In the Spring of 1795, at the end of his campaign to unify the Hawaiin islands, the great King Kamehameha I divided his army to engage the forces of his rival Kalanikupule on the southeastern portion of O’ahu. While one half of Kamehameha’s forces engaged the enemy head on, the second half outflanked the Kalanikupule, maneuvering around a battlefield crater. During the pursuit, Kamehameha sent a smaller contingent to clear the surrounding heights of Kalanikupule’s cannons. With its artillery destroyed, and its leadership shaken, the defending forces fell back through Nu’uanu Valley to the cliffs of Nu’uanu Pali. Trapped between the entirety of Kamehameha’s army and a thousand-foot drop, the fate of the remaining O’ahu warriors was sealed. Kamehameha pushed, and sent seven hundred warriors over the edge.
Resplendent in natural beauty and famed for its relaxing atmosphere, the island of O’ahu retains a quiet history peppered with violence. Vacationers mid-surf, mid-tan, or mid-pina colada rarely dwell on Kamehameha’s conquest or the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but the tragedies that have shaped the island nation of Hawaii and its place in the history of the Pacific and American culture are as much a part of its fabric – its mana – as its rolling waves. It is for both its age-old warrior culture and its dazzling vistas that the Unagi Team was thrilled to receive its first order from the Polynesian archipelago.
For our Honolulu review, we enlisted the help of Unagi rider and ten-year resident of Hawaii’s capital, Wai Yi Ng. Wai Yi grew up stateside, but when an opportunity to pursue environmental work sprung up in Honolulu, she packed her bags and never looked back. But it wasn’t just the opportunity to effect Hawaii’s ecological community that kept her from returning to the mainland, the island’s rockfaces also played a large factor in her decision to stay.
In 2006, while studying geology in college, a friend asked Wai Yi if she wanted to try rock climbing and after a session or two, it grew on her, “I thought it was really hard and didn’t understand it, but I tried once again and I fell in love.” What attracted Wai Yi to rock climbing most wasn’t the requisite physicality, but the way it tests and trains the mind, “If you feel good climbing, you’re less likely to fall. It built my self-esteem and helped with problem solving – just because one person climbs one way, you might not be able to do the same because of something like natural flexibility . . . you have to find another method.” Equipped with her electric scooter, Wai Yi rode with us to the first stop on her Honolulu neighborhood tour, and to no surprise, it was her local climbing spot.
Kapena Falls, its swimming hole, and the mountainside by Nuuanu stream contain significance beyond its standing as one of the island’s most beautiful hikes and first developed climbing destinations, it was also the site of Kamehameha’s final battle. “The Battle of N’uanu took place right above where we were climbing,” Wai Yi shares a bit whimsically, “many jumped off the cliff for fear of being captured. It’s a significant part of Hawaii’s history.” As Wai Yi took us around the area, it became clear that the grounds – in addition to their historical standing – contain a wealth of spiritual value. Travelers exploring the area will inevitably stumble across a series of canine petroglyphs, that tell one of the region’s best known tales, “There was once a couple who moved into this area with four or five dogs – the biggest one was named Poké. The couple had friends who came and went, and the dogs were friendly, but one day, when they tried to walk to the cliff, the dogs blocked the area. Disregarding their behavior, the man walked past them, and was killed shortly thereafter. Since then, locals have said the dogs might have been gods and have paid tribute to them through these petroglyphs.”
From Kapena Falls, Wai Yi took us to ‘Iolani Palace, the final residence of the Hawaiian monarchy, which ended with the reign of Queen Lili’uokalani in 1893. In the early 19th century, the area where the palace now stands was an ancient burial site, the land of which was owned by Kekāuluahi, Kuhina Nui of the Hawaiin Kingdom and queen consort of Kamehameha I and Kamehameha II. In July of 1844, Kamehameha made the land the site of his estate and the Royal residence of the Kamehameha dynasty after moving the capital of the kingdom to Honolulu. After the end of the Kamehameha dynasty, the palace became the residence of the Kalākaua Dynasty until it was overthrown in 1893. From then, it was used as the seat of power for the Provisional Government, Republic, Territory, and State of Hawaii until 1969, eleven years after which it reopened to the public as a museum.
After showing us around the palace grounds, Wai Yi took us by her office, “Because, in reality, I use the scooter to get back and forth to work on a daily basis. Traffic and parking are both really bad in Honolulu, and I wanted people to know how riding the Unagi has given me time to do other things besides commute . . . I put 100 miles on it in two months.” When Wai Yi isn’t rock climbing, she handles ecological work for the city’s important new rail project, “We’re building the first train in Honolulu – a 20 mile train to reduce traffic and parking issues. I do environmental work for the project, getting permits and managing the process. I think it will be cool for people to jump off the rail, hop on their electric scooters, and get where they want to be. The Unagi is pretty light, which makes using it along with public transportation really convenient.”
From her office, Wai Yi took us to grab a bite at a local restaurant called Blue Tree, which she favors for their use of sustainable products like all-metal straws and recycled materials – customers even get a discount if they return their bottles. Finally, we hopped back on our Unagis and took a ride through Kaka’ako Waterfront Park – one of Honolulu’s urban centers, well known for its shopping and fine dining – from which you get a “Great view of the surf and Diamond Head.” Diamond Head, known to locals as Lē ahi, is O’ahu’s famous volcanic tuff cone and a U.S. National Natural Monument.
After the Waterfront, with a warm breeze in our hair, we called it a day, but hope to be back soon to reconnect with our riders out in Hawaii! To keep up with Wai Yi and her climbing, follow her @waiyi.hawaii, and join her in her conservation efforts by traveling clean and riding your electric scooter as a responsible commuter option. Hang loose everyone!