Since tourism took hold in Hawaii in the 1860s, the welcoming nature of its people has been part of the marketing package, from lei greetings to hula shows. Until now.
Hawaii is effectively closed to tourists with a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all arrivals, imposed at least through June 30. Protesters at the airport have asked visitors to go home, and locals are using social media to report tourists breaking quarantine. Hawaii’s geographic isolation and cumulative efforts to protect residents from the spread of the coronavirus have resulted in relatively low rates of infection.
The economic impact, however, has been devastating. A quarter of the economy was dependent on tourism, and with the industry essentially shut down, Hawaii has reported a record unemployment rate of 22.3 percent — one of the highest in the country.
While it will take time for Hawaii to build the infrastructure to welcome back tourists, there are ways to support the state from afar and to bring a little bit of the islands into your home.
What you can buy
Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery is a relative newcomer in the field of malasadas, the fried dough treat that came to Hawaii via laborers from the Azores and Madeira, but it quickly became a local favorite.
“I wanted to raise the bar and produce a malasada that would be ranked the best on island, so it took me about one year to perfect my recipe and over 100 batches,” owner Gayla Young said. Her malasada is one of the few that is still delicious the next day, which makes a shipment of Pipeline’s malasadas — from the classic dusted in white sugar to li hing, a puckery plum powder — a welcome taste of Hawaii.
Hawaii is the only state in the United States that commercially grows cacao — the fruit from which chocolate is made — and it’s striving to become the “Napa Valley of chocolate,” Nat Bletter of Madre Chocolate said. He makes single estate chocolates from cacao grown on the North Shore of Oahu to the Kona Coast of Hawaii Island, and his “locavore” bars include those flavored with lilikoi (passion fruit) or Earl Grey from Hawaii-grown tea leaves. One of the newest additions to Madre’s world blend chocolates — using cacao from other growing regions — include the CoronNO! bar, flush with medicinal plants such as elderflower, hibiscus and turmeric, bright enough to cut through your shelter-in-place haze.
For a while, Kona coffee was all there was in Hawaii’s coffee industry. Regions such as Ka‘u, a little south of Kona, sprouted up, and then, perplexingly and astonishingly, Puna, better known for its volatile volcanic activity and off-the-grid hippies than quality coffee. Big Island Coffee Roasters has helped introduce the world to the various regions and varieties of Hawaii-grown coffee, with the idea that each type of bean — just like humans — needed its own tailored nurturing to coax out its best. Among its 100 percent Hawaii-grown coffees, you’ll find the juicy, fruity and large Ka‘u Maragogipe beans to the Puna coffee aged in rum barrels or fermented with wine yeast.
Hawaii’s last sugar plantation closed in 2016, the end of an industry that changed the islands politically, culturally and even geographically, as the plantations diverted water and transformed entire swaths of the landscape. But Kō Hana continues to grow sugar and to tell the stories of some of the native Hawaiian canes that came before industrial sugar. It distills single-varietal agricole rum, made from fresh sugar cane juice. Kea, a white rum, mixes well into a Mai Tai for your quarantine happy hour, while the warm, barrel-aged Koho is best sipped neat for a nightcap.
Break out of your gray sweats rotation with a splash of tropical color from Kealopiko, which draws on native Hawaiian legends and culture for its prints on aloha shirts, T-shirts and dresses. Take the wa‘a kaulua design, inspired by the story of Chiefess Luʻukia, who after hearing her second husband insulted her womanly parts, bound those regions in rope — a chastity belt signaling “access denied” to him. Those lashings are still used on voyaging canoes today.
You can put some of islands’ vibrancy on your walls with prints from photographer Jess Loiterton. She snaps shots of famous Honolulu vistas, from the pink Royal Hawaiian to Diamond Head. It’s easy to lose yourself in her soothing photographs of pale turquoise waves streaked with the pinks of a sunset and candy-colored surfboards — through the lens of Loiterton, even Waimea’s monster waves look as charming and otherworldly as a Wes Anderson movie set.
Let Hawaii bloom in your living room through Kalapana Tropicals’ orchid deliveries. The Hawaii Island nursery cultivates flowers beyond the usual ubiquitous orchids, with varieties including the Miltonia, resembling a flamenco dancer set in a purple pansy, and the yellow ruffled yet spiky Catasetum Frilly Doris, speckled purple like a cowrie shell. The potted flowers arrive as buds, provoking an anticipation akin to your next Hawaii vacation.
What you can experience
W.S. Merwin’s meditation room
Steal moments of calm in this video in W.S. Merwin’s meditation room near Pe‘ahi Stream. The late poet laureate built this room in the middle of his palm forest, one of the world’s most extensive palm collections, which Merwin and his wife planted over 40 years.
The Bishop Museum, Hawaii’s largest museum and dedicated to Hawaiian and Pacific cultures, recently launched an online learning center where you can discover the state’s native plants and birds as well as its voyaging traditions.
Volcanoes National Park
Even if you could visit Hawaii Island now, it’d be hard to access the views shown on Google Arts and Culture’s video with Volcanoes National Park. You’ll fly over an active volcano and explore a lava tube on this young island that is still growing.
The Hawaiian language was once on the brink of extinction. Hawaiian immersion schools established in the 1980s helped resuscitate the language, and today you can learn Hawaiian on Duolingo. Sure, English is one of the official languages in Hawaii, but as late Italian film director Federico Fellini said, “A different language is a different vision of life,” and perhaps that’s just what we need as we navigate into the new normal.