Inside HONOLULU: Confessions of a Kailua Resident

The challenges of capturing a story about your own hometown.



Aaron shooting the dawn view from a brushy ridge above Kailua town. Photo: Robbie Dingeman



“You know they call us Cry-lua, right?”


Between jumping jacks, squats and toe-tap crunches, my gym buddies and I compare notes on life. We check in on family, swap tips on deals and talk a surprising amount about food. Since most of us work out fairly close to home, sometimes we talk about our Kailua community.


Robbie Dingeman

Photo: Adam Jung

This particular morning, my friend was reminding me that some people who live outside of 96734 think Kailua residents can be pretty whiny. Well, few could argue that the scope of recent changes has been significant and given us all a lot to talk about. Two recent events make the story especially timely: the battle over the fate of Pali Lanes and the debut of the redeveloped Macy’s/Liberty House. And I knew that I was the logical writer for the story. I understand the issues, have talked to many key players over the years and, since I’ve lived in Kailua for most of my life, I care what happens.


While modern Kailua changed a lot in recent decades, some history endures: Archaeologists estimate that Ulupō Heiau was constructed between A.D. 700 and 800.


And I knew that we’d find out much more than we could ever include in a single story. Even a multipage magazine feature forces us to leave out interesting stories that even I was surprised to discover. For example: Hundreds of years ago, Chief Kākuhihewa built a royal residence near what we know as Kalama Beach. And Maunawili once held impressive kalo lo‘i, rice farms and even a World War II prisoner-of-war camp full of Italian soldiers. When a visit by TV chef Rachael Ray sent business through the roof at already-popular Cinnamon’s Restaurant, the owners created a VIP card designed to give regulars a chance to sit down sooner rather than endure a two-hour wait.


Robbie in Kailua

Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino



The words were just part of the story. When it came to the photos, we knew what we didn’t want to show: touristy Kailua. Sure, we admire the lovely place where we live, but it’s our neighborhood, not a vacation spot. For our cover, we searched for weeks for a local perspective. We considered drone photos, scouted rooftops and scenic overlooks, and watched the sun rise from a bushy ridge. Lucky for me, photographer Aaron K. Yoshino—who also grew up in Kailua—was game for the adventure of a 5 a.m. hike through darkness, haole koa and California grass to get those shots.


Why should you care if you don’t live on the Windward Side? Because neighborhoods across Honolulu share many of our concerns: soaring housing prices, increasing numbers of tourists in residential areas, traffic, small businesses closing, crime. And talking about our concerns helps: People find out more, get involved, take action. Connecting to others, whether it’s at the gym, the store or online, helps us to puzzle through things we can’t control and look for solutions together.