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Discover the exotic, hidden treasures of Hawaii

Don't want to say aloha to the tourists? TODAY Travel editor Peter Greenberg shares his unique guide to visiting the  islands' beautiful sights.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Explosive — and young. Two words that accurately describe the beauty of Hawaii. It is home to the world’s most active volcano, as well as the world’s tallest sea mountain. Hawaii is one of the world’s youngest geological formations, and it is the youngest state in the union.

But it has an ancient heritage.

More than 1,500 years ago, Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands first reached Hawaii's Big Island. In canoes, they sailed more than 2,000 miles in order to migrate to the Islands.

And last year, more than 7.5 million people reached Hawaii — mostly by jet. And they spent more than $12 billion. Of that, nearly $400 million was spent on Hawaiian ... souvenirs.

Oahu is the most visited island, but there are many hidden treasures of Hawaii that are not in the brochures.While you certainly don’t need to skip the tourist spots and traditional activities to be a card-carrying contrarian traveler, there are plenty of ways to capture the spirit of aloha by seeking out the local action.

Chances are, you’ll walk away with your own special memories — ones that aren’t replicated in millions of photo albums across the world.


First Friday, Oahu
Every first Friday of the month, Oahu’s artists and artisans display their work in downtown Honolulu’s Chinatown. Art galleries offer exhibits, free entertainment and refreshments, and the local restaurants and bars are equally popular with visitors.

Each week, Hawaiians flock to the Farmer’s Market at Kapiolani Community College. This is where farmers and ranchers come together to sell their fresh products to the locals. Got a craving for Hawaii’s famous Kona coffee? There’s plenty of it here. There are also chef demonstrations, tables bursting with island flowers, plates of stir-fried vegetables and platters of sushi, and locally made goods like honeys and jams. 808-848-2074;

If the Farmer’s Market inspires you, you can go really native and head to the Honolulu Fish Auction at the United Fishing Agency. While everyone else sleeps late, get up early — very early — and get to the auction by 5:30 a.m. (Monday through Saturday) to watch buyers bidding on hundreds of thousands of fish. It’s a spectacle like no other, and you’ll have to hold yourself back from joining the fun and bidding on newly-caught mahi-mahi and opakapaka. 808-536-2148.

On the first Friday of each month, the locals head downtown for Chinatown’s First Friday. Museums, art galleries, studios and restaurants open their doors from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. This is where you can check out Hawaiian artists, catch some Polynesian spoken-word and performance art, and even have a picnic where you can sketch and paint alongside the locals. 808-521-2903;

You might be surprised to learn that Hawaii has a thriving theater scene, and nowhere does this come more alive than at the Hawaii Theatre in downtown Honolulu. Deemed the “Pride of the Pacific,” this 1922 building was recognized as a historic theater in 1986, just hours before the wrecking ball struck. The theater is now home to Hawaiian- and Asian-inspired music, dance and performance, and every Tuesday visitors can take an hour-long tour of the theater to experience the historic building’s architecture and design. 808-528-0506;

To zip around town like some of the more modern natives, take advantage of the island’s new Segway Tours. A Honolulu History and Culture Tour kicks off at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort on Waikiki Beach, and you’ll glide past the Ala Wai Canal, Ala Moana Beach Park, through downtown and to the Circle Iolani palace. These two-wheeled transporters require no experience and allow you to explore the city quickly and easily. 808-941-3151;

Did you know that ghosts haunt the islands? Oahu Ghost Tours offers a walking and driving tour of some of the most haunted places on the island. According to tour guides, the development of Oahu has desecrated ancient sacred grounds and burial grounds. The tours take you through spots of reported supernatural activity, as well as visits to existing sacred areas such as the dwelling places of Hawaiian gods and sites thought to have been built by the island’s legendary “little people.”

It’s no myth that Hawaiians love Spam. So “celebrate” — if you can — at the annual Spam Jam in April. If meat in a can isn’t your thing, how about a Sake Festival? Every July, brewers from Japan join together with sake lovers to experience more than 250 sakes. If that’s not enough to tempt you, then head to the island in September for the Home-Grown Products and Garlic Festival … this family-friendly event has cooking demonstrations, eating contests (don’t kiss anyone afterward!) and arts and crafts.

For a really quirky experience, head to what is perhaps the only Lawn Sprinkler Museum in the world. Actually, according owner Bob Bosley, he carries a “sprinkling of antiques.” We’re talking sprinklers dating back to the 1920s, an 1895 bathtub, a pinball machine from the 1950s, a horse and buggy, and the steel gates from a Hawaiian king’s gated tombstone. Don’t go up to the second floor, though: Bob reserves that for ballroom dancing with his wife. 808-591-1122

On the other islands

Four Seasons cooking lesson
At the Four Seasons, chef Noel Babicco takes guests for a full day of touring and cooking. Guests visit purveyors and farms for their products. For example, guests will go to the Surfing Goat Dairy and choose goat cheese. Back at the Four Seasons, the chef teaches guests how to use the materials they bought to make a goat-cheese beignet.

At the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, bartender Karl Wenger at the Hula Moons Lounge will invite long-time guests to his own home and teach them how to carve ornate letter openers and other objects made from various Hawaiian woods, such as koa. He has worked for the resort since 1978. Other employees also invite long-time guests over to their homes for dinners, barbecues, etc. This has become a unique tradition at the resort. 808-879-1922.

Kaupoa Beach, Molokai
At Molokai Ranch, Kaupoa Beach has two covelike areas divided by a rocky outcrop. This beach is popular with swimmers because of the usually calm water during the summer. At the Beach Village at Molokai Ranch, there are two-bedroom seaside “tentalows” with full amenities.

Shipwreck Beach, Lanai
Ruins of an old lighthouse grace the northeast side of the island at Kaiolohia, known as Shipwreck Beach. Since the 1800s, this 8-mile stretch of windy beach has seen numerous wrecks along the channel. The hull of the “Liberty Ship,” an oil tanker from the 1940s, is still beached in Kaiolohia Bay. This beach is particularly good for beachcombing and exploring, but not for swimming.

Waimoku Falls, Maui
Waimoku Falls can be found at the end of one of Maui’s best hikes, the Pipiwai Trail. The Haleakala National Park is the starting point for the Pipiwai Trail, which follows the stream that feeds Oheo Gulch and ends overlooking the 400-foot waterfalls. The trek there is 3 to 5 hours. Follow the Hana road south from Hana along the coast to get to the trail in Haleakala National Park. The trailhead starts near the Oheo Gulch.

Holualoa Kailua-Kona, Hawaii's Big Island
Holualoa is a little village in the heart of Kona coffee country, where you can sip fresh gourmet coffee outdoors on a coffee shop lanai. Holualoa has become art central for the Kona-Kohala resort coast, offering galleries and boutiques along the main street, as well as classes at the Kona Art Center located in the old coffee mill.

Peter Greenberg is TODAY’s travel editor. His column appears weekly on Visit his Web site at .