by Sasha Alyson
Gay and lesbian visitors to Hawaii can choose from the island’s enormous variety. Hike into a volcano, loaf on a beach, or party all night.
Hawaii, which has long held a special attraction for gay people, beckons as a destination for two categories of traveler. Matthew Link, whose Rainbow Handbook Hawaii: The Islands’ Ultimate Gay Guide is one of the best gay guidebooks I’ve seen to any destination, explains why:
“I think it goes beyond the obvious flowers in the hair and thong bikini weather! Hawaii has a very loving and inclusive society, where differences are celebrated rather than muted. Various races and types of people have had to live together on these islands for generations.”
Yet, for all its glory, Hawaii remains a contradiction to most mainlanders. It is, after all, part of the United States, yet steeped in ancient Polynesian tradition. Parts of Hawaii have become very urban with a high cost and quality of living, though most islands are also peppered with tiny villages, remote jungles, and hidden beaches, promising all the mystery and adventure of a pirate’s tale. This enormous diversity gives a vacation-planner many choices.* * *
On the Island of Hawaii, often called The Big Island, you can choose between Kona and Hilo, its two distinct coasts. Kona is sunny and dry. Hilo is wet and tropical. Kona, to the North, attracts sports enthusiasts with its great accommodations and plenty of diving, snorkeling, whale watching, horseback riding, fishing, golf, and kayaking. Hilo, to the South, is of great interest to naturalists. Visit Volcanoes National Park, home to the largest, continuous volcanic eruption in history, at Kilauea (since 1983). Take Devastation Trail through the black lava fields, or fly overhead in a helicopter to watch the natural fireworks erupting below.
Called “The Gathering Place,” Oahu is home to more than 75% of Hawaii’s citizens. If you love the nightlife, you can party at Honolulu’s Fusion on the famed Waikiki Beach, until 4:00 every morning. The majority of gay nightclubs and businesses are in the Waikiki area, Honolulu’s urban beach resort famous for its stretches of whites beaches and a wide variety of hotels, restaurants, shops and clubs (not to mention the surfers). For a place to stay, try the accommodations at Cabana at Waikiki (877-902-2121), Honolulu’s only gay guesthouse.
Want to book a fantasy wedding destination? Or see the largest dormant volcano in the world? Look into the island of Maui. While it has its share of chain hotels and tourist traps, especially along the Ka’anapali Beach, this second-largest island is still less commercialized than Oahu; and offers plenty of raw nature to enjoy. Endless beaches, curving trails, and hidden villages lend Maui a rustic and romantic charm. A number of same-sex wedding planners have set up shop on the island, including Remote Possibilities (800-511-3121), which also operates the “finest women’s guesthouse in Hawaii.”
Kauai is perhaps the most gay-friendly of the Hawaiian Islands, and the best place for a gay romantic getaway. Private and remote, there are two lush, predominantly gay beaches to choose from: Secret Beach (clothing optional) and Donkey Beach, where donkeys once grazed on sugar cane leaves. There is no gay bar on Kauai; these beaches are the focal point of social activity. Yet, the gay community in Kauai is well organized and friendly, with many gay bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants.
The smallest and least developed of the Hawaiian Islands, Molokai, is world-renowned for its drag queens, called mahus. Like the berdaches in some ancient Native American tribes, mahus are gay men who dress and live as women, often assuming positions of service within the community– in this case, waiting tables at the local restaurants and cafes where they meet with complete acceptance. With Molokai considered the birthplace of the hula, the mahus are the guardians of this traditional dance, holding a number of local festivals and winning international prizes.
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The key message for gay visitors is to embrace Hawaii on its terms. Matthew Link cautions that “Visitors are awfully disappointed if they expect a homo mecca like Key West or Palm Springs. In Hawaii emphasis is placed on the ohana, or family, aspects of the gay community. The queer communities are very grassroots. Especially on the outer islands, I found potlucks and beach gatherings and eco activities to be the norm. Hawaii’s gay scene is more about camaraderie versus numbers.