be reached by boat, the coral is pristine, and there are plenty of colorful fish.





Five Reasons to Visit Hawaii


(This article was recently posted in Huffington Post)

Few places in the world inspire as much sheet wanderlust as the islands of Hawaii. Home to eight national parks, 400-plus beaches, and countless scenic hikes, the state is a goldmine of staggering natural beauty. But there’s more to the islands than Instagram-worthy views. From fresh food to world-class surfing to incredible wildlife, here are 5 reasons to start planning your next Hawaiian getaway.

1. The rugged, blissfully crowd-free region of Oahu’s North Shore.


2. Kauai’s unparalleled Nā Pali Coast, which can only be seen from a helicopter, catamaran, or rather grueling hike. But the deep valleys, towering waterfalls, and sea caves are well worth the effort.


3. The ubiquitous fragrance and vibrant colors of the plumeria flower, one of Hawaii’s most iconic symbols.


4. The sunrise over Maui’s Haleakala National Park, a phenomenon so popular that you have to make a paid reservation to see it.


5. Green sea turtles (or honu), a symbol of good luck in Hawaii (and a damn cute species to spot while snorkeling in Kauai).