Skip to main content


·7 mins
Hawaii sunset

The whole Hawai‘i trip started as a joke. Some years back, Bobby commented to Elizabeth that they should go to Hawai‘i on his 50th birthday, because Hawaii Five-O. Over the years they would remind each other of the idea. Eventually, with Bobby’s 50th coming up, they decided to do it. Having arranged to meet various family members from New Zealand there, they also invited us and a few other friends. Without giving it very much thought at all, I said yes. I, too, would be qualifying for AARP membership imminently. It seemed to me like a good excuse to blow the budget on a midlife crisis vacation.

The various friends and families booked accommodation for the same dates, in the same part of west Maui. We all ended up on different plane flights, though. I booked us on Alaska Airlines, because they had the cheapest first class tickets and I can’t deal with 10 hours of plane flight in cattle class anymore. This turned out to be a good move, as the weekend before we were due to fly I somehow threw my back out. I did all the usual things to put it right, but up until the day of the flight I was unsure if I’d be able to sit without pain at all.

So at 05:50 one morning, I found myself in Austin’s Bergstrom International Airport, lying on the floor of the departure area, making a note that I hoped Hawai‘i was as awesome as claimed because there were many places I would have preferred to have been at that moment, with “in bed” right at the top of the list.

At this point, most airlines have worked out the whole mobile phone boarding pass deal. Alaska is one of them — I had logged in on their app, checked in, and put the boarding pass in the iPhone wallet. It seems like a trivial gimmick, but I’ve always had problems with boarding passes. They seem to have a mysterious attraction to hiding in obscure pockets, and a tendency to hide out as bookmarks. As well as being harder to misplace, the electronic boarding passes also update themselves live if there’s a gate change or an update to the departure time.

We departed from Austin’s infamous temporary Gate 2 with its 220 meter walkway. Some of the posters were hilarious, and I did indeed appreciate getting an early start on my Fitbit goal for the day. When we got to the plane we discovered we’d hit the jackpot — Alaska Airlines had just completed a merger with Virgin America, and we were on a Virgin America plane. I sat back in the comfy seat and the flight attendant made me some sort of tropical fruit cocktail. They didn’t skimp on the vodka either — by the time we were airborne I was pleasantly drunk. At around 8am we reached cruising altitude; shortly after that I reclined my seat to horizontal and took a nap.

There was a family traveling first class who had been unable to book enough seats. I was amazed when the father went and sat in coach so that the kids could sit up front. I’m guessing that was a better option than dealing with a possible meltdown caused by Princess A getting longer in first class than Princess B.

Our connection was in San Francisco. I’d left us 90 minutes in the hope of grabbing some lunch. I’d been told that everything in Hawai‘i was expensive, but (spoiler alert) San Francisco is worse. If you want to pay $14 for a cheeseburger, you can do it at SF airport.

The second flight was as delightful as the first. I had assorted painkillers and muscle relaxants in my carry-on bag, but in the end I didn’t need any of them. Having traveled five hours west, we arrived in Hawai‘i shortly after noon. We met up with Bobby and Elizabeth at the airport, and made our way as a group to the apartment complex.

I woke up to the sound of tropical birds and distant surf. Looking out of a skylight, I could see a palm tree moving in the breeze. After a while Fred made coffee and rothko and I dragged ourselves downstairs. We sat on the balcony of the apartment looking out at the ocean. With the palm trees and the balcony view, the scene reminded me of Tracy Island. The apartment complex even had a circular pool that looked like it might slide sideways to allow Thunderbird 1 to launch.

Hawai‘i’s history is typically shameful. Captain Cook reached the islands in the late 1700s, and soon Britain had provided the military technology to enable one local family to conquer all of the islands and form the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. Cook was stabbed to death for his troubles, but before long more ships arrived to trade fruit and sugar and distribute smallpox. 90% of the indigenous population was wiped out by the start of the 20th Century.

By the late 1800s, the corporate agriculture interests really wanted Hawai‘i to be annexed by the US, so a group of Americans planned a coup in 1888. It failed, but a second military coup in 1893 was a success, and Sanford Dole — cousin of the fruit company founder — was installed as President. Hawai‘i didn’t become a state until after World War II and that whole Pearl Harbor thing. Finally, in 1993, the US officially admitted that Hawai‘i had been annexed and its sovereignty violated, via a non-apologizing “ Apology Resolution”. Britain’s flag is still featured in the Hawaiian flag.

Hawaiian flag flying

Place names can be a challenge. When Hawai‘i was introduced to the Roman alphabet, the phonemes British linguists recognized were assigned to a 12 letter alphabet. In addition, there are two accent marks: a left opening quotation mark to represent a glottal stop, and a macron to represent long vowels. Conveniently, the Hawaiian word for the symbols require use of the symbols — one is the ‘okina, the other the kahakō. Anyhow, point is, you end up with street names like Lower Honoapiilani Road and places with names like Waihee-Waiehu and Haleakalā, so it’s often a good idea to have a few practice runs before attempting to say them to someone else. Names can be even more of a challenge — one Janice Keihanaikukauakahihulihe‘ekahaunaele managed to get the state to change its drivers license policy so she could get one with her name on.

As far as geographical area goes, you could fit the entire Hawaiian island chain inside Texas without having to rearrange the islands. If you were allowed to rearrange the land, you could fit 40 Hawaiis into Texas. So when it came to travel, we mostly walked or got a bus.

One bus went south down the coast to Lahaina. Kids got on the bus with their boogie boards to go surfing. The town weirdly reminded me of the English south coast — small shops selling tourist souvenirs and ice cream. Everything seemed to be flavored with pineapple, coconut or macadamia nuts, and it was hard to resist the temptation to Eat All The Things. (That said, taro chips are less tasty than I expected.) I’m all about the tropical fruit, our sunscreen was coconut scented, and I had even switched to a coconut scented deodorant. Add in all the flowers growing wild, and Hawai‘i was the nicest smelling state I’ve ever visited.

I drank drinks of rum and coconut. I swam in the ocean. I met a turtle. I slept well, and each morning I sat and drank coffee and absorbed the amazing view.

Towards the end of our time there we got a bus tour to visit Maui’s main volcano — the aforementioned Haleakalā — and another national park in ‘Iao Valley. The latter is the home of Kuka‘emoku, a rock formation formerly believed to be the phallus of Kanaloa, the Hawaiian god of the ocean.

The volcano is officially still active, and erupts every 200-500 years. It isn’t the big one that was in the news, as I assured my mother — that one is Kilauea. We were a good 200km from there, and about 50 of them were ocean, so we weren’t in any danger of being swallowed by lava. Still, I vote we try sacrificing our President to the volcano god just on the off chance it helps. It’s not like there’s a downside.