I glanced at the curb and there stood a slight, suntanned, long-haired Hawaiian gentleman alongside a gleaming, brand new, 4-door Jeep with a giant sunroof. Ron is a second generation islander of Chinese descent, but unmistakably Hawaiian! His hair hung just past his shoulders and he informed us, after much getting-to-know-you chit chat, that he had even recently cut off a further 12 inches of his locks to donate to charity; a very generous soul indeed.
As is apparently the case with much of his clientele we informed him that, before our private one-on-one tour with him, we had already taken a day-long tour that had circumvented much of the island of Oahu and had seen, if only for short 5-minute stops, many of the tourist traps. One might assume that this would make his job difficult, that he would be hard up to find us locations we had not yet seen, but you would be wrong! Our first stop was at Leonard's Bakery, a Portugese bakery and Honolulu must-see for over a half century. The malasadas did not disappoint. We took them to go and proceeded to Pu'u 'Ualaka'a State Park lookout. This spot will not be, ever, on any large group tour you will go on because it is not on the way to anything; you'll have to hire Oahu Spot Tours. It offered a very unique vantage of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head and the photographs speak for themselves.
Our next stop was the Punchbowl Crater. Borrowing from ancient Roman tradition the United States decided to place a large war memorial in the spot that was once a holy Polynesian, open-air temple; our monument trumps yours. Discipline under the ancient set of laws known as Kapu was once carried out on this lofty perch and the offenders, often executed for their offences, were dragged to the waters edge for an unceremonious burial at sea.
After Punchbowl we visited the Pearl Harbour memorial and revelled in the historical artifacts lucky enough to have visited during its 75 year anniversary of the tragic sneak attack on the U.S. by the Japanese in 1941. It was humbling to see the even-handed display of Japanese history and gallantry during the conflict.
Perhaps less hidden and out of the way, as we saw numerous large, impersonal cattle-moving tour buses in the lot, was our next stop; the Byodo-In Temple. Imagine the most beautiful Buddhist Temple you've ever seen and then place it at the base of a misty Hawaiian mountain. An incredible sight to behold and one that will leave an indelible impression upon you.
So enamoured were we with Ron's gracious hospitality and kind manner that we insisted, insisted, that he let us buy him lunch at our next stop. We pulled up to Fresh Catch, made famous by the Food Network's show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, just before noon and were lucky to avoid the out-the-door lineups that accompany being such a hot spot for both locals and tourists alike. The poke, raw seafood, with its many succulent sauces and preparations made us think of the many high priced sashimi of our native Vancouver, but at a fraction of the price. We bought a wide selection of tuna, salmon, octopus and rice and sat back for a much needed rest from our fast paced morning explorations.
Our final stop was, symbolically, the final stop for many others. The Nu'uanu Pali State Park was the sight of a voracious battle for control of Oahu Island and, in its capture, the uniting of all 5 islands into the Kingdom of Hawai'i. King Kamehameha I fought the last hold outs on this mountainous peak and, with the help of English guns, drove them off the cliff to their demise thus creating the amalgamation of the islands into one harmonious country.
Ron Wong is a very kind man, a gentle soul who sees the good in things and is very knowledgeable about his island. We happened upon him a few days later at a beach off the beaten tourist track and he welcomed us like friends and introduced us to his family with a warmth and kindness that really makes your feel the Aloha spirit. Do yourself a favour and book Ron for a tour as soon as you arrive on the island. You'll see the sights, learn the history and, if you're lucky like us, make a friend for life.
Words: Scott Allan
Photos: Jenn Chan