The spirit of aloha engulfed the St. Martins - or perhaps they embraced it - as soon as the family of four landed in Hawaii. They had an inkling this would happen, even before arriving in the fabled Pacific islands.

Aloha means, quite simply, love. But the Hawaiian word, familiar around the world, has a spectrum of shadings. It is widely understood to mean hello, of course . . . as well as goodbye. And beyond language, aloha is a philosophy, a way of life, really - one of welcome, of sharing, of hospitality.A chaplain and lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, and a former Utahn whose parents live in the Salt Lake area, Peter St. Martin was assigned to Pearl Harbor a little over two years ago. He, his wife, Judy, and their daughters, Lisa and Sarah, live in nearby Pearl City.

They knew taking up residence in what's reputed to be an earthly paradise would probably lure family and friends. In fact, the St. Martins encourage the occasional invasion.

"Lets see," St. Martin says, "we had my parents twice, Judy's parents once, my sister, sister-in-law, brother . . . the most we've had here is 10, at Christmas last year, all her side." They've had visitors stay for a week, two weeks, a month, even six weeks.

Their three-bedroom home can put a roof over the heads of a fair number of people ("We made sure that we bought double beds for the girls so they can double up, and we have a hide-a-bed," he said), but for the holidays they also rented a cabin at the Barbers Point Naval Air Station, a military camp, to handle the overflow.

"If people want to come out, it's great," St. Martin says. "We both like entertaining and cooking - and they're very happy to have an excuse to come to Hawaii!"

Hawaii has plenty to do, and the St. Martins offer lots of ideas: sightseeing, swimming, snorkeling, shopping, hiking, learning and more.

Here are some specifics.

Honolulu and the island of Oahu, for instance, make for a great base of operations, offering cosmopolitan pleasures as well as countryside and seashore.

St. Martin has an introductory routine when he's in his host mode: "We usually go around Oahu, which only takes a day; it doesn't even take a full day. You can't go 20 miles in any one direction - you'll run into ocean." Pineapple plantations cloak the island's central plateau. Surfers, beachcombers and tourists flock to the windward north shore (Honolulu's on the drier, leeward side to the south). "I think people are in awe of watching the waves crash against the rocks," he says.

He takes visitors to the beautiful and solemn Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor; to Sacred Falls, on the island's windward side; to Diamond Head, for a hike up the extinct volcano, through abandoned artillery emplacements and tunnels to a grand view of Honolulu and Waikiki; and to the Pali Lookout, a green-fringed escarpment that rises from Oahu's populated eastern shore.

Modern highways curl up and cling to the steep slope, tunnel into the mountain and flow down the Nuuanu Valley to Honolulu. The setting is spectacular - something akin to a tropical Machu Picchu - and the history of the place equals the view. In 1795, the forces of Kamehameha, the warrior chief who united the Hawaiian Islands and became their first sovereign king, invaded Oahu and pursued its defenders up the Nuuanu to the Pali, where they were defeated and where many plunged over the cliffs to their deaths.

"The mountains are just incredible," St. Martin explains, "and look like razors. They have very sharp ridges and foliage all around. It's quite dramatic."

Hawaii's history is as fascinating as its scenery, St. Martin says, and so he also escorts his guests to places like the Mission Houses complex in mid-town Honolulu, where the first Christian missionaries raised homes beginning in the 1820s; Kawaiahao Church, built of blocks of coral cut from the reefs; gleaming Iolani Palace, the royal home of King David Kalakaua in the late 1800s; and the dazzling Bishop Museum, with hall after hall exhibiting artifacts representing and explaining the Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures. The St. Martins are members of the museum. "I enjoy being part of the Bishop Museum so I can show that off to people - and have an excuse to go through the whole thing all over again," St. Martin says.

"The settling of Hawaii is just astounding," he notes, beginning with the arrival of the first Polynesians more than a millennium ago. "How did they find these islands out in the middle of nowhere? . . . And the whole drama of the land being discovered by various peoples who exploited and contributed to the culture" - explorers, whalers, missionaries, planters; the British, Americans, Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos.

"The fact is, living here is a much better way to discover the culture and to experience it than just visiting on vacation," St. Martin says. Hawaii is, of course, more than Honolulu and Oahu. The archipelago includes scores of islands, large and small. On their own and with visiting guests, the St. Martins have also now set foot on the principal islands of Kauai, the Garden Isle; Maui, featuring the old capital and whaling center of Lahaina and the serpentine Hana Road; and the Big Island, famed for the active volcano Kilauea, snow-capped Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, and sprawling resorts. They have yet to get to Molokai, Lanai or privately owned Niihau.

Of his various touring experiences, do any in particular stand out? "I think Haleakala on Maui and that whole experience of seeing the sun rise in the House of the Sun, which is what Haleakala means," St. Martin says.

Haleakala is a massive volcano, the centerpiece of Hawaii National Park. Many visitors follow a winding paved road, in the early morning darkness, to its summit to meet the dawn. Often, the coast and surrounding sea are blanketed by a low-lying layer of clouds.

Some visitors arrange with tour companies to be taken by van to the mountaintop, where, after sunrise, they hop on bikes with special braking systems for a long descent. St. Martin loved doing that.

"You coast downhill with two speeds: go and stop. You go from 10,000 feet to sea level in about the course of 40 miles, which I don't think you can do anyplace else in the world."

The Big Island of Hawaii also has great allure - especially Volcanoes National Park, featuring the vast black (and in places steaming) cauldrons of Kilauea, which in recent years has been erupting into the sea.

"I can't get enough of that volcano, personally," St. Martin admits. He's visited and been fascinated by the huge but relatively quiescent craters on Kilauea's low summit, but it's the seaside eruption that enthralls. On one trip, he got quite close to the flowing lava where it met the Pacific Ocean.

"Watching it at night it's like fireworks without the noise. The flow was going into the ocean and you could see the spray going up a couple of hundred feet. You could see rocks floating by - they had air in them that the water hadn't absorbed yet, and they were sputtering."

Like anywhere else, living in Hawaii has its pluses and minuses, as any of the St. Martins will admit.

Lisa, 13, for instance, loves the beaches, "and I also like that you can go to the pool all year round!" She admires the Pali Lookout and places like Oahu's Sea Life Park aquarium and Waimea Falls Park.

"But I don't like it when I have to see the same thing over and over," a side effect of having guests, and she misses snow and the falling leaves of autumn. "It doesn't really change" in Hawaii, Lisa says - it just rains or it doesn't.

Her sister Sarah, 11, also likes the seashores ("except when I get sunburned"), and the fact that she can play outside so much of the year, but she misses her friends, especially her best friend in Iowa. She loves Hawaii's rainbows - it is, after all, the Rainbow State - and, in a similar vein, it's a great place to blow bubbles, she says. "The bubbles look better!" she claims.

And ultimately, while Hawaii is a great excuse for relatives to visit, the girls' grandparents enjoy seeing their grandchildren as much as they do the sights, their father says.

"It's good to have a reason to gather," St. Martin says, "but I think in the long run we appreciate being together."

Living and working in Hawaii has given the St. Martins a chance to extend their aloha and hospitality to many people in the past two years, and they treasure the good company and the memories that have resulted. "It's great to have guests," St. Martin says, "and we accommodate them and remember it fondly. But it is nice to get back to normal. Sometimes normal isn't appreciated until you've had it abnormal for a while."