The State of Aloha
For as long as there have been people willing to travel vast distances over the sea, Hawaii has hosted adventurous folks. You could argue that the first to be taken up with Hawaii’s adventurous spirit were the pioneering Polynesians thousands of years ago.
Statehood turned our industries from large agriculture to big-time tourism. Resorts, hotels and other activities for visitors rose up in the 1960s and ’70s. That style of tourism gave us Waikiki — a compact, urban jungle of tourists from all over the world.
They’re packed in there like sardines between the Ala Wai Canal and the Pacific Ocean. The only local folks you find there are either workers in stores and hotels, police officers, or the homeless.
But in addition to the tourists who didn’t mind being in a tourist fantasyland, there were those who wanted to see “the real Hawaii.” That was Andrew Doughty.
In the early 1990s, the ambitious Doughty flew over here on a one-way ticket from the Mainland and landed on Kauai. He was broke. He made ends meet as an unskilled laborer in the construction industry. He loved Kauai. On the weekends, he would explore the island and look for beaches and hiking trails.
It was on one of these quests when he got frustrated. He had been searching for a remote and quiet little beach called Waiakulua on Kauai’s north shore. He checked guidebooks but couldn’t find it. The directions were outdated.
Like many young, adventurous folks who wind up out here, he eventually went back to the Mainland. He attended to his mother in her ailing health. After she died, he had an idea: He would go back to Kauai and write a guidebook.
He went back to Kauai in 1992 — right after the island was destroyed by Hurricane Iniki. After a local bank refused to give him a loan, he applied for several different credit cards and rented a tiny 290-square-foot-room and got to work.
The tourist stuff was easy. He went to restaurants, on helicopter tours, on snorkel trips and other activities anonymously and without incident. But the hikes and hidden beaches were much harder to pin down.
That’s where the large topographical map of the island posted on his wall came in. Doughty would consult the map, find a trail, and then look for a “secret” spot like a quiet beach or a waterfall deep in the jungle foliage.
After a year of racking up $110,000 in credit card debt, he debuted “Kauai Revealed” in 1994. He paid to print the first 10,000 copies and sent them to newspapers to review. A year later, Borders Books agreed to distribute the book nationwide and sales went through the roof.
Doughty moved on to other islands — “Big Island Revealed” came next. Then it was our turn. I still remember when “Maui Revealed” was published. People were pretty angry to read about the spots they knew and kept to themselves in a widely disseminated book for tourists to read and find on their own.
Why so much anger?
Local folks didn’t readily share this kind of stuff with outsiders — especially when an outsider is writing a book for other outsiders to visit and see for themselves.
“Maui Revealed” was the start of a new form of tourism — the kind that is dismissive of the large resorts and areas that were built for tourists. Instead, the guidebook encourages visitors to embed themselves within the local community and explore the “hidden” parts of the island.
The book was only the beginning. Nowadays we are grappling with visitors living amongst us in our neighborhoods, thanks to websites like Airbnb and small-time vacation rentals.
It’s kind of obnoxious to hear about “secret” spots we cherish and grew up with as another attraction for visitors to crowd, snap a picture or two, and then move on. It cheapens the whole thing.
In the end, “Maui Revealed” and the other books have become best-sellers. Newcomers consider them essential for touring the island. Now they can buy a copy of “Maui Revealed” at Costco along with the week’s worth of food and booze for their condos in traditional tourist zones like Kihei and Lahaina or vacation rentals in Paia or Haiku.
And, it’s not just the guidebook these days. Doughty himself has to compete with the internet. Ambitious tourists can look up forums, chat groups and other online media to read up on what to do, how much it usually costs, and what others think about a place or attraction.
In the end, this aggressive form of exploring has resulted in tourists in every nook and cranny of the island. And that’s what makes folks so upset. Sadly, we have not seen the trend reversing.
* Ben Lowenthal is a trial and appellate lawyer, currently with the Office of the Public Defender, who grew up on Maui. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. “The State of Aloha” alternates Fridays with Sarah Ruppenthal’s “Neighbors.”