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Lana’i

Hawaii After Dark

http://www.flickr.com/photos/danzen/3863363525/

Honolulu City Lights by Dan Zen via Flickr

“If I were a tourist, I’m coming here for the weather, the culture, the sightseeing. But one night I might go to the casino, because what other entertainment is there to do at night?” said James Boersema, an investor of a Waikiki nightclub and restaurant. — MSNBC: Is Hawaii gambling with paradise?

That quote is from an article about the islands considering — again — adding gambling as a source of much needed revenue. Gambling might be a path towards income, surely, but it’s a willfully naive response to the question of what to do after dark in Hawaii.

For starters, there’s a staggering array of music options, and lots of them are free. Waikiki’s Kanikapila Grill hosts the stars of Hawaiian music — hang out poolside at the Outrigger and hear the sounds of island music for the price of a cocktail. You can do this at the Marriott, too, and a number of other places. The Royal Hawaiian has a newish entertainment series — it’s great fun to catch a show in this grand pink hotel by the sea. There are loads of nightlife tourist traps along Kalakaua Ave., discos and kitchy luaus, or you can book a package that includes transportation to and from the Polynesian Cultural Center to catch their big cultural showcase.

In the confines of Waikiki, it’s easy to forget that Honolulu is a real city with a university and residents that work in industries other than tourism, a place where people live and work and play after dark just like any other city. Crack a local paper — one that’s not labeled “Top 100 Things to Do on Oahu!” and you’ll find loads of other options.

There’s a burgeoning foodie scene in Honolulu — try Town in Kaimuki or, if you’re feeling flush, Chef Mavro‘s. You can attend a food event like Dining in the Dark where you’ll give up vision for taste. If you’re looking for alternative entertainment there’s Art after Dark at the Honolulu Academy of Arts and there’s Chinatown’s revival with bars and nightclubs and the First Friday gallery walk.

Admittedly, things slow down a little on the neighbor islands, but you can still dine in an amazing array of restaurants in Maui’s county seat, Wailuku, catch a jazz show at the historic Honoka’a theater on the Big Island or hear local music at the Hotel Moloka’i on, you guessed it Moloka’i.  There are nature activities too — star gazing and flashlight tide-pooling and night diving… it’s not over just because the sun is down.

What is there to do at night? Really? Pick up a local paper or look online and find out.

Where Kawelo Makes Fire

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

You need a four-wheel drive vehicle to get to Keahiakawelo, the Garden of the Gods, on Lana’i. The dusty rough track ends at Polihua Beach, an isolated stretch of white sand and unswimmable surf (the tides are dangerous; don’t even think about it).

If you take the boat from Maui, you’ll share the deck with locals carrying enormous ice chests, household appliances (we watched a guy load a washing machine) and piles of groceries. There are also a handful of rugged backpackers, motorcycle riders and well-heeled tourists in khakis and sunhats carrying golf clubs.

The carved stone marker towards the top of the road says “Garden of the Gods” but Keahiakawelo actually means “the place where Kawelo makes fire” or “the fire of Kawelo.” According to the Hawaiian legend, the landscape was transformed into bare, red rock slopes by Kawelo’s burning every single stick of vegetation in a competition against another kahuna to see who could keep the fire going the longest.

I learned this from Kepa Maly of the Lana’i Culture and Heritage Center — the center must be one of the most under-visited facilities in the islands. I also learned that there are artifacts that show human habitation of Lana’i from 1,000 years ago and had my brain short out on the idea that an entire island (it’s actually 98%) could be owned by a pineapple company and then a hotel company. The island still has a weird colonial vibe, and before I was taken down by seasickness in the Maui channel, I was glad to be moving on.