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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 25, 2004

Exploring Nu'uanu

 •  Map of Nu'uanu (graphic)
 •  Nu'uanu Avenue offers slice of old Hawai'i
 •  From battleground to high-society roost

By Chris Oliver
Advertiser Travel Writer

There are lily ponds to see along Nu'uanu Pali Drive.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Early morning on lower Dowsett Avenue, walkers and joggers have the neighborhood to themselves. At Mary Philpotts' home, the 'auwai, an early 19th-century water system that fed Nu'uanu's taro terraces, meanders past her front door. We're just over a mile from downtown Honolulu, yet birdsong fills the silence in the vast tree canopy overhead.

Across the Pali Highway from Dowsett Avenue, Buddhist monks are preparing for morning rituals at the Hsu Yun Temple on Kawananakoa Street. The fabulous red lacquer and green-roofed structure, a replica of a Chinese imperial palace, is all but hidden from the cars driving up the Pali highway.

Farther up the valley, the Daughters of Hawai'i open the Queen Emma Summer Palace, where in the pavilion, Gussie Bento is teaching her weekly Hawaiian quilting class.

Nearby on Nu'uanu Pali Drive, Dave and Nancy Olmstead from California fashion walking sticks from roadside bamboo before setting off along the Judd Trail to the Jackass Ginger Pool, an easy walk to a natural swimming hole and waterfall.

By any measure, it's hard to top what Nu'uanu Valley offers: elegant houses, acres of old estate lands buttressed by cliffs, ornate Buddhist temples, the royal tomb, foreign consulates, bamboo, eucalyptus and pine forests, one restored palace and another in ruins; hiking trails, busy waterfalls, spectacular trees, tea houses, a soaring pagoda, show gardens ... and plenty of wild pigs.

Nu'uanu is O'ahu's showpiece valley, the "cool heights" where Hawaiian royalty came to play and escape the heat of summer; where the "stern-browed" Kamehameha routed the forces of Kalanikupule in the blood-soaked Battle of Nu'uanu in 1795 — and where some 180 years later, a more peace-loving leader, President Jimmy Carter, took an unscheduled detour down Laimi Street to visit a traditional Japanese tea house.

Nu'uanu is where nature, history and culture converge, says Patty Young-Kingsbury of the Historic Hawai'i Foundation which works to preserve Hawai'i's architectural and cultural heritage. "It feels like living in the country and in the city."

Young-Kingsbury grew up in Nu'uanu in the 1960s and '70s and describes it as an idyllic childhood. Each Halloween, she and her siblings visited the estate of Lester Marks where neighborhood kids were treated to plenty of candy. The Marks' kindness, the elegance of the house and furnishings and the beautiful gardens are among her enduring childhood memories, as well as the freedom of a backyard valley in which to roam. "Many old-timers would make the original food of their ancestry, and all the neighbors shared fruits from their back yards: tangerines, pomelo, papaya, mango, lychee," she recalled.

Nu'uanu's lush vegetation (the valley gets around 300 inches of rainfall annually), is just one of many attractions offered by Oahu Nature Tours, a company that focuses on the cultural history, tropical gardens and rare bird and plant life in the valley.

"Nu'uanu Valley is just a great way for visitors to get out of Waikiki and see the real Hawai'i," said owner Mike Walther, whose "Hidden Waterfall" tour begins at Foster Botanical Garden in lower Nu'uanu and ends at the Pali Lookout. "There is a lot of history in this valley, beautiful temples, tropical gardens, it's very varied and very scenic."

When you next have a free afternoon or out-of-town guests to entertain, take a slow drive through Nu'uanu and visit some of the valley's cool attractions.

Wear comfortable shoes ... and don't forget your umbrella.

• • •

Nu'uanu Avenue offers slice of old Hawai'i

While we tend to think of Nu'uanu as the valley through which the Pali Highway runs, there is also Nu'uanu Avenue, which extends right into the city and is a good jumping-off place for a day trip through Nu'uanu (or check it out on one of the area's First Friday art nights).

Art galleries on lower Nu'uanu Avenue

Flor de Cardo Galeria Argentina is at 1160 Nu'uanu Ave. The Peggy Hopper Gallery is next door.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

On Nu'uanu Avenue and along the surrounding narrow Chinatown streets are a collection of art galleries that range from The ARTS at Marks Garage, 1159 Nu'uanu Ave., an avant-garde space for visual and performing arts, to Ramsay Galleries, 1128 Smith St., which exhibits the artist's detailed pen-and-ink architectural drawings and the Pegge Hopper Gallery at 1164 Nu'uanu Ave., which celebrates native Hawaiian women. Galleries are not open Sundays.

Lanakila Crafts at 1809, Bachelot St., 531-0555, is part of a rehabilitation center in Nu'uanu with crafts for sale by workers with disabilities: Hawaiian pillows, aloha fashions, wood products and kitchen accessories. Open 8 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. www.lanakilahawaii.org.

Foster Botanical Garden

Labeled plantings at Foster Botanical Garden include orchids, as well as an array of palms, heliconias, gingers and prehistoric plants.

Advertiser library photo • March 28, 2000

The entry point to Nu'uanu valley might be Foster Botanical Garden, which contains the nation's largest collection of tropical plants. This 14-acre garden began in 1853 when Queen Kalama, wife of King Kamehameha III, who reigned 1824-54, leased a small piece of land to William Hillebrand, a German doctor and botanist. Hillebrand, a key figure in 19th-century Hawaiian history, later returned to Germany and published "Flora of the Hawaiian Islands" (1888). Labeled plantings in the gardens include palms, heliconias, gingers, orchids and prehistoric plants. Foster Gardens also is home to 26 of O'ahu's designated exceptional trees.

"Keeping cultural traditions alive requires preserving traditional plants," said Duane Choy, Foster garden volunteer coordinator and docent. "We must now import maile from the Cook Islands for our own Merrie Monarch Festival.

"All of these plants in Foster garden exhibit a unique niche in the cultural traditions of their countries, thus their preservation protects cultural traditions. Their aesthetic value is hard to measure, Choy said. "Foster garden is a botanical oasis in the concrete jungle that is now downtown Honolulu."

The gift shop in the garden has packaged plants and seeds cleared for entry to the Mainland as well as plant-related gifts. Guided tours are at 1 p.m., Mondays through Fridays.

Foster Botanical Garden is at 170 N. Vineyard Blvd. For information: 522-7060, or www.co.honolulu.hi.us/parks/hbg. Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission: $5, general ($3, kama'aina 13 and older), $1, children 6-12 years.

Lili'uokalani Garden

Just a few minutes walk from downtown, the Lili'uokalani Garden is a five-acre oasis in a sheltered glade on the banks of Nu'uanu Stream. The small, natural park with its double waterfall, named Waikahalulu ("water of the roaring") Falls, and swimming hole, was a favorite retreat for Queen Lili'uokalani and was left to the public by her. The pretty park, where wedding ceremonies are often performed, is reached from a narrow lane, also named Waikahalulu, off School Street. Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Hsu Yun Temple

Traveling up the valley from Vineyard Boulevard are a number of churches and temples. Near the mauka end of Nu'uanu Avenue is the beautiful red-laquered and green-roofed Hsu Yun Temple operated by the Chinese Buddhist Association of Hawai'i. The temple, which opened in 1967, has two halls. The main temple hall, where most of the rituals are performed, houses three large Buddha statues at the main altar. There is daily quiet chanting by the monks and scheduled services on Buddhist anniversaries, which visitors may attend. The temple also has a library, offices, a kitchen and monks' living quarters.

Hsu Yun Temple, 42 Kawananakoa Place, 536-8458. Open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.

Kapena Falls

Once the bathing place of Hawaiian royalty and more recently featured in Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson's 2003 movie, "The Rundown," the 30-foot waterfall and swimming hole lies below the Wyllie Street overpass on Pali Highway mauka of Hono-lulu Memorial Park. Also in this area are petroglyphs and old rock walls and terraces. Willis Moore of the Hawai'i Geographic Society leads "Petroglyphs and Waterfalls," a walking tour in Nu'uanu Valley to Kapena Falls and other sites, on Saturdays and Sundays. Cost is $15. Reservations: 538-3952.

Japanese Pagoda

Placing the Honolulu Memorial Park pagoda on the Hawai'i Register of Historic Places may help preserve it.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Honolulu Memorial Park at Craigside Place is best known for its controversy-plagued pagoda, a replica of Sanju Pagoda in Nara, Japan, and the Golden Pavilion (Kinkikaku-ji) of Kyoto.

The controversy began over upkeep of the 37-year-old structure after the owners of the park filed for bankruptcy. Late last year, however, the pagoda and other structures in the park were placed on the Hawai'i Register of Historic Places, helping to guarantee their protection.

The memorial park, a peaceful place to stroll with its diverse monuments and memorials, winds down to Nu'uanu Stream, downstream of Kapena Falls. Open 7.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. daily.

Royal Mausoleum

On a 3.7-acre patch of sacred land dedicated in 1865 and never surrendered to the United States is the Royal Mausoleum, the final resting place of King Kalakaua, Queen Kapi'olani and 16 other Hawaiian monarchs. The Gothic Revival mausoleum was designed by Theodore Hueck and built in the shape of a Latin cross. Only the Hawaiian flag flies over this remnant of the Hawaiian kingdom. Curator Bill Maioho is the sixth in his family line to hold the position.

2261 Nu'uanu Ave., between Wyllie and Judd streets. Open 8 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. weekdays. 587-2590. Free.

Jackass Ginger Pool/Judd Trail

Nu'uanu's ties to old Hawai'i are visible not only in the buildings and fine homes throughout the valley but in the lichen-covered rock walls, the 'auwai (irrigation ditches), streams and moss-covered trails through the forest. The Jackass Ginger Trail, known also as the Judd Trail, is a one-mile loop through eucalyptus, bamboo and a forest of Norfolk Island pine trees across easy terrain to the Jackass Ginger swimming hole, also known as Kahuailanawai ("site of tranquil water"). The name Jackass Ginger comes from a donkey that once was tied up amidst prolific yellow ginger plants nearby.

"Nu'uanu is a great place to hike because of the diversity in both plant life and types of terrain," says Sierra Club guide Mike Gawley, a frequent hiker in the Nu'uanu and Manoa trail systems. "The elevation changes provide exercise without being overly ambitious; it's a beautiful place." Gawley recommends bringing mosquito repellent and plenty of water, and being prepared for wet and muddy conditions.

Gawley said there are several trails for more ambitious hikers in the area and also some pig trails, so the opportunity to get lost is there, as well. "Always tell someone where you plan to go and when you plan to get back; stay together on the trail and don't hike alone," he advises.

Jackass Ginger/Judd Trail begins on Nu'uanu Pali Drive. From Honolulu, drive past the Ilanawai condominiums on the right. A small reservoir and concrete spillway are on the left opposite the trail marker. Park on the road just before the bridge dated 1931. Leave nothing of value in your car. For information on Nu'uanu hiking, contact the Sierra Club Hawai'i Chapter, 538-6616, or the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club, www.geocities.com/htmclub.

Queen Emma Summer Palace

Milli Hayden of Kane'ohe sews an intricate pattern on her Hawaiian quilt at the Queen Emma Summer Palace.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

"Queen Emma was a fabulous horsewoman who loved her Nu'uanu retreat, where she grew roses, rice and taro," said Leinani Keppeler Bortles, palace administrator and member of the Daughters of Hawai'i, which maintains the historic house. Bortles says she recalls dressing as Queen Emma, in full riding attire, at age 17 for a fund-raiser at the Bigelow Estate.

Built in Boston, dismantled and shipped to Hawai'i around Cape Horn, the Queen Emma Summer Palace was reassembled in 1848 in Nu'uanu. The gracious white frame retreat, set in beautiful grounds, was where Emma, consort of Kamehameha IV, and their son, Prince Albert Edward, came to enjoy family life away from hot and dusty Honolulu. Today, the palace houses a collection of Queen Emma's belongings, furnishings and many of the royal kahili (feathered symbols of royalty) and lei hulu (feather lei). A Hawaiian quilting class is taught 9 a.m. to noon each Wednesday. Cost is $1.

The Daughters of Hawai'i, who have pledged to keep alive the spirit of old Hawai'i, recently celebrated their 100th anniversary. To qualify as a member, an individual must have a direct lineal ancestor resident in Hawai'i before 1880, said Bortles, whose own daughters and granddaughters will carry on the tradition.

The gift shop carries Hawaiian gifts and books, including Daughters Of Hawai'i publications.

Queen Emma Summer Palace, 2913 Pali Highway, 595-3603, www.daughtersofhawaii.org. Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Adults, $6, seniors and kama'aina, $4, children $1.

Nu'uanu Valley Park

At the back of Queen Emma Summer Palace, on Puiwa Road, is a small park and children's playground shaded by beautiful monkeypod trees. The park has a picnic area, volleyball courts and a parking lot.

Nu'uanu Pali Drive

Massive trees with wide canopies shade Nu'uanu Pali Drive, creating a serene two-mile stretch of roadway just off the busy Pali Highway.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

"When you walk the 'back road' (Nu'uanu Pali Drive)," says Nu'uanu resident Patty Young-Kingsbury, "and have a nice breeze blowing in your face, smell the flowers and plants, see the beautiful trees ... after a heavy rain, you hear the stream rolling, it really puts you in a state of calmness."

Drive or stroll along this serene two-mile stretch of road popular with joggers and bicyclists. The road, edged by bamboo, passes lily ponds and a reservoir surrounded by stands of fringed-top papyrus. Massive trees with wide canopies shade the road as it skirts gracious estates.

Pali Lookout

End your Nu'uanu excursion at the Pali Lookout at the head of Nu'uanu Valley, the site of the decisive battle between King Kamehameha I, intent on conquering O'ahu, in 1795. The O'ahu defenders were forced over the pali, to their deaths, by Kamehameha's army with the help of cannons provided by John Young. The original Old Pali Road, clinging to the side of the cliffs, is accessible from the lookout and well worth exploring, though overgrown in parts. Wild guavas, prolific gingers and Job's tears line the way. Views of the windward side are dramatic and almost always windy. Bring a sweater.

• • •

From battleground to high-society roost

  • Nu'uanu means "cool heights."
  • Annual rainfall measures 300 inches a year.
  • Nu'uanu valley has for centuries been used as a passage between the windward and southern sides of the Ko'olau range. At its makai end, Nu'uanu stream created a passage through the reef that became Honolulu Harbor.
  • At the Battle of Nu'uanu Pali in 1795, Kamehameha I conquered O'ahu by driving the island's army up Nu'uanu Valley. Many O'ahu defenders, unable to regroup or retreat, leaped off the Nu'uanu Pali to their deaths rather than surrender or be slaughtered. Kamehameha's fleet of war canoes had approached from the south, landing on the island's southern coast between Wai'alae and Honolulu Harbor.
  • In the early 1800s, Nu'uanu's 'auwai, or irrigation-ditch system, supplied water from streams to flood the valley's extensive taro fields. Wetland taro was the staple food of Hawaiians. Today, the historic 'auwai can be seen in neighborhood gardens as landscaped waterways, small ponds with water lilies, and decorative pools for colorful Japanese carp, or koi. A segment of 'auwai can be seen from the Kimo Drive bridge entering Dowsett Highlands.
  • Because of its lush vegetation and rich taro patches, the valley became known as "the breadbasket of Honolulu."
  • In 1837, work began on the Pali Trail, making it a safe footpath. By 1845, the first road suitable for horses was built, and in 1861, the first wagon was driven down the cliffs to the windward side.
  • By the 1840s, Nu'uanu Valley was an established agricultural area. A sugar mill was built by Dr. T.C.B Rooke in the lower part of the valley.
  • In July 1843, Kamehameha III held a great feast at his Nu'uanu palace, Kani'akapupu, to celebrate his restored sovereignty. The celebration included ancient sports and a lu'au was served to thousands of people.
  • In the 1850s, the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society was established near the Queen Emma Summer Palace site to expand agricultural products and increase foreign trade. Despite support of government officials and commercial interests, the society became inactive after 1856. In 1882, Hawai'i's sugar planters organized the Planters' Labor and Supply Co. to support the burgeoning sugar industry which evolved into the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association. In 1996, the association changed its name to the Hawai'i Agriculture Research Center to reflect the broader range of crops for which it provides research.
  • In the 1860s, the old ice works were established in Nu'uanu, and chests full of ice were transported on interisland steamers. The ice works were also famous for pigeon lofts that supplied the royal kitchens with squabs, and many of the homes in the valley belonging to Honolulu's leading residents, including the Athertons and the Cookes.
  • In 1862, the Pali Trail was widened into a road suitable for horses and carriages. In 1896, the government authorized dynamiting and paving of the road. Johnny Wilson, a young engineer, headed up the project. (Wilson would later serve as mayor of Honolulu.) Another widening after 1900 allowed the new motor vehicles to traverse the road.
  • World War II delayed plans to dig the Pali Tunnels. Construction finally began in the mid-1950s. One tunnel was opened in 1957, and the second in 1961.

Source: Carol Silva, educator, University of Hawai'i