Afterthoughts: The Long Walk
The city looks better the slower you see it.
When we began the research for this month’s cover story, The Insiders’ Guide to Chinatown, one of the first things we did, as an editorial team, was leave our Bishop Street offices and walk through the neighborhood, from Nu‘uanu Avenue to River Street and all the way around. We were sweaty and a little tired by the end, but it was worth the expedition.
Because it’s all well and good to Google things about Chinatown, or rely on your existing knowledge of the place, but you never know what’s really happening on the streets until you put shoe to pavement.
HONOLULU Magazine has done a number of these neighborhood guides over the years—King Street, Beretania, Kaimukī, Kailua, Queen Street—and it’s always a joy to discover new gems in places we thought we already knew. The city reveals more, block by block, than you might realize if you’re seeing it from inside your car, or watching it on TV.
Photo: Michael Keany
Work adventures are one thing, but, until recently, I somehow never thought to connect that insight into my personal life.
Lately, though, I’ve been going on long walks through Honolulu. Mostly with my girlfriend, sometimes solo. And it’s been great! Not only for the exercise that a several-miles-long ramble provides, but I’m becoming so much more familiar with my surrounding neighborhoods—Punchbowl, Makiki, Pauoa, Kaka‘ako.
This will come as no surprise to those of you who run or jog. But I’m coming late to the joys of city perambulation. Hiking, sure—I love a good ridgeline or waterfall expedition. But, when it comes to city exploration, I’ve always favored cycling. It’s fast and efficient and you get the sensation of having accomplished quite a bit of sight-seeing in just an hour’s time. With town as my starting point, I’ve biked to Waipahu, and Waimānalo, and everywhere in between, and each time felt I got a good sense of the place.
Now that I’m walking, though, I’m starting to think cyclists might as well be automobile drivers, for all that we’re zipping past.
It’s not until you’re strolling up a Makiki sidewalk that you notice how every block is a hodge-podge collection of architecture, built up over the years. Tidy single-family homes next to no-nonsense cinderblock walk-ups next to towering high-rise complexes that seem to be gated kingdoms all to themselves. And then you’ll hit an amazing yellow-and-electric-blue house—clearly the work of a creative eccentric. There are old graveyards that reveal the original topography of the Honolulu hills reaching up to the Ko‘olau mountains. Little institutes devoted to niche religions or charity outreach. Even the weather changes as you circle Punchbowl Crater, quick rain-showers in the lee side, bright sun just around the corner.
I could write an entire essay about the foliage—everyone’s growing something beautiful in their front yard, and if they’re not, something’s flourishing there anyway. There’s graffiti to decipher, and quirky homemade “no parking” signage to grin at.
It’s a lot to take in, is what I’m saying.
And every time I encounter a new neighborhood packed with cool discoveries, I think about how much of O‘ahu I haven’t seen, even though I’ve lived here for 15 years, and it spurs me on.
One technical note: So far, I’ve mostly had the good fortune to enjoy my walks on overcast and chilly days. Thank you, rainy season. But, judging from the couple of walks I’ve endured on hotter days, I’m going to have to come up with a better strategy once the summer months roll around again.
I’ll figure it out. Because I really want to keep exploring Honolulu on foot in 2017. It takes a little longer, sure, but I’m starting to think the in-depth view is better than the one caught by zooming past.