My Malaysian friend was flabbergasted when he found out that there are no monkeys to pluck the coconuts out of coconut trees in Hawaii. Needless to say, I was flabbergasted right back that Malaysia had trained their monkeys to do so. In Hawaii we do not have monkeys and instead hire crane operators to lift themselves up and down from tree to tree (unromantic, I know, but safety first). You can see “professional” coconut tree climbers once in a blue moon, but this really only happens on private land when someone doesn’t want to pay for the service.
In Hawaii, there are only a very few places where good coconuts are sold – mainly at farmers’ markets, fresh fruit farms and the swap meet at Aloha Stadium. Local grocery stores do sell dehusked coconuts on occasion, but I’ve never seen anyone touch them so I’d actually recommend not purchasing those. Plus, it somehow loses that exotic feel to it since you have to drill the hole yourself and crack it open to get to the meat.
My favorite coconut vendors are the solo guys armed with a huge, super sharp knife and large coolers packed with ice and coconuts. They’ll grab an ice-cold coconut out of the cooler, poke a hole in the shell with their large knife and hand it to you with a straw and go right back to hacking their way through the coconut husks with lightening speed. Savor your drink and make sure you return so that they can cut the coconut in half for you so you can eat the meat.
Local tip: young coconuts have sweeter coconut water, but very little meat. Older coconuts won’t be as sweet, but they’ll have a lot more meat to enjoy. Let the vendor know if you have a preference so that they can choose a good one for you. Personally, I enjoy eating the meat (it’s disappointing if there’s hardly any meat to scrape off).
When you get to Hawaii, you’ll notice that while there are several coconut trees, you’ll rarely see locals walking around drinking coconuts. Just like tourists, we’ll head to fresh fruit stands and swap meets to settle our fresh coconut cravings. But the coconuts aren’t the only thing we use in Hawaii. If you’re lucky, you’ll see artists weaving baskets or making hats out of coconut fronds. While this may seem “touristy”, weaving coconut fronds in Hawaii has a big history to it dating back to Hawaiian women where weaving was considered an advanced skill since it required not just technique but an understanding of design.
But I have to say that the best part of coconuts are the silhouettes that their trees make on a Hawaiian sunset backdrop. Nothing says “I’m in Hawaii!” better than a row of coconut trees.
Local tip: My favorite place to get a coconut tree photo against a beautiful sunset is at magic island in Oahu. You can also get Waikiki and Diamond Head into the picture as well if you really know how to work your camera with less light.