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Aloha!

Story by Jenna Wise Photography by Harold Leath

Yes, you MUST go to Hawaii. Many people nearly swoon when Hawaii is mentioned and say, "Oh, it was one of my favorite vacations." Or, they smile and say, "I want to go there - soon!"

So, come along and tour three Hawaiian islands with me. There are actually eight islands in the state. Of course, you remember that Hawaii became state No. 50 in 1959. There will be more history later - first things first.

Everybody knows the No. 1 item of business upon arrival in Hawaii is receiving a lei - and then being overwhelmed with its beauty and scent. The leis were a wonderful tradition to uphold and start our introduction to Honolulu, which is on the island of Oahu. Next was discovering that our hotel, the Hyatt Regency, was located right on Waikiki Beach. How thrilling!

We were told to relax and learn how to "hang loose" because we were, after all, in Hawaii and that - plus going to see sights and enjoying sparkling beaches, towering mountains, volcanoes, unusual water spouts, and more - was just the start of being in paradise.

That night we "hung loose" on the rocking chairs at the well-known Moana Surfrider Resort, which has been called the "First Lady of Waikiki" since 1901 when famous guests started staying there. It is also famous for its giant banyan tree in the courtyard, uniquely lit at night.

The next day's visit to Pearl Harbor, traveling by Navy launch to the white marble memorial built above where the USS Arizona was sunk on Dec. 7, 1941, was quite an emotional experience.

Continuing the tour to see Oahu's Punchbowl Crater, which is now used as the National Cemetery for the Pacific Area, was interesting, as was seeing the only royal palace in the United States, the historic Iolani Palace, and the well-known King Kamehameha's statue. Bet you have seen pictures of him and just did not know who he was.

The pace of the trip changed the next day when we went to Oahu's North Shore seeking the perfect wave just like we were a bunch of surfers. How appropriate: Hawaii is considered the birthplace of surfing. We found pretty waves and Shave Ice. They DO NOT call it shaved ice. Remember that when you go to any of the islands in Hawaii. It is delicious. You will want to try it - often.

I promised a little Hawaiian history: There is uncertainty, but the earliest settlements are generally believed to have been made by Polynesians who reached Hawaii using double-hulled canoes. They brought pigs, dogs, chickens, sweet potatoes, coconuts, bananas, sugar cane and taro (a starchy tropical plant). Tahitians and others followed.

In short, unification of the Kingdom of Hawaii by Kamehameha the Great started in 1810, following the island's first contact with Europeans by Capt. James Cook in 1778. Years of unrest followed with rule by various leaders of different countries until dynastic rule by the Kamehameha family ended when the Hawaiian Kingdom became the Hawaii Republic in 1894 and the 50th state in 1959.

Tidbit: We toured Diamond Head Crater and we stayed in Diamond Head Tower at our Oahu hotel. One of our tour guides told a funny story that Diamond Head probably got its name from shiny calcite crystals on the actual crater's surface, but a legend is that old women used to sell cabbage on the street there for a "dime a head" and that is really where it got the name. That is funny.

Our stay in Oahu included a visit to Dole Pineapple Plantation as well as a Sunset Dinner Cruise with amazing views of Honolulu, delicious surf and turf cuisine, and island dancers for entertainment. Who could ask for more?

Flying to Kauai â “ The Garden Isle

Before we knew it, it was time to take a quick flight to the greenest island you can imagine, Kauai â “ where we headed straight for a train ride at Kilohana Plantation. There we were given the opportunity to taste award-winning premium Hawaiian Koloa Rum, known as aloha spirit in a bottle.

On the way to our Kauai resort there was a most interesting stop to see a spouting blowhole - something you do not see every day, even in Hawaii. Home base on Kauai was the lovely Sheraton Kauai Resort on Poipu Beach, and it turned out to be scenic, had delicious food â “ particularly its bountiful breakfast buffet â “ and it had one interesting guest, a Hawaiian monk seal who loved to sleep on the beach.

Our first full day in Kauai was "full to the brim" with a tour of breathtaking Waimea Canyon, considered the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and a stop at Kauai Coffee Plantation.

To top off the day was a helicopter tour that was so exciting there are no words to describe how beautiful it actually was. There were rainbows to see because it had been raining. That is why the island is green. But that rain has to happen in order to see so many waterfalls that you lose count - each one more lovely than the last.

The highlight of the next day in Kauai was a special tour that visited locations where movies and television shots have been filmed. The list goes on and on, but sights included "Jurassic Park," "The Thorn Birds" and so many more.

My favorite moment of the day was when two other women from the tour and I were standing on the pier in Hanalei where the movie "South Pacific" was filmed and suddenly realized where we were and we burst into singing "Little Jackie Paper lived by the sea ... in a land called Hanalei."

Moving on to Maui, the Valley Isle

It was time for another short flight to the island that promised and delivered everything from historic whaling town Lahaina to the twisty Road to Hana that some people have heard about with all its turns and bridges, plus scenic views of cliffs and "sacred" pools.

There is so much to see and do in Maui that we started touring right off the plane with a drive through the Ioa Valley and saw an impressive 2,250 foot volcanic cinder cone called the Ioa Needle.

Next stop Lahaina

Time to eat lunch at the landmark Pioneer Inn (built in 1901) on Maui with its awesome view of the bustling harbor and the town's trademark banyan tree that boasts of being the biggest banyan tree in the world. We actually came back to Lahaina on another day to go on a quite successful whale-watching excursion that was an extraordinary experience.

We finally got checked into our magnificent hotel, The Hyatt Regency Maui Resort, located on famed Kaanapali Beach, with lush tropical gardens and artwork galore. Dining, especially the array of breakfast delights served at a Hawaiian breakfast buffet at Swan Court, was a delight, where there actually were swans and a waterfall.

Depending on whether one chose to get up before dawn to see sunrise on Mount Haleakala, go snorkeling or take hula lessons, there was always something to do. Anticipation mounted until the big event on the last evening with the Drums of the Pacific Luau where there was a chance to eat traditional Hawaiian delicacies, such as Kalua Pig roasted all day in an Imu, an underground oven and uncovered ceremoniously during the luau; Poi, mashed taro root; Laulau, taro leaves that look like spinach â “ plus much more.

Aloha: This time goodbye

It was nice to learn while in Hawaii that people say "Aloha" as a greeting and also use it to say goodbye. People treat you like one big family. There is also a lot of smiling. I like all of those things.

One of the things to smile about on the Hawaiian adventure was all the nice fellow travelers on the trip, which had been so well-coordinated by Collette Travel, and another thing to smile about was appreciation of Jane Julian (www.janesjourneys.com) for all her help on the trip as well.

Again, put Hawaii on your bucket list. Go ahead, book a trip. But if you cannot do that, please consider buying one of those buckets made of beautiful Koa wood, which only grows in Hawaii. Fill your "bucket list" with ideas on how you can go to Hawaii, even if only in your own mind: watch some Hawaiian movies or TV shows; go on-line and find some authentic Hawaiian recipes to try; take hula, ukulele or surfing lessons. Got the idea? Enjoy thinking about Hawaii. Enjoy life.

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