A Visit to Hawaii (1973)

The year 1973 was a big year for me. In it I visited the state of Hawaii, resigned my job at Loma Linda hospital, and re-visited Guyana, where I was born. We were encouraged by some good friends of ours, Denny and Jeanette Watts, who lived in the same mobile home estate in Reche Canyon, to join them on a two week vacation to the Hawaiian islands. Denny was a staunch advocate of the Hawaii life, and he and his charming wife had made the trip on many occasions.

Needless to say, Emma and I were both not only agreeable, but quite excited at the prospect of a holiday in these lush Polynesian islands, seeing for ourselves and enjoying such world-renowned places as Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbour, Diamond Head, and Honolulu. Added to this was the fact that with such seasoned guides as Denny and Jeanette, we were assured of receiving the full treatment on our tour.

With the acquisition of some colourful shirts, shorts, and Muumuus, we therefore set out for Hawaii. We emplaned at Ontario airport which was only 25 minutes from home, changed planes at Los Angeles, and in four hours we had crossed the Pacific to arrive at Honolulu airport at about 3.50 pm. Hawaiian time.

As we approached the first sight of land, Denny was able to point out the volcanic peak of Mauna Loa, an active volcano on the island of Hawaii.

Mauna Loa Volcano

Perhaps I should here point out that Hawaii, the fiftieth state of the U.S.A., comprises several islands, the largest of which is Hawaii, sometimes referred to as the 'big' island, and which has active volcanic eruption from time to time.

The most important of the group of islands, however, is Oahu, capital city of which is Honolulu. Pearl Harbour, the large American Naval base is located here, as is the world famous Waikiki beach, and its array of magnificent hotels built on the beach with Diamond Head in the distance.


800px Waikiki Beach Waikiki Strand

We had booked rooms at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu, popularly known as the "Pink" palace. The rooms were beautifully appointed, and the picture windows overlooked the lawn in front, with delightful and exotic plants and flowers along the borders all around Kalakua avenue and all its imposing buildings, fringed with coconut palms lay just about two hundred yards beyond. The other side of the hotel faced Waikiki beach, access to which was gained by a special elevator which carried hotel guests from their respective floors straight down to the level of the beach.

800px Royal hawaiian from beach

The king-size bed was the largest I had ever slept in, and the bath and toilet facilities in our private suite were superb. There was a colour television set in our room in addition to a radio, as well as a refrigerator and all the comforts of an orderly home. The rooms were all fully carpeted with thick pile, and the view from the window was just great. With a temperature of 76 degrees, F. it was very pleasant, and even the water on the beach was extremely comfortable to swim in. I swam every day, sometimes twice. By virtue of being a newspaperman, our friend Denny and his wife were given V.I.P. treatment, this was also extended to us, his friends. We had adjoining rooms to theirs, and the whole setting was fine.

We spent the first day getting the feel of the place, looking around the area, gambolling on the beach and learning the geography of Oahu. We never ate at our hotel, but would go and sample various eating places. One great favourite of ours was the open terrace of the "Surfrider" hotel quite close to ours. It overlooked Waikiki beach, and as we enjoyed our meals, we could see the bathers, the surf riders, and the various crafts all close by the terrace where we ate.

Our ten days in Oahu were occupied in visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center for a whole day, touring Pearl Harbour and doing the cruise to the Arizona Memorial another day, yet on another day spending our time going through Hickam Air Force base - Denny was a retired Navy man - we devoted yet another day to looking through the Ala Moana shopping mall and visiting the multi-shopping quarter known as Kings' Alley.

We rented a small car and drove to the north side of the island stopping along the way which was very scenic, to take pictures of such sights as "Chinaman's Hat" (a small islet off the coast shaped like a perfect Chinese Hat) Rabbit island, and the Blowhole, where the breakers are forced through a sort of tunnel and ejected as a tall spray through an opening in the rocks. We reached the sight of the Polynesian Cultural Center and spent the rest of the day and a part of that night there.

800px Polynesian Cultural Center entrance

This Center is organized by the Mormons and is made up of separate little villages of Tahitians, Maoris, Tongans, Hawaiians, Fijians and Samoans. In each community is given a demonstration of the life and customs of its people, and a display of their arts and crafts. To all intents and purposes, what one sees is a visit, in miniature, of these Polynesian islands, and it is very educational indeed.

It takes a couple of hours properly to tour the six areas, and when that is over, there is a large open-air setting in which the music and singing of the several groups are individually demonstrated. This is really fascinating, and the colourful costumes of the performers create a very beautiful effect in the strong but very pleasing sunshine, a gentle breeze making the temperature just ideal.

This was followed by an exhibition of canoe-craft, dancing on the canoes, and singing, performed on a man-made waterway with a little island built into the center of it. The island was used as a stage from which the entire show was explained and controlled, and from which, in between events, the cast would entertain the audience with singing, dancing and instrumental music.

Each of the six Polynesian groups, one at a time, would come sailing in from around one side of the island stage on canoes of various designs, very ornate, some of them being double canoes and others outriggers, singing and dancing in their brightly coloured costumes, and in their native languages.

Polynesian Cultural Centre Fiji Temple

It was a wonderful sight and the setting was magnificent. The man-made waterway was palm-fringed, and the overhanging semi-tropical foliage was of various hues, all bathed in brilliant sunshine, with moving shadowy effects on the surface of the water.

I was fortunate in being able to secure a position on a footbridge about thirty yards off, giving me a head-on view of the whole display. I secured dozens of colour slides of the event, which gives me the opportunity to re-live the whole experience from time to time.

Polynesian Cultural Center Rower

The next big event at the Cultural Center was a Polynesian meal, served in a thatched building open at the sides. The meal was different, but tasty. We enjoyed the Papayas, and the "Mahi-mahi", (dolphin meat, deliciously done) but did not care much for the "poi" a type of grated tuber, quite milky, which to us, had a most insipid taste.

Later in the afternoon we were taken over to the Mormon Temple and grounds - what a beautiful building, and what extensive and well kept lawns - the sun was just going down and I was able to capture a fine picture of the site, showing the great fountains in the foreground, with the temple and setting sun in the background.

We were shown a movie of the Mormon activity in South America, and afterwards driven back to climax our day at the Polynesian Cultural Center.  The "piece de resistance" was a brilliant show put on by native artistes and lasting well over two hours.

The setting was superb, and I will try to describe it as best I could.

The stage was set on what, in the darkness of the evening, looked like an island, (man-made no doubt) with a surround of water over which were causeways leading to the rest of the area around. The viewing stand was arranged across the water in a palm-fringed setting, very pretty indeed. The background of the island stage was a volcanic mountain range, and it was so constructed and cleverly wired that very realistic " eruptions" could be produced at will, complete with the rumble of deafening proportions, and followed by billowing smoke and life-like molten lava.
The opening scene depicted such an eruption, and this was repeated whenever it would serve to compliment a performance.

Each Polynesian group did its own 'thing'. There were songs, stories, fire-eaters, fire dancers, sword dances etc., but the Tahitians, as dancers, were quite outstanding in their skirts. The entire performance was done in native setting and with costumes of the respective groups. At times the roar of the artificial volcano, and the clouds of smoke and falling lava were awe-inspiring, but the show was a new experience and a great success.

We were delighted with the days outing and reached home very late that night. The trip to Pearl Harbour and the Arizona Memorial was another fine days enjoyment. We had a conducted tour of the harbour, and all the points of interest were explained to us. We were shown where the Japs came over the cliffs, and how they hoped by this surprise attack, to cripple the U.S. Navy in that area. Pearl Harbour is really the nerve centre of the U.S. Pacific Command. It has deep water facilities in its ten square miles or so of navigable water for hundreds of anchorages, and is almost completely landlocked.

Ford Island aerial photo RIMPAC 1986 JPEG

One of the many ships destroyed in this sneak attack on December 7th, 1941, was the U.S.S. Arizona.


The Japanese airmen scored a direct hit on the ammunition storage room, causing the ship to, as it were, help destroy itself.

USS Arizona 2

Over one thousand bodies were encased in the twisted metal as the ship exploded and sank, and up to this day, and even as we looked down upon the spot, we could see little globules of oil rising to the surface of the water where the battleship still lies. At times, I was told, it is possible to detect rotted particles of clothing rising from the bowels of the sunken ship even after a lapse of more than three decades since the ship and its crew went down. On several occasions expert divers were sent down to attempt to retrieve the dead bodies from the Arizona, but due to the hopeless tangle of metal below decks, this was impossible. In trying to dive up the bodies, I was informed, several divers lost their lives, so the idea was finally abandoned and a lasting memorial of white concrete and steel was built spanning the hull. The only part of the "Arizona" that is visible now is ventilator shaft which projects a couple of feet above the surface of Pearl Harbour. The Memorial was dedicated as a public and national shrine in 1962. Before I left this site, I leaned heavily over the side of the Memorial and reached into the ventilator shaft, wrenching a tiny strand of copper wire from it, and which I now keep among my prized souvenirs of the various places I visited.

Uss arizona

Before leaving Pearl Harbour, we visited Hickam Air Force Base nearby, had lunch there, and generally looked around.

On yet another day, we roamed through the Ala Moana Shopping Center, a two-tiered shopping plaza of very modern design. An escalator runs from one level to another, and on the top level there is a delightful promenade with modern sculpture, exotic fish ponds containing multi-coloured carp in crystal clear water. There are shops on both sides of the decorated promenade, and they are indeed just miniatures of the best shops one can find on the mainland of the U.S.A. I did not count the number of these shops, but was reliably told that they exceeded three hundred. Certainly smaller in size, individually, but clearly the largest collection of shops I had seen so far. It was possible to purchase almost anything there.

We visited Kings Alley, another multi-shopping complex, which was much closer to our hotel. Here one sees a continuous ceremony of the "changing of the guard", somewhat after the pattern of the British version at Buckingham Palace. While taking pictures of this ceremony, I noticed that the Hawaiian flag flying from the flagstaff there, contained a small Union Jack in its upper corner. Questioning Denny about this, I was reminded that Captain Cook, an Englishman, discovered Hawaii, and in deference to this, recognition is still shown in the flag's composition. The shopping centre of King's Alley is built somewhat like a maze, and it is easy to be "turned around" going from one shop to another. Each one seems to run into another as they are built in terraces, and some have flowering little enclosures. The whole setting is quaint, though small, but with all, delightful. One particular shop specialized in tracing genealogical histories.

Next on our list of day excursions was the International Market Place in Kalakua Avenue, not far from our Pink Palace. You step off the sidewalk and you are in it. A sort of semi-tropical arrangement of unusual shops, the most unusual one being Trader Vic's Restaurant built in a Banyan tree. One has to see this place to believe it. I took a night-time flash picture of its patrons climbing the short stairways to this tree restaurant, complete with menu postings at its entrance, and its hostesses receiving guests.

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Even though built in a tree, it was solidly constructed to accommodate a number of people. In this marketplace I had a caricature of myself drawn by an artist in three minutes flat, and it bore a striking resemblance to me, rolling a large pill - after enquiring what my profession was. 

Caricature of Alfred Gilkes

After eight or nine days in Oahu with Denny and his wife, I decided that Emma and I should go over to Hawaii, the big island, before returning to the mainland, U.S.A. We accordingly booked a flight from Honolulu, and arranged for a car to be placed at our disposal on arriving there. also made reservations for hotel accommodation at the Kona Hilton hotel for the first night, and at the Naniloa in Hilo, on the other side of the island, for the second evening. As we reached Kona airport, our rented car, an Impala, was waiting for us, and I drove to the Hilton, which was not too far along the coastal road.

Hilton hotels are usually good, but this one, built on the edge of the Pacific ocean, was superb. It was several floors high, and each floor was bordered on all its sides with rows of flower boxes in which were colourful and exotic tropical blooms of many glorious shades. The floors were arranged in a sort of pyramid, tapering towards the top, and with the flowering surround, it was a truly delightful sight. The grounds were absolutely fantastic, and the entire landscape was a dream. That evening we drove out to a Polynesian restaurant, and enjoyed a splendid meal.

Our hotel room overlooked the wide expanse of the Pacific, and just by chance, the swimming pool of the hotel, of a very novel shape, was directly below our balcony, six floors down. That night we slept peacefully, lulled by the gentle ocean breakers on the nearby beach.

We had breakfast in the hotel, and having packed our hired car, we took off towards Hilo, going around the northern part of the island. We passed many volcanic areas, and stopped to collect some samples of stone. Towards midday, we reached the Naniloa hotel and had lunch there. It was a delicious New York steak but was it pricey! This was quite a good hotel too, but coming from the Hilton, there was a big difference.

After resting a little after the long ride, we drove around a bit just sight-seeing. The famous Rainbow Falls was on our list of things to see, and we were told not to miss it. After a short ride we climbed into a somewhat higher region and were able to locate it without too much trouble. It was the classic type waterfall, tumbling over the edge of hilly terrain into a gorge below, and producing the inevitable erosion in the rocky formation at the base.

Rainbow Falls Hawaii

In an earlier part of these memoirs, I gave a description of Kaieteur Falls on the Potaro River in Guyana, and in truth and in fact, Hawaii's Rainbow Falls pales into insignificance when compared to the giant, still almost hidden in the interior of the South American jungle of Guyana.

The best eating place we discovered was another Polynesian restaurant just next to our hotel in Hilo, and for the entire stay in this town, we used the services of this fine establishment. The meals were reasonably priced, and good and most of the time the place was packed to capacity.

On the following day we toured the southern and south western part of the island, visiting the world-renowned Black Sand Beach and volcanic areas around. As we drove past certain parts we could see volcanic steam coming through cracks in the rocks and stopping the car for a more careful examination, we put our hands to the steam jets which proved to be very hot indeed. That entire afternoon was spent in the beautiful Lilliu Kalani park and gardens, named after a Hawaiian queen, and here I took dozens of slide pictures. This park was just gorgeous, made up from huge lava deposits, artificial ponds, bridges made of volcanic stone, and an overall landscaping that simply beggars description. We stayed here all afternoon and well into the evening, enjoying the cool breezes from the waterfront fringed with waving palms, lolling on the immaculate lawns and enjoying the many Japanese and Polynesian sculptures and designs that liberally dotted the grounds. Banyan trees abound in this area, symmetrically arranged along the sides of the streets. It was really a very pleasant two days on the "Big Island".

We turned in our hired car and took the night plane back to Honolulu, stopping en route at Maui. At Honolulu we took a Western Airlines flight to San Francisco, arriving there in the early morning, and then transferring to another plane which returned us to Ontario.

Denny and Jeanette who did not accompany us to the "Big Island" of Hawaii had got home a day earlier, and Denny collected us at the airport and returned us to our home in Colton.

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