Oahu – circle island tour
Oahu’s south: Luxury in Kahala, nature in Hanauma Bay
In todays post we will start again in Waikiki and go on a tour around Oahu. Diamond Head is the landmark of Honolulu. The crater of this dormant volcano offers a great view of the skyscrapers forming the skyline of Waikiki. You can ascent it by a toll road and go for a hike up there. Those who are ready for some exercise wil be starting the hike in Queen Kapiolani Park and climb the steep stairs to the top. On a bright day you can even see Molokai and Lanai from here.
Back at the bottom we first drive to the upscale neighborhood of Kahala. The hotel with the same name is one of my favorites. A real luxury treat with a more or less private beach. In the lobby you’ll find a gallery with pictures of celebrities that have already spent some nights here. One of the highlights is the spa, where every treatment room is a separate suite with it’s own bathtub. If you feel like, you can get your treatment in a hut in the luscious gardens.
We continue our tour in a counterclockwise direction and will soon arrive at Hanauma Bay.
Hanauma Bay, Snorklers paradise
This beautiful bay offers a nice beach. It is a state park so you will have to pay an entrance fee (closed on tuesdays). There are no beach chairs and umbrellas for rent. Thanks to it’s secured location this is not a good spot to surf, but snorkeling is great here. Plenty of fish to see and don’t be surprised if you come across a dolphin or turtles. But please do not touch the animals. They are protected and you want to make sure that your kids and grandkids can still admire them too. If you plan to spend a whole day here, you could get here by public transportation. Snorkeling gear can be rented and at the park entrance you’ll find a souvenir- and snackshop. At the beach there are lockers for rent, where you can stowe your valuables, but who brings them to the beach anyway?
Koko Head crater: time for a walk
Our next stop brings us to Koko Head, another crater of a extinct volcano. Alongside the road you will pass several viewing points, but sometimes it is difficult to find a parking spot. One of the most interesting stops is the Halona Blowhole. Blowholes are cavities in the lava crust where, during high tide, water is pressed through and forms a fountain. Very impressing. Next to the parking lot you will come to a beach which you probably know from an old movie. Sandy Beach Park has a special role in the movie „From here to Eternity“ ( I am not sure if the younger ones among you still know that movie since it was shot in 1953).
If you feel like hiking you should plan a stop at Makapu’u Point. Just take a turn at the Solar Observatory of the University of Hawaii. You have the choice of two trails. One is leading along the shore back to Sandy Beach the other brings you to Makapu’u Point, where you will come across a light house. Both trails are rather easy to walk since they are rather even. If you continue your tour you’ll pass Sealife Hawaii. Those aquariums became the subject of discussions lately since they feature even the big marine animals in rather small basins. I would say, being in Hawaii you don’t need to go there, but on the other hand Sealife has a strong commitment to preserving endangered species. I’ll leave the decision up to you. However you will find around the islands quite a lot of places to snorkel and you’ll share the beach quite often with animals that are bathing in the sun.
Passing Waimanolo Beach you’ll soon arrive at one of the most beautiful bays of the islands. Kaneohe Bay is rather shallow and pervaded with banks of sand. On a sunny day it shimmers in the most diverse shades of green and blue. this is the perfect spot for snorkeling or stand up paddling.
That’s Hawaii: Places of worship from different religions next to each other
Once you arrive in Auhimanu you should take a turn and drive inland to the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. At the end of this valley you’ll come across a small church with a cemetry to your left and right next to it a buddhist temple. You’ll see quite a few of them on the islands. Reason for that are the many plantation workers that were brought to Hawaii during the 19th century from China and Japan. Cheap labor was desperately needed in those days. Who else would work on the sugar cane and pineapple fields? You should use this visit for a relaxing moment.
Following the path of Jurassic Park
Back at Kaneohe we will turn left and continue direction north. At the end of the bay you’ll find Kualoa Ranch. The first thing you’ll see is a large building with the obvious souvenirshop and café. But you should take your time to explore the premises. They do offer a wide variety of tours, be it on the back of a horse on quads or in old buses that would fit into a museum. If you’re ready for some action you can go zip lining through the rain forest. The valley which is part of the ranch is well known to most of you through the movie Jurassic Park. This picture was being shot on Kauai in 1992 when hurricane Iniki ravaged this island. (Don’t worry Hawaii is being hit rather seldom by such monster storms.) So the crew had to find another place with unspoiled nature and rain forest. Well, that’s exactly what you get here. The tours aren’t a real bargain, but definetily worth the money.
My highlight: the Polynesian Cultural Center
We keep going north and soon we’ll arrive at the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC). When you are interested in the cultures of the south pacific you should plan a whole day for this visit. Around a canal you will find the villages of the different Polynesian people.
On the grounds you can even see a original statue of the Rapa Nui from the Easter Islands. In every village you can watch traditional occupations, typical for the respective people. The Samoans will teach you how to make fire and dance with coconuts, while the Hawaiians will introduce you to Hula, Lei Making and the Ukulele. In the picture above you see a group of Maori doing the Haka. On the canal you can watch throughout the day canoe races and other activities. In the late afternoon the parade of the king and his Alii will be opening the Luau ceremonies.
As I have already told you in one of my earlier posts, the visit of a Luau is a must do, while you are in Hawaii. Here at the PCC it starts with a festive opening by the king. Since there are a few hundred people to be fed, you can’t expect gourmet food, but I was pretty impressed by the quality and taste of the food. Instead of Poi they offer purple rolls made of Taro, which I actually liked a lot more than the Poi. After dinner everybody is moving to the theatre. The show they put together is different from other Luaus. While in other places you just see a line up of the different dances from the Polynesian islands, here at the Polynesian Cultural Center they’ve been woven into the history of the life of a warrior that travels from island to island over the span of his life. Very impressing. I will go back to see this show on my next visit to Hawaii.
If you didn’t rent a car on Oahu, you can book tours with transfer from Waikiki. One note on the PCC. It is managed by the mormon church, so you won’t get any alcohol. Right next door to the Center is the Brigham-Young University Hawaii. The students are coming from all the Polynesian Islands and do get a scholarship if they work at the Polynesian Cultural Center. This enables young people that don’t have the means to study, to get a good education, while preserving the culture of their people. So you will doing something good with our money, when paying the entrance fee.
The real Hawaii at the North Shore
We continue direction north. While you are on the road you will now pass the so called shrimp trucks quite frequently. Here you can get the freshest and best Shrimp of the islands. They are very popular with the locals too, so this a good occasion to have a picknick and meet the locals. One of the first ones was Giovannisshrimptruck.
You should plan your next stop at the North Shore. In this area there is only one hotel the Turtle Bay Resort. Their motto is „true Hawaii“ and that’s exactly what it is. Far away from the bustling of Waikiki you will dive into an oasis of relaxation and luxury. If you don’t have a budget to watch carefully you should treat yourself to one of the Beach Cottages. Six of them are being grouped in a bungalow and there only a few of them on the grounds. All of the terraces of those suites give you direct acces to the beach. It doesn’t get much more romantic.
The hotel offers a broad variety of sports from horse back riding and tennis all the way to all the popular water sports. During the winter months the North Shore is the place to be for the best surfers when the up to 30ft. waves break off the coast. The reason for this phenomenon are the trade winds from the northeast pressing the water against the land with strong forces. You won’t be able to swim in the ocean then, but you can still sit on the beach and watch the surfers trying not to break their necks. Just enjoy the show!
If you continue on your way around Oahu you will soon arrive at the Waimea Valley. This is a beautiful botanical garden with lots of exotic flowers, but for the Polynesians this is also a very sacred place. There are a number of trails leading through the valley that lead you to the ruins of ancient Heiau’s (temples). And at the end of the valley there is a pretty waterfall to be discovered. The entrance fee is $16.- but it is a good investment since this will also help to preserve the Hawaiian culture.
A few minutes drive from this valley will bring you to the nice small town of Haleiwa, which has been spared from the masses so far. Along the main street you will find a few galleries that offer amongst others Polynesian art that makes extraordinary souvenirs. A highlight is the shop of Matsumoto’s Shave Ice. This is another must do while visiting Hawaii. In order to make a shave ice they scoop crashed ice on a cone and douse it with all sorts of sirups. This is a very sweet delight and I am not quite sure if those sirups are all natural or even organic. The color of the sirup doesn’t necessarily match the color of the real fruit. But hey, this way you can actually eat a rainbow. You should try it at least once.
Around Haleiwa there are some very nice beaches, that aren’t always surveyed and tended. But on those beaches there is a rather high chance that you will be joined by turtles when you bake in the sun.
Which brings me again to asking you a favour. If you see any animals on the beach admire them, take pictures, but please never touch them. If you come across a seal and get too close to it might even get dangerous. So leave those animals alone and give your grandkids the chance to be able to admire them. Mahalo nui loa.
Cutting through the island to get back to Waikiki
You won’t be able to make a complete circle around Oahu. Shortly after Haleiwa the road ends at the Dillingham airfield where you will find today a school for parachuting. I am dreaming for quite some time already to jump at least once, but actually haven’t made it yet. A friend of mine got his license here and says that there is no more exiting place in this world to jump out of an airplane.
So we will turn inland now passing large pineapple fields with a view into the mountains behind. About halfway between North Shore and Honolulu you’ll stumble across a well known sign. That’s the Dole Plantation, yes, the one from the fruit cans in your supermarket. A visit brings you first to a souvenirshop (of course!) and a café where you can taste the best pineapple ice cream ever. But you can also taste the fresh fruit. A small train will give you a commented tour through the fields and you will learn a lot about this thorny fruit. And then there is a beautiful garden to be seen. But the most amazing attraction is the apparently largest maze in the world. The center of this maze is a plantation in the shape of a huge pineapple. Actually you would have the best views of this maze from a helicopter during a circle island flight. One of my favorites. I love heli-flights.
Unfortunately our tour will be coming to an an end soon. On your way back to Honolulu there is one more place to be mentioned. The Kukaniloko Birth Stones. This is a spot that has a lot of mana (energy) and that’s why Hawaiian queens came here to give birth to their children. This was supposed to guarantee a long and healthy life for the offspring.
Dear reader, this was our grand circle island tour. I certainly do hope you liked it and you are just about to pack your suitcases and fly to Hawaii. You could do this tour in one day, but if you really want to experience Oahu and get into the Aloha spirit you should split it in 2-3 days. Have you been to Hawaii and Oahu before and want to share your tips wth other readers that haven’t been there? Just leave a comment below.