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(2017 - Fall/Winter Issue)


You are seated on the outdoor terrace at your unplugged vacation spot in Hawaii. A slack key guitar player, whose art owes everything to his Hawaiian upbringing and Hawaii’s past, seems to effortlessly pick his acoustic guitar with tunes that echo the gentle features of the Hawaiian landscape.      

Astute listeners can detect the trade winds, the surf, the swaying palm trees and graceful waterfalls—all combining to create an effect usually described as nahenahe (soft and gentle). In doing so, it reflects the music’s deep roots, “incorporating the hula rhythms, ancient chants and drum rhythms from Hawaii’s past,” according to Chelle Pahinui, master hula teacher.

The timeless appeal of Hawaii is reflected in many of the key ingredients that make up its truly unique atmosphere. There are the ocean, the food and beaches which, mixed with the aloha spirit of welcoming visitors, create the truly unique Hawaiian experience. A mosaic of many cultures has been added to this winter paradise and acoustic guitar playing is a prime example.    


The Hawaiian tradition of slack key guitar playing began in 1832 in an unlikely way. Mexican and Spanish cowboys (paniolos) came to the Island of Hawaii to teach the locals how to ranch. Following their departure, it was noted that they had left three guitars, but no instructions on how to tune them. So began the unique Hawaiian tradition of tuning the guitars to each individual guitarist’s voice.     

A perfect way to enjoy the true Hawaiian unplugged spirit would be to stay at an old coffee plantation at Kona, the airport town synonymous with the Island of Hawaii. Kona coffee is, of course, world-renowned, and there’s no better combination to follow the unplugged theme than to stay at the Holualoa Inn.       

The Holualoa Inn is like the best ryokan you never visited in Japan. When you arrive, the elegance of the entrance is overpowering. A long open-air veranda welcomes you, although, oddly enough, if you arrive after six in the evening, no staff will greet you. Sound unfriendly? No, it’s all part of the Hawaiian cool. 

After breakfast, you start your self-guided tour of the grounds, covering more than 12 hectares. Eventually it dawns on you that you are following an ancient royal road from Hawaii’s past. You can even detect a royal toboggan run. You may be there in the Christmas season, but aside from musicians strumming Mele Kalikimaka, you won’t notice too many other reminders of Santa and the North Pole.    

Other well-known spots on the Island of Hawaii include its volcanoes, active and otherwise. At Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, visitors are regularly in awe of the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea, which continually flows into the Pacific Ocean. Spend your winter vacation viewing active volcanoes? Think of it as a natural New Year’s display.    

Hawaii’s first astronaut, Ellison S. Onizuka hailed from this island, and his name is immortalized at the Onizuka Space Center on the dormant 4,200-metre-high volcano Mauna Kea. At the Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii in Hilo, the planetarium show is a must.     

Markets in Hilo include a wide variety of local products, such as fresh fruits, raw sugar cane juice and even musubi—think salted rice wrapped in dried seaweed with a piece of Spam stuck on top. And in Hilo, you can try the very Hawaiian dish of loco moco, a mix of sticky rice, eggs, hamburger steak and brown gravy. The drive-in that patented it, Café 100 (established in 1946), is always full. Your last view of Hilo may be young people practising ukuleles in the park.    


From the northern coast of the Island of Hawaii, you can make out the coast of Maui. Maui is arguably the best-known Hawaiian island and for centuries was the plantation island, harvesting huge numbers of pineapples and sugar cane.      

You can sample some of the uniquely Hawaiian food here at the Hula Grill or at Ono Kau Kau in Lahaina. Try poi, a pudding-like paste that accompanies many Hawaiian meals, or lau lau, steamed chicken or red snapper wrapped in ti leaves. Don’t even think of leaving this island without sampling ahi, mahi mahi and ono. If you are in the vicinity, check out the Kanapali Beach.    

The most remote part of Maui is the eastern extremity at the end of the famous Road to Hana, which passes spider-thin falls and mana—strong pools that give Maui its reputation as being magical. Along the way, visit the Keanae Arboretum with its huge variety of tropical plants.   

A visit to the town of Hana in Maui is a must, however many travellers make the mistake of not spending at least one night in Hana, where you are very likely to experience the true Hawaii, with authentic Hawaiian music and culture in one of many unplugged resorts there.           


On the island of Kauai, you’ll discover your most unplugged experience yet. At the Aston Waimea Plantation, tiny chalets, which formerly housed plantation workers, have been relocated to a seaside location right out of a storybook. Your old plantation hut includes a kitchen, which you can put to good use. Purchase fresh fish from the local town fishmongers and dine casually as you wonder how the public beach in front of you remains virtually empty.    

Your final destination is the Hanalei Colony Resort, an old-style Hawaiian lodge near the end of the highway at Haena located on a spit of land where waves crash all day long. Be warned: there are no phones, stereos or TVs.     

At the local community hall in nearby Hanalei, you may happen upon a live concert by performers,  Doug and Sandy McMaster, who explain every tune they are about to play, and then perform it, nahenahe (gentle and sweet) on their slack key guitar and ukulele.

As you head back to your lodging, this sweet music plays on in your mind. As you bed down for one last time in your oceanfront room, listening to the sound of crashing waves, your last sight before nodding off is the ceiling fan, just barely moving. You don’t need it, as Mother Nature is providing beautiful, fresh ocean breezes.

Travel Planner

For general information on the islands of Hawaii, visit gohawaii.com.

Additional information can be found at:


Holualoa Inn: holualoainn.com       

Slack Key Guitar & Ukulele Concerts: alohaplentyhawaii.com 

Waimea Plantation Cottages: coasthotels.com


Aston Waimea Plantation Cottages: waimea.com/kauai/aston-waimea-plantation.html

Kauai Hanalei Colony Resort: hcr.com 


Ala Kukui: alakukui.org 

George Kahumoku Jr’s Slack Key Show: slackkkeyshow.com

Maui Ocean Center: mauioceancenter.com

Travaasa Hana: travaasa.com/hana

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