Hang loose, or as they say in Hawaii, ‘shaka’. A chilled American state that is rich in Pacific traditions and culture (due to its strong identification with Polynesian history) and combined with its classic American tourism, it seems to be a holiday destination common with travellers all over the world. Time constraints meant I only had enough time to visit Oahu, but I was determined to make the most of it.
Landing in Honolulu airport, I walked outside and located myself a shuttle into Waikiki for $US16. It took about 45 minutes to get to Waikiki – and this was at about 10pm at night. My return trip to the airport only took me 25 minutes, although I would allow at least an hour if you were travelling to or from at rush hour. I got dropped at the Polynesian Hostel Beach Club Hostel which was pretty cheap by Hawaiian standards (US$25/night) and had not much going for it except its location (very close to the beach and the main Waikiki strip). The ventilation was minimal, the bathrooms were revolting, and the staff seemed clueless – but I guess you pay for what you get, and we didn’t plan on spending any time there.
One of my favourite things about visiting tropical countries is that I know fresh fruit will be a plenty – and I was not to be disappointed. Everything from strawberries to papaya (which I’ve since learnt is the first tropical fruit I can take or leave) and of course pineapple (unsurprising given Oahu is home to the Dole plantation). Diamond Head Cove Health Bar radiates energy; fresh, colour and healthiness are all in abundance. Further, Tucker and Bevvy’s have a delightful array of nourishing choices, all made right in front of you (and located a mere 2 minute walk from our hostel).
While it is hard to escape the inherent commercialism that is Waikiki, it is definitely still possible to excite ones taste buds and indulge in some delicious food. My first fruit indulgence came at the Hula Grill, which is attached to the Outrigger Resort. It came as a delicious fruit platter with a pina colada dipping sauce, and a view to die for. It had a pretty varied menu, with something to suit all ages.
My flatmate had recommended Island Vintage Coffee for their acai bowls (delectable bowls of healthy goodness) but I would have been at ease eating anything off their menu – it is a must visit for brunch. It is located upstairs along Kalakaua Avenue; a wide boulevard lined with trees, shops and of course, tourists. Island Vintage Coffee also has a wee gift shop with lots of beautiful hand-crafted treats, that I would have stocked up on had I been going back to New Zealand sooner.
We decided we couldn’t be in America and not visit the institution that is the Hard Rock Café. Decked out in guitars, TVs, and other rock’n’roll memorabilia, the place was massive, and a lot of fun. We were forewarned about the portion sizes, so we shared the fajitas as a main, followed up with dessert. Delicious, classic, and the walk home was well-needed to ensure that we didn’t go to bed feeling sick!
We spent a while looking for a place to drink, and eventually learnt that if you just walk through one of the copious numbers of resorts, beach bars basically dot the length of the beach.
Culture and History
It is hard to say no to doing a Luau when in Hawaii. We signed up with Germaine’s Luau – a cringe-worthy, but totally worthwhile experience. For $US70 we got picked up from our hostel, driven out to Kapolei Beach, where we took part in a full back-yard style luau, watched a cultural performance by some incredible dancers, indulged in a full American-style buffet (with 3 free cocktails) and got dropped at our door at the end of the night. Our “escort” for the night was an elderly lady called Georgie, who was so full of enthusiasm that we almost couldn’t cope. The bus trip was about an hour long, and we were pretty relieved to see it end. We received shell lai’s and had our photos taken before we found seats at the picnic style tables set up in front of the stage. We watched some local men dig up the ENORMOUS pig that had been slow roasting under the ground all day, and which we were about to tuck into as part of our dinner. The show consisted of approximately 5 female, and 4 male dancers, a female host and a band. They were extremely rhythmic, colourful, interactive and their energy was highly contagious. There was ample opportunity for the crowd to get up onstage and learn various types of dancing. Through dance they showed various island cultures; Taihiti, Samoa, Fiji, Cook Islands, and interestingly, New Zealand. For dinner there was so many things to try – we had to be extremely tactical about stacking our plates. There was pineapple slaw, rice noodles in broth, fish, chicken, pork, beef, macaroni and potato salad, fruit salad, taro paste (“poi”), coconut haupia (dessert), chocolate cake and much more. We were so full afterwards, that we wanted to sleep the whole bus ride home (unsuccessful, thanks to Georgie). I won the most beautiful, authentic lai when I answered a question during a pop quiz, so the bus trip wasn’t all bad!
I was extremely excited for Pearl Harbour. After reading Unbroken and watching the Pearl Harbour movie, it is a piece of history which I find extremely interesting, and was looking forward to seeing in the flesh the remnants of the events of December 7, 1941. We had been given conflicting advice about our desired time of arrival – apparently the queues can be astronomical, tickets sell out (there is only a set number per day) and everyone says to get in early. We left at 8am and travelling on the local bus, we arrived 1.5 hours later. It was SO slow. I would recommend hiring a car, finding a cheap tour, or walking part of the way before getting on the bus. We hadn’t taken bags as we were told the queues to check them in tend to be massive (they weren’t), but it meant we could head straight in and get our (free) tickets for the Arizona Memorial. We explored the site; plaques described the weapons, and other equipment used during the war, before we got in line for the ferry at our designated time. First we watched an extremely well-made movie that retold the story of that horrific day, although it was slightly one sided in that it left out crucial historic events, such as the Hiroshima bombing. Incredibly interesting regardless though, and afterwards we stepped onto the ferry which took us to the memorial where we could get off and check it out. It was essentially a big white platform (partially funded by Elvis Presley) which looked down onto the overturned ship. A room at the end contained inscriptions with the names of the 1,777 people who had died there, as well as any later deaths of people who had been left to rest at the memorial. It was a highly touching experience, and it can be further enhanced by the hiring of audio guides and visiting the other memorials at the site. Fun fact: the name arises because oysters were once farmed there.
Waikiki Beach is nothing short of crowded. Once we fought for and won ourselves a spot, we kicked back in the sun for a few hours. The beach is steep – one of those situations where everyone looks uncoordinated as they clamber out of the water, but the water was cool and refreshing.
There is high-end shopping available at your fingertips, as well as all of the usual American chains. About a half hour walk away is the Ali Moana Shopping Centre, an enormous indoor/outdoor plaza with levels and levels of shops. It is just across the way from the Ali Moana beach, which is slightly less populated than the main Waikiki strip.
Diamond Head is a crater located at the far end of Waikiki Beach. It is about a two to three hour round trip walk from Waikiki, but you can catch buses to the crater itself, from which it is about 20 minutes to the summit. We opted to walk the whole way, and although the views were beautiful, the number of people on the track really diluted the experience. The earlier you get there the better I think, unless you don’t mind bumper-to-bumper foot traffic, and queuing for a picture of the view.
Discover the North Shore
We hired a car from the Outrigger Resort to do our own exploration of Oahu Island. To get out of the city, Belinda navigated; I drove, and we eventually made our way onto the highway. We reached Hanauma Bay which is renowned for snorkelling. It is supposed to be extremely sheltered due to being formed within a volcanic cone. Unfortunately for us, the entire reserve is closed on Tuesdays. So we continued onwards and upwards towards Makapu’u Lighthouse. It was no longer than an hour walk (return trip) and provided us with impressive panoramic views of the landscape and ocean surrounding the Hawaiian coastline. Between December and May it is also a popular spot to watch whales migrating, at times there can be hundreds!
Continuing on, we followed directions given to us by a friend, and we hit Lanikai Beach – which was the epitome of a tropical beach: crystal blue water, white sand, palm trees, next to no people, and a reef to snorkel on. After our tummies reminded us that they had been neglected, we continued driving until we found Giovanney’s Shrimp Truck. For $13.50 we indulged in a shared feast of steaming hot, creamy, garlic shrimp – upon which I quickly mastered the art of de-shelling. This was followed up by some shaved ice, which seems to be everywhere in Hawaii. Next stop around the coastline is Turtle Bay; numerous movies (including Forgetting Sarah Marshall) have been filmed here, and it is easy to see why. We were immediately greeted by immaculate grounds, golf carts, and palm trees. We parked up and wandered around, through the bar, past the pools, spa, wedding set-up, along the beach, until we had done a complete circuit of its exterior. It oozed romance, and perfection.
From here, as a surfing enthusiast, Belinda knew her way well to the beach that was home to the Banzai Pipeline. On this particular day the waves had been determined to small for the competition to run, however there was still heaps of surfers in the water (and the waves were certainly not small by normal person standards) so we sat and soaked up the vibe for a while. Behind us were the sponsors’ houses, so the likes of Volcom, Ripcurl, Red Bull etc all had big beach houses built just beyond the sand dunes where the pro surfers stayed during the competition. Beyond this beach is Waimea Bay, which is where another of the pro surf tournaments is held earlier in the year. A little further along you hit Haleiwa, where we beached until the sun went down, before I had my first fish taco at a cute little place called Cholo’s and a gelato from IL Gelato (next door) for dessert. Reluctantly we headed back to Waikiki where we dropped the car off (we had opted to drop it off after hours, meaning we were under no rush to bring it back).
Other things to do
Museums and galleries are plentiful, as well as the Honolulu Zoo being located at the end of Waikiki Beach (closest to Diamond Head end).
Other things to look out for include the licence plates with the rainbow on them as well as the ABC convenience stores which are located approximately every 4 shops in Waikiki. These shops sell everything from fruit and souvenirs, to alcohol and pharmaceuticals. You won’t actually need to look out for one, as they are pretty hard to miss!