Aloha! Having had a wonderful whistle stop tour of home, catching up with friends and family and attending a beautiful wedding, it was time to sling my backpack over my shoulder once more. This time, I was heading west – just for a short trip, but one I’ve been looking forward to for months: Hawaii.
I again said goodbye to my parents at the airport, and two flights and 31 hours later, I landed in Honolulu – the state capital. I was going to be meeting one of my closest friends from university, Fi, for a holiday here on my way back to Australia. I arrived at 9am but Fi wasn’t due in until 12 hours later, so I stepped out into the already very hot morning to find the bus into the city. We were starting our trip in Waikiki, a sort of suburb of Honolulu that covers the south-west corner of Oahu island. It’s the tourist hub of the Hawaiian islands, sporting various resorts and high-end shopping. Not exactly what I look for when finding places to stay on my travels, but it was a good place to start to plan the rest of our holiday – and easy to navigate despite the jetlag. Taxis into the city from the airport can be pretty expensive (at least $50), but the 19 or 20 bus routes take you right from the terminal to the heart of the beach and hotel area of Waikiki for a very reasonable $2.75. It takes around an hour.
I got into Waikiki, and found and checked into our Airbnb. We stayed on Kuhio Avenue a block back from the main beach, in the midst of the touristy accommodation area. A lot of the hostels are towards this southern end of Waikiki, with the beach hotels lining the coast. We decided to go for Airbnb as hostels were actually a similar price even for dorms, so we opted for more privacy – though realised we’d be sacrificing the more social element. I then went and lay on the beach reading. I spent most of the afternoon this way, just relaxing before I went back to the airport to meet Fi. We went and picked up our rental car and headed back into the city, keen to get some sleep! If you’re not planning to just stay in a resort, a car is a bit of a must-have to properly explore Hawaii. We just used holidayautos.com, a comparison site, and streamlined costs a little by getting an insurance policy separately from carhireexcess.com – you can purchase daily, trip, or annual policies to fit your needs, which often turns out cheaper and more comprehensive than paying for the cover from the rental car company. It’s worth noting that parking in Honolulu was something of a nightmare; a lot of restrictions on free areas and really expensive in paid car parks. Check if your accommodation has parking!
After a few hours of slumber, jet lag had us up very bright and early the next morning. We had a coffee on the balcony, soaking up the glorious top-floor view down to the beach and the aquamarine sea. When it hit a slightly more sociable hour, we headed out in search of some breakfast. Waikiki isn’t full of particularly cheap places to eat, but there are a few cute cafés – and plenty of Starbucks, for those who need their chain fix… Foregoing the half hour wait for a table at internet-recommended Eggs ‘n Things, we found ourselves sitting down at Bills – an Aussie joint sister to London’s Granger & Co. I know, I know, fairly ironic given where I now live… The food was fairly pricey but really tasty, so combined with the good service and stylish setting, it was worth treating ourselves on our first morning.
Feeling a bit more human after some food, we wandered down to the beach and found ourselves a spot to lay down some base tan. Waikiki beach is a popular hub for surf lessons, stand-up paddle boarding and catamaran cruises – both boozy and dry. Happy to spend a jet lag day more or less horizontal, we set up camp for tanning, listening to music and earmarking things we wanted to see and do on the rest of our trip.
When we got a bit restless, we headed back to the apartment to change for a bit of a sunset hike – only to realise we were too late to start the trail we’d wanted to do. Bad planning from us. Diamond Head is a small national park on the south-west tip of Oahu, a couple of miles south of Waikiki. The trail is only a mile or so long, but is steep, and offers 360 degree views from the summit (which is the edge of a very old volcano crater). It’s a 1.5-2 hour round trip, so entrance to the trail closes at 4:30pm. It costs $5 per car or $1 per person for pedestrians – the number 23 bus will take you there. Note to self: check opening times before deciding on course of action. Something to add to my list for my next trip to Hawaii…
We had a chilled evening and slept like logs. We were pretty early again the next morning, ready to move on from Waikiki. First stop was a history fix we’d both been looking forward to: Pearl Harbor. It lies about 30 minutes’ drive north of Honolulu, and when we arrived, we were glad we had got there early as it wasn’t yet too busy. There are four different historic sites at the harbor: the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Missouri battleship memorial, the USS Bowfin submarine museum and the Pacific Aviation museum. Visiting all four would easily take all day, so we chose the one that interested us the most: the Arizona memorial, also known as the WWII Valor in the Pacific memorial. This is a monument built over the wreckage of the USS Arizona battleship, which still lies where it sunk on 7th December 1941 as a result of the Japanese attack. She went down with the lives of 1177 men on her decks, and is the only wreck that was not removed from the sea in the clean-up operation. The Arizona is the only one of the four attractions that is free, so it’s recommended you book ahead or get there early for the 1300 walk-in first come, first served tickets available on the day. The tour starts with a film in the movie theatre which gives a bit of background context on the events that led up to the strike, and what happened on the day and immediate aftermath. This is followed by a boat trip out to the memorial by Ford Island. You can see what remains of what was once Battleship Row, with the concrete mooring posts bearing the names of each ship that would have been there when the Japanese attacked. You can usually go aboard the memorial and look down through the glass to the wreckage below, but unfortunately it was closed for structural reinforcement when we visited, so we just went as close as the boat was able to take us. It’s simple yet eerily powerful, and the audio accompaniment on the boat gave a little more information as to the scenes on Battleship Row when the ships started taking hits. The cruise took only about 20 minutes, and when we were back on land, we wandered around the open areas of the site: the gardens, another monument, and some excellent exhibitions on the events surrounding Pearl Harbor. It was a really interesting and educational morning and I’d definitely recommend to any travellers with an interest in history.
From Pearl Harbor, we crossed the island and drove up the east coast to our next destination: Kualoa Ranch. It’s a beautiful estate made famous by its use as a film location in movies including Jurassic Park, the newest Jumanji and the Lost TV series. The ranch offers a range of activities including horse riding tours, farm tours, movie set tours, ziplining and jungle jeep expeditions. We opted for the jeep trip, which at $49 each turned out to be really good value. The 6-wheel drive jeeps take groups of 16 on a bumpy ride through the estate, with the drivers providing stories and information on Hawaiian culture, and pointing out areas of interest for popular culture (namely the film sets). It took 90 minutes and was really good fun – we learned a lot about pre-American Hawaii, the history of the Kualoa land, and some behind the scenes intel on new films recently shot there and yet to be released (if I told you I’d have to kill you, naturally). The landscape is rugged, green and beautiful, and there were some incredible views across to the sea from the highest points. I’d definitely recommend a visit to Kualoa of some description – luckily there was space for us pretty late notice when we were there, but it is worth booking a week or so in advance if you’re there during high season.
From Jurassic World we jumped back in the car and got back on the coastal road, on our way to our next accommodation on the North Shore of Oahu. It was a lovely drive, and we stopped off at a few lookouts along the way to breathe in some sea air and appreciate the view. We also stopped for a quick sunbathe and dip in the sea at Kawela Bay; a pretty and secluded beach where we were amongst only a handful of other people. As sunset approached we continued on to our Airbnb outside the small town of Waialua. Having checked in and showered, we headed back out for a stroll and some dinner in the old market town of Haleiwa, a 5 minute drive away. It’s a pretty little town, with boutique stores, a beach park and some great places to eat – we had some delicious seafood at Haleiwa Joe’s by the harbour. It had a trendy feel to it, being a place popular with yoga bods and surfers (the swell on the North Shore is famous and draws surfers from all over the world at the right time of year). It’s worth a mealtime wander if you’re passing by.
The next morning, we went for a hike – this time more successfully than our failed attempt in Waikiki… We drove 15 mins west to Dillingham Airfield, which is also the starting point for the Kealia Trail. It’s not too long or arduous a hike (it took us about an hour to get the the top) but it is a continual climb as the trail snakes its way up the cliff overlooking the airfield. You have beautiful views all along the North Shore from various points of the trail when you emerge from the jungle path at the bottom – so despite the disappointing lack of view at the top, it was a worthwhile walk and a good workout!
From one of the viewpoints we spied a stretch of beach just beyond the airfield, so when we made it back down, we made a beeline for the sand. It was a stunning beach; white sand, turquoise water and rolling waves. Even better, there were only two other people in sight when we arrived. We lounged about and enjoyed a well-earned dip before we returned to our apartment to cook up a BBQ dinner.
All too soon, we’re leaving Oahu! We didn’t get the chance to explore Waimea Falls (a waterfall and botanic gardens on the North Shore), walk the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail on the south-east tip of the island, or climb the infamous Stairway to Heaven near Kanehoe. This is actually an illegal hike as it’s on government property, so we missed it as we didn’t realise you need to go very early in the morning before the security guard turns up to hand out substantial fines for trespassing. As it’s not a legit trail it’s also not structurally maintained, so it’s not for the faint of heart. The summit views look incredible so it’s still something I’m keen to do if I’m able to in my next trip – just don’t tell anyone I told you about it…
From Oahu we’re heading to Big Island. On with the adventure!
Until next time,
Number of strangers I’ve spoken to today: 7, all Hawaiian locals at various stores and eateries
Interaction was: deja-vu inducing, when one after the another identified my accent as Australian and asked which part of the country I was from. I can’t have picked up that much of a twang in the last 6 months, surely?!
One Woman and her Backpack x
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