Hawaii is best known for its many outstanding outdoor activities. In a natural paradise filled with extraordinary beaches, outstanding falls and amazing volcanoes it could hardly be otherwise. Yet, it does offer some truly fine museums as well. One of the foremost, which would merit a visit in any city, is the Bishop Museum.
Located in Honolulu, the outdoor grounds and building facade alone make the trip worthwhile. A large open grassy area highlights a 19th century structure that resembles the Natural History Museum in New York. But the 50-foot palm trees make it clear you are nowhere near Manhattan.
Built in 1889, it is the legacy of one of the leading citizens of the day, Charles Reed Bishop. He wished to honor his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a member of the royal Kamehameha family, by providing a facility to make all Hawaiians proud. It began with a few items, mostly from their private collection. Since then, the collection has grown to over 25 million objects covering a wide range of subjects displaying Hawaii’s heritage and natural blessings.
Within the three-story Hawaiian Hall, for example, there are thousands of artifacts covering the island state’s unique Asian, European and American immigrant cultures. It provides an outstanding view into the not-too-distant past when Hawaii was developing out of its native roots and into a modern culture.
At the same time, it’s easy to find many thousands of objects devoted to this unique land’s roots in the Polynesia Hall. Two floors of exhibits contain objects that represent the Polynesian and Micronesian cultures that fed and interacted with the island chain.
The Natural History Hall covers many of the natural animal wonders of Hawaii. Certainly, similar museums in London or New York provide a wider range. But here the emphasis is on those species native to the area. That provides the museum with a distinctive difference that is well worth the time spent exploring it. Rare birds and insects found nowhere else are special highlights.
Anyone visiting will want to make time to take in the museum’s up-to-date astronomy wing, the Jhamandas Watumull Planetarium. Much more than the sometimes-dull show offered elsewhere, the views provided offer a vista of the skies here that is unlike any elsewhere.
One of the latest additions is the Castle Building, erected to house an ever-changing array of fascinating exhibits. Hands-on displays of robotics will delight young and old alike. Interactive exhibitions about everything from dinosaurs to space exploration have been offered in the past. The innovation of the curators makes it a sure bet that no matter when you visit there will be something interesting on display.
A recent offering that looks to be made permanent describes in detail the life of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. There are dozens of items from her personal collection on display.