Awe-Inspiring Oahu – Top Things to Do

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“Aloha is the unconditional desire to promote the true good of other people in a friendly spirit out of a sense of kinship”     

Abraham Akaka

When we first started planning our travels on the way to Australia, we initially planned to visit the island of Oahu. When we started to plan our stay in Oahu and organizing all of the activities we would like to do, we realized that 10 days just wasn’t enough, so we extended our trip by 5 days, bringing our stay up to 15 days in total, which was one of the best decisions we made during our planning.

As we were going to be out exploring so much, we decided to book really simple (and cheap) accommodation in Waikiki, in a place called the Kuhio Banyan Club. This was not a place of luxury like many of the hotels on the island and the Wi-Fi was practically non-existent (just think of the days of dial up and how fast your internet was then). But it was a place to sleep, which was all we really needed. We also booked one night in Haleiwa in North Shore for one night through AirBnB in order to get to one of our early morning activities without having to do a long drive so early. Our host, Cab, was absolutely wonderful. If you are looking to see some of the real Oahu, this is the place to go. Cab’s rustic home is set among the trees, he has fresh organic food from the permaculture food forest and is a short walk to beaches & shops. It was amazingly chilled and even included an outdoor shower, which was an amazing experience. Showering outdoors under the stars still seems like it was a dream.


Our Top Activities

  1. Hikes, Hikes and More Hikes
    If you enjoy hiking and the outdoors, Hawaii is the place for you. If you are looking for an easy hike with an amazing guide and views of sites from Jurassic Park, the hike to Manoa Falls with Oahu Nature Tours is a fantastic way to spend a morning. The walk through the rain forest is incredibly beautiful, although if it does rain, it can get very slippy in places, so I’d recommend a sturdy pair of shoes and wearing clothes you don’t mind getting a little dirty.

    For a slightly more challenging hike (although still still not too difficult) with some amazing views of Waikiki, try Diamond Head. It is perhaps Hawaii’s most recognized landmark and is known for this hiking trail, stunning coastal views, and military history. The trail to the summit of Lē‘ahi was built in 1908 as part of O‘ahu’s coastal defense system. The 0.8 mile hike from the start of the trail to the summit is steep and strenuous, gaining 560 feet as it ascends from the crater floor. At the summit, you get the opportunity to see bunkers and a huge navigational lighthouse. The postcard view of the shoreline from Koko Head to Wai‘anae is stunning, and during winter, you may be lucky enough to see humpback whales passing . It is worth noting that the last entrance to hike the trail is at 4:30 pm. The gates are locked at 6:00 pm daily and all visitors must be out of the park by this time, otherwise you will need to call the local police to come to open the gates for you!

    Perhaps the most challenging hike we undertook during our stay was the Koko Crater Trail. It is a very steep climb to the top of Koko Head Crater but it does come with the reward of spectacular views in every direction at the top. Koko Head Trail is definitely one of those trails where you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” The trail runs along an old train track, which can be dangerous if you miss a step. The ties were for an incline tram used by the military during World War II, to transport personnel and supplies to a lookout post on the summit. I’d recommend not making the mistake that we did and make sure to bring plenty of water. The trail isn’t very shady but there a few sections you can sneak a break. Unfortunately, I never made it to the top due to dehydration (again bring lots of water), however Ronan did make it all the way and the view from the top is breathtaking. On a clear day you can see all three of the Hawaiian Islands.

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2. Kualoa Ranch

If you are a Jurassic Park, Lost or Godzilla fan, Kualoa Ranch is an absolute must. You can explore the valley with a guide by horse back, by ATV or on a bus. We tried out both the 2 hour ATV tour and the Jungle Expedition.

During the Jungle Expedition, guests board one of the ranches jungle vehicles for a 90 minute tour that rumbles through a Hawaiian rain forest along jungle trails, through isolated stream beds and powers up steep, bumpy hills. On this tour you get the chance to see a several famous movie site locations and sets, including some from Jurassic World and a few other surprises! On the tour, guests experience secluded spots that overlook Oahu’s eastern coastline and see the ranch’s 800 year old ancient Hawaiian fishpond.

The ATV tour is an absolute must do in my eyes. There is both a 1 hour and 2 hour tour available. We did the 2 hour tour and I would imagine that the 1 hour tour would be far too short. The one and two-hour ATV rides take guests through scenic valleys and remote areas rarely visited by others. The guided ATV tours go out rain or shine – crossing streams and diggin’ through dirt are just part of the fun! The film set locations that you get to visit were absolutely incredible and included where the Gyrosphere ride started in Jurassic World, the valley of bones from King: Skull Island, Godzilla’s footprints and Hurley’s golf course from Lost.

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3. Pearl Harbour

You can’t visit Oahu without spending the day at Pearl Harbor. This is where you can visit the spot where the US involvement in WWII began, and where it ended.Our morning started very early, arriving at Pearl Harbour at about 8.30.  Our day began with a fully guided audio tour of the USS Missouri, the last battleship built by the United States. As you stand on Surrender Deck, envision General Douglas MacArthur’s signing of the treaty that ended WWII.  Overlooking the massive guns of the “Mighty Mo,” you’ll have a spectacular view of the Arizona Memorial. Located just outside of the “Mighty Mo,” you’ll find the USS Oklahoma Memorial, a tribute to the 429 men who lost their lives when the ship capsized in Battleship Row.

 

After watching a short documentary movie (which unfortunatley wouldn’t play fully for us), a Navy vessel took us to the pristine USS Arizona Memorial, constructed directly above the mid-section of the sunken ship. You can still see the oil that continues to leak from the ship and dissipates at the surface, known as the “Black Tears of the Arizona.”

We finished our day with a look around the the USS Bowfin. This was launched exactly 1 year after the attack on Pearl Harbor and was aptly nicknamed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger.”

4. Luau

No visit to Hawaii is complete without visiting a Luau. 2 days before we left Oahu, we visited Paradise Cove for an evening of Polynesian culture.

 

A tropical Mai Tai greeting and traditional Hawaiian music set the festive mood of the evening when we arrived. You are given Lei made from either orchids or shells, which indicated which package you have purchased and where you are to sit.
The evening began with the opportunity to try some Hawaiian activities such as spear throwing, ‘Ulu maika’ (consisted of rolling carefully crafted playing stones, somewhat resembling modern hockey pucks, on specially prepared courses, between stakes), a Shower of Flowers from a Hawaiian who climbed a coconut tree. Ronan the participated in a Hukilau Ceremony, which is a ceremonial pulling of the fish nets to the rhythms of the conch shell and Hawaiian chants.

The evening continued with a buffet feast in the company of friends, old and new at long tables, where you are encouraged to get to know those around you, in the true spirit of Aloha.

With the most spectacular Hawaiian sunset as a backdrop, the evening finshed with the Paradie Cove award-winning performers entertaining and amazing us with an unforgettable display of songs and dances of Hawaii and Polynesian culture. As Hawaii is a popular wedding and honeymoon destination, a traditional Hawaiian wedding song is played, allowing all the couples attending to get up to dance together. Surprisingly, after 4 and half years of dating, this was the first time Ronan and I have ever done a slow dance together…

5. Get in the Water – With Sharks 

Ronan has a fascination and love for sharks and discovered that you have the opportunity to swim with sharks on the north shore – with no cage. This was one of the most amazing and fascination things I have ever seen. Ronan had this amazing morning though One Ocean Diving. On the lovely morning we went, there was about 40 sharks in the water, including several sandbar and Galapagos sharks. The sharks were amazingly timid due to their social structure, where the alpha swims closest to the surface, so the humans in the waters were considered the most dominant and so the sharks didn’t get overly close.

 

Of course, surfing is practically a religion in Hawaii, so naturally Ronan couldn’t resist getting a board and getting out to some waves. Surf boards are readily available to rent at very affordable prices and most of the rental places offer lessons also, so there’s no reason for people who haven’t surfed before to give it a go.  The waves at North Shore are a little bigger than at Waikiki so I’d suggest that beginners start out in Waikiki first. If your just wanting to watch some great surfers, North Shore is brilliant, with lovely beaches (which are quieter than at Waikiki too).

 

6. Duke’s Restaurant, Waikiki

Duke’s was a great recommendation of a restaurant which we got from a shop owner. Dinner at sunset on the beach front was well worth the 45 minute wait fir a table. The food was top class and very reasonable priced while the service was brilliant.

 

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Places to Avoid

There aren’t many places on my travels I’d recommend people to avoid, but Honolulu Zoo is perhaps one of very, very few. If you are an animal lover, like we are, you will more than likely come out feeling every bit as upset as we did. The enclosures for the animals are extremely small in my eyes and the animals seemed very unhappy. Several of the enclosures appeared to have no fresh water for the animals and grazing animals, such as the cattle, had no hay to eat and were subject to “feeding times”. Zoo keepers seemed non existent in the zoo, to the point where there was signs with a contact number if you saw an issue.

One of the most worrying things I saw were the elephants. There are only 2 elephants in the zoo, which is far below the recommend level for elephants in zoos as elephants are very social animals who live in much larger herds normally. One of the elephants appeared to have her foot stuck in a tire, and when we mentioned this it was completely dismissed and were told that it was her favorite toy. Upon further research, after practically running out of the zoo with tears in my eyes, I discovered that Honolulu Zoo was among the 10 Worst Zoos for elephants in 2016.

“Vaigai and Mari, two female Indian elephants, had the misfortune of being kidnapped from India only to be victimized for decades by Honolulu Zoo’s inability to provide them with reasonably consistent and decent management even by captive facility standards. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) withdrew Honolulu Zoo’s accreditation in 2016 after its 2015 inspection. Five Honolulu Zoo directors have quit in the past six years.

A former chief of the AZA even reported in late 2016 that the elephants were playing with a car battery that they had recently found or dug up. Violations at Honolulu Zoo included too little shade provided for the elephants from the direct sun, inadequately tested and brackish water, a notable absence of habitat enrichment, and unsafe rocks that posed a danger to elephants’ feet. A primary key reason cited for the loss of accreditation was the Zoo’s long history of lacking funds and support from the City and County of Honolulu, the Zoo’s legally-bound administrators. Hawaii voters recently approved an amendment to prop up the failing zoo through tax revenues.

Honolulu Zoo expanded its elephant exhibit at a cost of 12 million dollars, but still made our 2011 list. As we noted then, the enclosure was already outdated and far too small to meet evolving standards. The Zoo still puts elephants and keepers at risk by putting staff in direct contact with the elephants while brandishing bullhooks – which are nothing less than weapons- to control elephants through pain and fear.”

In Defence of Animal

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Duke Kahanamoku, Waikiki (Introduced surfing to Australia)

Traveled to Hawaii from 13-28 March 2017

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