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Source: WestWorld, By: Jim Sutherland
Authentic Hawaii beckons just beyond Honolulu’s tiki glare
There’s irony afoot in Hawaii, except don’t look for it in the tiki bars. It lies in the popular perception of Oahu as the “touristy” island. But the reality is as different as Five-O and Hang 10. Outside Honolulu, residents of Oahu have actively resisted turning over too much of their home to outsiders.
Honolulu and Waikiki beach
So in a way, Oahu’s the most “natural” island, where people have real lives and jobs. It’s just that most of us never venture far from the resorts and high-rises of Waikiki and have no idea what Oahu’s really about. Fortunately, closing this perception gap is only slightly more difficult than lying in the sand and letting the waves lap at your sunburn.
Waikiki beach in Honolulu
Oahu West coast
The trip: Honolulu and back again
Distance: 220 km around the island
Prime Time: Temperatures don’t change much here, but winds and surf do. November through April, head north and east if you like your waves huge and dangerous, south and west if you like things mild. In the summer vice-versa.
Diamond head in Honolulu
Waimea beach on Oahu’s north shore
Leg One: Waikiki to Turtle Bay (100 km)
Depart Waikiki via the Lunalilo Freeway, merge onto the Kalaniana’ole Highway and then hula around Oahu’s South Shore and Windward Coast. Drive right by Diamond Head and Koko Crater – even Hanauma Bay and its famous snorkelling. All can be reached easily from Waikiki via any number of day-tour outfits. Around kilometre 19, stop at Sandy Beach, which is widely regarded as the best bodysurfing spot in the world. Before diving in, note that it’s also among the most dangerous, due to a shore break that can literally toss you onto the sand. Roughly one in every 3,000 swimmers here requires an emergency response. Now look up. Those things soaring above you are hang-gliders, launched from nearby Kamehame Ridge.
Surfboards at Banzai pipeline on Oahu’s north shore
Having skirted the Ko’Olau Mountain Range, wind down into Kailua, a beach town and Honolulu bedroom suburb that also serves as U.S. president Barack Obama’s annual Christmas vacation spot. Detour a few blocks to the more sheltered Lanikai Beach, with its fine white sand and looming mansions. Indulge in the snorkelling you passed up at Hanauma Bay.
Surfboards at Sunset beach on Oahu’s north shore
By km 50 or so, you’ve found your way onto the Kamehameha Highway, which soon leaves suburbia behind on its way up Oahu’s northeastern coast. Here, vines entangle roadside ruins, and machete-wielding native Hawaiians sell coconuts and pineapples at rickety stands.
Dancing at the Polynesian Cultural Center
Visitors at the Polynesian Cultural Center taste the flavours of Samoa with a hands-on lesson in umu-style cooking.
Around km 90, pull into the Polynesian Cultural Center. Catch one of the tours that wends through what is essentially an interactive amusement park with performances instead of rides, each one hosted by citizens of seven different Polynesian islands. Stay for the elaborate luau, with traditional song, dance and food, then drive the 15 minutes to Turtle Bay Resort. After checking in, marvel at the waves pounding outside your balcony. You’ve reached Oahu’s north shore, the world’s pre-eminent surfing destination.
Waimea Botanical Garden
Good eats and sleeps: With 443 rooms and two golf courses, the venerable Turtle Bay Resort is reinventing itself as a hotel that celebrates local surf culture. There are several bars and restaurants at the resort, but the evenings-only 21 Degrees North is extraordinary, putting stylish new twists on local ingredients and dishes.
View of Sandy Beach seen from the Kalanianaole highway
Leg Two: Turtle Bay to Ko’olina (65 km)
After reluctantly checking out of Turtle Bay and aiming the car southwest on the Kamehameha Highway, park anywhere you see lots of other vehicles – a sure sign of a beach. If you’re visiting between December and March, only consider testing the waters at Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach or Waimea Bay if you’re an Olympic-calibre swimmer or ultra-expert surfer. From April to November, the water is quite calm.
Around km 20, turn into Haleiwa. Decades ago this was that rarest of burgs, a seaside farming town. But the sugarcane and pineapple industries are mostly gone, and the tractor dealerships and dry goods stores survive as surf shops and burrito joints. Spend an hour or two strolling the streets, perhaps spotting a sign also common on Maui’s north shore, but rarely tested on either island: “No Clothes, No Service.”
At km 30, explore a bit of that lost farming economy at the Dole Plantation. Is it touristy? Yes, indeed, but perhaps a miniature train ride and pineapple sundae suit your vacation style better than interpretive displays on the eclipse of Hawaii’s agricultural economy.
A surfer rides a wave at Waimea Bay
Back on the road, head south and prepare for that rarest of Oahu driving experiences, a half-hour or so of not much to look at as you cross the island via the Kamehameha Highway and Queen Liliuokalani Freeway. (Hawaiian language tip: pronounce all of those vowels. For example, another major Oahu route is the Likelike Highway. Call it the “licky-licky” and you’re close.) Soon you’ll arrive inside the gated complex at Ko’olina, site of not one but two hotels, the original Marriot Ihilani Ko Olina Resort and Aulani, a newly opened Disney extravaganza.
Sunset beach on Oahu’s north shore
Good eats and sleeps: Disney’s Aulani, which opened in 2011, shares one of Oahu’s most sheltered beaches, to go along with a Hawaiian-themed spa, kids’ and teens’ activities and an evening luau that adds Disney characters to the traditional-Hawaiian mix.
Leg Three: Ko’olina to Waikiki (45 km)
You’re less than an hour from Waikiki, so there’s time to enjoy some of the resort trimmings, which include a golf course that plays host to the LPGA Lotte Classic. Or take advantage of the Wai’anae Coast’s wintertime calmness and book an excursion departing from one of the local marinas to swim with the dolphins and turtles. This also provides an excuse to choose the road not taken, at least by most tourists, up the Farmington Highway toward the island’s northwestern tip. Austere but beautiful, this coast is mostly the domain of native Hawaiians, including hundreds who can be described as homeless, even though their homelessness happens to be carried out on one of the most alluring tropical beaches anywhere.
At Lanikai on Oahu
Dusk at Oahu island
On the spin back to Waikiki, pass right by Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, since a visit takes several hours and you can easily arrange a day tour from Waikiki. Instead, pay homage to another spot, the La Mariana Sailing Club, on Honolulu’s western approach. This is Oahu’s original tiki bar, dating from 1957. Haunted almost exclusively by locals, it’s practically the only tiki bar left on the island – and that, you’d have to say, is ironic.
Rainbow above Honolulu
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