Even if you do not have kids, this is a must-see on your vacation. It's a great rainy-day diversion; plan to spend at least half a day here. The museum was founded by a Hawaiian princess, Bernice Pauahi, who collected priceless artifacts and, in her will, instructed her husband, Charles Reed Bishop, to establish a Hawaiian museum "to enrich and delight" the people of Hawaii. Not only does this multibuilding museum have the world's greatest collection of natural and cultural artifacts from Hawaii and the Pacific, but recently it has added a terrific new 16,500-square-foot Richard T. Mamiya Science Adventure Center, specializing in volcanology, oceanography, and biodiversity. You'll become a kid again in this interactive, fun environment: Walk down a "Hawaiian origins" tunnel into the deep ocean zone, stopping along the way to play with all the cool, high-tech toys, then explore the interior of a volcano and climb to the top to get a bird's-eye view of an erupting caldera that looks like the real thing.
The Hawaiian Hall, the original cut-stone building (which dates from 1889) just completed a massive $20-millon renovation which updated the 19th-century-type displays with computer technology, installed new lighting and surround sound, and added recorded Hawaiian voices and chants. The renovated first floor tells the story of Hawaii before Westerners arrived. The importance of land and nature to Hawaiians is the focus on the middle level, and the top floor will have changing exhibits that center on issues relating to Hawaii.
Other buildings on the grounds are jampacked with acquisitions -- from insect specimens and ceremonial spears to calabashes and old photos of topless hula dancers. A visit here will give you a good basis for understanding Hawaiian life and culture. You'll see the great feathered capes of kings, the last grass shack in Hawaii, pre-industrial Polynesian art, even the skeleton of a 50-foot sperm whale.
Hula performances take place weekdays at 11am and 2pm. This daily cultural event is worth making time for. Tours include Na Mea Makamae, the story of the creation of the museum and the treasures of Hawaiian culture (12:30pm daily); Na Hulu Ali'i, a tour of the elaborate feather artwork of ancient Hawaiians (10:30am and 1:30pm); Plants of Paradise Garden Tour (11:30am); and Meet me at the Hot Spot -- Lava Melting Demo (noon and 2:30pm).
Personally, I would plan my trip around the shows in the planetarium: The Sky Tonight (11:30am), Explorers of Mauna Kea (1:30pm), and (my fave) Explorers of Polynesia (3:30pm).
- © Frommer's 2013
- Very Highly Recommended 2010