O’ahu: checking out Hawaii’s gateway for the first time
Back in the summer of 2018 I landed up on the island of O’ahu in Hawaii for the first time and managed to check out a few places which I can recommend to first time visitors or people who are thinking about going to Hawaii in this post. This was a part of a long trip around North America and Hawaii to which I was planning to relax and unwind. To be honest, about 20% of my week on this beautiful island was spent relaxing, the rest was checking out to see what the island had to offer.
O’ahu North Shore Beaches
The top beaches have to be on the northern side of O’ahu (where a lot of the surfers hang out also). I stayed in the coastal village of Hauula where I had a nice small sandy beach to chill out on and a nice warm sea to dip in but what I did notice is that the mid-morning was the best time until early afternoon then the tide would come in and the whole beach would be covered over by the Pacific’s water and that was it for sunbathing. There are some larger beaches to which when the tide comes in, the whole beach doesn’t get covered like the one I checked out in the small town of Hale’iwa (which is a great town for eating out and stocking up on food and drink if doing the self-catering like I choose to do).
Pearl Harbor is located on O’ahu
This historic harbour does not need any introduction because of the history involving the Japanese bombing the place from above. For the first time in North America (and probably one of only few places this happened during the war), I was able to go to memorial sight of a place where people suffered major losses in the Second World War. I find this places a time to reflect, a time to learn from the past mistakes to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future and a place to educate the young children on why war is bad. There are so many places like this in Europe like Auschwitz in Poland which has been kept the way it was since the end of the war and is now a museum and an memorial. Pearl Harbor is a huge outdoor museum with lots of going on and if doing a trip across to the actual memorial (which involves a boat trip), remember to book up tickets in advance or get there early on the day.
I have to admit I have never heard of Kualoa Ranch before I arrived on the island of O’ahu but once I heard that they were home to quite a few movie blockbusters which were filmed here, I just had to take the short drive along the North Shore and check it out. Located about five miles north of Kane’ohe on Route 83, the ranch is pretty hard to miss. From the moment I saw the road sign it was at least another mile before I went through the main entrance.
The ranch isn’t only used as a movie set, it is also a farm with lots of horse, cows, sheep and pigs dotted around the 4,000 acre site. Also the main aim of the ranch is to protect and enhance the natural beauty of the land and at the same time, develop agricultural and recreational business that doesn’t harm the environment.
Waimea Valley was visited on the off chance because I saw a road sign whilst driving along the North Shore main road. After quickly researching it, I had to visit it. The valley is an area of historic cultural significance and includes several historical structures which includes walls and stone terraces which were built when Hawaii had a monarchy. The area was settled by locals because of the nutrient-rich volcanic soil which made it the ideal place to do farming and grow crops.
From the entrance of the valley, I hiked up and down small hills passing fish ponds, beautiful plants and trees before I reached a small waterfall and a swimming pool (to which if it hasn’t rained heavy recently then visitors can swim in the pool).
This beautiful Buddhist temple is located in the northern side of Kaneohe on the eastern side of O’ahu. It has stood here since August 1968 to commemorate the 100-year old anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to settled in Hawaii. With beautiful surroundings this temple is truly amazing and so peaceful. With mountains overlooking the valley and the temple located so far away from the houses of the town, this really did remind me of being Asia. At the time I didn’t realise that the temple is a replica of a 900-year old temple of that located in Uji (Kyoto area) of Japan. However this temple is not a proper functioning Buddhist temple as it doesn’t have a resident monastic community.
Going inside there is a 18ft (5.5 meters) statue of the Lotus Bouddha whilst outside there is a three-tonne brass peace bell. Everywhere I walked there were ponds full of koi. I spent a bit of time here as I loved the setting and the peacefulness. This was one of the highlights for me and gave me thoughts of doing an Asian trip in the very near future (is that bad?).
The capital of the state of Hawaii but not as touristy as nearby Waikiki. There was only two reasons I came here before my flight off the island, was to see the statue of King Kamehameha outside the Aliiolani Hale (the supreme court). The original statue (which is NOT the one located here) was on its way from Europe to Hawaii by boat back in the late 19th century but the boat sank off the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. Another one was made and placed here. Then the original one was found by local Falklanders, sold it to the Hawaii and is now placed at the King’s birthplace on Big Hawaii.
Opposite is the Iolani Palace which is the ONLY Royal palace in the United States (as Hawaii was its own country and kingdom before being annex by the USA many moons ago). Tours of the palace which is now a museum can be done and a statue of Queen Liliuokalani is located nearby. She was the first female monarch to take the throne and the last ruler of Hawaii. She managed the island to avert war on the islands (somehow as the US Marines surrounded the palace with arms ready to battle) as the US wanted the sugar plantation fields. The Queen eventually stepped down from the throne but only if she would be allowed to speak to Congress back in Washington D.C and then after that Hawaii was annexed. She somehow managed to tell all the locals not to go to war with the US, keep calm and wait for tensions to calm down. Eventually over the years, everything was peaceful, Hawaiian people kinda accepted the US and the former Queen spent the rest of her life being a model of forgiveness and standing up for her heritage.
The Queen said this in her memoir before her death which we believe is so true, “I could not turn back the time for the political change, but there is still time to save our heritage. You must remember never to cease to act because you fear you may fail.”
The touristy beachy area of O’ahu has to be done and this is where it’s all going on. High rise hotels, shopping malls, expensive restaurants, hula shows on the beach, surfers and cocktail bars everywhere. This is where everyone goes and splash the cash. Unless you are like me who didn’t splash the cash and chilled out by the waterfront which was still very enjoyable, just seeing the world go by (and seeing the planes come into land nearby).
And now for the ‘not recommended by myself’ – Diamond Head
Now everyone told me before my visit to O’ahu that I should check out and hike up Diamond Head which is a volcanic tuff cone located east of Waikiki on the southern side of this island. The crater looks fantastic and from the plane as I landed into nearby Honolulu on the first day of the trip, the crater looked like a great place to hike up and get amazing views of the ocean and surrounding landscape. I was told by everyone to go there and embrace it. I traveled just before the school holidays in North America and no word of a lie, from the moment the sun rose to the sun set, hundreds of visitors were climbing probably the one hiking path to get to the top and then there were crowds everywhere. I just gave up trying in the end. My view is, if I am going to hike up a mountain or in this case, a volcanic tuff cone, I don’t want to mixed in with heavy crowds, fighting for a place to capture a great view for the camera and a place to gather our thoughts as I was nearer to heaven. There are plenty of other mountains in Hawaii to do this but everyone aims for Diamond Head. I can see the appeal but in the end, it wasn’t for me.
Driving on O’ahu
I love driving. I love doing road trips. But I hated driving on O’ahu. I did Big Hawaii island the week before and the driving was ok as there wasn’t many cars there but on this island, due to the poor public transportation outside Honolulu, everyone owns a car. With not many interstates or highways, it’s all single-tracked roads which has more bends in the road than the ones in the English countryside back home. The weekend was worse, I drove down the North Shore road to the south coast, in hope to stop off at a few places and landed up in a traffic jam. I think I did forty miles in the space of three hours. It was horrible. I just drove back to my place on the North Shore and hit the beach for the rest of the day. Even around Honolulu and Waikiki, the amount of cars on the road is unbelievable and made this part of the trip a misery.
O’ahu was alright in the end. It was probably what I expected (as I came all the way from the United Kingdom), beautiful beaches, stunning mountain backdrops and friendly locals but as mentioned, the driving was horrible. I would totally recommend coming here when it’s not tourist season but when is that when it’s an all year round destination with beautiful sunny skies (he he). If anyone gets the chance, come, but also check out the other amazing islands which Hawaii has to offer.