Where to begin with the natural wonder that is Hawaii? Eight—make that 137—islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, discovered some time around the tenth century by Polynesian explorers who set out with no destination in sight. But of course, the more imaginative of us like to believe the Menehune were the first to call Hawaii home. Hawaii is a place of mystery and magic, and I only got the tip of the iceberg spending 11 days on O'ahu.
No matter how it got here, Hawaii was nothing like I ever expected it to be. It wasn’t even a place I had an interest in visiting until I really started to get into adventure travel, and then hiking, off-roading, surfing, and more all seemed to culminate heartily in this little jumble of islands halfway between us and Australia. Plus, my family and I have always had a running joke about dropping everything and starting a pineapple farm on Maui. But the string that finally pulled me there was not nature or adventure or even the beach—it was art.
POW! WOW! Hawaii is a mural art festival started by Jasper Wong, an artist in his own right, but also includes music, gallery shows, lectures, community events, and more. Before going to Honolulu to experience the festival, I had taken part in POW! WOW! Long Beach in California, so I had a small idea of what the festival was about. POW! WOW! has grown and changed so much that it’s hard to imagine what it once was, but these, days, it’s essentially a week of hard work, hard laughs, and an intimate gathering of strangers in the Kaka’ako district of Honolulu.
My sister and I were traveling on the cheap, so we called a hostel on the far side of Honolulu home during the duration of our stay. We had also thrown together our itinerary two weeks before we flew out, deciding at the last second to even attend. Somehow, we ended up with our dream car (a Jeep) rented out at the airport and headed into Honolulu for acai bowls before checking in. We were immediately enchanted by the island, and now that I’ve been there, I can tell you that you truly don’t understand what Hawaii is like unless you go. It has power.
The best part of our hostel was that it was two blocks from the surf and sand of Waikiki Beach, where we spent our time when we weren’t in Kaka’ako or driving back and forth to the North Shore (easily the best part of O’ahu). After a quick panel discussion with the founders on day one of POW! WOW!, the next day we were off to the North Shore to see what all the hype was about. Even the drive was breathtaking. It’s an easy thirty to forty minutes, which made us realize we had to do it at least a few more times before we headed back to the mainland. We started at a beach on the north side of Haleiwa and walked into town, eating way too much shave ice and crushing on way too many surfers. We basically had no idea where we were or what we were doing, so we lazed the day away on empty, unknown beaches and driving through quiet neighborhoods absorbing the lifestyle that was ours for the week. And of course, we stopped at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck on the way back.
After living the island life for the day, we had exciting dinner plans with our friend Maria at Mahina and Sun’s at the Surfjack Hotel. The Surfjack is an incredibly hip hotel located right in central Waikiki, and I would definitely recommend it if you want a truly boutique hotel experience on O’ahu. From fish taco appetizers and dazzling cocktails to the woodfired pizzas entree, I had zero complaints. It’s such a cozy place too, I could have stayed tucked in our booth long into the night.
The next morning, we started the day at our second home: Arvo. It’s an Australian style café—arvo being the word for ‘afternoon’ that folks Down Under use. With an avocado toast for the ages, one of the better flat whites I’ve had, and a cool and friendly atmosphere, it’s a wonderful place to while away the hours. Dozens of POW! WOW! attendees are bloggers, writers, reviewers, photographers, and more, so it’s definitely a central location for people to caffeinate as well as get some work done away from the distractions of Lana Lane Studios. Lana Lane is the POW! WOW! headquarters, as well as a site for many of the murals, the merchandise store, the classroom for POW! WOW! School of Music, and more, so there’s a lot going on.
The best part of the day was that it was pouring rain—unfortunately for the artists. No one could get the prep work down for painting that day, so Elyse and I decided to go on an adventure. I never shy away from the rain, so we drove up to Tantalus Lookout just north of Honolulu. The lush green, the low clouds, and grey fog all amounted to a rather magical morning of exploration. But what better way to prep for a hike than with the famous—and rightfully, deliciously so—Leonard’s Donuts. These blew my mind so much that I think I ate three on my own. The line was long, but went fast. It’s one of those places that will always be incredibly busy, but the employees know how to handle it and have you in and out in five minutes.
Full of donuts and satisfied by the mountaintop views, Elyse and I then drove to a favorite local spot on the east side of the island—Lanikai Beach. Just a bit after we got there, beyond the shore coming through the grey skies was a full and vibrant arcing rainbow. I would take the easy way and leave you with the word ‘indescribable,’ but I’ll try my best since I told you earlier that you can’t understand Hawaii until you experience it. After a morning of my favorite weather, seeing that splotchy sunlight on yellow sands and those magical colors jetting from a stormy blue ocean, it was like waking up to a white Christmas in Seattle. You never think it’s going to come around, and when it finally does after ten or more years of waiting, the sight makes you instantly warm inside, like anything is possible. Now, imagine that on the most warm, lush, beautiful island you’ve ever seen in the middle of the ocean, isolated in that feeling.
After our relaxing day, we had to hurry back to Kaka'ako for the official POW! WOW! launch during the Honolulu Night Market. It was one of my favorite events of the week; there were food vendors, live paintings, music and dancers...the energy was incredible! Elyse and I ate fish tacos from a truck, and got a tour of Lana Lane Studios with one of the mural artists.
But of course, the next morning, we were right back up to the North Shore. One of O'ahu's finest, Halley Elefante of The Salty Blonde, was hosting a closet sale and I was pretty eager to find some goodies, so we drove up with a stop at the famed Dole Plantation on the Kamehameha Highway. One of the biggest draws there (beside Dole Whip) is the rainbow-striped trees! I couldn't get enough of them; the perfect find on Valentine's Day. So dreamy!
Before the evening POW! WOW! event, a print exhibition with 1xRUN, we headed back to Waikiki Beach for Elyse's first unofficial surfing lesson with a friend of mine on the island before searching out some sushi for dinner. We ended up at Furusato, and oh was that sushi good. I highly recommend if you're in Honolulu!
Our fifth day in Honolulu was a special one. Bright and early, we drove over to Kaka'ako for the festival blessing and registration. Most everyone wore t-shirts from POW! WOW!s past, covered in paint spots, although it's really inspiring to talk to the new artists. Some of them have never painted a mural in their lives. Careaux is one artist I'm a huge fan of—she designs for PUMA—who had never painted a mural before, and hers turned out to be one of my favorites. It's special to see the artists come together and support one another, and the feeling is never quite as palpable as it is during the prayer and blessing.
While the artists dispersed and began their first strokes, Elyse and I set out to check off one more Hawaii goal—hiking to a waterfall. Likeke Falls was an easy walk—park at the far end of at Ko'olau Golf Club, and you'll be able to find the trail head from there. It was an incredible experience. We only ran into two other people on the entire trail.
And, of course, we were hungry when we returned, but another cool thing about POW! WOW! is that so many of the surrounding businesses get involved. Elyse and I got 10% off acai bowls at Juicd Life just for showing our POW! WOW! badges. It was the perfect pick-me-up before beginning our daily walk around Kaka'ako to catch up with the artists and check on mural progress. Although just about everything we did in Hawaii was exceptionally memorable, these walks around Kaka'ako in the hot sun ended up being one of my favorite activities.
One of the cool things about our hostel was that they offered group hikes, which is a great way to meet people and a great way to experience fun local activities! We did a sunrise hike to Diamond Head, which was actually way more intense than we bargained for. It was definitely a workout. The views of Honolulu were lovely, and it's a pretty cool place as it was once a U.S. military post.
Our days in Hawaii were full. After filling up on coffee and pancakes post-hike, it was back to Kaka'ako to check in on the artist's progress. After shooting, it was off on our next adventure—I told you our days were full! A magical place called Mermaid Cave was on my bucket list for O'ahu, but I also heard it could be slightly dangerous depending on the tide. As it happened, the tides the week of Valentine's Day were insane. The surf was huge. And you know what? I went in anyway.
Why is this mystical cavern off the west coast of O'ahu called Mermaid Cave? Supposedly, you can see the legendary creatures flitting through the waves during a full moon. If anyone is down to investigate with me, drop a line. I would love to go back to Mermaid Cave. I felt instantly transported into a magical otherworld, but at the same time, I was definitely scared. It was a powerful experience to say the least!
Our next walk through Kaka'ako to check on the murals was a special one. I got to write a piece for Vans Girls featuring 5 female artists at POW! WOW!, which was a huge honor. I shot portraits of each boss babe and their mural, and did a little write-up for readers to get to know them. Check it out here!
Although the rest of our days played out the same routine, each day in Kaka'ako is different. When you have that many artists painting throughout the city, you never know what could go down. Some days an artist would be completely unhappy with their work and how it was progressing; you can always tell when to keep your distance. However, most days, the artists embrace one of the main draws of POW! WOW!: the ability for random passersby to stop at the wall and talk to the artist—"what are you painting?" It's how the POW! WOW! gospel gets around.
One by one, artists and journalists and assistants and photographers start flying back home. After eleven days on the island, I was starting to feel a bit like I was on the television show LOST. Elyse had to fly home for school a few days before POW! WOW! ended, so I was on my own as the festival wrapped up. Thankfully, we'd made a few friends throughout the week, but when you have that many creative people smashed into a small space for eleven straight days, tensions can run high. If anyone here has been to church camp as a youth, you know what I mean. It was an incredible, emotionally-taxing, overwhelming, beautiful, and inspiring trip. I was ready to head home and recharge—and so ready to fly back for POW! WOW! Hawaii 2018.