Where is the one place in the United States that was once a distinct royal kingdom? The answer would be state of Hawaii, which in the 18-19 th centuries was a unified kingdom-state recognized by some of the major nation-states of the world. And the royal capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii for a significant part of its history was Honolulu, on Oahu Island. With a name that can mean either “calm port” or “sheltered harbor”, it stands to reason that the location would be nice and scenic. And honestly, those descriptors are grossly inept. Honolulu is a Pacific island city with all the comfort of the modern age and an eclectic mix of people from all over. At once native, European, and American at the same time, Honolulu offers you a wide variety of experiences that goes beyond what you usually think of in Hawaii.
When Kamehameha I united the Hawaiian Islands and became the first king of the Kingdom of Hawaii, he moved his chieftain capital from the Big Island of Hawaii to Oahu, specifically the beach area of Waikiki (“sprouting fresh water”, after the springs and wetlands that once divided the area from inland). Since then the Waikiki neighborhood of Honolulu has become an iconic image of Hawaii as a whole, with its high-end hotels, branded stores and clothes shops, dining establishments and of course its beautiful stretch of beach with the quaint view of the Diamond Head volcanic cone not so far away.
Waikiki is also surfing paradise, as symbolized by the nearby statue of Hawaiian Olympian and surf master Duke Kahanamoku. If you’re lucky you can catch a luau, even if commercial in nature, with Hawaiian music on ukuleles and of course, the hula.
Having the distinction of being the only former royal residence in the United States is rather unique. While a palace for the Hawaiian monarchy has stood there since Kamehameha III, the current structure was erected by order of King Kalakua, patterned after the Victorian style that he sought to emulate. Upon the overthrow of the Kingdom in the reign of Kalakua’s sister Liliuokalani, it was converted into the last Queen’s gilded prison, then the capitol of the brief republic, then territory, and state of Hawaii. Now a museum, it offers visitors a glimpse of the glories of Hawaii’s royal past, and the technological advances the palace had long before even the White House. Statues of Kamehameha I and Liliuokalani are close by.
This early 19 th century neoclassical church got its name from being supposedly built on a spring- fed pool looked after by a native Hawaiian high priestess named Hao. Now one of the oldest permanent Christian places of worship in Hawaii, it was once the chapel of the royal family. Because kings have been crowned and royals baptized and given funeral rites here, it was nicknamed the Hawaiian Westminster Abbey. Its primary building material was coral from the waters of Oahu, with its clock tower, donated by Kamehameha III and installed 1850, remaining active today and displaying the correct local time. The tomb of Lunalilo, elected king after the death of the childless Kamehameha V, is at the church grounds entrance, and other historical figures of Hawaii are buried in the rear cemetery.
Founded in 1889 in honor of Kamehameha dynasty descendant, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, this museum grew from showcasing Hawaiian native and royal artifacts to becoming an institute dedicated to Polynesian culture in the Pacific. Check out reconstructions of old Hawaiian buildings, antique weapons and garments, even the feathered cloak of Kamehameha I himself. From there you can also see exhibits from Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia. There’s even a modern science center and planetarium attached too.
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
Located northwest of the city is an extinct volcanic crater called the Punchbowl, but known to the Hawaiians of old as a cremation ground of people put to death for breaking traditional taboos as sacrifices to the gods. Now this place is the final resting place of soldiers, most having served in the armed forces and were killed in the Pacific theater of World War II. Also included among the almost 50,000 graves are those of singular individuals like WWII news correspondent Ernie Pyle who was killed covering the Okinawa campaign, and Hawaiian astronaut Ellison Onizuka, a fatality of the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster.
Here history was made in the Day of Infamy – December 7, 1941. The scars taken from the WWII Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the US Pacific Fleet base just west of Honolulu, have mostly been repaired or replaced, but important memorials are still there, at the sites of the wreckages of the battleships Utah and Arizona, sunk by Japanese fighter planes. Also accepting visitors is the submarine USS Bowfin, now serving as a museum ship. Do note that while these locations are open to the public, Pearl itself is still an active military base. Be on your best behavior.
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