Native Son

New Oahu tours specialize in the early life and times of the next President

By: By Marty Wentzel


Guides of Oahu’s Obama Tour

Adult rates are $40, children are $25. Tours operate daily from 1 to 3:30 p.m and include transportation to and from Waikiki hotels.

Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau’s Barack Obama Web site

Polynesian Hospitality

Daily, chartered Obama tours start from $460 (mini-coach) to $575 (motorcoach) in price. FIT tours are scheduled to begin in February 2009.


The Dream Begins

New Book Delves into Obama’s Years in Hawaii

Now that Barack Obama is set to become the next U.S. president, you can bet there will be plenty of books written about him. However, since Obama bears the indelible stamp of his native Hawaii — a multicultural melting pot — it’s possible that a new offering penned by island writers is the closest that readers will come to an insider’s look at Obama’s youth.

Honolulu-based Watermark Publishing recently released “The Dream Begins: How Hawaii Shaped Barack Obama” ($17.95), a coming-of-age story set in Hawaii and a revealing look at what makes Obama tick. Authored by veteran political writers Stu Glauberman and Jerry Burris, the 152-page book examines Obama’s early years in Hawaii. The self-described “skinny kid with the funny name” flourished in the Islands, where local values foster tolerance, compromise and mutual respect, and where diversity defines people rather than divides them. The social mores of the Aloha State and the experience of growing up in an island culture have had a deep and lasting influence on the candidate.

Obama himself has noted, “What’s best in me, and what’s best in my message, is consistent with the tradition of Hawaii.”

Glauberman and Burris offer concise lessons in Hawaii history to help the reader understand its racial and social climate, explaining how such an environment could impact a young man like Obama. Interviews with Obama’s Punahou School classmates and teachers, as well as others who knew him in his youth, add a personal dimension to the narrative. Obama’s paternal and maternal family history and his years in Indonesia are also thoroughly covered.

The authors are well qualified to cover this material. During his career as a journalist with the Honolulu Advertiser and Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Glauberman covered many beats including education, politics, business and Hawaiian affairs. He has traveled widely and also reported from Asia. Burris is Hawaii’s foremost political analyst, having reported and commented on politics for readers of the Honolulu Advertiser and Honolulu television viewers for more than 30 years.

For Hawaii visitors and fans of the islands, the book provides fascinating background about the cultural, political and natural diversity of the destination.

Watermark Publishing


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"What’s best in me, and what’s best in my message, is consistent with the tradition of Hawaii."

That’s how Barack Obama described his intrinsic link to the 50th state, where he was born and spent most of his first 18 years. Lately, Oahu activity providers and tourism groups are targeting a niche market of visitors who are curious to visit the places where the president-elect spent time during his boyhood.

Rainbow Drive-In, one of Obama’s favorite Oahu eateries // (c) Kok Chih and Sarah Gan
Rainbow Drive-In, one of Obama’s favorite
Oahu eateries // (c) Kok Chih and Sarah Gan

Obama has said that he credits his upbringing in Hawaii — where local values emphasize compromise and where diversity defines the population — as a major influence on his character and values. During his formative years in Honolulu, he spent much of his time under the care of his maternal grandparents, Madelyn and Stanley Dunham. His grandmother, whom he called “Toot” — short for tutu, the Hawaiian word for grandmother — passed away on Nov. 2, just two days before her grandson’s historic election.

Recognizing the worldwide fascination with Hawaii’s native son, Honolulu-based Polynesian Hospitality now runs a tour that takes groups to Obama-related locales on Oahu. Beginning in February, the tour will also be available to independent travelers.

“In designing the tour, our primary focus has been to highlight president-elect Obama and his early years on the island of Oahu,” said Polynesian

Hospitality sales manager Glenn Ifuku. “We hope to share with our visitors the humble early years of our next president and his surroundings, neighborhood and lifestyle while growing up in Hawaii.”

The tour passes by Noelani, where Obama went to public elementary school, and Punahou, the private school he attended from fifth grade through high-school graduation in 1979. Other notable Punahou graduates include America Online (AOL) co-founder Steve Case and golf star Michelle Wie.

The Polynesian Hospitality route also swings by Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, where Obama was born on Aug. 4, 1961; Punahou Circle Apartments, where he lived with his grandparents; and Halona Blow Hole Lookout, where Obama scattered his mother’s ashes and, during his visit last August, tossed a lei into the ocean.

“Our tour program is primarily a drive-by itinerary,” said Ifuku. “We want to make sure that we don’t create any disturbances in residential areas.”

Guides of Oahu, which has offered small educational eco-tours since 1992, also started its own Obama tour recently. According to company founder Mitch Berger, the outing explores Obama’s roots to find out who and what influenced his values, viewpoints, passions and policies. Through the stories of childhood friends, teachers and coaches, clients can learn how growing up in Hawaii made Obama the man he is today.

“This is not a political tour,” said Berger. “It is a specialty tour, rather like having a long conversation with a charismatic man you just happened to meet. It provides an exploration of life in Hawaii filled with humor, culture, history, philosophy, insight and an endless supply of Barack Obama triva.”

Along with his birthplace, homes and schools, Guides of Oahu swings by hangouts frequented by Obama and his friends, like Leonard’s Bakery, home of a favorite local sugar-coated doughnut called the malasada; and Rainbow Drive-In, known for its traditional island-style plate lunches.

Meanwhile, the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) has launched a micro-site in response to the growing interest in Obama’s formative years on Oahu. Highlighting some of the significant places tied to his Honolulu youth, the site also describes the Obama family’s August 2008 vacation on Oahu. During their visit, they went golfing at Olomana Golf Links and Luana Hills Golf and Country Club, spent time at Kailua Beach Park, visited Nuuanu Pali Lookout, snorkeled at Hanauma Bay, enjoyed a plate lunch at Zippy’s, toured the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, and paid respects to Stanley Dunham who is buried at Punchbowl, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

While on Oahu, visitors have easy access to some of Obama’s favorite haunts, like Puu Ualakaa State Park on Tantalus, Kapiolani Park at the edge of Waikiki and Sandy Beach, a popular body-surfing spot in East Honolulu. They can stop by the Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop on South King St., one of the first places Obama worked as a teenager. And they can cool off with a shave ice — the local version of a snow cone — at Island Snow in Kailua, where Obama and his daughters shared an icy treat.

If it’s true that “to understand Barack, you need to understand Hawaii,” as Michelle Obama said, an Oahu visit can provide clients with a newfound appreciation for the next president.