Iolani Palace, Hawaiian Royalty & Going Loco Moco
This is one of a continuing series of posts on a visit to all four of the main Hawaiian islands that Alison and I and friends took a few years ago. It has been updated for accuracy as of 2021. Yesterday we went in search of sites associated with the original Hawaii Five-0 TV series as well as Barack Obama’s first home. Today we’ll focus on the beginning and ending of the Hawaiian royal families, the only true monarchs to ever directly rule an American state. There is no other place in the US that you can visit a royal palace or a dead king’s mausoleum. The historic district of Honolulu includes Iolani Palace and grounds where the fictional headquarters of Hawaii Five-0 was located, several of the earliest churches, the State Capitol building and a very famous statute of King Kamehameha the Great. There should be no problem spending a morning visiting these sites before moving on some famous spots just outside Honolulu. Oh, and we’ll try some loco moco as well. Please join us.
Getting to the historic district was easy, finding a parking spot less so, but I eventually found the last one available inside the Iolani Palace grounds. In order to visit you need to book your tickets online which you can do here. There are no walk in admissions. There are a variety of options including a guided tour, a self-guided audio tour and several specialty tours such as the White Glove tour. The office where you pick up your tickets is located in the old barracks which also houses a small gift shop where a number of unique items relating to the Hawaiian royal family were available for purchase. The barracks building, which was moved to its present site to make way for the Capitol building, was the scene of a famous mutiny and later the surrender to the ‘Republican’ rebels in 1893. Seems like the barracks brought more bad luck than protection to the Hawaiian royalty.
We had booked a guided tour to Iolani Palace and we had time to stroll the grounds before the next tour departed. The grounds certainly are worth a stroll or at least a casual walk. There are four entrances, each with a different purpose and a very colourful escutcheon to go with it.
There is also what at first sight appears to be a bandstand, but actually is the Coronation Pavilion, built for the coronation of David Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani. But since they don’t have Hawaiian royals anymore guess what they use it for – you got it – a bandstand.
From the outside the Iolani Palace is a beautiful building in the Italianate style as the website declares, but I don’t remember seeing any buildings like it in Italy. Maybe what it really means is ‘like the Italians would build it if they were asked, but since they weren’t we’ll just call it Italianate”.
What I do remember is the countless number of times Steve McGarrett pulled his huge, honking Mercury up to the front steps and dashed up at full speed only to arrive in his office without being the least bit winded. Since the front entrance was guarded Rob and I wanted to try a McGarrett entrance up the back steps, but some killjoy had placed a barrier across the bottom step so we had to settle for just a picture. Returning to the front we were ready for the guided tour.
The interior of the palace is made almost entirely out of wood which is quite sensitive to things like fungus, dry rot and anyone who is not of royal birth, so they make you wear these very stylish blue coverings over your footwear to protect the floor.
The tour was led by an elderly docent who clearly loved giving these tours. Each tour is limited to the number of people who can be crammed into a tiny elevator that is used to get up to and down from the top floor. In our case that was about sixteen using two trips. Non-flash photography was permitted, but the interior was so dark that even with Photoshop it was difficult to lighten up the pictures enough to make them useful. Therefore I borrowed a few from the website because these rooms are awesome.
As you can see the place really is a palace. Unfortunately visitors are not allowed to ascend the staircase or enter the Throne Room, but many of the other rooms are more accessible including the beautiful state dining room, and the very ornate Blue room.
We were almost blinded by the sunlight when we emerged from the dark confines of the palace after spending about an hour inside Iolani Palace. There was still plenty to see in the immediate vicinity starting with the famous statue of King Kamehamena which stands in front of the very handsome House of the Heavenly King, another former palace that now houses the Hawaiian Supreme Court. This is pretty ironic considering that it was from this same building that the illegal overthrow of Hawaii’s last monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani, was orchestrated by American businessmen. Today Hawaiians and tourists of all extractions flock to the gold leafed statue for pictures under the aegis if this great king. It was the second time in two days we ran into Kamahameha the Great and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
We continued to wander around the historical district, visiting King Lumalillo’s mausoleum just outside Kawaiaha’o church that looked like it could be found in any respectable New England town. Considering how potent the ancient Hawaiian gods were considered to be, some of the Hawaiian royalty seems to have had no qualms about casting them aside in favour of a religion whose adherents weren’t proving to be the best friends of the native Hawaiians.
We completed a circle of the historical district at the very modern State Capitol building behind which we found a statue of Queen Lili’uokalani dwarfed by the huge presence of modern government – somehow it seemed fitting.
That completed our visit to Iolani Palace and the historic district of Honolulu, but there was much more to do on this beautiful Hawaiian day.
By now it was sunny and warm and time to head to some of the famous beaches on the east side of Oahu. We headed east on the H1 until it ended at Kalanianaole Highway where yesterday we had climbed the wall to see Barack Obama’s first home. Feeling a bit peckish we looked for a place to eat and before long came across an L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. For the uninitiated L&L is the Hawaiian equivalent of Tim Horton’s here in Canada. It is a chain that is ubiquitous on the islands and has even spread to the mainland, Australia and New Zealand. Its specialty is the simply named ‘lunch plate’, which comes in all kinds of varieties, but none more intriguing than loco moco. Although the recipe differs from place to place it usually involves a couple of hamburger patties on rice covered with brown gravy and topped with two eggs – sounds great eh!
As usual I am a sucker for anything local and ordered the loco moco and it was pretty good, although I could almost feel my arteries clogging up with each mouthful. The others were a little more sensible and stuck with chicken, pork and beef. Just before leaving Rob needed to use the facilities which were locked. They provided him with a key that had a rubber chicken attached to it. Nobody was going to try to steal that sucker.
Our principal destination this afternoon was Hanauma Bay which was the first place I realized what a wonderful experience snorkelling a tropical reef can be. I remembered my first visit almost three decades before as if it was yesterday. The reason was simple, Hanauma Bay is like a gigantic aquarium full of dozens of kinds of colourful tropical fish, all in water that is crystal clear and seldom more than four of five feet deep. The bay is a deeply indented horseshoe shape with a narrow mouth so that the waters within are almost always calm. In other words, the perfect place to take up snorkelling and I was about to introduce the others to this ‘bucket list’ experience. Then we arrived at the park entrance and I had a Homer Simpson moment. Despite all of the research I had done on the changes and improvements to the park since my first visit I forgot to check the hours – closed on Mondays. Doh!
So with some unexpected time on our hands we continued along what is a truly beautiful drive around the eastern tip of Oahu. Next stop was the Halona blowhole where water shoots straight up from a hole in the rocks just like a whale’s spout. There was a nice observation platform from which to watch this interesting natural phenomenon, but that wasn’t good enough for some idiots who climbed over the railings and down onto the rocks despite the signs warning of the dangers of breaking waves. One man was holding a small child near the water’s edge and with each breaking wave our heart’s skipped a beat because we could see from above just how easily he could have been swept away. I didn’t care about the man; he chose to court death, but it wasn’t fair to the little kid who had no choice in the matter.
I also had fond memories of the next beach the next beach, Makapu’u where I had body surfed in some great waves and despite being pile driven into the sand a couple of times, managed to avoid any major injuries. Aside from the other dangers of Hawaiian waters previously described add broken necks and paralysis from body surfing accidents. In fact, on Kauai we were in a shop to rent some snorkelling gear when another customer casually remarked that he was switching to snorkelling because his step-father had broken his neck the day before in a body surfing accident. Not about to tempt fate twice, we contented ourselves with watching the body surfers from a lookout high above the beach.
Following the Kalanianaole Highway along the coast we passed Rabbit Island and then an island not far offshore that looked remarkably familiar. Then it hit me – “hey, little buddy”, that’s Gilligan’s Island! Actually I cheated and knew ahead of time that Coconut Island off Kaneohe was the island shown at the opening of this most idiotic of 60’s sitcoms. And to think that the mainland was only a few miles away and The Professor couldn’t figure out how to get there.
The Koolau Mountain Range runs the entire length of the east side of Oahu, but unlike Na Pali in Kauai, it does not plunge right into the ocean, leaving a narrow strip of habitable land between the mountains and the sea. By the time we got to Kaneohe Bay the cliffs of the Koolau range seemed to be a nearly vertical and thousands of feet high. It seemed nigh on impossible that a highway could be built over them or that an army could climb them, but if you bet against either you would be a loser. There are in fact three highways that cross the Koolau range in this area, and we chose Highway 61 heading for the fabled Pali Lookout.
Highway 61 climbs very steeply before entering the first of two tunnels. Shortly after emerging there is the entrance to Pali Lookout which is a state park. There are two reasons for stopping here. The first is the incredible view which, as per my usual failings, words cannot do justice. The picture may not be worth a thousand words, but it’s the best I can do.
The second reason is historical – it was in this most unlikely of spots that the most important battle of the unification of the Hawaiians took place. In 1795 our hero King Kamehameha marched his men up these cliffs and defeated the no doubt surprised army of the king of Oahu. There is a very helpful painting on the site that shows the hapless Oahuans plunging over the cliffs after losing the Battle of Nu’uanna. And we thought General Wolfe was a big deal in scaling the cliffs at Quebec – those were a molehill compared to Pali.
Getting back on the Pali Highway we were very quickly back in Honolulu and the condo for a quiet night. We had begun the day touring the Iolani Palace and the places where the Hawaiian royalty was overthrown and ended it at the spot it really began. We would continue to go back in time as the trip progressed.
Tomorrow we depart Honolulu for the north shore of Oahu, but not before visiting Foster Gardens and stopping at Byodo-In Temple. Please join us there.