A walk in Honolulu – Kaka’ako Area

Honolulu, apart from Waikiki Beach and Ala Moana Shopping Center, is largely ignored by visitors. Probably rightfully so since it is not your model design city: most of its neighborhoods are not so quaint or very pedestrian friendly.

Unfortunately, there was never any serious zoning laws trying to unify the look of the city, which led to a fairly disorganized mish-mash of low-rise, mid-level and high rise buildings in many areas… But Honolulu city officials, recognizing the need to improve quality of life for its residents, have really tried in recent decades, to promote the revival of certain areas, and to encourage change towards a more attractive look to the city. The city government has promoted some artists to display their arts in the city streets and parks, and has attempted to reinforce a semblance of Hawaiian culture (at least as far as westerners might think of it). The result of all these efforts, much like city zoning, is a mixed bag…

This time, I went strolling through the Kaka’ako area, in search of the elusive artwork, in this rapidly expanding neighborhood, about midway between Downtown Honolulu and Waikiki.


I started at the Kaka’ako Waterfront Park and the new campus of the University of Hawaii medical school. The medical school at Kaka’ako opened its doors in 2005 and has attempted to provide a soothing environment that blends with the waterfront park. Lots of greenery and some interesting pieces of artwork are the big emphasis there.

fountain at the UH Med School

Very earthy-looking water-fountain with taro plants surrounding it. Taro is a root vegetable that is a staple of the Native Hawaiian diet. They use it to make poi, a popular and fairly flavor-free thick purplish-grey mash of taro roots. The taro imagery is ubiquitous at the UH Med School.


There it is again, at the entrance of the school, in a much larger format… quite the interesting sculpture.


From the medical school, I walked on towards the waterfront park. This park is very pleasant and people go there to run, fish, or surf. Because there is no beach here, the park is also less crowded than its neighbors…


Right at the waterfront, a very cryptic-looking sculpture, meant to represent three pieces of a Hawaiian fish hook… and probably some sort of a compass… mmmh… I’m not sold…

Now those, are my favorites in the park:



Another cryptic piece of art? a bit out of place maybe? actually no, they are very functional… the park is built on an old landfill and these are methane vents to prevent the unfortunate explosion! The part that baffles me is why did people think it a good idea to make landfills right on the shoreline?? (Aren’t there so many better uses for it?) I haven’t got an answer to that yet.


Right at the water’s edge, on the seawall, a stray cat is waiting for a charity meal…

Walking back inland from the park, I strolled along Ward Avenue, overall a fairly unattractive artery, with a growing mall on one side of it, and a shrinking light industrial area on the other. Ward Avenue is home to one of the most horrendous murals of Honolulu (the other one is not far…).


Behold the Cracking Whale Aquarium!!!

A little farther down, on a parallel street (Pensacola Ave.), is one of the most unusual churches…


I’m not sure about the history of this building, whether it was a temple or a Japanese embassy previously, but it is now a very attractive church.

Near there was another mural, hidden away on a small street, behind a used car lot, almost invisible! And yet, it seemed worth a bit of a better place in the sun…


And finally, I came to the other most horrendous mural of Honolulu… this one a bit less colossal and less visible but a lot worse in its attempt to pack every little tidbit of “let’s take care of our land” “happy togeeeether, yeh, yeh” symbols in one painting…


It’s hard to see but there are the children (for “we should take care of the land for our children”), there is Diamond Head (to make sure we are talking about Hawaii, although it hasn’t had this little development around it in a long time), there are the tikis (representations of Hawaiian gods, to make sure they are accounted for), and the ‘i’iwi bird, a native bird with a bright red feather coat (umm… so that one takes care of “saving the endangered species”)…. OK we’ll end it there although I could come up with a few more… and you guessed it, it is by the same artist as the colossal whales…

So this is Kaka’ako street artwork in a nutshell… after my strolls through the streets, I headed back towards Ala Moana Beach Park. From there, I could get a good view of the impressive development that has gone on in the neighborhood.


Three quarters of these towers were not there 5 years ago; and the area is slated for more development. Let’s hope there will be some vision in all that growth.

2 Responses to “A walk in Honolulu – Kaka’ako Area”

  1. 1 lalo
    May 10, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Hé ! Ca bouge par ici ! Merci pour les murs peints : j’adoooore et j’en veux encore. La promenade est interessante, et nous autres coincés a l’autre bout du monde, ca nous fait voyager ! Quant au migrul, tu as resiste a l’adoption ?

  2. 2 oleander2007
    May 10, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    ah, tellement de migruls a adopter a Honolulu!… dont 3 ou 4 autour de la maison (et un petit, tout jeune, trop mimi!), des dizaines a l’universite, etc. de bonnes ames leur donnent a manger donc ils ont en general l’air plutot sains (et puis sinon, il y a toujours les oiseaux!)…
    Next promenade… Universite d’Hawaii ou Downtown…

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March 2008

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