Click here for a photo tour of the Ala Moana 50th anniversary fashion exhibit.
It’s turning into a golden year for Hawaii, which is honoring its 50th anniversary of statehood on Aug. 17. While the overall visitor destination has grown and matured over time, much of its allure can be attributed to attractions, activities, retailers and festivals with deep roots in the islands. Like Hawaii itself, these individual enterprises keep improving and bringing visitors back.
For nearly 50 years, visitors to the Polynesian Cultural Center have learned island traditions. // © 2009 Polynesian Cultural Center
A prime example, the Polynesian Cultural Center, has drawn clients to Oahu’s North Shore since it opened in 1963. In its collection of Polynesian villages, Pacific islanders demonstrate arts and crafts and perform songs and dances as they have for decades, but over the years the center has expanded and upgraded to stay fresh. Its newest innovation — a $3 million evening show called “Ha: Breath of Life” — is opening late this summer.
“We believe that the Polynesian Cultural Center remains popular because what we offer our guests is timeless,” said Polynesian Cultural Center chief operating officer Alfred Grace. “It’s a wholesome, fun day of interactive learning about the cultures of Polynesia while creating lasting memories together.”
One of the islands’ long-standing family businesses is Trilogy Excursions, Maui’s first and oldest tour boat company. Founded in 1973, the 36-year-old enterprise specializes in day trips from Maui to Lanai, with appeal for all ages. Trilogy Excursions spokesperson LiAnne Coon represents the third generation to get involved in the business and the fifth generation to be born and raised in Hawaii.
“We take much pride in what we do, how we give back and in our continued faithfulness in serving the guests who visit Maui year after year,” said Coon.
Maui Divers Jewelry ranks high on the list of Hawaii’s long-lasting retailers. Fifty years ago, a diving expedition into the waters off the Molokai Channel led to the discovery of Hawaiian black coral, which Maui Divers began designing, manufacturing and selling as jewelry. To celebrate its landmark anniversary, Maui Divers is reintroducing its Hawaiian Black Coral collection, including the Aloha Heart pendant encrusted with 50 diamonds.
“The majority of Maui Divers Jewelry is handcrafted at our design center in Honolulu, and we take great strides to ensure only the highest quality from the initial design to the casting to the final stone setting,” said Maui Divers president Bob Taylor.
The Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament also turns 50 this year. Founder Peter Fithian has seen his sport-fishing contest — the first of its kind — grow to attract teams from around the world, who head to Hawaii’s Big Island each summer to fish in Kona’s waters. For its golden anniversary, from July 20-24, it is likely to generate plenty more fishing tales as it welcomes anglers from Australia, the Bahamas, Japan, Bermuda, Portugal, England, New Zealand, New Guinea, South Africa and across the U.S.
On Kauai, the Smith family has been synonymous with tourism since 1946. That’s when Walter Smith and his wife, Emily, started a river tour company with a small rowboat and a borrowed outboard motor. Four generations later, the clan has added a botanical garden called Smith’s Tropical Paradise and an evening presentation called the Smith Family Garden Luau. But as it has blossomed, the attraction still honors its founder’s vision during its simple Wailua River boat tour to Fern Grotto.
“Most of the industry has changed drastically to meet the current needs of visitors,” said Smith’s son, Freckles. “In contrast, our family’s boat tour to Fern Grotto has remained true to its roots. The same legends that my father told to the first visitors more than 60 years ago are still being shared with river riders today. For the most part, the Wailua River has stayed the same, with minimal development, so it probably looks like it did when the Kauai royalty paddled it in their canoes.”