Historic Hikes

Most people think of Waikiki as a relatively modern tourist destination with high-rises, shopping, dining and nightlife by the beach. But thanks to a new walking trail through the area, visitors can discover fascinating facts stretching back centuries to the days of warriors, kings and queens, farmers and entrepreneurs.

By: Marty Wentzel

Most people think of Waikiki as a relatively modern tourist destination with high-rises, shopping, dining and nightlife by the beach. But thanks to a new walking trail through the area, visitors can discover fascinating facts stretching back centuries to the days of warriors, kings and queens, farmers and entrepreneurs.

The recently completed Waikiki Historic Trail takes visitors along a route defined by 23 markers at key sites around the 2.5-mile seaside destination. Clients can either follow the trail by themselves or join a free, guided tour run by the Native Hawaiian Tourism and Hospitality Association. Hosted by a local historian dressed in traditional Hawaiian robes, the two-hour guided tours are offered Monday through Saturday beginning at 9 a.m.

Hawaiian teacher, author, historian and cultural leader George Kanahele came up with the original idea of a series of markers telling the story of Waikiki. In conjunction with architect Charlie Palumbo, he encouraged sponsors to champion the trail. Following Kanahele’s death in 2000, Palumbo saw the project through to its completion.

“I felt this was the right thing to do,” Palumbo said. “I still feel that.” Markers along the trail are in the shape of surfboards. “We came up with the idea because the surfboard is one of the most influential Hawaiian implements in history,” Palumbo said. “It was used by all commoners and alii (royalty). Nearly all the alii had homes in Waikiki because of the surfing. Waikiki and surfing always went together.”

Each surfboard marker features words written by Kanahele, describing the significance of the site.

Dorien McClennan, project director for the Native Hawaiian Tourism and Hospitality Association, said it’s important to reflect on what Waikiki was like before the days of concrete and high-rises. “I see the trail as a lei encircling Waikiki with a sense of place and its history,” McClennan said. One marker, located at the intersection of Liliuokalani Street and the Ala Wai Canal, explains how Waikiki was once a vast marshland.

“The early Hawaiian settlers, who arrived around 600 A.D., gradually transformed the marsh into hundreds of taro fields, fish ponds and gardens,” the marker reads. “Imagine, Waikiki was once one of the most productive agricultural areas in old Hawaii.”

At Ala Moana Beach Park, today a popular gathering place for visitors and residents, a marker describes the beach as a barren swampland in the early 20th century.

“Smoke rose constantly from a smoldering refuse dump near the water’s edge,” it says. “In 1912, Walter Dillingham purchased the land adjacent to this uninviting waterfront, much to the amusement of his peers. The new Ala Moana Shopping Center (today a major retail operation across the street from the park) was ready for opening the same year Hawaii became the 50th state.”

Waikiki’s U.S. Army Museum is located on land that once housed the villa of Hawaii’s first Chinese millionaire, Chun Afong, who came to Honolulu in 1849. A marker on the site reads: “By 1855, he had made his fortune in retailing, real estate, sugar and rice and for a long time held the government monopoly opium license. His Waikiki villa occupied 3 acres of landscaped grounds. Here, he gave grand parties for royalty, diplomats, military officers and other dignitaries.”

Call 808-841-6442.

Web site: www.waikikihistorictrail.com.

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