Oahu, Hawaii Trip Journal

categories: USA Travel

My family of four and five friends are heading to Oahu, Hawaii for a week. A friend dropped us off at San Jose airport for a direct flight to Honolulu. We were greeted with the longest security lines that I have seen since 9/11. We had allowed plenty of time and were not checking luggage. We had already printed our boarding passes at home so we could skip one set of lines for a ticket agent. Security moved very quickly although perhaps a bit two quickly as my wife did not set off the metal detectors (she had a hip replaced and has quite a substantial piece of titanium in her leg).

Day 1 – Honolulu

Our flight to Honolulu was uneventful (“except for that whole I am flying through the air”! part) and we left San Jose at 9am and arrived in Hawaii either two and a half or five and a half hours later, depending on your personal opinion of time zones.

Honolulu has a good sized airport and we found that the information signs could have been a bit more… well informative. We did not have baggage to claim so we looked on the airport map for rental cars and were just told “ground floor”. Could you be a bit more specific? We found and caught a Budget shuttle (after our friend Dave we were meeting passed us by in another one) to the rental car place. I know Hawaii is laid back but this operation could have been a bit more efficient. I guess I have not adjusted to the pace yet. But eventually a rental car was produced, a 4 door jeep. It feels like a small Humvee and I am afraid in the event of some new problem in the middle east our vehicle might be called up.

We were enjoying having a pair of iPhones which we were using to navigate, connect via text messages, email friends for missing cell phone numbers, etc.

Traffic in Honolulu was pretty slow each time we went out. We drove to Waikiki and checked into our hotel the Ohana Waikiki West. It is a lovely hotel. We have two rooms for the five of us with a large connecting lanai. The elevator on our floor opens up on the pool which tempted us to just stay at the hotel. A quick lunch at the Chilis at the hotel told us that prices for restaurants in Waikiki can be about 20-30% higher than we are used to.

Tori, a family friend my daughter’s age, is attending college here in Honolulu and we caught up with her and two school mates sunning on the beach. It is a dirty thankless job but someone has to fill the colleges in Hawaii. We put our toes in the very warm water at the very popular (yes, crowded) beach. The water has a very gradual drop off and waves that were facilitating those learning to surf or try a standup paddle board. Tori did encourage us to stay out of the water after dark because of sharks.

Our next stop was less touristy as we checked out a worship service at the New Hope Christian Fellowship. It was a great service at a local high school which featured wonderful music, a great dance/drama piece and an inspiring message about not being judgmental (writing people off) but being discerning.

We stopped by Walmart on the way back to the hotel to pick up shorts for my son who had only brought long pants because he had no shorts that fit. I suspect I will not put on my jeans again until I am heading back to the airport.

Waikiki at night its bustling with lots of nightlife, upscale shops and people watching. We went out for a while and picked up some food from a nearby food court. Jet lag was catching up with us by this time and we returned to our hotel to collapse.

Day 2 – Honolulu

Liz got up early to dive to start the process of getting her scuba certification while the rest of us headed to Hanauma Bay for our own close encounters with all things aquatic. The bay is a nature preserve in part of an ancient caldera that had eroded until it was flooded by the sea. It was a popular fishing site for the native Hawaiians but they probably did not have to watch the 9 minute orientation film before they were allowed access.

You can hike down to the beach or take the tram. It is $.75 to get down the hill, $1.00 to get back up the hill or $2.50 for the day. You can rent snorkel equipment there but I did notice they had run out of some gear. We had made a stop at Snorkel Bob’s to get a one day rental on 3 sets of snorkel gear and a beach umbrella. Our hotel provided the beach towels. You can check out any (reasonable) number of towels.

Our friend Dave had never really snorkeled but was hooked by this experience. We have seen better snorkeling in terms of quantity of fish at other places in the world but Hanauma Bay was very accessible for beginning snorkelers and provided some good size fish including a rainbow fish that my wife Joan saw that grows with each retelling. I saw two sea turtles and also some humuhumunukunukuapua’a which is the Hawaiian state fish (voted so by Hawaiian school children). The humuhumunukunukuapua’a is one of the only fish with a name as long as the fish itself. Sadly the battery on my underwater camera gave out very early so I might be getting far fewer underwater pictures than I had planned.

The snack bar at the park provided a fair lunch and the umbrella turned out to be more useful than we thought as the sunny sky turned to rain. We packed up and headed out to see the Makapu’u lighthouse but as we drove to the east we crossed from the leeward to the windward part of the island, from the dry to the “I can’t believe how” wet part of the island. We stopped to watch the Halona blow hole on the way. At least one tourist there we overheard asking if someone had bored this hole out of the rock. Not so much.

Since the sky had opened up and was dumping buckets of water we decided not to hike out to the lighthouse but kept driving up the coast to Kailua beach park. The water here was wonderfully warm like Waikiki (Hanauma Bay was not as warm) but so much less crowded. The beach is large and there are kayaks to rent to explore some small islands offshore. One our way back to Waikiki we stopped at a rotisserie chicken stand that simply smelled to good to pass by. Dave and Mike got 3/4 of a chicken between them and it was as good tasting as it was good smelling. We also stopped for shave ice with leechee, liliquoi and li hing mui flavors. It was fabulous with the li hing mui (base don dried plum) being the most popular. Li hing mui shaved ice, it should be noted, shows up as number 12 in Frommer’s Honolulu & Oahu Day by Day‘s list of the 16 favorite Oahu moments.

After returning to Waikiki we met up with our other 4 friends who had flown in and traveled to Lulu’s for dinner and live music.

Day 3 – Honolulu, Pearl Harbor

Six of us got up and headed to Pearl Harbor to see the USS Arizona memorial. We had been told to get up very early to avoid the long lines but this is not really a group that is early risers. We got through busy monday morning traffic to Pearl Harbor around 8:15am. We had to pass about 20 minutes stuck in traffic behind the Honolulu Disposal Service, but we found that one can make a lot of words with those letters.

We picked up free tickets for the theatre presentation and boat ride for 9:15am. Between the museum and the audio tour we easily kept busy for that hour. The audio tour, narrated by Ernest Borgnine, was particularly useful for the members of our party less familiar with what happened on Dec 7th 1941 and why it happened. I thought it was interesting that the museum showed a reasonably balanced view not just the American perspective.

Before you can get on a boat to go out to the memorial you sit through about a 20 minute film narrated by the former first lady (Stockard Channing). The most memorable part of the film was the actual explosion that sunk the Arizona in under 9 minutes. A bomb pierced the deck and hit the ships magazine causing a fire ball that very few of the crew survived. More American sailors died on the Arizona than on any other ship in the history of the U.S. Navy. Half of the casualties from Pearl Harbor were from the Arizona. The mood on the launch and on the memorial was very somber. 800 sailors are still entombed in the sunken Arizona.

It was surprising to learn that of all the damage done at Pearl Harbor, all but 3 of the ships damaged or sunk were returned to action. The attack itself was surprisingly ineffective strategically since the American aircraft carriers were not in port and the day of the battleship was largely passed.

After lunch at Zippys / Napolean Bakery we went to a beach off Sand Island where Dave hunted for beach glass which he collects. If you are not familiar with beach glass it is basically someone’s broken beer bottle ground smooth by the waves. Sand island is very industrial but the beach park is a hidden jewel.

We then dropped off Joan, Liz and Dave at the Bishop museum. They enjoyed this quirky museum which covered everything from volcanology to Hawaiian history to animation.

Susan, Kevin and I returned to Pearl Harbor where we caught a shuttle bus to the USS Missouri which is anchored off Ford Island right next to the sunken Arizona. We were too late in the day for an explorer’s tour which goes deep down into the ship and opted for a guided tour with “Doc” our guide.

The Arizona was sunk within minutes of the U.S joining World War II and the surrender of Japan that ended Word War II was signed on the deck of the Missouri. The Missouri arrived late in the war so it was a controversial choice for a site for the surrender, but by that point Truman was president and his daughter had christened the ship when he was still the Jr senator from the fine state of Missouri. Truman also decreed that the ship would stay in commision as long he was in office so she saw action again in the Korean war. As soon as Eisenhower became president the ship was mothballed but was recommissioned by Reagan in the cold war and fired the first shots (cruise missiles) of Desert Storm.

On the way back to the hotel we passed a 7-11 at Waikiki with a limo out front. I guess that rich people need slurpies too.

For dinner we all met and went to Ciao Mein in the Hyatt on Waikiki which is an Italian / Chinese restaurant. They serve more family style and have chopsticks but the dishes are Chinese, Italian and a “collision” of the two. The taste was great, the prices were expensive but the portions were pretty small.

Day 4 – Honolulu

Liz was scheduled for a beach dive today which is the next step on the way to her scuba certification. Most of the rest of us headed to Diamond Head to hike to the top. The guidebook we have been using (Frommer’s Honolulu & Oahu Day by Day) said:

The climb up Diamond Head is steep, but anyone reasonably fit can do it.

We watched several people come to the realization that they were not reasonably fit. One middle aged man was getting an earful from his wife as he gasped for air “the first thing that you are going to do when you get back is find a personal trainer…”. The trail starts as a paved path, proceeds to a series of switch backs up the side of this caldera and then gets to stairs, a tunnel, more stairs and a spiral staircase and then more stairs. It was a good workout but the views really were worth the climb. Frommer’s suggested bringing a flashlight for the tunnels but we did not find that we really needed one.

Diamond Head trail

Lunch was a Puka Dog from the shop of the same name across the street from the hotel. Tom Merritt had recommended Puka dogs to me, based on a recommendation by Anthony Bordain. They really were a treat. You get your choice or polish of veggie dog, a choice of garlic lemon secret sauce, a tropical relish (Mango, Papaya, Coconut, etc), and an optional Hawaiian mustard. I tried hot chili pepper sauce, sweet onion relish, lilikoi mustard on a polish dog. I found it interesting that each of us tasted one and only one flavor combination before deciding that our choice was perfect.

Puka dog

After lunch five of us headed for a different hike to Manoa Falls. Reviews we had seen said that this was a beginner to intermediate hike. But this is a hike where you need to be sure footed as you make your way up the trail that is tangled with roots and rocks. You will want to leave grandma back at the bar by the pool. In the rainy season it is also muddy. But the landscape is lush and tropical with vines, bamboo, and flowers. The larger cousins of your local houseplants like pothos or philodendrons also grew everywhere in a “when houseplants rule the world” sort of look.

The falls themselves were more of a trickle than a torrent but we loved this hike. It was worth the loss of body fluids (blood to mosquitoes and sweat). Avoid the same error we made heading to the falls and be aware that there are two Minoa Roads that come off of Oahu Road. Skip E. Minoa Road and turn on Minoa Road.

Dinner was at the famous Duke’s in Waikiki. Duke’s has two different menus. The beach bar menu is reasonably priced sandwiches, etc with a view of the beach and the sunset. We sat just inside the bar at the sit down restaurant. This restaurant features a good all you can eat salad bar which is included in most meals or is a meal option itself at $13. We had the salad bar and then split some entrees. The food was good. A trio of older Hawaiian women sang traditional songs. There was some confusion when I dropped my room key during dinner and was accused of throwing it at the band.

Duke's

I am continuously impressed with the hospitality of the Hawaiians. On the way back from dinner we walked through the international market and as I walked on alone I was approached by a beautiful blonde in hot pants who wanted to know if I wanted some company… how thoughtful.

Day 5 – Honolulu to North Shore

Liz headed off to do her last class to be scuba certified. Joan went alone to snorkel from the boat and take some video of her diving using our underwater video camera.

Checking out of the Ohana Waikiki West was an inconsistent experience for various members of the party. Dave had to turn in his key, Mike was offered to keep his key so he could ride the shuttle for free. Dave and I were told we could not check in our baggage for storage with the bell captain unless we had all the luggage from the room. Joy and Melody were told they could check in their luggage separately since they were leaving in different cars at different times. Dave was told he had to turn in his beach towels, Susan and Kevin were told that it would not be a problem to turn in the towels later in the day. Detect a trend here?

Dave wanted to learn the Hawaiian sport of stand up paddleboarding. He and I went to the lagoon near the Hilton Hawaiian village where you could rent a paddle board, get a quick lesson and then paddle around the calm lagoon. He enjoyed the experience but it was less satisfying for me as the official photographer because he did not fall in.

We then met some of the rest of the gang and went to the Iolani Palace. We had to use on the street parking as the parking near the palace was full (there is not much). Parking at and near the palace is metered which made the tour a bit rushed (1 hour limit). The tour is $12 plus another $1 for an audio guide. You have to put booties on to protect the floor. You are not allowed to take pictures in the palace.

The palace was the home for the last few Hawaiian monarchs and eventually where the last Hawaiian queen, Liliuokalani, was imprisoned for a while after the country was taken over by a minority of rich (mostly American) business people. The only American who came off in a positive light was Grover Cleveland who told the provisional government to return power to the constitutional monarch but was ignored. The tour emphasizes how talented and well-read Liliuokalani and her brother and predecessor King Kalakaua were. The palace had electric lighting and a telephone before the White House and Buckingham Palace. King Kalakaua wrote what is now the state anthem but was originally the national anthem.

We ate lunch at the food court at the International Market where we waited for Liz and Joan to return from their trip and for Liz’s certificate to be printed out. But eventually, despite printer technology, Liz was certified.

We then joined the rest of the group at the North shore at a rental house not far from the Polynesian cultural center. We picked up pizza for dinner. We were surprised that we could not pick up beer or wine in Laie because it is a dry town. We suspect this is because of the significant Mormon influence (the Polynesian Cultural center, a Mormon temple and an extension of BYU). Stores also close on Sunday.

Day 6 & 7 – North Shore

We rented a house on the North Shore just outside Hauula which would sleep 9 people. It was said to be “27 girly steps” from the beach. It seemed to me to be further than that, but it was still very well located. This was the part of the trip for relaxation. The days were mostly composed of going to the beach, napping, eating and cruising the web on the fast internet connection at the house.

 

The beach was a good swimming beach this time of year. In the winter the north shore sees big waves and surfers but this time of year we did not really see enough waves to bodysurf at any of the beaches we stopped at.

Thursday we drove around the north shore. We stopped at some food spots like Giovanni’s shrimp truck. Giovanni’s is an institution that had a big crowd each time we passed. They have tables and awnings setup and were parked with a shave ice truck as well. The whole area is thick with the aroma of garlic. Our group had mixed reviews of the shrimp. Some really enjoyed it but Joan thought they were way too tough and chewy. Giovanni’s truck has been signed by the various customers. Look for “Christensen, San Jose 09” near the passenger’s side window.

 

We stopped briefly at the Turtle Bay resort. It is a lovely resort built much closer to the ocean than is currently allowed. Although, what stood out for us was the color of the stop signs.

 

We stopped at Waimea beach which would be filled with surfers surfing the big waves during the winter but had a calm surf this time of year. Waimea also has a particularly strange form of a tree called a shoe tree which holds footwear that apparently was left at the beach.

 

We ate in Haleiwa with half the group at Kua ‘Aina Sandwich Shop and half at Pizza Bob’s?. We enjoyed both of them. Kua ‘Aina Sandwich Shop is a chain with two shops in Hawaii and the rest in Japan. Dave also just managed to duck into Matsumoto’s for shave ice before they closed the door. The rest of us had to “settle” for ice cream at Scoop of Paradise?.

Friday we visited the Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau.

Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau is the largest heiau (religious site or temple) on O’ahu, covering almost 2 acres. The name is translated as “hill of escape”.

The road to the heiau is potholed and narrow with bone-crunching speed bumps.

We also made a quick visit to Waimea Arboretum Botanical Garden where we took pictures of the peacocks but opted not to spend $10 each to see the whole garden. After all, as one of my traveling companions pointed out, any place you put a fence around in Hawaii could be a botanical garden.

 

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by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

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