Eight Surprising Things to Do in Hawaii

They’re intrinsically Hawaiian, though they may not be as well known as the sun, surf, tropical cocktails, and hula shows Hawaii is known for.


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Photo courtesy Hawaii Tourism Authority

Hawaiian vacations might be a cluster of stereotypes, but at least they’re sumptuous stereotypes. Sun. Surf. Tropical cocktails. Hula shows. For classic Hawaiian-vacation fun. But the 50th state’s range of activities, attractions, and destinations is wider than most visitors will ever know, offering unforgettable experiences that aren’t overrun with tourists but are intrinsically Hawaiian.

An Islamic-Art Wonderland

Heiress Doris Duke was so enchanted with Islamic-style art during her 1935 honeymoon that in 1937 she commissioned the building of a panoramic Islamic-style Oahu estate called Shangri-La, whose features include a Damascus Room and Mughal Garden and which Duke spent 50-plus years filling with thousands of Islamic-style artworks. Public tours are operated through the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and the Honolulu Museum of Art.

4055 Papu Circle, Honolulu, 808-734-1941, ShangriLaHawaii.org.

The World’s Premier Ocean-Tech Park

Using sunshine and seawater to educate science-minded students, promote renewable energy, and grow sustainable, ocean-based industries, this cutting-edge Big Island facility operated by the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority features extensive land-to-sea pipelines, a meteorological station, animal rehabilitation center, Natural Energy Lab, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Tower, and more. Tours are offered by Friends of NELHA.

73-987 Makako Bay, Kailua-Kona, 808-327-9585, NELHA.hawaii.gov.

Haute Couture

Every spring, Honolulu Community College’s Fashion Technology department hosts its Bon Voyage Fashion Show, where student designers showcase not just swimsuits and aloha shirts, but a range of styles worthy of any Paris catwalk. Or schedule a private, Champagne-inclusive “shopping rendezvous” at the Big Island’s Hualalai Resort, whose Seaside Luxe combo-boutique comprises highest-echelon international designers. Its 2008 launch was huge news.

Honolulu.hawaii.edu/ft, 72-100 Ka’upulehu Drive, Kailua-Kona, 808-325-8000, HualaLaiResort.com/shopping/seaside-luxe.

photo courtesy of lindbergh creative commons

Here lies the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh whose tombstone reflects Psalm 139:9.

Charles Lindbergh’s Grave

The pioneering Michigan-born aviator — the first to fly solo from New York City to Paris — chose to spend his final years in Maui, where his poignantly picturesque grave can be found overlooking the Pacific under a plum tree behind the 19th-century limestone Palapala Congregational Church near Hana. Before dying in 1974, Lindbergh designed the tombstone, which is gracefully engraved with part of Psalm 139:9: “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea.”

40990 Hana Highway, Hana, PalapalaHoomau.org.

Cowhands at Work

Founded in 1847, thus pre-dating mainland “Wild West” ranches by decades, the Big Island’s Parker Ranch originally employed Mexican vaqueros hired by Hawaii’s King Kamehameha III. On what remains one of the U.S.’s largest working cattle ranches, some 17,000 head of livestock now graze 250,000 acres, maintained by the sustainability-minded Parker Ranch Foundation Trust. Two of the ranch’s historic homes, sprawling Puuopelu and two-story koa-wood Mana Hale, are open for free self-guided tours.

66-1304 Mamalahoa Highway, Waimea, 808-885-7311, ParkerRanch.com.

Fine Art

Maui’s Grand Wailea resort maintains a world-class art collection comprising original paintings, sculpture, murals, artifacts, and other creations by esteemed international artists, including nine works by the contemporary Colombian figurativist Fernando Botero and 18 by the early-20th-century French modernist Fernand Léger. A dozen-plus others include Honolulu-born sculptors Wayne Miyata and Satore Abe, Indonesian-born Yvenne Cheng, and Maui-born ceramicist Shige Yamada. Programs include free tours that on-site experts can tailor to suit various tastes.

3850 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, 808-875-1234, GrandWailea.com.

Photo courtesy slobo/istock

Get lost exploring the green hedge-walled paths that create a maze at the Dole plantation.

The World’s Largest Plant Maze

You might expect such a horticultural puzzle, composed of nearly 2½ miles of zigzaggy, right-angled, hedge-walled pathways, to languish in the cool shadow of a European castle. But no: Expanded in 2007 in order to retain its Guinness-record status, it’s on the Dole pineapple plantation near the town of Haleiwa on Oahu — and, best seen in aerial photos, a pineapple-shaped mini-garden awaits plucky maze-ists at its heart.

64-1550 Kamehameha Highway, Wahiawa, 808-621-8408, DolePlantation.com. 

Microalgae Growing Ponds

A visitors’ center offers fascinating, futuristic, what-planet-is-this panoramas of Cyanotech’s 90-acre Kailua-Kona facility, whose vast emerald- and ruby-tinted tanks sprawl seaward under bright blue skies. Water drawn from 2,000 feet under that sea’s surface is used in those tanks to process microalgae — the alleged immune-system booster spirulina and antioxidant powerhouse astaxanthin — which are used in dietary supplements. A 684-kilowatt photovoltaic system was commissioned here recently to reduce greenhouse emissions.

73-4460 Queen Kaahamanu Highway, Kailua-Kona, 808-326-1353, Cyanotech.com.

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