Travel '98: March Hawaii

Whales die if they hit the beach, surfers die if they don't; otherwise, their reasons for wintering in the Pacific are the same.

A millennium or so ago, an assortment of Tahitian nomads and exiles and warriors set sail and navigated north across the Equator, steering by the moon and the stars and the ocean current, until they ran into the island they would call Hawaii. March, the equinoctial fulcrum equidistant between one solstice and another, poised between two summers, one in the south and the other north, is the optimal time to pursue the Polynesians across the Pacific.

It took us the best part of 1,000 years to catch up with them and when we finally did, it was with the anthropological equivalent of the Big Bang. In the second half of the 18th century, the French explorer, Bougainville, happened upon what he took to be a sexual utopia in the South Pacific. Tahitians, according to his Voyage Autour Du Monde, were living a bacchanalian fantasy of free love, unregulated by European Judaeo-Christian standards of morality. Hospitality to French sailors included not just feasts but a plentiful supply of willing young girls. A more Rousseauist than Rousseau image of the nubile savage seemed to have finally found an objective correlative.

Revisionist history has done nothing but try to blow holes through Bougainville's original vision of the pagan paradise. It is probable that the Tahitians were under the impression that they were bartering women for iron nails and other items in the French ships. The more down-to-earth Captain James Cook, following in Bougainville's wake and at last putting Hawaii on the map, was the first revisionist, pointing out that no Polynesian could possibly have looser morals than a sailor. Having sailed around the Tahitian islands in the company of a mixed bag of Europeans, I can confirm that little has changed. Cook was a universalist who believed that we are all one beneath the skin and that Hawaiians, Tahitians and Englishmen offer only minute variations on a common theme of humanity. Cook died for his beliefs, since the Hawaiians killed and cooked him when they figured out he wasn't after all Lono, god of recreation, as they had at first supposed, and was merely another human, and one who couldn't swim or surf at that.

The 19th-century evangelist who came after the sailors was zealous in rooting out otherness, buttoning up everyone in frock coats, regardless of climate, and outlawing hedonism. By the time Gauguin reached Tahiti, Bougainville's tropical Eden was dead on the vine and his paintings are a nostalgic tribute to a lost world.

In the 20th century, we have been trying, in the face of a rampant mono culture, to claw back a sense of the exotic, and meet real aliens without flying saucers. Paul Theroux in The Happy Isles of Oceania paddles the Pacific in a kayak looking for therapy on account of his broken marriage back in England. And finding it ultimately in Hawaii, where he would eventually relocate and marry a Hawaiian. Bougainville, to some extent, lives again.

But - at the risk of shattering cherished illusions - not everyone finds the same satisfaction. A recent Lottery jackpot winner complained that, although he had scored five times on holiday in Corfu, he drew a blank in Hawaii. "If you're coming to Hawaii," one Hawaiian once advised me, "bring your own date." In many ways, the Puritans did their job well here.

Fortunately, some of the old traditions live on in downtown Honolulu, at the Rock-Za club, where the art of exotic dancing is taken very seriously, and the customers study form as seriously as if they were gynaecology students revising on the last night before finals. Surfing is another Dionysian return to nature, the erotic transposed to waves. Although at the right time, you can surf just about anywhere in the Pacific, from the West Coast to New Zealand, and including Tahiti and Fiji in between, it is only on the North Shore, a 12-mile strip of sand, half Shangri-La, half Wild West, an hour out of Honolulu, that the entire culture is dedicated to the ritual celebration of wave power. March marked a mellow mid-point between the extreme hunky swells of winter and the relative torpor of summer (when diving comes into its own).

March is also ideal for keeping tabs on the humpback whale, in many ways similar to surfers, who swim south from the Arctic and hang out in Hawaii for most of the winter to feed, frolic and fornicate. Of all mammals, they probably come closest to living out the Bougainvillean dream.

But the Dionysian, as Cook discovered, is no picnic: love and death go together like a T-shirt and shorts. The big difference between whales and surfers is that the whales die when they hit the beach, the surfers die when they don't.

In 1978, the Hokule'a, a double-hulled canoe, set out from Honolulu to re-trace, in reverse, the itinerary of the first Hawaiians. The boat never made it back to Tahiti; it capsized in a storm off Maui. Eddie Aikau, legendary big-wave hero and lifeguard at Waimea Bay, the holy of North Shore holies, paddled away on his 12ft rescue board for help. It was 20 miles to land. He was never seen again. Eddie is the Elvis of surfing and his immortal soul is widely believed to have transmigrated into a whale.

If you're going to drown, at least you drown warm in Hawaii. It's a good place to die. And to be born again, whether as whale or whale-watcher or wave rider.

How to get there

Honolulu is most easily reached from Britain via the continental US: change at Chicago from Birmingham, Glasgow or Manchester, or at one of the West Coast airports when travelling from London. In March you could pay around pounds 450 including taxes, through discount agents. To combine it with a trip to Tahiti, the best airline to use is Air New Zealand. Accommodation on the North Shore, Oahu: Backpackers Vacation Inn, 59-788 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (tel: 001 808 638 7838); Turtle Bay Hilton, PO Box 187, Kahuku, HI 96731 (tel: 001 808 2938811); Turtle Bay Estate Condominium (tel: 001 808 293 0600)

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before