Aloha! Hawaiian Culture, Heritage, and History Come to Life in O'ahu: The Heart of Hawai'i

Sponsored Content: More than just a breathtakingly beautiful Pacific paradise, O‘ahu is unique because of the many places, attractions, activities, and experiences that showcase the rich and varied Hawaiian culture and history. Create itineraries that immerse your clients in the culture of aloha and they will understand why O‘ahu is The Heart of Hawai‘i.

O‘ahu: The Heart of Hawai‘i
Did you know that Hawai‘i was once a royal kingdom or that surfing originated here? These are just two fascinating facts that families will learn on beautiful O‘ahu. In fact, experiencing Hawaiian culture, heritage, and history on O‘ahu is as easy as saying aloha, paddling an outrigger canoe, learning to dance the hula, or strumming the ‘ukulele.   

Hawaiian Traditions: Aloha and ‘Ohana
Among the first things your family clients will experience on O‘ahu are the Hawaiian concepts of aloha and ‘ohana. And both will make your clients feel welcome and right at home.  

Aloha means more than just hello. This quintessential Hawaiian greeting can also signify love, friendship, closeness, compassion, kindness, and grace. The aloha spirit or living with aloha mean treating other people with love, kindness, and goodness. Your clients will hear aloha throughout their trip and will soon be using the term themselves.

Family groups always feel welcome in Hawai‘i where ‘ohana (family) is an important, revered, and respected social unit. ‘Ohana can mean your core family as well as the different communities you may belong to such as your work ‘ohana, your school ‘ohana, or your team ‘ohana. 

Pacific Voyaging: Outrigger Canoes
Hawai‘i’s long and proud legacy of ocean voyaging began nearly two millennia ago when Polynesians used the stars to navigate across the Pacific in outrigger canoes. Today, your clients can experience how Hawaiians are preserving and perpetuating their deeply rooted cultural values and traditions surrounding the ocean. 

The original outrigger canoes, constructed of wood, were long gone in the 1970s when artist Herb Kawainui Kane dreamed of and built a double-hulled sailing canoe similar to those his ancestors sailed. Hōkūle‘a has completed several worldwide sailings over the last nearly 40 years ago, each voyage bringing revelations of how the early sailors navigated across open ocean. Currently, Hōkūle‘a and her sister canoe Hikianalia (first launched in 2012) are in the midst of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage under the auspices of the Polynesian Voyaging Society during which the crew—like their ancestors—is using only the stars, waves, wind, and birds to chart the maritime journey. 

The rich natural and cultural history of Hawai‘i and the Pacific are the focus of the Bishop Museum. The museum’s J. Watumull Planetarium features a daily 45-minute program, “Wayfinders: Waves, Winds, and Stars,” produced in collaboration with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, which enables viewers to virtually sail aboard the Hōkūle‘a from Tahiti to Hawai‘i. The recently renovated Pacific Hall provides a fascinating perspective on Pacific migration and includes incredible artifacts, images, and recordings of native islanders. 

Hawaiian Ocean Adventures, offers expeditions in Windward or Leeward O‘ahu aboard authentic Hawaiian sailing canoes handcrafted by the company founder and master canoe-builder Nakoa Prejean. On Windward Oahu, the adventure sets off from Kualoa Beach Park, one of first landing sites of Polynesian navigators. Up on the North Shore, Polynesian Cultural Center is home to Iosepa, a 60-foot, double-hulled voyaging canoe built for educational purposes that has completed several interisland sails since its launch in 2004. Twice daily, native islanders from the Hawai‘i Village give a presentation at the hālau wa'a (canoe house) where Iosepa is housed and share how ancient Hawaiians braved deep-ocean voyages. On Waikīkī Beach, many outfitters, including Waikīkī Beach Services, offers outrigger canoe rides. And outrigger canoe racing is Hawai‘i’s #1 sport. 

He‘e Nalu: Riding the Waves
Surfing may be a worldwide phenomenon, but it was born in Hawai‘i. Ancient Hawaiian royalty—ali‘i in Hawaiian—rode the waves which is why surfing is often called the “Sport of Kings.” Today, locals hit the waves at sunrise before heading off to work and school. Tell your clients to peak out their Waikīkī resort windows early in the morning and they will notice loads of surfers waiting for the next wave to ride. Outstanding outfitters offer surf and stand up paddle lessons and rental equipment across the island. Many offer special family-oriented surf and stand up paddle classes. 

O‘ahu is the global epicenter for championship surfing. The world’s best surfers gather on the island’s famed North Shore every November and December for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, a trio of the sport’s most prestigious events, where pros challenge themselves on epic waves at Hale‘iwa, Sunset Beach, and Banzai Pipeline. The winter surf is way to high and rough for anyone but the professionals. However, the summer surf is calm and gentle enough for those just learning surfing or stand up paddle.

Ali‘i: Hawai‘i’s Revered Royals
From Kamehameha I who united the Hawaiian Islands in 1795, to David Kalākaua, Hawai‘i’s last monarch, Hawaiians have great reverence for the royals who ruled the archipelago until the late 19th century. Today, visitors flock to ‘Iolani Palace, the only official royal residence in the U.S. Completed in 1882, King Kalākaua built the opulent palace to enhance the prestige of Hawai‘i overseas. Just across from the palace is a statue of Kamehameha I. 

A drive up Pali Highway leads to Queen Emma Summer Palace, a charming Hawaiian-Victorian home that served as a retreat for Queen Emma, King Kamehameha IV, and their son Prince Albert in the 1800s. Further along up Pali Highway is the Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout, home to spectacular Windward Coast views, and the site of the Battle of Nu‘uanu which enabled Kamehameha I to unite the Hawaiian Islands under his rule.  

Lively festivities honor the Hawaiian royals. The annual King Kamehameha Floral Parade each June honors this monarch. In July, the yearly Prince Lot Hula Festival—Hawai‘i’s largest non-competitive hula event—honors Prince Lot Kapuāiwa who reprised the once forbidden hula in the district of Moanalua. 

Ahupua‘a: Ancient Self-Sustaining Hawaiian Communities
Ancient Hawaiians lived for centuries in an ahupua‘a, a self-sustaining, mountain-to-sea land division. Up on the North Shore, Waimea Valley, one of O‘ahu’s partially intact ahupua‘a, is a sacred and scenic place where visitors can tour the grounds and gardens, hike the forests, and learn how ancient kahana nui (high priests) lived in the restored Kauhale (village). Before leaving, visitors can cool off with a swim and splash under the waterfall.  Polynesian Cultural Center, also on the North Shore, inaugurated a revitalized Hawai‘i Village last year which reflects an authentic ahupua‘a. 

On O‘ahu’s Windward Coast, non-profits are engaged in the restoration and preservation of the ancient ahupua‘a of He‘eia. Paepae O He’eia is an organization dedicated to restoring He‘eia Fishpond, which dates back 600 to 800 years. Hawaiian fishponds are unique, advanced forms of aquaculture. These walled ponds along the shorelines enabled Hawaiians to both capture and cultivate fish, providing a steady source of nutrition independent of ocean fishing conditions. Visitors can join locals in restoration efforts the 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month which entails include moving rock and coral, removing invasive mangrove and limu (seaweed), and rebuilding the wall.

Hawai‘i’s Rich Multicultural Legacy
A visit to O‘ahu reveals Hawai‘i’s rich multicultural heritage and history. Immigrants from China, Japan, Russia, Korea, Puerto Rico, Portugal, and the Philippines came to the Hawaiian Islands to work on plantations beginning in the late 19th century. Today, their influences and traditions live on in the diverse foods, attractions, and festivals on O‘ahu. 

In Waipahu, Hawai‘i’s Plantation Village explores how more than 400,000 immigrants who worked the island’s plantations contributed to making Hawai‘i the contemporary vibrant multi-ethnic community it is today. These plantation workers brought their foods and cooking traditions with which mingled and influenced native Hawaiian dishes. Many traditional Hawaiian dishes are rooted in the foods and cooking styles that people brought from China, Japan, Portugal, Korea, the Philippines, and beyond. 

Nearly a quarter century ago, 12 Hawai‘i chefs banded together and launched Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine—HRC—an inventive fusion of traditional Hawaiian and international cooking traditions prepared with products from island farms, ranches, and seas. Today, O‘ahu is a global culinary hotspot where a new generation of innovative chefs takes traditional ingredients and prepares extraordinary dishes that are both familiar and different at the same time. 

Honolulu’s historic Chinatown was the gateway for immigrants from Asia and the Pacific Rim. Today, visitors head here to shop for authentic lei along Maunakea Street, visit bustling Maunakea Marketplace and O’ahu Market, discover incredible Japanese and Chinese temples, and eat at traditional noodle shops. Chinatown is also a cutting edge arts district that hosts First Fridays, an opportunity to visit artists’ studios and art galleries, enjoy live entertainment, and experience trendsetting eateries, bars, and boutiques.