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Hidden Honolulu: Explore the Best Secrets the City Has to Offer

We delve deep into underground passages, secret societies and mysteries—including a few we pass by every day without noticing—to bring you the best secrets the city has to offer.


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Paths Less Taken 

Waihe‘e Water Tunnels


Deep in a 1,500-foot long tunnel bored directly into lava, the haunting echo of Hawaiian chants mingle with splashing water reverberating off the walls. Where are you? On a Board of Water Supply tour of the Waihe‘e tunnel in Kahalu‘u that supplies more than 40 percent of the water on the Windward side. 

Free, 748-5041.


Sneak into a baseball game—legally

A free pass to watch UH baseball over beers at Les Murakami Stadium? Sounds like #luckywelivehawaii. Show up during the seventh-inning stretch and you can walk right in, grab an empty seat and still have the entire eighth inning to order beer before sales shut down. Most games start at 6:35 p.m. and last a little more than three hours, so this is a perfect meet-cute date or screwball nightcap to your evening. There are even a few day games to tempt you away from the office. Check the score before you go to make sure the game is competitive. 


Spot a wallaby

Exactly a century ago, a pair of wallabies escaped a private zoo and eloped into the wild. Their romance lives on in the back of Kalihi Valley, where a colony boasts an estimated 40 to 250 members. They’re a shy troupe that stays hidden but Honolulu’s Olin Lagon recently got close enough in his quiet electric Ford Focus to capture one on camera.


Get a Zen bump

Tucked deep in the shadows of Pālolo Valley, the Mu Ryang Sa Korean Buddhist temple exudes tranquility and is free and open to the public. For a boost, try the Broken Ridge Meditation Group that meets every Saturday from 4 to 5 p.m., or join the 1,080 tiny statues peering from a nearby nook. 

2420 Halela‘au Place.


Kiss in the Surf


You know how visiting Mainland friends insist on doing something touristy with you and afterward you’re secretly glad? That’s “From Here to Eternity Beach,” also known as, for Generation X, “50 First Dates Beach,” or, for millennials, “Nicki Minaj’s ‘Starships’ Beach.” On the road between Hanauma Bay and Sandy Beach, near the Hālona Blowhole, this beach also has a secret passage under the highway—nicknamed “Cockroach Tunnel”—to rustle up some Scary Movie-style hugs. We won’t tell anyone you were there.


Do some science on Gilligan’s Island

You don’t have to be a marine biologist or grad student to tour Moku o Lo‘e or Coconut Island, the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology station known for its shark and coral research, as well as the opening shot of Gilligan’s Island.


You can finesse a tour, even an overnight campout, by contacting the Community Education Program at hawaii.edu/himb/Education/CEP/CEP.htmlor call 235-9302.


Out of the Past 

Brand of Brothers


Sip a Pilot Pale Ale at The Brewseum while poring over the best private World War II memorabilia collection on O‘ahu; the USO-style pub’s treasures overflow walls and ceilings, include a Jeep and running toy train that circles overhead. But a beer won’t get you into the ultimate inner sanctum, the Home of the Brave Museum next door, packed with the stuff of history, including artifacts brought home from battles by veterans themselves. For that, you have to take the ($89) Home of the Brave Tour of Pearl Harbor—but that’s a good thing, because this is the most intimate and informed tour by a wide margin. 

909 and 901 Waimanu St., 799-2796, hotbbc.com


Check this out 

If you’ve ever been frustrated by the short hours at the Hawai‘i state public libraries, there’s another option hiding in plain sight: Hamilton Library, on the UH Mānoa campus. It’s got a huge collection of books, much larger than any of the public library branches, and it’s open until 10 p.m. most nights when UH is in session, so you can visit after work, and even on Sunday. One catch: It costs an annual $60 to check books out. The price of a dinner for two, we figure, or a couple of new hardcover editions. Not too bad for a library you can actually use.  

2550 McCarthy Mall, UH Mānoa campus, 956-7203


Intrigue at the Palace 

Take a closer look.

Photo: Aaron Yoshino 


Sometimes, the best hiding place is in plain sight. Say, in the middle of downtown’s civic center where thousands pass daily. History and mystery buffs, though, might recognize the characteristic symbols as they walk alongside historic ‘Iolani Palace. Those in the know remember that King David Kalākaua belonged to the Freemasons, a close-mouthed citizens’ society loosely described in the National Treasure movies. Palace curator Teresa Valencia says, “I know he did participate in the meetings and he was a member.” And Valencia does show us the Masonic tools—trowels, square, level, plumb and the ring of the Merrie Monarch displayed in a basement gallery.


But she demurs on details about insignia or symbols on the building: “There might be components that we at the palace are not aware of.”


She  refers us to the lodge where the king was once a member. Well-known storyteller Lopaka Kapanui belongs there now and got right back to us but he, too, was uncharacteristically reluctant to say too much about the palace symbols. He didn’t deny that a row of five Corinthian columns corresponds with the five senses; or that the lion head closely resembles those that stand guard outside the Masonic temple.


And the building tools? Take the trowel? “It symbolically teaches Freemasons the importance of spreading brotherly love and harmony.” Makes you look at buildings a whole new way.


Heiau & Healing Pools

In Waikīkī at Nā Pōhaku Ola Kapaemahu a Kapuni, The Stones of Life, or Four Wizards, represent four healers from Tahiti who transferred their mana to them before returning home. The stones, quarried in Kaimukī, weigh more than seven tons and would have required a great communal effort to move.  

2405 Kalākaua Ave., next to the police station


Cruising the North Shore? For a break from the surfer-centric coastal scene, turn inland at Pūpūkea on Pu‘u o Mahuka Road and head up to the heiau of the same name, the largest on O‘ahu. On 2 acres overlooking Waimea Bay, the stone platform has three enclosures to explore. About 400 years old, it was built as a luakini, or sacrificial temple.  



In Kailua for liliko‘i pancakes? Walk them off behind the YMCA paying your respects at the Ulupō Heiau, where chiefly rituals go back to A.D. 1400. The 30-foot walls, of stones possibly transported from Kualoa, measure 140 by 180 feet.


Beneath Mō‘ili‘ili, a maze of karst water caves supplied taro, rice and other crops, as well as adventures to those who dared to go below—by boat, even. Construction has collapsed many passages, but not Kumulae Pond. A favored swimming hole of Queen Kamāmalu, it will be familiar to patrons of The Willows—it’s the koi pond.  

901 Hausten St., 952-9200


Great Bombs of Fire

Looking more like warped fishermen’s floats than state-of-the-art firefighting equipment, the colorful glass grenades on display at the Honolulu Fire Museum and Education Center were meant to be thrown on flames. Filled with antique gear, gleaming red trucks and memorabilia, the HFM is open only on the third Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tours are led by real fire fighters. 

620 South St., 723-7167


Warbirds of Kalaeloa

Hiding in plain sight out at Kalaeloa Airport, Naval Air Museum Barbers Point impresses with up-close views of fighting machines that include rare Vietnam-era Phantoms and Skyhawks and the M60 Patton tank. For kids, it’s like visiting a movie set, while grownups get chicken-skin.

By appointment only: 682-3982;  91-1299A Midway St.


Downtown Art Sanctuary

Caught downtown? For tranquility and perspective (or just to get out of the heat/rain), duck into First Hawaiian Center at Bishop and King streets for the ever-changing art, curated by the Honolulu Museum of Art, in the lobby and on the second floor. Besides the mix of cutting-edge photography, art and sculpture, simply mounting the wide marble staircase under prismatic rainbows of light will activate your inner Guggenheim synapses.


Shoes of Feathers

The feathered Aboriginal tracker’s shoe featured early stealth technology so hunters could approach their prey on little puffs of eiderdown; at The Honolulu Museum of Art (on rotating display).



Souped-Up Marsupial

A stuffed, mounted thylacine is Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum’s house oddity, says lead historian and archivist DeSoto Brown. “It looked very much like a large dog, but with stripes on its hindquarters.” A marsupial like a kangaroo, it’s been extinct since 1936. Among its thousands of curios and treasures, the Bishop also has nine of Queen Lili‘uokalani’s diaries, and original clippings and the botanical collection from Captain James Cook’s first contact expedition, many from plants which have since gone extinct.



Unlocking the Forbidden Hikes 

Hopping fences and bushwhacking past kapu signs seems as much a hobby for some as the hiking itself, but trespassing has strained the environment and the rest of us, too. Instead, try these four hikes that require a permit or are restricted to the general public, but are available if you talk to the right folks or volunteer to be a steward.


 Koloa Gulch, Lā‘iE

Who owns it: Hawai‘i Reserves Inc. (Landholding company for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints)

The hike: An eight-mile roundtrip zig-zags Koloa Stream to the back of Hau‘ula Valley where you’ll find multiple waterfalls and pools of water to wade into. One of the waterfalls is said to be over 100 feet—you’ll have to do a bit of swimming and climb a rope to get there, though.

How to access: Permits are available online or in the office in the Lā‘ie Shopping Center, open 9 a.m to 5 p.m., except for holidays. 293-9201, hawaiireserves.com.


 Pālehua-Palikea Ridge,  Kapolei

Who owns it: Gill Ewa Lands LLC

The hike: A passage through the Pālehua rock tunnel highlights this six-mile trek. Your Sierra Club guide will provide expert commentary on native plant species and photo opportunities.

How to access: The Sierra Club and the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club coordinate hikes up the ridge for members of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club (htmclub.org); Camp Pālehua guests also have access to trails.


 Kawai‘iki Trail, Hale‘iwa

Who owns it: Kamehameha Schools

The hike: On the Leeward side of the Ko‘olaus, the hike leads to serene freshwater pools hikers can swim in. 

How to access: Join the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club. htmclub.org


Join a Secret Society 

Club Yourself 

There is a charitable society in Honolulu where you can sit at a gorgeous, private seaside bar overlooking the Pacific all day long, sipping a $6.75 Mai Tai. Located next door to the Outrigger Canoe Club, the Elks Lodge costs $1,300 to join and $310 a year, a sweet deal compared to the Outrigger’s $25,000/$194 rate. Unlike members of the OCC, however, Elks contribute time and money to charitable projects. “Prospective members must be sponsored by a member, and there is a procedure to be welcomed into the fold,” says Robert Kekuna Jr., Past Exalted Ruler of Honolulu Elks Lodge 616. 

2933 Kalākaua Ave.; 923-5722


Be a brick

Freemasonry began in the 16th century to allow travelers a social network that assured friendship and connections around the world. Freemasonry also drew men of wealth, and occasionally, intriguers (Google “Banco Ambrosiano, Roberto Calvi”). “We’re for the travelling man,” says Lodge spokesperson Gilles Tisseraud. “Most of our applicants are young; some we have to push away because they’re too young. Many members are 25, 26, military men, Marines. One of the advantages of being a Mason is that you can go to France or Africa and right away find friendship.”



Don a fez for charity

Once you’re a Master Mason, you can also set your cap—or, fez—at becoming a Shriner. A fun and games arm spun off in 1870, the Shriners rededicated themselves to charity in the 1920s. Deciding to provide medical care to needy children, the Shriners opened a hospital in Louisiana, followed by one right here in Honolulu. Today, 22 Shriners hospitals continue their global mission.


Our Aloha Shriners chapter has a splendid Waimānalo beachfront estate, which Shriners and their families can enjoy on Sundays (it’s for rent the other 6 days). “It’s sort of like joining a fraternity,” says recorder Gary Liggett. “Right now we’ve got about 800 members, around the whole Pacific Rim.” 

1611 Kewalo St., Suite 201; 536-9333


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Honolulu Magazine May 2020
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