Isabella L. Bird's travelogue about Hawaii is filled with stunning observations of the idyllic isles and their famous volcanoes, plus the Polynesian peoples and their centuries-old customs.
Arriving in Hawaii in the early 1870s, Bird prefaces her own explorations with a short history of the archipelago's discovery by Western sailors. It was originally christened the 'Sandwich Islands', a name which was still current in the 19th century. Hawaii was first famous for its association with Captain James Cook, who died there in 1779 as he attempted to kidnap a chieftain.
By the time Bird commenced her travels, the earliest sprouts of tourism had already appeared; she was able to stay in a decent hotel situated in the capital Honolulu. The city was already home to a sizable port and bustling atmosphere, together with a sizable population of white settlers. Many of the outer islands however were unexplored, and their apparent beauty beckoned the author to adventure.
Unique in her style of travelogue, Isabella Bird offers readers not merely a list of sightseeing attractions. She makes effort to accurately describe the social and political structures, traditional culture and decorations, behaviors, mannerisms and celebrations of the native peoples. The Hawaii of her time still resembled a tight-knit village community; gossip was a part of life, and the Hawaiian people are described as possessing good aesthetic taste in their homes and distinctive cuisine.
For the modern reader, Isabella L. Bird's chronicles offer a history of a culture which is now mostly consigned to history. Parts of the book however, particularly those regarding the volcanoes and natural features of the Hawaiian islands, remain useful for the modern traveler.