Tens of Thousands of years ago erupting volcanoes in the Pacific Ocean created the landscape of the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. In the Hawaiian culture, Pele is the goddess of these volcanoes … AKA; ka wahine ai honua (the woman who devours the land). I can’t help but think that Pele gets a bad rap with legends portraying her as a destructive, angry and hot-headed goddess. After all, if Pele really did cause all of the eruptions that helped form Oahu’s landscape, I would consider her more of a misunderstood and creative genius. I can relate and would like to give Pele a big mahalo nui loa (which means thank you very much in Hawaiian). No worries about an eruption on Oahu if you visit nowadays…the volcanoes there are no longer active. I guess Pele has discovered yoga and chamomile tea. So if you have ever wanted to travel to this amazingly beautiful island, come along with us on our excellent adventure…..
There are many non-stop flights from cities on the west coast, as well as flights (usually with 1 or more stops) in cities throughout the U.S. Hawaiian Air offers a non-stop flight from NYC to Oahu which takes appx. 11 hours.
Things to Do
We found such a variety of things to do on Oahu and only 8 days to do them!! My dad’s travel philosophy is that it’s better to leave a place feeling like there was so much more to see instead of leaving saying you have seen it all…. I boarded my homebound flight with a list of things I still wanted to explore on the island because there was so much more to see. Needless to say, Oahu did not disappoint!
Hike a Volcano
We hiked two volcanoes during our visit. Diamond Head was the first. It is near Waikiki Beach and the public bus will bring you right to the lower parking lot. It’s about a 15 minute walk up to the visitor center where you pay $5.00 cash to enter. There are bathrooms, several informational boards and a paved trail that heads up to the Diamond Head summit. You can also drive to the visitor center and park in the upper parking lot for $10.00. I would rate this hike as fairly easy due to the fact that it is entirely paved! My one suggestion; go early before it gets too hot and bring water! It only took about an hour and a half roundtrip with a stop at the summit to admire breathtaking views in all directions.
The second volcano we hiked, Koko Crater Railway Hike was a very different experience…An Uber driver on Oahu told us that if anyone tells us to do this hike, we should smack them in the head and run away! Well…. now I was interested! Reviews on Trip Advisor did not reassure.. Words like “grueling”, “treacherous” and “unforgiving” were used to describe the hike. But who doesn’t love a good challenge? So we headed out early the next morning to attempt this “grueling and treacherous” climb. The trail is actually the remains of railway tracks that were used during World War II to haul supplies up to the summit. The entire hike is under a mile…but the elevation gained is what earned Koko Crater it’s grueling reputation. 990 feet in .7 miles to be exact! There are 1,048 railroad ties, and to make things more interesting, they are about double the width of a normal stair. It was like doing vertical lunges…..until we reached the last third of the climb. That was almost like a ladder. I always enjoy crawling when I hike. Some of the “steps” were missing altogether and one section had no dirt beneath the steps, just a 20 foot drop if you fell in between. All in all, I give the hike a very high rating. If I had fallen to my death while climbing Koko Crater, or suffered a heart attack, I would not be as generous with my rating. The views at the summit were unbeatable and the feeling of accomplishment was worth the effort (and fear). I actually put Koko Crater right up there with Huayna Picchu (read my Peru Sacred Valley post) and a hike I did on Fitzroy Island in Australia…..Worth it? Every giant and uneven step!!! Oh….did I mention that it’s FREE? Allow about 2-3 hours to complete the climb R/T and enjoy some time at the summit! You will need the time to recover before heading back down. Fun fact; Going down was scarier than going up!
Exploring The North Shore
Getting away from Waikiki for a day or two was worth it! We rented a car for 2 days and planned day trips to the north.
Gunstock Ranch is located about an hour north of Waikiki Beach. They offer a variety of trail rides through an old sugarcane plantation with amazing views of the ocean. If the horses are not enticing enough, they have a small petting zoo with BABY GOATS! I “kid” you not! Sorry. I can’t help it sometimes.
A stop at the Dole Plantation is worth an hour or two. We took the “Pineapple Express” train tour past crops of pineapple, banana and macadamia. They have the most delicious fresh squeezed pineapple juice in the universe! The gift shop was worth the stop alone….pineapple chapstick is sure to make me the coolest kid on the block back home.
Laniakea Beach is known for sea turtle sightings. We did not see any. They must have been hiding out somewhere with Pele. The beach is free to visit and affords outstanding views.
A great stop for a little shopping and yummy restaurants is the town of Haleiwa. We stopped here twice for dinner and enjoyed walking around this quaint little surfing town. This might be a good alternative to staying in Waikiki.
If you want to see waterfalls, Waimea Falls ia a nice easy 1 mile hike through beautiful botanical gardens on a paved path. You can swim in the water and under the falls, but I am assuming that it is a level 10 on the “shrinkage” scale (Seinfeld fans). I myself made it up to my knees. It was painfully freezing. I overheard a delusional tourist claiming that it felt “refreshing”. They actually provide life jackets (included in entry fee) right there at a small hut if you do plan on swimming. They are open Tuesday through Saturday and tickets to the falls cost $20.00 pp for adults. There was a fantastic Farmers Market near the parking lot as well.
The town of Kahuku (not really too much of a town) has a plethora of food trucks scattered about and a little lunch place called Seven Brothers. It is a great place to stop for a reasonable lunch while driving along the north shore. There is a famous shrimp truck, Giovanni’s that is pretty popular as well as a taco truck and a bunch of others to choose from. There was a pizza truck called; Cheesus Crust that I would have eaten at just because of the name…but he was closed! I bet his pizza is heavenly. Sorry.
A Day to Honor and Remember
I can’t imagine a trip to Oahu without spending some time at Pearl Harbor. We took the number 7 bus to Pearl Harbor from Waikiki. Tickets should be booked in advance online to visit the actual memorial. They are free with the exception of a service fee, but if you want to book the audio tour, there is an additional fee. There are other worthwhile things to see while visiting. We took a self guided tour of the USS Bowfin Submarine (cost; $20.00) as well as visiting the museums within the park (free with admission). I can’t describe the sobering effect that the USS Arizona had on me, but I would recommend a visit to anyone interested in history or even just for the opportunity to honor those who lost their lives while serving our country so many years ago. You can still see the oil as it slowly reaches the surface from the remains of the USS Arizona below.
Surfing and Paddleboarding
Paddleboards can be rented by the hour all along Waikiki Beach. They are about $25.00/$30.00 an hour and are a ton of fun. As for surfing, we took a lesson with Waikiki Beach Services at the Royal Hawaiian. Semi-private lessons will cost about $85.00 . I am not a “graceful” surfer. Getting up on the board is enough to celebrate. I am not sure if it was the skill of the instructor, or the gentle rolling waves at Waikiki, but it was certainly not my clumsy abilities that got me up on that board….! Either way….it was the best surfing I have ever done. I was a legend in my own mind.
Catamaran Trip to Swim with Turtles
Several trips go to “Turtle Canyon” on catamarans from Waikiki Beach. I wanted to swim with turtles. I like turtles. I like catamarans. Sign me up. We met our boat on the beach in front of The Sheraton. About 20 minutes into the trip I started to feel the waves. “Hello motion sickness, I have not seen you in a while.” By the time we got to Turtle Canyon I was not well. I jumped in the water only to get knocked around like a dinghy in a storm. Apparently the seas were rough that day. There were giant turtles swimming around us….even a barracuda stopped by to say hello! I was too sick to care. Jaws himself could have made an appearance and I would not have cared…as a matter of fact, if Jaws bit my foot off I would not have felt as bad as I did. I assume that this trip would be worth it in calm seas, or if one is not prone to sea sickness, but my photo was not going on any brochure that day. Full disclosure; I booked “The best deal in Oahu” for this trip….obviously it was also the cheapest. The catamaran was the size of my bathroom and we had to blow up our own life jackets (not joking). So, my son insists that this tiny craft attributed to my seasickness. I agree to disagree. A side note to my son…I prefer the term ‘frugal”, not “cheap”.
Where To Eat
Giovanni Pastrami Waikiki- A sports bar with a great menu, great food and fun atmosphere
Yard House Waikiki- Excellent lunch and dinner choices!
Ala Moana Mall- An extensive food court with reasonable prices. 20 minute walk from Waikiki Beach
Farmhouse Cafe- One of the best breakfasts EVER
Restaurant 604 – A 5 minute walk from Pearl Harbor. Awesome views, delicious food and a fun place to enjoy a drink (or 3) and watch the sunset after a trip to the memorial.
Uncle Bos Haleiwa – (in Haleiwa) The back patio had such a nice vibe. The dinner and service was the BEST!
Rainbow Drive In – We were lucky enough to meet up with a friend who grew up on Oahu during our trip. She brought us here for a local dinner. I had a pork plate lunch. According to her, it is always called a “plate lunch” even if it’s a dinner plate! It was amazing! So much food! One of my favorite meals while on Oahu. When you order a “plate lunch” it usually comes with a choice of meat, a heaping of rice and creamy macaroni salad. Yum. Although it was not too far from Waikiki Beach, you need a car to get here. Rainbow Drive In is more like an old school take-out place, authentic and non-commercialized. My kind of place!
Where to Stay
The Hawaiian Hilton Village- Although it was in a great location, and was over the top luxury, it is a very expensive place to stay and I found the size of the property to be overwhelming. I got the amazing deal of 170.00 a night including taxes which is NOT the usual price! There were a lot of chain hotels along Waikiki that are probably equally expensive. If I do go back, I would opt for a smaller place up north away from the touristy part of the island. With that view, I guess I shouldn’t complain though!!!
The local bus was very convenient and offered routes throughout the island. It was $2.75 per ride, or $6.00 for an unlimited day pass. How could you go wrong?? As you may expect, it was a slow ride. Cash only.
We used the citi bikes to ride to the mall. Another cheap way to get around….$4.00 for half an hour got us to the mall with time to spare!
On the last 2 days we rented a car to explore the rest of the island. Cars are expensive to rent and parking at the resort was equivalent to the price of building a school in a small village in Uganda….which would be money much better spent! But alas….we found free parking behind the marina on a semi- sketchy street about 10 minutes from our hotel! The signs were somewhat ambiguous… but we somehow determined that it was 24 hr. free street parking!
Things I Wished I Had The Time To Do
Planting a tree at the Gunstock Ranch- I did not know about this tour until we rode horses there, but the ranch is growing an entire orchard of indigenous trees to offset the intrusion of invasive species on the island. You can go out to the orchard on horseback or on a quad and sponsor and plant a tree while you are there. In my opinion, it’s a great way to leave something good behind after creating all of the waste that we do when we travel.
Hanauma Bay- Speaking of damage done, I read that they are limiting the number of guests per day because of the effects overtourism have had on the reef at Hanauma Bay! I snorkeled there with magnificent fish as a kid, but could not get in this time due to limited access. If you do go, I think they ask that you use “reef-safe” sunblock to help minimize the negative impact on the reef and marine life.
Cage Diving with sharks- I really wanted to do this, but envisioned another vomit-comet experience….much like the Turtle Canyon catamaran.
Pill-Box Hike- This hike, along with several others on the north shore were on my list if I had the time. Unfortunately I did not! It looks like a great climb with more fantastic views!
Thoughts and Tips
The food can get quite expensive on the Hawaiian Islands, especially in the tourist areas. We bought muffins and fruit at the food store to eat for breakfast most mornings in our room. I also always locate the nearest liquor store while away and buy a bottle, or 3 of wine to keep in my room so that I don’t have to pay insane prices at the resort….priorities!!! Bug spray was helpful on the hikes we took. If you have time, the other islands are equally amazing and different in their own ways. I have been to Maui, Kauai and the Big Island as well, but only stayed on Oahu this time.
Mark Twain visited the Hawaiian Islands back in 1866. It is said that he went for a week and stayed for 5. Who could blame him? He called Hawaii “The loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean”. I cannot disagree and only wish I were lucky enough to see them as he did, before the hotels were built! If you are fortunate enough to plan a trip there and go, I wish you safe travels and hope that when you leave Oahu, you feel like there was so much more to see and do!!. Aloha for now and mahalo for taking the time to read this post.