Oahu is at once both. Many visitors make the memorable Pearl Harbor pilgrimage to the USS Arizona and now, close by, to the USS Missouri , where Gen. Douglas MacArthur accepted the Japanese surrender. After that, though, they settle into the tourist haven of Waikiki, unaware of far older historic treasures from Hawaii’s Polynesian past that lie literally at their feet. When I walk the beach, my landmarks are the Wizard Stones, monoliths said to contain the spiritual power of four priests who came from Tahiti before the sixteenth century. Situated next to a surfboard rental shop, they are an oasis of repose between the ocean and the city’s busiest street.
This other history is all the more vivid when you get out of Honolulu and experience it in the dramatic natural settings of crenelated mountains and overlooks. The North Shore, for instance, is about as underrated as a place can be, if the number of tourists is any measure. Yet to stand in the center of the heiau (temple) high on a hill in Pupukea above Waimea Bay is to understand anew what the word sacred means. If you know any of the history of this temple, all that transpired on this spot before a missionary even saw it, then the rocks and boulders that at first look like rubble become as moving as a Greek ruin. There are many such sites in Oahu—if you take the time to look.