The local's guide to Hawaii

A boogie boarder catches a wave off Makapu'u Beach, with Rabbit Island in the distance, on Oahu, Hawaii.
A boogie boarder catches a wave off Makapu'u Beach, with Rabbit Island in the distance, on Oahu, Hawaii. Courtesy Of Jared Dalgamouni
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"We go stay or we stay go?" (Shall we stay or go?) I jokingly asked my British friends in an attempt to teach them a little pidgin English — also known as Hawaiian Creole.

"Or you like go to da kine?" I teased them using our king of pronouns, which refers to anything (person, place, item) that you can't remember the name of.

Having lived away from my hometown of Honolulu for a decade now, I was back for a visit with my boyfriend, who like me is from Hawaii but lives in London, and our two haole (foreign/Caucasian) British friends.

Upon arrival, we stripped them of their tourist-identifying features and tried to teach them a little local lingo to pass them off as kama'ainas (local inhabitants) before taking them around the island to explore our favorite beaches and hangouts.

Before your next trip to the 50th state you may want to swap your Florida duds for the following:

The little fish with a big name
After the lad-to-local physical transformation, we had to give them the vocabulary to back up the look.

Pidgin English is a potluck of languages strung together with a simplified form of English that echoes what is perhaps the world's most isolated island chain. From a Polynesian monarchy, to an English and American whaling outpost, to a U.S. territory with plantation workers from China, Japan, and the Philippines and ranchers from Portugal's Azores, to U.S. statehood in 1959, the language reflects all of Hawaii's people.

For example: Directions are given and received using the Hawaiian terms makai (toward the sea) and mauka (toward the mountains), as in "Drive straight until the traffic light, then go mauka."

We use the Japanese word shoyu for soy sauce (which is important to know as rice is served with every meal), the Hawaiian words ono for delicious, wikiwiki for very fast (notice the wikiwiki shuttle at the airport), and mahalo for thank you (which many tourists mistakenly think means trash because it's written on our public trash cans).

Other common pidgin terms are: Shoots for OK, choke for many or plenty, pau hana for the end of the work day, and hana hou for play it again or encore.

Once our friends had learned the basics, we pulled our tongue-tying favorite word on them: Humuhumunukunukuapua'a, or "triggerfish with a snout like a pig." It's often joked that the name of Hawaii's state fish is longer than the little reef-dweller itself.

Armed with sleepahs and choke pidgin terms, the Brits were ready to hit the North Shore.

Where the North and West shores meet
Hawaii's state motto is: Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono — the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness. And it's true.

Despite the high-rise hotels and Waikiki concrete, even Oahu — Hawaii's most populous island — hosts myriad beautiful beaches, each with its own unique personality.

Courtesy Of Jared Dalgamouni

Scientists estimate that our rain forests and unique habitats are home to 10,000 species found nowhere else on Earth. And the ancient Hawaiians' presence is almost palpable when visiting a heiau — or temple remains.

A sight-seeing trip to the North Shore is a great way to get a mix of natural beauty, ancient wonders, and some good grindz (food). So, we loaded the Brits into an open-top rental Jeep and headed from Waikiki to Kaena Point — the spot where the Waianae mountain range plunges into the ocean, dividing the North from the West shore.

En route we passed through the former pineapple fields and nascent coffee plantations, from where we pointed out the Kolekole pass — the V-shaped dip in the Waianae range that the Japanese bombers flew through to reach Pearl Harbor for the Dec. 7, 1941, attack that drew the United States into World War II.

Descending from the plateau down to the North Shore, we passed sleepy towns, banana plantations, vacation homes, summer camps, a sky-diving field, and finally reached the point where the road runs out.

Having traversed the island in about an hour, it would take another half hour to walk to the dry and barren tip of the island where the waves of the west and of the north meet and crash together in awesome fury. But, even if you forgo the hot, sweaty walk — as we did that day — it's still well worth the trip to the end of the road.

Hale'iwa treats
No trip to the North Shore would be complete without stopping in Hale'iwa, where Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, Queen Liluokalani, spent her summers.

The quintessential, laid-back surf town not only sports a 19th century church named after the queen, surf and swimsuit stores, quality souvenir shops, art and glass galleries and one-off coffee shops, but is home to Kua'aina Burger and Matsumoto's Shave Ice. Ask any Hawaiian and they'll know what I mean.

While I was disappointed to see that Kua'aina Burger had gone from the legendary, loveable shack of onolicious burgers and hand cut fries I grew up on to a chain that includes several restaurants in Japan, their perfectly ripe avocado and grilled, sweet Maui onions — not to mention the meat itself — still had me drooling.

Matsumoto's, a family-run shave ice store that opened in 1951, was just as I remembered it, down to the honey bees vying for the drips of sweet syrup on the pavement outside.

Matsumoto's signature shave ice — known in other parts of the world as a snow cone — consists of a large heap of soft snow flakes drenched in syrup, on top of vanilla ice cream and sweet Japanese azuki beans. My favorite flavor of syrup is li hing mui — sweet and sour plum.

Sea turtles and massive waves
Back in the Jeep and down the road, the first of several beach stops was Laniakea, where sea turtles — honu in Hawaiian — often munch on seaweed in the shallow water and sleep on the sandy beach.

Jennifer Carlile

The sea turtles' appearance is so regular that a conservationist volunteer is usually stationed on the beach to offer information and cautionary warnings. While you're not allowed to touch turtles, you can swim with them —  so, don't forget to pack a pair of goggles or a mask and snorkel.

Next stop: Waimea Bay. In summer, its glassy, flat surface and clear deep water hardly foretell the massive waves it packs in winter — with some reaching around 80 feet.

With lava rocks to jump off on one side, an old church with a bell tower on the other, and the verdant Waimea Valley directly inland, it's one of the island's most beautiful beaches no matter what time of year. (But don't even think of getting your toes wet if the surf's up — enjoy watching the pros instead)

An ancient temple
After leaving Waiamea Bay, we passed the lighthouse and turned up Pupukea Road, ascending the hillside and taking a right through a cattle guard.

Down the road we showed our guests Pu'u O Mahuka Heiau, the largest ancient Hawaiian religious temple on Oahu.

It's name means "Hill of Escape", and with few visitors it is still a site of peace and tranquility.

The stone remains give a glimpse into the temple's once important role in the social, political, and religious system of the valley, which was a densely populated center of activity before the arrival of foreigners.

While people still lay offerings of fruit, candies and incense at a small alter, it is believed that larger sacrifices, including those of humans, once took place here.

Coconuts, lilikoi, and a famous shrimp truck
After lighting a few sticks of incense and driving back down the hill, we stopped at Shark's Cove — an inlet of reefs perfect for snorkeling when the waves are low. (Note: I've seen several sea turtles and some unusual, brightly colored anemones here, but never a shark).

Further down the road we pulled into Sunset Beach and Pipeline — well-known for their winter surf competitions.

Back in the Jeep we followed the coastline, passing a story-high carved wooden tiki head and the Turtle Bay Resort and golf course, and stopped to buy fresh coconuts, lilikoi (passion fruit), pineapple, guava and strawberry guavas from a vendor on the side of the road.

Having built up our hunger under the sun and in the waves, we stopped at Giovanni's famous shrimp stand in Kahuku, an area known for its acquaculture shrimp farms.

At least a dozen trucks hawking fried shrimp and rice dot the coastal road here, but Giovanni's white, grafittied caravan is the original, and no  one can beat his secret, chunky garlic recipe. Lemon butter and a spicy version are also served, but be warned the latter is advertised as "super hot, NO REFUNDS." In swimwear and towels, we took a seat on the white plastic chairs and tables and chowed down on some good grindz.

Valley of the Temples
Stuffed and worn out, we headed around the windward coast, stopping at several beaches and bays to stretch our legs on the sand and take photographs. Between Kahuku and China Man's Hat — a small island shaped like its namesake just off Kualoa Ranch — the land is sparsely populated, tropical and just plain beautiful.

Before heading across the island and back into Waikiki, we stopped at the Valley of the Temples in Kahaluu.

At the foot of the 2,000-foot high, curtain-like cliffs of the Ko'olau mountain range, and next to a vast cemetery, is the Byodo-In Temple, a replica of the 950-year-old Byodoin Temple near Kyoto, Japan.

Built in 1960 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese workers in Hawaii, the temple houses a Lotus Buddha, peace bell, meditation house and koi ponds with peacocks strutting about.

Always a haunt of off-the-beaten-track tourists, it has seen a recent spike in visitors since being cast in the TV show "Lost" as the home of the Korean woman Sun's powerful father.

Crossing the island and heading back into Waikiki, we finished off a perfect day with a seaside drink at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider, often called the "First Lady of Waikiki", as it was the island's first hotel, built in 1901.

That evening as I looked out over the ocean, I saw for the first time the famed green flash of light that occurs just as the sun drops below the horizon.

Jennifer Carlile is a writer and cover producer based in London. Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science and a Master’s degree in Italian from Middlebury College in Vermont. She has also lived in Italy and Austria.