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Hawaii is a lot more than just the 50th state. Hawaii is one of the most beautiful and unique places on Earth. One of Hawaii's greatest attributes, in addition to the Aina (land), is the culture of the people of Hawaii. Rich in tradition and welcoming to all of Hawaii's visitors it is what makes any trip to Hawaii special.

Hawaii became the United States' 50th state in 1959. However this inclusion did not come without controversy as there were still residual feelings from the days of the monarchy. In 1893, the kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown and Hawaii's last reigning queen, Liliuokalani was forcibly removed from power. There is a sovereignty movement by Native Hawaiians to return to a monarchy. Many believe a first step in righting that wrong is the passing of the Akaka Bill which recognizes Native Hawaiians in a similar fashion that Native Americans are recognized. There are a lot of resources on the internet that go into great depth about the history of the Hawaiian Islands and regardless of whether or not you're a history buff, it is certainly an interesting read.

English and Hawaiian are recognized as the official languages of Hawaii. The Hawaiian alphabet contains 12 letters: 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and 7 consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, w). Pronounce vowels as follows:

a - a in above; e - e in set; i - ee in see; o - o in some; u - oo in moon.

Pronounce vowels marked by a glottal stop (`) quickly ie- o`o sounds like oh-oh! in English.

Stress rising dipthongs (ae, ai, ao, au, oi, ou, eu, ei) on the first letter and end with a short e, i, o or u. ie- oi sounds like oy in soy, ending with a short “i”.

To simplify pronunciation, sound consonants as in English and break up words so they are easy to say (ie- Humuhumunukunukuapua’a would be pronounced hoomoo-hoomoo-nookoo-nookoo-ahpoo-ah-ah)

Hawaii is considered the epitome of a melting pot of ethnicities. It has the largest concentrations of Asian Americans in the United States. In the plantation days, many migrant workers were brought over to work the fields. These included Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Portugeuse, Korean, etc. It is from those workers sharing their lunches that you have the local specialty known as "plate lunch" or "mixed plate." The best culinary gems of all of these different cultures brought together on one plate and if you're going to the islands, it's a must have.

One mistake people make is assuming all of the islands of Hawaii are the same. This couldn't be further from the truth. Each island is distinct and has a different "vibe." Kauai, the oldest of the islands, has a rural feel with lots of green and natural attractions. There's little nightlife to speak of and residents like it that way. You have your tourist towns like Princeville and Poipu but the majority of the island is dotted with smaller, quaint towns where people will still smile at you. Oahu is the most populated of all of the islands and therefore has the most urban feel. If you enjoy lots of nightlife and the hustle and bustle of the city but the ability to escape to sleepy little surfer towns, Oahu is for you. Maui is the typical spot for active honeymooners. There are cities like Kahului, Lahaina and Kihei for shopping and nightlife but also adventures in nature from the Hana Highway to ziplining to kiteboarding and windsurfing. Lanai is a plane or ferry ride from Maui and is well worth a visit. It's a great place to get away from it all and have some great adventures as there are only 30 miles of paved road on the island. Renting a jeep or arranging a tour is a must to see the Garden of the Gods, Shipwreck Beach, Polihua Beach and the Monroe Trail. Molokai is usually referred to as the most Hawaiian Island as the biggest concentration of Hawaiians live there. If you're looking for a lot to do, you're not going to find much but that's the point. Your mission on Molokai is to visit a few of its sights and relax. The island of Hawaii is usually referred to as the Big Island. It has 11 of the 13 climates you probably learned about in science class and its terrain is vastly different depending on where you are. You can go from lush, green rainforests outside of Hilo to dry windswept landscapes to the north and even a desert. You have paniolo (cowboy) towns in Waimea and booming tourist towns like Kailua-Kona and Waikoloa and let's not forget one of the main attractions...Kilauea Volcano. It's the only island where you're most likely to sunbathe on the beach in the morning and ski the slopes of Mauna Kea in the afternoon. The islands of Niihau off of Kauai and Kahoolawe are not available to visitors unless there are very specific circumstances. (You must be invited by the Robinson family who own Niihau to go there and Kahoolawe used to be target practice grounds by the military and are currently having select volunteers helping to clean up and relandscape the island.)

Hawaii is the only state in the union that is still growing. Kilauea Volcano has been continuously erupting since January 3, 1983. Because of this constant eruption as well as it being a shield volcano, it is considered a "drive up" volcano as there is no build up of gasses and therefore no ash clouds/pyroclastic flows. Lava from Kilauea has added over 550+ acres to the Big Island of Hawaii. There are two types of lava that are produced by the volcano which are pahoehoe (pronounced pa-hoy-hoy) which is a slowish moving but fluid lava that hardens in a smooth and puffy or braided, ropy pattern and a'a (pronounced ah-ah) which is very slow moving, chunky and very jagged when hardened. These terms have been adopted into the lingo by volcanologists worldwide.

Tourism is a big part of Hawaii's economy. There is a love hate relationship by locals with the tourism industry. While many accept that tourism brings jobs and Hawaii's low unemployment rate, many visitors come to the islands with a false sense of what Hawaii is all about. Look at a catalog of luau supplies in a party planning catalog, what do you see? Plastic grass skirts, flamingos, blow up tiki dolls and 60's slack key CD's. Hawaii is deeply tied to its roots and culture and old Hollywood stereotypes are about all mainlanders know of Hawaii. Grass skirts are not plastic and the hula is revered and a way for Hawaiians to tell stories with their bodies through dance. Many tikis in the islands are representative of the different Hawaiian gods of ancesteral past. Slack key music is a part of Hawaiian music culture and has experienced a resurgence in popularity as demonstrated by the Grammy's that have been awarded in the Hawaiian Music category over the past few years. But Hawaii has a whole range of exciting music from adult contemporary to traditional to hip hop. (For a good representation of typical island music, go to KPOA 93.5 Maui You can stream right from your computer) Oh yeah, you're not going to find pink flamingos in Hawaii unless they're a lawn ornament. If visitors come to Hawaii having done a little research on the local way of life, it is much appreciated by the residents. Try to imagine a horde of tourists coming to your town who don't know where they're going or where to turn equal to the number of commuters trying to get to work. They slam on their brakes to look at something that catches their eye, they drive too slow or too fast, etc and all you want to do is get to work or home. When in Hawaii, do as the locals do...that means no driving like a maniac, let people in traffic and make sure you wave when someone does it for you, NO honking the horn and if you don't know where you're going pull over until you figure it out. It's being a courteous guest and having respect for the culture, the people and the land--which is known as the aloha spirit--that will garner respect and smiles from locals.

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Sunsets of Hawaii Relaxation DVD's
Need to unwind after a long day at work? Missing Hawaii whether you were a resident or a visitor? Curious about the beauty that is a Hawaiian sunset? Visit Sunsets of Hawaii and begin your journey in relaxation today! (Trailers available to preview)

The Little Grass Shack: Gifts of Aloha
From Hawaii apparel to beautiful art pieces to many other gifts of aloha, The Little Grass Shack has a wide selection of items to suit every taste and express your love of the islands.

True Aloha: Everything about Hawaii and Aloha
The True Aloha blog is a great resource for reviews, local events, activities and articles for locals and visitors alike. Regular features include the Aloha Friday Recipes, Hawaiian Word of the Week and a Hawaii on TV calendar which tells you when Hawaii related programming is on the air.