Two Sides of a Hawaiian Vacation

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History and adventure lie just beyond the islands’ famous beaches.

The Aloha State is the obvious choice for an escape to sunny shorelines, but don’t rule out sightseeing by mule or a helicopter ride over its color-filled landscape. Molokai and Oahu pack a lot of nature-packed punch for clients, with lots of local and international history thrown in for good measure.

Just 20 minutes by air from Oahu, Molokai is inarguably one of the world’s most spectacular islands, kept pristine and untouched—you’ll find no high-rises or public transportation here, but plenty of 4WDs instead (clients will want to rent a car to get around). A recent visitor described the rich, mystic forests of Molokai as “something out of ‘Avatar’—sometimes it almost feels as if you’re in a cloud.” Its beaches are said to have some of the softest sand ever touched by man. It’s an unpolished jewel often overlooked by those who love to be in close contact with nature.

Kalaupapa National Historical Park is the gem of Molokai, offering limited accessibility by hiking, mule tour or by small airplane. Because much of the park is unavailable to visitors, many of its species are blessedly protected, including the Hawaiian monk seal. More often than not, visitors take in the park’s natural sights on a hike or mule ride with Kalaupapa Mule Tour. Trained mules take visitors down the Molokai Sea Cliffs, the world’s tallest, and along some of this hemisphere’s most dramatic vistas. The entire trek down is approximately 2.9 miles and descends 1,700 ft., past remote areas and hundreds of plant species.

Once you reach Kalaupapa at sea level, Damien Tours takes over. You’ll learn about Father Damien’s efforts to care for Hansen’s disease victims, who were once banished to this part of Molokai, and his canonization just a couple of years ago. Keep in mind that Damien Tours, working with Kalaupapa Mule Tour, gets entry permits for those who book with them, as visitors are not allowed into the park without prearranged permits from the State Department of Health. A full-day mule and park tour includes lunch and entry permits and is priced at $199; a hiking tour is $69. There are also flight-inclusive options for travelers who need to get to Kalaupapa from Honolulu.

There aren’t many accommodation options on the island, but the most popular seems to be the oceanfront Aqua Hotel Molokai from Aqua Resorts, with Polynesian-inspired bungalows, a freshwater pool and spa facilities. The hotel is just a 5-minute drive from the central town of Kaunakakai, with rates starting at $159 per night. Or, book four nights with Apple Vacations and get the fifth night free; call for rates.

Aqua also has agent FAM rates at its hotels on different islands through 2011 with a 3-night minimum stay. A gardenview room at the Molokai property is $99 per night. Make sure you take your IATA card (call the number at the end of the story or to book).

Clients who’re heading to Molokai next month might want to stop by the 20th Annual Ka Hula Piko Festival, which celebrates the birth of the hula May 12-14 in Kaunakakai. The town’s main strip, Ala Malama Avenue, offers plenty of shopping and dining options, plus there’s also a great farmer’s market on Saturday mornings that’s a good place to buy shell necklaces, crafts and lots of fresh local produce.

on to oahu After “roughing it” in Molokai’s simplicity, Oahu comes calling with plenty of modern comforts but also a generous measure of Hawaii’s natural attractions and another peek into the state’s past. A good way to dig a little deeper into Hawaiian history is to visit various landmarks in Honolulu. The ‘Ioiani Palace, completed in 1882, is a National Historic Landmark and a symbol of Hawaiian monarchy, beginning with beloved “Merrie Monarch” King Kalakaua, the last elected King of Hawai’i (a Merrie Monarch Festival takes place each year in Hilo, celebrating the king’s support of the arts). ‘Ioiani is the only royal palace in America; two floors are open to the public, with guided tours available Monday through Saturday.

Across the street from the palace is Aliiolani Hale, home of the Hawaii State Supreme Court. Other stops in the city: Honolulu Hale, the official seat of the city government, and the Hawaii Theatre, a Vaudeville house and cinema listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places. Designed using a variety of architectural styles, the theater is still open for performances and offers guided tours on Tuesdays.