Hawaii Postcards

One of the fun things about collecting postcards is that they’re handy references of the way things used to look like. I’m not a generic postcard collector but I really do like getting ones which depict places I know and places I’ve been to.

A month or so ago I picked up a few cards which depict locations in Hawai‘i I’ve travelled to but look nothing like the way they were when I saw them. Sometimes this is due to development reasons. Other times it’s because of how nature has changed the landscape in the decades between the card’s printing and when I visited.

The first card is a white-borderded card from the 1920s–1930s and depicts the wide spot in the road which would become the Pali lookout. Nu‘uanu Pali Road still exists as the drive up to the lookout but it ends there in a parking lot and this portion of the road is now a pedestrian walkway. Meanwhile the Pali Highway goes through a tunnel bored beneath the lookout.

I have no idea where this image is taken from and there’s no way to access that location anymore. But aside from the size of the road and marveling at how it was the only way to get from the windward side of the island to Honolulu, I can also appreciate how wild that side of the island is. Looking out over Kāne‘ohe looks like everything is completely lush and unsettled.


Pali-1For comparison, these two views from the lookout show how developed the area is now. You can even see Interstate H3 winding around the base of the Ko‘olaus. There is still a lot of green though thanks to Ho‘omaluhia’s existence and the need to protect the city from floodwaters coming off the mountains.

Another view of the lookout this time on a much-older divided back card from the beginning of the 20th century. I love the horse-drawn carriage and cannot imagine making this trip through the winds and falling rocks on the this narrow stretch of road. The view here is looking up at the lookout as you approach it fro the windward side of the island.

pali-3I’ve actually taken a picture from almost this perspective. Yes, I used a wider-angle lens, but the cliffs and mountains are clearly the same. The first couple times I visited the lookout you could walk down the old road quite a way. The most-recent time though they’d fenced that off due to concerns about falling rocks and, I suspect, the fact that it was probably getting instagrammed to death.

DSC_0126.JPGI went even further down that road over 15 years ago and not only caught a view of where the postcard and other photo were captured but also the two tunnels under the pass which we drive through today. This view, despite the clouds, also points out one of the dangers in trusting old postcards as records of the past.

The mountains behind the one prominent peak are vague and sketchy because they don’t actually exist and have been added in to the postcard artwork. The postcard is a colorized black and white photo here the photo is sort of halftoned but all the colors are laid down in chromolithography dither patterns. The background mountains have no photographic information or black ink and are pure color added after the fact.

This linen card from the 1940s depicts the ‘Iolani Palace as it functioned as Hawai‘i’s capitol until 1969. This is an interesting one since not only do I have photos from my trips here, I also have a card from the 1890s which depicts the same building. This is a prime example of how fun linen postcards are since the color is super punchy and the artwork is extra crisp.

Iolani-1I don’t have much to add to my photo except to note that none of the awnings are present and that part of the second floor balcony in the corner closest to the viewer had been enclosed in the 1940s and has since been removed as part of the restoration of the building.

The last card is another linen card depicting Kamehameha Avenue in Hilo. That this is a linen card means that it dates to right before the tsunami* hit and destroyed everything in Hilo right up to one side of this street.

*caused by the April 1, 1946 Alaska earthquake.

UntitledI’ve been looking through my photos and on Google Street View to figure out exactly where on the street that photo was taken but, while certain parts look right, it appears that enough of the buildings have been remodeled just enough to keep me from making a positive identification. My gut sense is that the side on the left of the postcard is the side that remains and that we’re looking roughly North with morning light coming from the East.

I do however have this panorama of the remaining side of Kamehameha Avenue which shows that it’s still very much as-was. Hilo was hit with two huge tsunami in two decades and the scars of that are so deep that the town built a huge breakwater AND never rebuilt on the land which was destroyed.

What was once the main drag through town is now essentially a frontage road and parking lot. Still lots of shops (when they’re open) but nothing like what the postcard shows.

South side

Well, sort of the South Side. We took a trip to Pu‘uhonua o Honaunua via Punalu‘u and as a result ended up driving around almost the entire island over the course of the week. If only we had made it to Kohala…


As with our trip to Volcanoes National Park, we got going early because we wanted to avoid the tourist rush at Punalu‘u. It’s weird. You can see some people at Punalu‘u treating it as a curiosity because of the black sand. Meanwhile others are behaving like it’s a regular resort beach and laying out towels and trying to snorkel.

The larger location itself shows a mixed history here as well with the ruins of the Punalu‘u Village resort which was wiped out by an earthquake and its waves in 1975 still visible next to the parking lot. It’s a beautiful natural location but it’s also too popular to be left alone and most tourists don’t seem to know how to appreciate it.

While we had been hoping to see some sea turtles as we walked along the beach, we did not expect to see more than a half dozen. Some were swimming in the water, others were sunning themselves on the sand. A large part of the beach had been cordoned off to protect the ones on the sand but others were a bit too close to the snorkelers.


Continuing clockwise around the island took us to Pu‘uhonua o Honaunau. We arrived around lunchtime and had a nice picnic on the beach before heading into the park.

It’s wonderful to be able to see the ki‘i in context. While the ones in the Bishop Museum are the “real” artifacts, the versions in the park which are continuously replaced as the elements wear on them have a different kind of authenticity. The site is a religious one and maintaining that connection via the ki‘i and their renewal by native artisans is hugely important.

The wall and the heiau are also physically imposing and impressive. Where Pu‘ukohalā Heiau feels like a natural extension of the landscape, Pu‘uhonua o Honaunau has presence and you can feel the power of its mana when you’re near it (maybe Pu‘ukohalā would feel different if you could get closer).

There’s also something wonderfully peaceful about the rocky coast and the way it has tidepools full of tropical fish. It just feels like a place to sit and be calm.

We took a quick walk down the 1871 trail (part of the same Ala Kahakai Trail we were on in Waikoloa) where we got to see a holua sled run, various animal pens, and some solidified lava flows that had gone over the cliff. We turned around after taking the ramp up to the overlook of a spectacular lava tube cove because we wanted to hit the Punalu‘u bread company store before it closed. We’d been feasting on their bread all week and wanted to bring some back to the mainland to share.


Covering multiple trips we made up the Hilo coast.


Akaka Falls State Park is a shot drive up the coast from Hilo. We got lucky with parking since the lot was packed and we found one of the last available spots. The park was also packed but most of the traffic is on the short walk between the parking lot and the falls, especially because going the long way looked to be blocked off.

As crowded as the overlook was though the falls are indeed impressive. We watched them for a while and then continued on the rest of the nature walk. Much less crowded though there were still multiple clumps of people. It’s a nice windy path through the forest that’s fun for the kids to run along since it has stairs and bridges. We ended up back at the path that was supposedly blocked off but couldn’t figure out why it had been.

We initially planned on grabbing something to eat in Onomea but our Kona luck had followed us and everything was closed. It seems that nothing on the island is open on either Saturday or Sunday. So we ended up driving back to Hilo on the Old Mamalohoa highway curving in and out along the coast and passing a spectacular lava tube waterfall.


On our last day in Hawai‘i we went to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden in Onomea. My mom really wanted to visit and it did not disappoint as it was kind of like the Akaka Falls walk except on steroids.

The garden is a labor of love which took seven years to remove a ton of invasive trees and plants and replace them with a manicured garden and path. All work was supposedly done by hand without machines too. The path winds down the ravine to the ocean. There’s a waterfall to “discover.” And everywhere you turn are amazing tropical plants from different parts of the world.

Orchids and other flowers were everywhere but there’s also something about the gigantic leaves and how lush everything is that makes everyone feel kind of small. Those leaves came in very handy since we got caught in a couple downpours and managed to hold off getting thoroughly soaked.

At the bottom of the ravine is a view of Onomea Bay. It’s spectacular to look at but also very much not the kind of water you want anything to do with. Most of the beaches in Hawai‘i are pretty inviting at some level. This one though felt a bit more like home to us Californians who see the water as something dangerous which you should never turn your back on.


After the botanical garden we continued up the coast to the Waipi‘o Valley Lookout. As soon as we passed Honoka‘a it started to rain again and visibility dropped a ton. Not the best weather for the view but it was still pretty spectacular. Plus, due to the weather and the fact that the road down has been made off limits to everyone except locals, the lookout itself was pretty much deserted (my previous visit the place was hopping with an overflowing parking lot and line of cars waiting to descend).



The day we went to Kona was our most disappointing day of the trip. I was really looking forward to seeing the Hulihe‘e Palace again and comparing it to my recent ‘Iolani Palace tour. Unfortunately their self-guided tour left much to be desired and neither explained the artifacts in the house (such as the exercise balls or the spears) nor the way the house’s history mirrors the history of Hawai‘i. One of my favorite parts last time was learning about how it started off as a lava and koa building without a kitchen before being remodeled in an increasingly western fashion and I was hoping everyone else would get that tour as well.

Moku‘aikaua Church was closed for reconstruction (disappointment number 2) so we just walked around Kona. The sea wall is always fun and it’s such a different environment than Hilo. Then we found out my favorite shave ice place was closed as well as the poke restaurant I’d been looking forward to all trip.

Neither closure showed up online but things like this were pretty common across the island. Despite parking being packed and the town seeming to be busy, things were eerily quiet at the businesses to the point where it felt somewhat like a wildcat strike against tourists (the more-likely explanation is that everyone wants weekends off now and there’s just not enough people to staff everything all week long anymore).


With everyone hungry and disappointed we decided to drive up the coast to Waikoloa because we figured there had to be something to eat there. Resort country is weird but when you’re touristing sometimes it’s the only place available to you.

However Waikoloa was nearly dead too. Half of the storefronts and restaurants were closed so I ended up buying food at the tourist supermarket. But at least everyone refueled and we were able to talk to the boys about how resorts work and show them how weird they are compared to the way we were vacationing.

Also, despite being resort central, the petroglyph field is very cool and was a great short walk to take after lunch to salvage something from what had been a disappointing day so far.

As part of the Kings Road slash Ala Kahakai Trail, there’s a mostly-unbroken strip of lava field cutting right through the resort. This strip includes a huge petroglyph field which the trail winds through and you can see various carvings and shelters that the Native Hawaiians had created centuries ago.

Lots of fun things for the boys to look for and point out and, despite being in tourist central, we sort of had the whole place to ourselves.

You also get a sense of how different the leeward side of the island is. Where Hilo is wet and green, the leeward side is dry, hot, and rocky and the people who lived there must’ve been especially tough.


After Waikoloa we drove up to Pu‘ukohalā Heiau and arrived maybe 30 minutes before it closed. That gave us plenty of time to see the site but not enough time to really watch the movie.

I love this heiau which feels like it’s part of the landscape. It’s another place that loops back to what we saw at the Bishop Museum in that it marks the location where Kamehameha completed his conquest of the Island of Hawai‘i and set his sights on the rest of the archipelago.

We also had a very nice talk with the park ranger who gave both a quick summary of why the park was important but also described the state of the site as it was before it was turned over to the Park Service. There used to be a road that went between the two heiaus with nothing preventing anyone from climbing on the loose stone.

The second bit about the how it became a park and what the Park Service has done to restore and maintain it was especially interesting. We asked questions about who was let onto the site now as well as whether it should still be maintained by the US government given other land-back movements on the island.

Not surprisingly the Park Service employee is in favor of entrusting the Park Service with the site. Though it is admittedly a tough question since there’s also no mechanism in place right now for determining who the best Kānaka Maoli caretakers would be either.



I felt a little bad about this but the day we went to Volcanoes National Park I kind of forced everyone to get up and get going early. I wanted to do the Kīlauea Iki hike early in the day before it got too hot and the park got crowded.

This was one of my favorite things the last time I visited and thankfully it was everything I had promised. It’s a “short” four miles in that it’s mostly flat and the views are so good you lose track of your distance. From up on the crater rim you can see how small the people in the crater look and then, after hiking down through the “bathtub ring” high lava mark, you’re down in the bowl and it’s like you’re in a different world.

There was a nice breeze blowing across the crater, the early morning lava hadn’t yet had a chance to absorb the Sun’s heat, and the hiking groups were spaced out enough so that we frequenty felt like we had the place to ourselves.

After that we drove to the trailhead for the Halema‘uma‘u eruption viewing. It’s not much of a hike—maybe a mile along a hot paved road—but the view is more than worth it. Multiple vents steaming and that palpable sense of power which changes your understanding of how the world works.



For our second week in Hawai‘i we moved from Kailua to Hilo. Rather than staying in a bed and breakfast we ended up renting a wonderful old house up the hill from downtown.

It had all kinds of plants—we missed lichee season but were able to pick pineapples and even tried monstera—and a fantastic lanai where we ate most of our meals. The neighbor’s cat would come by for visits and aside from one very scared field mouse who clearly did not want to live in the house, things were nice and peaceful.

Being based out of a house meant that we could actually buy groceries and prepare food. So we all got spoiled by loaves of Punalu‘u bread, Kukui Sauasage Company kimchi sausage, and all kinds of fruit from the farmers’ market. We definitely still went out to eat a couple times but as in Kailua it was at local spots like Cafe 100 or Kozmic Cones.

The effects of the pandemic were a lot more visible in Hilo as the town shut down for the entire weekend and many of the more tourist-focused restaurants and stores had limited hours and help-wanted signs.

The town itself remains the sleepy time capsule of old buildings that no one wants to upgrade because another tsunami will come some day. We didn’t just walk downtown too as we spent a morning walking around the Lili‘uokalani Gardens and out to Coconut Island.

What we did not do on this trip though was go to the Mauna Kea Visitor Center. On the drive over the saddle road from Kona airport we could see signs of the telescope protest and Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu at the access road and all agreed that that was kapu for us.


O’ahu Day Trips

We took a couple other day trips out from our base in Kailua. The trips are fun both for their destination as well as the journey since one of the best ways to get to know the island is just to drive around it, stopping wherever strikes your fancy, and looking out the windows.


The first trip was up the coast hitting various parks and beaches up to Kualoa (the bridge was out in Ka‘a‘awa).. Ou first stop was at He‘eia which is a nice little park where we explained to the boys how the fishponds work by only trapping the larger fish and saw the progress on restoring the He‘eia pond.


Continuing the drive up the coast took us past Waiāhole with its wonderful views and we pulled out at Kualoa Beach Park for a walk since it was a logical turnaround point as well.

Peak UV exposure time so going in the water was no good. But it’s a nice beach for a walk since it sticks out into the bay perpendicular to the pali and your relationship with the island changes as you walk.

Very calm waves and the tide was low so we saw a few people doing the walk (hike?) to Mokoli‘i. Yeah. If you’re tall enough you can walk through the ocean to get there. Seems somewhat dangerous between currents, tides, uncertain footing, and having to know the correct route but apparently it’s both doable and somewhat routine.


Our other trip was heading up to the North Shore one day. On the way there stopped at the Pali Lookout. The timing worked out perfectly as we got there just before the tour buses and were able to enjoy a bit of time to ourselves.

This was an opportunity for the boys to start making connections to some of the things we’d seen at the Bishop Museum earlier. Mainly though we just admired the view and played around in the wind.

The old highway down into Kane‘ohe is now fenced off—understandably given the amount and size of rocks on the roadway—which meant that we couldn’t go for that short walk that allowed you to look back up at the lookout and see the tunnels coming out below you.

Haleiwa-2Our initial plan was to try and visit Waimea Bay. Unfortunately, by the time we got there there was no parking and it was clear that the beach was going to be extremely crowded so we turned around and headed back to Hale‘iwa.

Hale‘iwa is a funky place. The beach isn’t a large sandy beach and instead has a sprawling 1930s Art Deco beach pavilion on the sea wall looking over the bay and its breakwater.

The pavilion gives the beach a ton of distinct character though and it’s a nice place to walk along and look for sea turtles. It also suggests a very different era of leisure and you can still feel echoes of that past when you’re standing amidst the columns.

We went into town for lunch since it seemed to be overflowing with food trucks. It took a while to settle on one but we ended up at one that sold udon and poke and got a very good meal.

The main event though was hitting Matsumoto’s. The line was daunting but they have their production line perfected and can jam out orders amazingly fast. So as a result the line was just long enough for us to debate which flavors we wanted.

Honolulu Trips

We took a couple trips into Honolulu. The first one was to see the Bishop museum.* I didn’t take a lot of photos there but it was really good for the boys to see the Hawaiian Hall and get an explanation about a bunch of the things that they were going to see the following week when we went to the Big Island.

*One of the weirdest things with the post-COVID world is having to adjust to ordering timed-entry museum tickets online and scheduling the vacation in a way that I hate doing.

So they go to learn about kapa and how it’s made. They were introduced to the concept about mana and got a little about ali‘i and the Hawaiian gods. I pointed out to them how Hawaiian culture changed and got more Western* over the course of the 19th century.

*Albeit with distinctly-Hawaiian detailing in the Western-style items.

Much to my surprise they were not at all interested in the wars/unification of the islands nor all the weaponry. But I tried to point out some stuff because of how it informs other places we’d be going this trip like the Nu‘uanu Pali or Pu‘ukohōla Heiau.

We also went through the Polynesian Hall where actually seeing the stick maps and other voyaging tools (and that wonderful floor map) is a fantastic way to get them to realize why we liked Moana as much as we did.DSC_0032We drove back to Kailua from the Bishop Museum via the South side of the island. The long route so not just taking the H1 out toward Kohala but going along Waikīkī and giving them a chance to see the tourist section of town and why we prefer staying on the Windward Side.

We pulled out at a couple places on the south shore but only spent a decent amount of time at the Hālona Blowhole. The Blowhole of course is pretty cool by itself, especially since we were there at the right time of day to catch a rainbow through the mist. But it was also nice to get the view of the rocky South Side of the island and experience the breeze.

Continuing around the island however, we did not stop at Makapu‘u or Waimānalo. As nice as those beaches are (especially Makapu‘u’s rocky shore) they were pretty clearly native land with tents, campsites, and a lot of red, green, and yellow Kānaka Maoli flags.


Our second trip to Honolulu was to visit the ‘Iolani Palace. The audio tour has gotten a lot better and the boys were great managing themselves. Museums are often hard for kids but this one does a good job telling the story of Hawai‘i  through the royal family with lots of things to look for and find in the rooms.

It helps that it’s a really cool building with all kinds of wonderful details to notice and point out to others. Plus there are big things like seeing the early flush toilets and learning how the Palace is one of the noteworthy pioneers of electrification which are very easy to understand.

For my part though, as much as I sympathize with the Hawaiians and agree that the overthrow and annexation was unjust and illegal, I’m increasingly uncomfortable with a museum that glorifies a monarchy. Yes the Kings and Queens of Hawai‘i were wronged but seeing all that wealth (much of which is on loan from their descendents) really makes me wonder about where it came from and how they were running Hawai‘i.

DSC_0270While we were in downtown Honolulu we walked around a bit. Some of this was forced because of parking reasons but it’s also nice to just walk. We checked out the capitol building and grabbed lunch from a Korean lunch spot and ate in the park. Then we drove out to Waiola Shave Ice before heading back to the Windward Side.



One of the things that my mom most wanted to do was spend time in a taro patch (or lo‘i kalo) like the ones she grew up with in her back yard. She came across Ho‘okua‘āina months before our trip and had scheduled a morning for us all to visit and help out on the farm as a way to really connect and learn about Hawai‘i.

We started off with an introductory session in the hale where we learned a bit about kalo and heard the legend of Wākea, Ho‘ohōkūkulani, their stillborn child, the first kalo plant with heart-shaped leaves that grew from the spot he was buried, and their second child Hāloa who both cared for the plant and received nourishment from it. The lesson of course is that if we take care of kalo it will take care of us as well. And the reminder was that we were about to be engaging with one of the fundamental adpects of Hawaiian mythology.

We also learned that, unlike the stream‑fed lo‘i where my mom grew up. the lo‘i at Ho‘okua‘āina were spring-fed. As a result, they could be very deep. We’d been warned to dress for mud but were nowhere ready for how deep it was.

Our first task was to finish harvesting the kalo in one lo‘i. As soon as you stepped in, the mud went up to your hips. My youngest met this with a bit of trepidation at first but eventually joined us. Harvesting itself is pretty straightforward. All you do is reach right into the soft mud until you can get your hand around the actual root.

After harvesting we cleaned off the roots and removed all but one or two leaves. This started with everyone sitting on the side of a lo‘i but very quickly we ended up standing in the water instead. By this time my youngest had settled in to being chest deep in the mud and was thoroughly enjoying his time at the “mud farm.”

We then finished with a bit of weeding before a mostly-futile attempt to clean ourselves off. It took a couple washes to get the mud out of our clothes (some stains never came out) and our nails remained brown for weeks.



While we stayed in Kailua, we spent a lot of time in Kāne‘ohe because that’s where my mom grew up. Even just driving around and hearing her tell stories about her memories of the way things used to be was enough to justify the trip.


We grabbed takeout at Masa and Joyce’s and went to the Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Gardens for lunch. Nice to walk around (less nice to be eaten by mosquitos) and see the views of both Kāne‘ohe and the foot of the pali. It was both amusing and infuriating to see all the signs prohibiting photography anywhere near the road. The entrance (literally the first 100 feet into the park) to the gardens turned into an Instagram cliche a couple years ago and the locals are fighting back now.

We also hit the Byodo-In temple which is another place that’s been Instagrammed to death. But it’s also a place I remember visiting since I was a kid and it’s nice to be able to share that with my own kids. It’s also one of the few places my eldest remembers from his first trip a decade ago when he was still a toddler.

It’s always a beautiful place to visit though even when it’s a bit full of tourists and there’s a tropical drink stand selling them those crazy drinks that are served in a hollowed out pineapple.
DSC_0246The other places we went were not on the Instagrammer hot list. We visited a couple cemeteries to pay our respect to ancestors (my grandparents have a fantastic view) and visited the house where my mom grew up. We hit the farmers market in the Windward Mall so that we could satisfy my youngest’s wish for having tropical fruit salad (all he wanted from Hawai‘i was fruit salad, Hawaiian bread, and to see a volcano) and made sure to catch the Malasada Mobile because there’s nothing like burning your tongue on a fresh batch of Leonard’s.