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Doris Duke’s Shangri-La

Shangri La

Why not have a living room outside? If you’re one of the richest people in the world, you can live any way you want. Doris Duke wanted to live in Hawaii so she built this five-acre estate near Diamond Head on Oahu. Not just a vacation hide-away for the wealthy, Shangri La is a labor of love.

Duke had fallen in love with Islamic art and architecture on her honeymoon world tour, commissioning a marble bed and bathroom suite inspired by a visit to the Taj Mahal. Hawaii was the final stop on the tour; a stop that turned into a four-month stay convincing Duke to combine her passions. She had the suite shipped to Hawaii and built the house around it. Beginning in 1936, Duke continued to craft the home over the next 60 years. It opened for tours after her death.

The estate presents a plain white wall to the street; a carved wood door flanked by camels leads inside. Behind the wall are public and private rooms, manicured grounds, a pool, the Playhouse and water garden. It is difficult to describe the beauty without becoming as ornate as its tile work. Photos are available online but they cannot convey the sense of peace and tranquility that abides. Duke loved this place and it returned the favor, sustaining and restoring her to the end.

Tours are operated through the Honolulu Academy of Arts. You MUST arrive on an academy shuttle bus or you will be turned away. Tours are three times a day Wednesday through Saturday (the estate closes each September for conservation work).

Insider tip: keep an eye on the “cultural programs” section of the website for upcoming events. They sell out almost immediately so click quickly if there will be one during your visit.

Cindy Scheopner lives in Hawaii. Find her on Twitter as @scheopner. That’s her photo of the Duke estate, above.

Two Mai Tais, 25 Years Apart

Adult beverage Beach Bar Moana SurfriderTwo drinks, one life.

The first drink launched the first life in 1984. The blurry cell phone photo is the second drink; stirred and sipped 25 years later in 2009. Although it’s never been my favorite entry in the squishy-sweet umbrella beverage category, each Mai Tai celebrated a significant occasion. One heralded the beginning of my Navy career, and one marked my post-Navy life as a writer.

Both reflected a pinky-orange Waikiki sunset viewed from the Moana Surfrider hotel (where a cocktail, then and now, is about the only thing I can afford at such a swank establishment.)

In 1984 I’d flown into Honolulu to report aboard my first Navy ship, homeported in historic Pearl Harbor. My assigned guide from the crew took me directly from the airport to the Surfrider in time to catch one of those spectacular sunsets. I was actually a little crabby because my first-choice ship was homeported in Italy, and I’d had to jettison a whole Alfa-Romeo-on-the-Amalfi-Coast fantasy to be stationed on Oahu with my 1973 Ford Gran Torino.

Twenty-five years later, I’d just finished a jam-packed blogger press trip across the Hawaiian Islands; a group of us were invited by the Hawaii Tourism Authority in an effort to boost Hawaii’s visibility in social media channels. As the “family travel” person, I was there with my 9-year-old son, who at this Mai Tai moment was blessedly occupied jumping around in the surf and out of my hair.

25 years.

A bunch of gray hair and crinkly skin and a 22+ year Navy career enjoyed but finished, and here I was on the same beach drinking the same drink, a lot wiser and YES, dammit, I was pleased to admit….quite happy with my lot in life.

I ordered another one.

Sheila is co-founder of Tourism Currents, which helps make sense of social media for destination marketing for tourism professionals, and she writes for the multi-author Perceptive Travel blog. She hopes it doesn’t take another 25 years to return to Hawaii.

Enjoy Hawaii, Do Something Good

I’m a big fan of the Aqua line of hotels. It’s a vanity, but I feel like they were made for me. They’re cute and funky and have style, they’re a good deal, and they know you’re going to snack in your room, so they make it easy for you. I’ve not stayed at all of them, but I hear good things about the ones I haven’t stayed at. Bonus? I like the people I’ve met that run the brand and I appreciate their priorities and politics. I feel great about recommending their properties to anyone who’s Hawaii bound. And I feel REALLY great about giving you a shot at a certificate for three nights for two people at any Aqua hotel in Waikiki.

Self Portrait, Waikiki, 7am

Self Portrait, Waikiki, 7am. By Nerd's Eye View

I also really like the Hawaii tourism people, they are genuinely wonderful people. When I asked them to help me out with Passports with Purpose, the Travelbloggers Fundraiser, they hopped to it. So not only do I have a voucher for three nights in Waikiki, I also have some other great stuff to go with it. I’ve got passes for two to the Waikiki Aquarium. Fun fact? It’s one of the oldest in the nation, plus, it’s home to a few chambered nautiluses – a crazy looking sea critter if ever I saw one. You can walk there from your Waikiki hotel.  I’ve got two passes to the Polynesian Cultural Center — with the Alii Luau. Full disclosure here: This is Oahu’s most popular attraction, but I found it kind of, um, weird. That said, the poke at the luau was plentiful and delicious and the luau itself? The dancers and the musicians were amazing. I really enjoyed it.

And I’ve got something else that’s just busting with aloha for you, too, as part of this package. Nathan Kam, who’s a Hawaii tourism big shot, but also, an all around nice guy and wonderful human being, will take you and one travel companion on a personal food tour of his island. Nathan loves to eat well and he genuinely loves to share Hawaii with visitors. He’ll take you to some of his favorite eating spots and you’ll get to spend time with a local guy who’s good company and a generous host. Honestly, I’m kind of jealous of whoever gets to do this.

What do you have to do to get all this aloha? You have to donate 10 dollars to LAFTI via Passports with Purpose. Your donation goes directly to Land Tillers for Freedom (LAFTI) and will be used to build homes for a community of 25 Dalit (untouchable) families in India. That’s it. Do that, and your name goes into a drawing for this package of Hawaii goodness. You make a small donation, you might get an amazing trip to Hawaii. Okay, okay, if you get this, you’ll have to buy your own plane tickets — sorry, we really did try, hard, I promise you! — and there are some restrictions, but they’re reasonable “based on availability” kind of things.

Passports with Purpose is in year three — and this is Aqua’s second year of support. Last year, we built a school in Cambodia through a combination of sponsorship funds and donations like yours. For me, there’s a lot to love about the opportunity to share a place I absolutely adore with you through an act of generosity. There’s aloha there, both in your gift to LAFTI, and in the participation of the Hawaii folks who helped me pull together this great package. Keeping with that spirit, I’ll share my knowledge of the islands with you if you need help planning your trip. You probably won’t need it — Hawaii is so easy — but I’m delighted to advise you on questions like “Should I rent a car?” or “Where’s that crab ramen you keep going on about?” We’ll be in touch if this prize package goes your way, so please don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll tell you your biggest problem right now: Three nights won’t be enough. But it’s a great start.

Are you ready to make a donation? Go here.

Thank you sponsors: BootsnAll, LiveMocha, Round the World with Us, HomeAway, Traveller’s Point, Hostelling International, Quintess, Raveable, TravelPost, and Uptake.

Lantern Floating, Memorial Day, 2010

Shopping Vintage on Oahu

Here at Holoholo Wale, we’re suckers for vintage Hawaiiana, be it kitschy or classy. And while we prefer to be part of the Aloha Wear and Hawaii Postcard Liberation Front (not a real organization) on the mainland, we still like to go treasure hunting in Hawaii. Oahu has a few great places to do just that — here are three very different picks for vintage finds.

Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Wear: Bailey’s is a fabulous mess full of racks bursting with aloha wear, from new reproductions of vintage patterns to the outrageously expensive and super rare. It’s expensive by mainland standards — a vintage 70s neon colored number can set you back 70 dollars — that’s some cash for a 30 year old shirt. But it’s right outside Waikiki — ambitious visitors can walk — and it’s FUN. The really expensive stuff is hanging up high.  Wondering what a 3500 dollar aloha shirt looks like? This is the place to find out.

Tin Can Mailman: The boxes of Hawaii ephemera — maps, brochures,movie posters, so much more — are a gold mine of questionable clothing choices, snappy ad copy, and the golden age of Hawaii tourism packaged to sell just about everything. There’s more, though, tiki mugs and hula lamps and maybe, if it’s not sold, a spectacularly inlaid guitar. This tiny shop in Chinatown is jam-packed with tropically inspired antique wonders and the guy behind the counter? He knows about all of it. Take a cab or the bus.

Muumuu Heaven: Everything old is new again and it’s damned cute, and in some cases, slinky and sexy. Recycled aloha print and tropical fabrics are used to embellish skirts, sundresses, tops, and when we visited, there was an amazing selection of vintage dresses from the 40s to the 70s. There’s also a very pretty display of housewares, original artwork, jewelry… lots of one of a kind things. In Kailua. You’ll want a rental car to get there.

It’s Not Just a Shirt, It’s Family History.

Hawaiian and Coin Shop, Centralia, Washington by Nerds Eye View

Hawaiian and Coin Shop, Centralia, Washington by Nerd's Eye View

Here at Holoholo Wale HQ, we’re known to scour local second hand stores for aloha wear. We look for clothes that are  Hawaiian made, from heavy cotton or bark cloth, stuff with embroidered labels in swirling fonts. We’ve acquired some real gems for under ten dollars, often with very little wear because, I’m guessing, someone’s wife or sweetheart refused to let the shirt see daylight once it landed in a mainland closet.

It’s hard to find a Hawaiian made aloha shirt anymore, there are a few rare producers, and not many of them exhibit the outrageous styling and attention to detail that earlier designs took for granted. We always look for matching pockets — meaning the pocket has been cut so as not to interrupt the pattern — and coconut buttons. Frog ties are nice too but very rare, as are three quarter sleeve length pullovers. I acquired my favorite shirt for about three dollars from a very messy shop halfway between Tacoma and Seattle, it’s neon pink and olive green on orange,  a real shocker of a color combination, and made from a sturdy textured cotton. The tag reads “Soshima’s Hale Aloha, Honolulu” and a Google search as to its lineage turns up… nothing.

Yesterday, my sidekick rescued an early 70s (we’re guessing) number from a rack of mostly uninteresting wrinkled shirts covered in the usual bird of paradise/ surfboard/ palm tree /hibiscus print pattern. Our latest acquisition is an understated pattern of brown and blue, block print inspired with a feeling of Thailand or Singapore. The label ( which we misread at first as Casual Caire) says Casual Aire, Reef Towers, Outrigger Hotel, Honolulu. I couldn’t find much mention of Casual Aire, though I did find a number of vintage online shops selling some spectacularly colored muumuus.

The Reef Towers property was sold by Outrigger in 2005, but it used to house a Casual Aire store run by Larry Langley, according to a previous retail manager.  The resort wear company was founded by the Langley grandparents, Joan and Nort, then run by Linda and Larry Langley until they closed shop in 1998. This 2001 article in the Honolulu Advertiser says that fashion is still in the family, even though the Casual Aire line is no more. And even though the shops have been shut down, there’s at least one shirt left to promenade the Waikiki strip. Thanks, Langleys, it’s a beauty!

Thanks, Outrigger Hotels and Nancy Daniels, for indulging my obscure queries! Photo by Nerd’s Eye View.

105 Jellyfish

Baby Box Jelly Fish via VannaGocaraRupa on Flickr

Baby Box Jelly Fish via VannaGocaraRupa on Flickr

Oahu lifeguards spotted slightly more than 100 box jellyfish today as the monthly influx has dropped off considerably. — Honolulu Advertiser

What’s with the jelly count? Once a month — maybe eight to twelve days after a full month — box jellies come close to the beaches to spawn. They’re so predictable that there’s an online calendar; obsessive types could plan their trip to Hawaii around the jellyfish.

Hawaii’s box jellies are unique in their predictable arrivals: they come near shore to spawn 8 to 12 days after each full moon. John Culliney, Professor of Biology at Hawaii Pacific University, said that other members of the same phylum, including corals, also time their spawns based on the lunar cycle.

“They do this because it’s easier to concentrate the eggs and sperm all together,” Culliney said. What is unique about C. alata is that nowhere else in the world are box jellyfish quite so reliably on-time. No one is yet able to answer why. —The Blob That Attacked Waikiki: The Box Jellyfish Invasion of Hawaii

Box jellies are poisonous and apparently, the sting hurts like hell. You don’t want your vacation wrecked by this:

Stings are not often fatal, but can hurt a great deal and may lead to an allergic reaction. Symptoms can include: mild burning, redness to severe blisters and welts. If you contact a Man of War, try to immediately take out the tentacles with anything but your bare hands and teeth. Rinse with fresh or salt water but do not use vinegar. Some people will say to do this, but it often makes stings worse. If symptoms are more than mildly uncomfortable, contact a physician. — Garden Isle

It’s common sense, of course, but if the jellyfish warning signs are out, that’s the day you head for the aquarium or the museum. That’s the day you take a nap or go find the best shrimp truck on the North Shore or go shopping for an ‘ukulele. The weird translucent creatures aren’t going to stick around — let them have the shallows for a few days. Always, always, always, check the beach signs and if you’re not sure, ask a lifeguard.

Beaches in Hawaii are closed from time to time for a variety of reasons — dangerously high tides, shark sightings, and box jellies being among them. Take a minute to remember that you’re standing on a tiny island in the middle of Pacific — and give nature a little respect. It’s all for your safety.

Mighty Uke in Honolulu

I was beyond delighted to catch Mighty Uke in Seattle, but how much more thrilling would it be to see the Mighty Uke Roadshow in the homeland of the ukulele?! It’s showing at the Honolulu Academy of Arts on March 19th, 2010. Learn more on the Academy’s website.

Hawaii Slam!

Henry Kapono has a new music project going — it’s called the Wild Hawaiian. You can read up on the whole thing here — there’s music and video and photos. I caught the show  in Seattle. I thought the way he started it was a little weird — he showed video footage that talked about the concept and how people felt about what they were experiencing — I’m not down with setting expectations for me to feel a certain way about art, be it musical or otherwise. It turned out not to matter, I forgot the video almost immediately when the live music started.

I loved the show; I loved thinking about Hawaiian music in a whole new way. The Wild Hawaiian tracks are rock music in a way you probably recognize, but the lyrics are all Hawaiian. I thought the percussion was crazy wonderful, the guy cranking out the exotic beats was Lopaka Colon, a  musician I’d never heard of but his dad played with Martin Denny — you might know Martin Denny as the man who popularized pop exotica in a track called Quiet Village.

More than anyone on stage, I could not tear my eyes away from Kealoha, the barefoot slam poet who danced and sang his way through the show, sometimes taking the mic to add a whole new spin to Hawaiian storytelling. I loved hearing his voice call out over the crowd, adding Hawaiian legends and slices of modern life to the music that Henry Kapono and his band created.

Kealoha founded and hosts Hawaii Slam every first Thursday in Honolulu at the Fresh Cafe Warehouse. If you want to do something completely different when you’re next on Oahu, this is it. I haven’t been, I can’t tell you first hand what it’s like, but next time I’m there, I’m psyched to go. It’s three bucks if you get there early, five if you don’t, and that’s a pretty good deal for seeing Hawaii through a whole new lens. Check it out.

Be sure to check Hawaii Slam before you go — all the details are subject to change.

Budget Travel: Reader’s Best Photos

Here on Holoholo Wale I try to look into the corners and behind the usual sun, surf, and sand stories about Hawaii (though I call that beer, beaches, and babes). But every now and then, I remember — Hawaii is freaky gorgeous, really, just breathtaking, and the sun, surf and sand, while not the be all end all of Hawaii, is what draws a lot of us there in the first place.

There’s an excellent reminder of just how remarkable the islands are on Budget Travel — they’re running a slideshow of their readers’ best Hawaii photos. Have a look and be amazed.