Travel | 15 comments
Visiting Hawaii (Oahu)
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Healing Our Spirit Woldwide
Thanks so much for your interest and reading about our trip to Oahu. We left for a 10 nights vacation on September 3rd and were very excited.
Zdenko on Waikiki beach
Vera was attending the sixth gathering for aboriginal people from all over the world, under the name “Healing Our Spirit Woldwide”. While she was busy in the Hawai’i Convention Center most of the days, I was riding my bike and exploring the city and the whole island of Oahu.
Hawaii is the sort of place you want to retire. Tomorrow. From sun-kissed beaches to lush, mist-covered peaks, it’s the sort of natural beauty that you dream about, and it doesn’t hurt that the place is an ocean away from the nearest snow-covered driveway in Canada. Now, if only it’s not too expensive I could just move here!!!
My first and most important suggestion is to pick up one of the weekly “SpotLight’s Hawaii” magazine at the airport or as soon as you get to the city. Inside you’ll find all important information about the weekly events, free shows, discount coupons etc. This pocket size booklet became our bible for the duration of our stay.
It also contained very clear road maps for every area of the island and most importantly it has a detailed street map of the Honolulu/Waikiki Beach area. Considering that whoever designed the grids for the streets, interstates and exit ramps must have been smoking some “Maui Wowie”, a good map is essential. On average 85% of the street names are Hawaiian and start with a “K”, so until you get used to the pronunciation of the double vowel street names and begin to recognize familiar streets, your map will be your best friend. I was even told that my last name sounds Hawaiian… maybe I am Hawaiian, but don’t know anything about it! I still remember how my father was always “impressed” with Hawaiian women.
I was very impressed with the Honolulu city where we stayed for eight nights. Modern, yet reflective of it’s heritage. American, yet, distinctly Hawaiian. I found the locals to be very friendly and helpful.
If you’re craving some of the creature comforts from back home, chances are you’ll find it and more, in Hawaii’s only major city. Honolulu’s Ala Moana Center boasts the world’s largest open-air shopping mall, and there are countless boutiques for every taste stretch along the streets above Waikiki Beach.
There are tons of stores all over Honolulu that obviously cater to the Japanese tourist with a large wallet. Channel, Christian Dior, Burberrys, Coach, Cartier, etc…but if you are looking for souvenirs, you don’t have to go past the friendly local ABC store (www.abcstores.com), Hawaii’s equivalent of a 7-11/Eckerd’s Drugstore. They are EVERYWHERE. You can buy some groceries, alcohol, every imaginable souvenir, toiletries, smokes, you name it, it’s there and pretty cheap. We went to the International Market Place… It was crowded, dark and just filled with kiosks selling the same stuff over and over. Yes, you can haggle for prices there, but it’s not any place you have to go.
Expensive stores mostly for Japanese tourists
International Market Place
Hula-hula dancing on the street
For the culture-minded, Honolulu has several museums, from the Hawaiian history-centered Bishop museum, to the Contemporary Museum of modern art, but perhaps the most interesting attraction is Iolani Palace, the one-time seat of Hawaii’s monarchy and the only royal residence on U.S. soil.
The Florentine-style palace, built in 1882, has been carefully maintained and restored and provides a glimpse into the life of Queen Liliuokalani, who famously composed songs and wrote her memoir while briefly imprisoned in one of the palace’s rooms after the monarchy was overthrown in 1893.
Vera and Zdenko in front of the King Kamehameha statue
Vera and Zdenko in front of St. Andrew Cathedral Church
Walking towards King Street from the front of Ali’iolani Palace, you will see the large statue of King Kamehameha I across the street. It stands in front of Ali”iolani Hale, the Hawaii Supreme Court Building on King Street. It is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Honolulu. Twice a year, on May Day and for Kamehameha Day on June 11, it is adorned with leis.
Duke Paoa Kahanamoku – Olimpic gold medal winner
Of course, no trip to Hawaii would be complete without going surfing on Waikiki Beach. Girls Who Surf offer hands-on lessons for any skill level, led by an enthusiastic — and patient — team of surfer dudettes. It may take you the full hour and a half to figure out how to stand on your board, even for just a few seconds, before wiping out, but you’ll have a blast anyway. If anything, you’ll finally get what the locals mean by “hangin’ loose.”
Surfing – popular sport in Hawaii
Though, the real Hawaiian experience happens outside Waikiki area, which to me looks more like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Outside, in places like the China town or Ala Moana Shopping Center, it feels more like being in Manila, except much cleaner and more organized. I rode my bike into the hills, far away from the Waikiki beach, curious how locals really live.
One of the most important things to do is to ask locals if you have any questions or where they would hang out. We got tons of suggestions just by talking to the people on the street, or from the parking valet guy at our hotel and they weren’t very touristy at all. Word of mouth from someone who lives there is the best there is! For example, I found free parking across the Ala Wai canal in the residential areas; only 10 minutes walk from the hotel. This hint alone saved me more than $200 for parking.
Honolulu China town market
Honolulu China town market
In Honolulu many streets are one-way and there is some construction going on in some areas of Waikiki so I felt like at home (because of the short summer season in Edmonton, all construction happens at once).
Around the Island of Oahu
We rented a car for a week and were so happy that we did so. By the end of the week, we travelled more than 500 miles around the island. This meant we were at a different beach almost every day, visiting places where no tourist buses stop.
If you are into snorkeling, there is the popular, but over-rated Hanauma (Ha-Naw-Ma) Bay that is a Marine Sanctuary. It is great for beginners, but I found the snorkeling to be below average, but it is also known to have it’s good days. It cost approx $8 to rent snorkel equip. $5 to get into the Park and $1 or $2 to Park. We stayed there only for ½ hour, and didn’t even go to the beach.
Oahu roads… not cycling friendly, because of high volume traffic!
Old Pali Highway – only for adventure cyclists like me…
Old Pali Highway, now mostly overgrown
If you have a car like we did, I suggest going up to the North Shore and stop at any beach you like, as they are all great!!! Beautiful waves, clear and warm water… sand. Lots of sand. What else can you ask for? Maybe shade? Well, that’s not available on Hawaiian beaches if you’d like to stay close to the ocean.
One day when we were at the Sunset beach and a Monk Seal suddenly came out of the water to rest on the beach. At first, to me, this seal didn’t look so healthy, but local man confirmed that he knew this seal already, as it came here several times before. Anyway, it was a nice and interesting experience for the tourists like me.
Our friend sea seal… first checking if it’s safe
Here she comes…
She will stay here for few hours to rest
We made a stop at Waimea beach, but it was very crowded and hard to find parking. Some people decided to leave their cars on the highway but I’ve seen all of them being ticketed later during the day. Police apparently didn’t like that. This beach is probable the best beach in the whole island. This is the site of the biggest rideable surf in the world.
Waimea beach – very crowded
A little down the road (a few kilometers) there is a place called Turtle Beach(not marked but on the maps in Oahu Revealed). It is also on the North Shore. If you like Sea Turtles and a nice beach, this is a nice place. We saw dozens of sea turtles just frolicking on the shoreline. A nice place to stop and chill out…The beach is identifiable only by the dozens of cars that will be parked across the street in a makeshift parking area that borders private property so there is a fence bordering the parking. It is just south of Waimea (why-a-may-a) Bay, but north of the popular beach town of Hale’iwa (Ha-lae-E-va…the w is pronounced like a “v”).
In Hale’iwa there are some great places to go. Matsumoto’s Shave Ice located on Hwy 83 (just follow the signs to Historic Hale’iwa Town) has great shave ice (think snow cones) and is world renown. There is a great restaurant called The Breakers that serves a Pineapple Macadamia Nut Mahi-Mahi to die for and has a lot of good food on the menu. THE PLACE for burgers is Kua’ Aina (coo-a-eye-na) but they don’t take credit cards. Really “Ono” (Delicious) food there. It took a couple of passes on the road to find it, but it is almost directly across the street from Rosie’s Cantina. Park in their lot and just walk across the street. Prices are about $6.50 for 1/3 lb burger. This place was recommended to us by a local who lives in the area.
If you like Shrimp, stop by Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck or Amy’s Shrimp truck which are parked on the side of the road on the East Side of the Island as you head up towards the North Shore. Very well known places to eat and very yummy. A plate of shrimp and 2 scoops of rice was $12 and it was very tasty…
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
Giovanni’s famous Garlic Shrimp and Scampi
Just so you know there are plenty of McDonalds, Burger King, an occasional Taco Bell and Jack in the Box fast food places. Diners like Denny’s and Zippys (Hawaiian chain) are available around the island for casual sit down diner food. Ask anyone what a Malasada is and they will tell you to go to Leonard’s Bakery on Kapahula Avenue. They are drool inducing Portuguese donuts that they make fresh on the spot, fry them and coat with sugar. They are awesome!
Vera and I discovered couple of good restaurants that were close to our hotel. One of them was a Thai cuisine restaurant “Siam Square” which is located on the upper level of the ABC store at the corner of Kuhio Avenue and Lewers Street. They have very good food at a reasonable prices.
Siam Square restaurant just above ABC store on this corner…
Our second choice in the same area was a Chinese bistro “P.F. Chang’s” on Kalakaua Avenue. The P.F. Chang’s experience is a unique combination of Chinese cuisine, attentive service, wine, and tempting desserts all served in a stylish, high-energy bistro. This busy place serves good food with an excellent service, and their waitresses are dead gorgeous. At P.F. Chang’s they are committed to providing guests with an exceptional dining experience every time they walk through the doors. They also have patio and a second floor terrace, so you can be seated outside, which is a very popular choice in Honolulu.
Ha – Breath of Life show
We also did the Polynesian Cultural Center visit. Thus, I had no desire to go, but my wife and her friend insisted. I have previously heard it is a waste of time, especially when there is so much more to see around the island. True island culture can be found on your own. Luau’s are overpriced in my opinion for cold buffet food. Anyway, the “Ha Breath of Life” show alone was worth $75 that we paid for the ticket, which included Hawaiian dinner (I was not impressed), walk thru all the villages (nice) and the show at the end.
Ha – Breath of Life show
Ha – Breath of Life show
“Ha Breath of Life“, is the show about Hawaii’s newest ancient story with a cast of more than 100 performers. I was extremely pleased with the entire show. It was entertaining and the story line very special. The fire stick performers were simply the best… it’s just so amazing, very colorful, very dynamic, excellent dancing and singing and the story is awesome.
The Dole Pineapple plantation on secondary Hwy 99 is a nice stop too. I was impressed how this business has grown since my last visit 10 years ago. In the store they sell everything… usual souvenirs, shirts, hats, golf balls… Even Maui Divers Jewelry has stands set up there, where you can pick your own pearl and they will set it for you. They do a hard pressure sell, and they won’t haggle on the price.
Bhuddist Temple at Valley of the Temples
Another must stop is the Bhuddist Temple at Valley of the Temples, north of Kane’ohe is really a sight to behold (located on any map, on the east side of the island). Another place to go if you want a GOREGOUS but very secluded beach is Mokuleia Beach Park across from Dillingham Airfield on the NW corner of the island. You can get there by taking hwy 930 west from Hale’iwa. It is where they did the beach filming for ABC’s “LOST” and it is gorgeous. A lot of windsurfers in this area.
Chinese cemetery in the hills, above Honolulu downtown
The Oahu Roads
I’ll give you a rundown on the roads and then I’m finished…There are a few major roads to know. H-1 is the main interstate that runs east/west. H-2 runs North/South and the H-3 cuts you through the mountains so you can get to the east side of the island quicker. H-3 will take you from the H-1 and you follow the signs for Hwy 83, know as the Kamehameha (or Kam) Hwy.
Hwy 83 will take you all around the east side of the island from Kane’ohe (cah-nay-oh-hay) up to Hale’iwa. If you leave Hale’iwa and want to go through the center of the island and want to head back to Waikiki Beach, you would take 83 until it meets up with Hwy 99 and take 99 to the H-2. The H-2 will lead you to either H-1 or the Nimitz Hwy.
Nimitz Hwy runs parallel to the H-1 for a distance and then changes names and turns automatically into Ala Moana Blvd. Have I confused you totally? If you look at a good map, and once again I highly recommend weekly “SpotLight’s Hawaii” magazine, you will see what I mean.
West coast – Keawa Ule bay
Makena is one of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii. It is wide and long. The waves this day were not very big.
We also visit the western part of the island that is not popular destination for the tourist, as we didn’t see many. But there is a huge colony of Hawaiian homeless people leaving there and I will have a separate blog to describe this experience.
I hope this helps with some highlights, but I really suggest just explore the island. It’s not only the Waikiki beach that is worth your visit on this island. Do not leave anything of value in your car as break-in’s are abundant (we never were broken into) and please remember to tip your housekeepers $2.00 to $5 daily (don’t wait until the end since the housekeepers are different everyday). Sales tax on the island is 4% and standard tipping of 15% minimum is the norm.
Mahalo (thank you) for reading. Enjoy your trip like we did ours!
Beautiful Hawaiian Hula dancer
Kodak Hula Show here and more… about Honolulu: