By Lisa Scontras | Photos by Davin Iyamatsu
The neighborhood's meandering streets, centuries-old trees, and bountiful vegetation have remained virtually unchanged by the years, which keeps the integrity of the area as pure as the Nuuanu air after an overnight rain. The neighborhood is a living piece of history.
Many of its residents have been there for years, keeping the turnover down, supply low and demand for the area high.
"The market in Nuuanu is nearly always steady," says Nancy D. Metcalf, Realtor and Vice President at Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties.
In 2010, there were 18 closed sales in the area from Laimi Street up to Waokananaka, ranging in price from $650,000 to $3,500,000.
"Throughout Nuuanu you will find neighborhoods that are extremely stable," says Metcalf. "In these neighborhoods, families hold onto their homes for the long term, and often the younger generations come to remodel the family home and remain in the area."
In fact, that is the case with Metcalf's own home, which was built by her grandparents in the 1920s.
"Nuuanu is a special place to live," she adds. "It is usually cooler than many other spots on the island, and if you love history, our neighborhoods are filled with lovely older homes from the 1920s along with many kama'aina family who still have their roots there."
Buying a piece of real estate in Nuuanu often means buying a part of the culture itself, evident by the "auwai." In the Dowsett area, the auwai, or ancient Hawaiian irrigation canals, were originally built in Nuuanu Valley to provide fresh water to an extensive network of taro lo'i (fields) that once covered the landscape where residential neighborhoods now stand.
"While no longer irrigating crops, the ditches remain as landscaped waterways and garden features in residential neighborhoods along Nuuanu stream," says Wendy Wichman, director of field services at Historic Hawai'i Foundation. "Today, the few remaining auwai are prized for their aesthetic appeal and positive effect on property values."
Wichman adds that the treasured auwai are endangered without proper stewardship. The Auwai Study Group was formed to bring the neighborhood together to perpetually care for this unique part of the community and heritage, and Historic Hawai'i Foundation supports these efforts.
"To have an auwai that meanders through your yard is something special, and each owner that has the privilege, also has the responsibility to keep the water flowing down to the next neighbor," adds Metcalf.
"Living in Nuuanu is a lifestyle," Metcalf says. "It's a connection to the island in a way that I believe other neighborhoods don't have. We have so much history in our area about early Hawaii, including the Queen Emma Summer Palace."
Growing up in the area, Metcalf recalls ghost stories about places like Morgan's Corner.
"Even gives me chicken skin now," she says.
In addition to its history and beauty, Nuuanu's core identity includes its convenient location and its exhilarating views from the Pali Lookout.
"We are minutes from downtown Honolulu for those who work there," says Metcalf. "We are also minutes from several hospitals, making Nuuanu a historically popular spot for those in the medical field."
What may surprise people most about the neighborhood might be the fact that rain is not always in the forecast in Nuuanu.
"It is damper than East Oahu or the Leeward side, but it is more of a fresh sprinkle of rain during the night or early morning that keeps the gardens green," says Metcalf.
"There are many pretty neighborhoods on Oahu, but not really that many that have the greenery that we have in Nuuanu," Metcalf says.
Queen Emma Summer Palace
There's nothing like a having a little royalty in the neighborhood. And having the Queen Emma Summer Palace nearby is a boost to Nuuanu's home values. Built in the mid 1800s at the crown of Nuuanu Valley, just shy of the Pali Lookout, is the summer home of King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma. Formally titled Hānaiakamālama, but today widely known as Queen Emma's Summer Palace, the estate is a vision of splendor. Surrounded by a botanical rainbow of native Hawaiian plants and trees, the leafy grounds provided an idyllic setting for a royal summer getaway.
Inside you'll find an eclectic mix of Victorian furnishings and Hawaiian royal cloaks and kahili. Especially touching is the canoe-fashioned cradle for Queen Emma's son, Prince Albert, who died at the age of 4.
Guided tours are available (and recommended). Plan to spend at least an hour. Queen Emma Summer Palace is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the residence is resplendent with museum quality samples of the King and Queen's early 20th century furnishings, artwork and possessions. Owned by the Queen Emma Estate, the palace is painstakingly pampered and attended to by The Daughters of Hawaii and located at 2913 Pali Hwy. Admission is $6 for adults, $1 for children, and $4 for kamaaina.
Oahu Country Club
Minutes from downtown Honolulu (yet a million miles away in terms of serenity) is Nuuanu's emerald gem, the Oahu Country Club. Established in 1906 by some of Honolulu's most prominent businessmen, the rolling green fairways of Oahu Country Club offer some of the best golf on the island.
The 5,820-yard, 18-hole course is home to the Manoa Cup amateur golf championship, the fourth longest running tournament in the country - the 103rd Manoa Cup is scheduled for mid-June 2011.
The Club is renowned for its unmatched views of downtown Honolulu and the Pacific Ocean, and is said to be among the most distinguished private clubs in the United States. While membership at the Oahu CC includes unlimited golf, there is an enticing list of other amenities. So if golf is not particularly your cup of tea, members are also privy to the club's course in refined living: Sup on spiny lobster tails or a 16-ounce prime cut Black Angus New York steak at one of the clubhouse's fine eateries or relieve the day's frustration while lounging by the heated pool or with an invigorating workout in the fitness center. And to round things off, the social committee may have plans for you to dance the night away at one of the club's many gala events.
Known for its unmatched views of rain forest, Pacific Ocean and Downtown Honolulu, the Oahu Country Club's setting exposes Nuuanu's most exquisite assets.
There are skeletons in every closet and Nuuanu's past is no exception. The stories say there's a corner on Nuuanu Pali Drive bordered by many mango trees with hanging branches that is haunted. The area near this secluded corner was said to be a popular stop for infatuated teens to park -- but the haunted landmark is no longer a place you want to be alone. As one version of the story goes, a long time ago, one night after a young couple parked their car at this particular location they heard something tap, tap, tapping on the car's roof. Again and again it sounded eerily across the roof but they ignored it, seeing as they had more interesting activities on their minds. Besides, it was probably only the low-hanging branch of a mango tree swinging in the tradewinds, they thought. But in fact it turned out to be something quite different.
According to Miwa Ogletree, sales and marketing director of Oahu Ghost Tours, historical and ancestral information is used along with eye-witness accounts to tell the bone-chilling stories of paranormal activity on the island. Ghosts have made these sites home for a reason. Ogletree's company has been providing authentic Native Hawaiian eco-cultural excursions since 1999 and operates non-scripted tours year round.
"Paranormal experiences are what we specialize in," say Ogletree. "Hawaiians are known to be superstitious and rightfully so. Oahu is said to be one of the most haunted islands in the world."
There's a great way to find out what's behind the mystery of Nuuanu's Morgan's Corner, and other local ghost stories sure to give you chicken-skin. Check out Oahu Ghost Tours (www.oahughosttours.com) where all the stories are true and all the sites are real. And just in case the spirits are restless, bringing a camera is recommended.
Foster Botanical Garden
Listed on the National Register of Historic Place, Foster Botanical Garden is a horticultural museum dating back to 1853.
Fourteen acres are in bloom year round with a rare collection of delicate orchids, sweet chocolate, fragrant coffee, tactile palms, colorful heliconia and ginger, a fragrant herb and spice garden, endangered and primitive plants from the tropical regions of the world. They all thrive in a magical setting just outside Chinatown on Nuuanu Avenue and Vineyard Boulevard, yet worlds away from the hustle and bustle of Downtown.
It is the oldest botanical garden in Honolulu. The bountiful rainbow of colors and aromatic delights are inviting. A stroll through the peaceful landscapes will leave you with a deeper connection to earth and nature.
The garden's visitor count has grown to 75,000 annually. Special programs, such as the Medicinal Plants Tour - where you can learn about plants and trees that were utilized as natural remedies before medicine - on March 19 and April 16, are well attended. Or learn all about coffee in Hawaii, from commercial farms to your own backyard, with coffee scientist Shawn Steinman on April 2; how to make ti-leaf lei on April 18; how to grow hono hono orchids on May 14; or how to grow vanilla on June 2. Reservations are required and easily made by calling 522-7064.
Hiking Judd Memorial Trail
Arguably one of Oahu's "must do" hikes is Nuuanu's Judd Memorial, which winds through a tropical forest and crosses Nuuanu Stream before landing you at a popular swimming hole and waterfall, Jackass Ginger Pool.
"I love the scent of the trails," says hiker Shirley Grokett. "Just being in the midst of the forest enables healing. Summer time, the smell of ginger permeates the breezes and the stillness. It is the exquisite scent of summer. And the rest of the year, you can smell eucalyptus and all the shades of green, trees, plants, … I love being on the trails."
Don't forget to bring your fully-charged cell phone with you, along with some snacks and water. It is always a good idea to hike with a friend, wear the proper clothing, shoes, a hat and sunscreen.
Take the Pali Highway to Nuuanu Pali Drive. When Poli Hiwa Place intersects to your left, you will see a small parking area on the right shoulder for about five cars.