The History of Waikiki

Categorized as Oahu Vacation Information

As I look down upon Kalakaua Avenue from my Oahu Hotel and take in the wonders of the world’s most famous beach resort area, I wonder about the history of Waikiki.

Seeing all of the high end shops and the many hundreds of people sunning on the beach and the swimmers and surfers offshore, it is hard to believe that this area was the site of the 1795 landing of Kamehameha the Great’s war canoes during his last military conquest. Having already conquered Hawaii Island, Maui, Lanai, and Molokai, King Kamehameha landed a huge fleet of war canoes on Oahu’s south shore from Waikiki to Waialae, totaling an estimated 960 canoes, 20 foreign ships, and 16,000 fighters, many trained in modern musketry.

Kamehameha’s warriors advanced over the plains as they battled about 9,000 warriors of Oahu’s Chief, Kalanikupule. After the fighting moved toward the uplands it ended with the Battle of Nuuanu. The troops of Kamehameha were able to drive the enemy up toward Nuuanu Pali. There some of Kalanikupule’s warriors were able to escape over the valley’s ridges while others made it down a trail at the end of the cliff. Many either jumped or were driven over the edge of the cliffs of Nuuanu Pali.

Waikiki once was comprised of more than 2,000 acres of marshland. This whole area was a drainage basin for the Koolau Mountain Range. The people living in the area had gradually made this marshland into productive taro patches and fishponds.

By the late 1800s duck ponds began to replace many sections that had been growing taro or used for raising fish, and eventually rice fields planted by Chinese dominated the area.

King Kalakaua dedicated spacious Kapiolani Park at the east end of Waikiki to his wife, Queen Kapiolani in the year 1877. This was Hawaii’s first public park, and became a favorite location for polo games, concerts, horse races, and many other activities.

The 75-room Moana Hotel opened in Waikiki in 1901. This four-story hotel became known as the “First Lady of Waikiki,” and was also Hawaii’s tallest building. Another hundred rooms were added about fifteen years later.

An electric tram line was then built to connect Waikiki and downtown Honolulu in 1902, replacing horse-driven cars. Waikiki gradually became a popular resort destination, and this also led to the building of the Ala Wai Canal in order to drain the region’s wetlands.

The Ala Wai was built in the 1920s and this allowed the construction of many more streets and also houses, businesses, and hotels. Coral rubble was used to fill in the marshes.

Many influential tourists visited, including Robert Louis Stevenson who came in 1889 and again in 1893. The Aloha Tower opened at Honolulu Harbor in 1926, and it was Hawaii’s tallest building at 184 feet. Atop the Aloha Tower was a 40-foot flagstaff, and the structure also included a 7-ton clock.

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel opened in February of 1927 and was known as “The Pink Palace.” This added to Waikiki’s reputation as a resort destination for the very wealthy. The hotel’s lavish furnishings included pink stucco walls and beautiful chandeliers. Also build by Matson was a cruise ship known as the Malolo. It carried up to 650 passengers and cost $7.5 million. This brought many guests to the hotel including Babe Ruth, Charlie Chaplin, Nelson Rockefeller, and Henry Ford II.

The Ala Moana shopping center opened in 1959, bring further popularity to the area. This was the same year the Hawaiian Islands became the 50th of the United States.

When I first arranged my all inclusive Oahu Vacation Packages I didn’t quite know what to expect, but this trip has surpassed all of my hopes. This wonderful vacation has also been more meaningful as I understand the rich history of the amazing resort area of Waikiki.