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10 Places You Can’t Go in Hawai‘i

Hawai‘i is full of amazing places. Most of them you’re free to visit, but there are a few where you’re just not allowed. Here’s a peek into Hawai‘i’s coolest off-limits corners.


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This story was originally published in the August 2010 issue of HONOLULU Magazine.


The Inner Workings of the Tetsuo Harano Tunnels

The H-3 Freeway is the kind of road that turns a normal drive into an epic experience, particularly approaching the Tetsuo Harano Tunnels cutting through the Koolau Mountains.


Not many people get to see what’s behind the imposing portal buildings guarding the tunnels, but there’s a lot going on. There are about 30 full-time employees stationed at the H-3 control center, half of them monitoring traffic conditions, and the other half maintaining and repairing the tunnel and freeways.


“Just like the airports have a traffic control tower, this is the brains of the freeway system. The operators here are the first to get notified by the police or the fire department in an emergency,” says Tammy Mori, spokesperson for the state Department of Transportation.


The whole place is Disneyland for fans of hidden tunnels and outsize machinery, with a maintenance tunnel about three stories below the freeway, and huge, 250-horsepower fans that suck out carbon monoxide and push in fresh air. Our favorite feature: the improbable door at the top of each building that opens up into wide-open nothingness. (The doors allow access to landscaping on the outside of the buildings, but they also give a hell of a view.)


Moiliili’s underground caves

People drive through Moiliili every day without realizing it, but the entire neighborhood sits over an amazing system of limestone caverns, pitch-black and in many cases filled with water.


This 1897 photo shows one of Moiliili's cavern pools.
Photo: Bishop Museum


Laura Ruby, who edited the history book Moiliili—The Life of a Community, visited the caves in 2003. “There are a few places you can stand up straight, but in most areas you’re hunched over and cramped,” she says. “I could see the water percolating up from the bottom of the pool, and, in a couple of places, I could see it bubbling. I also saw a catfish, about six inches long, swimming around my ankles, which suggests to me that it was blind.” Other people have seen blind spiders, blind shrimp and other blind fish in the caves.


The caves are still accessible, but good luck getting anyone to tell you where the entrance is. In addition, Ruby says that the air and water quality underground can potentially be dangerous, especially since the floods of 2004. “You don’t want to go in there, seriously,” she warns.


bankers club

Photo: David Croxford


The Bankers Club

The Bankers Club, on the top floor of the First Hawaiian Center, is the kind of place where everyone knows your name. That’s because it’s only open to Center tenants and their guests, and the name of the game is service. We spoke with someone who’s been to the club several times for breakfast (“the power meal”), and he says that while the food is great, and the 30th-floor view impressive, the real attraction is the conversations that take place here.


True to its name, it’s more club than restaurant, and exists to facilitate the business at hand: meetings, conversation, relationship building. There are no prices on the menu, no check at the end of the meal, and the servers are willing to accommodate just about any request.


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Honolulu Magazine August 2020
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