05 August 2021

Sights, Sounds, and Flavors of Hawai'i - Part IV

There is a lot to see and do when you’re on Oahu. In fact, one of the hardest decisions you’ll have is narrowing down what to do and what thinks you’ll have to pass on. In fact, there's so much to cover, that I saved this installment from our trip for last. These are the places we decided to spend our very limited amount of time on, but they are in no way a definitive or a best things to see on Oahu list. Hopefully it’ll spark you to do some further digging on something you hadn’t considered, or solidify a tough choice you had to make.
The first site I want to speak about is Pearl Harbor. It is one of those sites that was always on our list of things to see and do when we were there. There are a lot of exhibits and galleries, with a lot of information to take in. The USS Arizona Memorial is a very solemn experience and one that, I feel, everyone needs to do. Not only does it allow you time to pay your respects to those who sacrificed everything to protect others, it also serves as a stark reminder of the very human costs of war.

Continuing on with sites of a sacred nature, our next stop is Byodo-In Temple. This is a non-practicing Buddhist temple is a scale replica of the 950-year-old temple of the same name that resides in Uji, Japan. It features a koi pond, meditation spaces, trickling water, and lush bamboo and banyan trees. There is also a sacred bell that you will hear ringing throughout your time here. It is said to bring the ringer happiness and long life, and it is customary to ring the bell before entering the temple. The bell asks for an offering, so please make sure to have a couple of dollars on hand. I saw many people embarrassed when they rang the bell and realized that they didn’t have anything for an offering.
You probably recognize the temple from multiple movies or television shows, as it has been featured on many. The two that immediately spring to mind are Lost and Magnum P.I. That said it is a sacred site and lends itself well to resting, meditating, or taking in the beauty of the place. I definitely felt lighter when we left.
The big draw for most people coming to Oahu is going to be Honolulu and Waikiki. It isn’t hard to see why the beaches call to people, but it was not our cup of tea. We spent about 1 hour in Waikiki, walked a bit of the beaches, took photos of Duke’s statue, and moved along. There’s a lot of shopping here and the beaches were incredibly crowded. We found ourselves much more comfortable, with room to stretch out at other beaches around the island.

Honolulu is a major city, and it has everything you would expect of one. The older I get, however, the less big cities have a draw for me. That said, Iolani Palace is one site I would highly recommend to all visiting the area. Built between 1879 and 1882, the palace was the official residents of the Hawaiian monarchs. In the 1970s it was restored and has since been open to the public as a historic site. The tours are wonderful. When we were there, a band was playing in the gazebo with people gathering to listen and dance in the shade of a large monkeypod tree.

Diamond Head and Koko Crater both offer trails with spectacular views. However, given my mobility at the time we were on Oahu, we didn’t think I could handle the climbs each required. If you are facing a similar dilemma, let me suggest Nu’uanu Pali Lookout. This lookout is drivable, with a small paved path to the vista. It looks out over Windward Coast of the island. It was on this spot that the Battle of Nuuanu occurred in 1795, where many soldiers were forced over the side of the cliff. The juxtaposition of beauty with the violent history of this spot is hard to reconcile, but the breathtaking views are something that must be seen. And the sheering winds should definitely be experienced.

Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens is a wonderful place to spend some time getting close to nature. The 400-acre site features a variety of gardens, each tied to a geographic area of the world. There are plenty of trails, benches, and tables for just absorbing the beauty of the area or maybe packing in a lunch with you. If you’re like me and love to see and learn about new plants, this is the place for you. It all feels very foreign, which is the point, but it is also inspirational to see such gorgeous foliage in one place.

This site is very well known for those wishing to capture a photo standing on an empty road with the mountains rising in front of them. This activity is actually against the rules of the botanical gardens due to traffic hold ups and the safety issues it raises. If you do go, I promise that there are a ton of places to take absolutely stunning photos and selfies that don’t endanger yourself or others.

Let’s talk a couple of beaches that are simply stunning. First up is Hālona Blowhole and Hālona Beach Cove. The drive out takes you along the coastline and by the Koko Head Crater, which sets a perfect mood for visiting this sheltered beach. During the summer the waters are much calmer, which reminds me. Whenever you are near the ocean, do not turn your back on it. It may look serene and beautiful, but if you aren’t paying attention it can absolutely carry you away.

The beach itself may look familiar to you. If it does, it’s likely that you’ve watched the 1953 film, From Here to Eternity. That famous kiss on the sand with the waves crashing over Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster? Yep, filmed right here. If you make your way along the lava rock ledges you can see the Hālona Blowhole. I spent more time than I care to admit sitting here watching the waves crash against the ledge and the bursts of water, mist during the time of year I was there, spray up through the ancient lava tube.

Closer to home, if you’re utilizing Aulani as your base of operations, Kahe Point is a great spot for snorkeling. Known more affectionately as Electric Beach, there is warm water beyond the power plant’s exhaust tube. This area of warm water brings all sort of sea creatures to the area, which makes it perfect for snorkelers. The warm water can also bring in jellyfish, so be careful when you’re out there.

Perhaps one of the greatest beach hikes I’ve ever taken in my life, Ka’ena Point’s Coastal Hiking Trail really elevates what I’ll expect from beach hikes in the future. There are actually two ways to access the hike, the north side is known as the Mokuleia Section, this is where we came in from, and from the west side is known as Keawa’ula Section. The 2.7 mile hike follows the hills and stone outcroppings of the Makua coastline to Ka’ena Point. While I wouldn’t call it challenging, it is very exposed so take plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, and a hat.

Along the trail you’ll pass small stone arches, tide pools, remnants of a railway, and plenty of folks fishing. You will also pass through a bird sanctuary where I can almost guarantee you that you will see an albatross or two, or twenty. Ka’ena Point itself is considered a sacred place to the Hawaiian people, and it is believed to be the place where souls leave the earth. Straddling the north and west sides of the island at the furthest reach of Oahu offers up some one-of-a-kind views.

One of the largest for tourists on Oahu is Kualoa Ranch, and it has definitely earned the attention it gets. The ranch is 4,000 acres and has a mission to “protect and enhance the natural beauty of these lands while developing sustainable recreational, agricultural and aquacultural enterprises that are compatible with the environment.” Just driving by the ranch you’re going to feel like you’re visiting somewhere you’ve been before, or at least someplace you’ve seen. Given that the working ranch has been featured in more than 200 films and television shows, it’s no wonder.
There are more than a dozen tours and experiences that you can take part in at Kualoa Ranch, but we opted for one of the more popular, the Jurassic Adventure Tour. The focus of this tour is all of the spots featured in Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, along with the one spot that was utilized for Jurassic Park. From valleys to peaks and bunkers to Mosasaurus lagoons, there is literally no spot that isn’t covered on this tour. You’ll even get up close and personal with some of the sets that are still standing, including the Indominus Rex enclosure. The film pieces are great, the bumpy truck ride is fun and will readjust your spine, but the real winner of the tour is the natural beauty of the island and views that you can scarcely find elsewhere. While the tight focus on the Jurassic properties means you’ll bypass some of the other movie sites, such as those associated with Kong: Skull Island, you’ll still pass by some familiar spots from 50 First Dates and Lost.

Speaking of Lost, if you’re someone who would love to see some of spots made famous by the long-running television show, the North Shore of Oahu is a must for you. Near Ka’ena Point sits two spots of particular interest. Mokule’ia Beach, home to the survivors for the first season, and YMCA Camp Erdman, the cabins of which were home for the residents of the Dharma Initiative. One note about the camp, please don’t just wander into the village on your own. Stopping by the office will do you a world of good, especially if camp is in session.
Our last stop on this whirlwind tour can also be found on the North Shore. Laniakea Beach, also known as Turtle Beach, has a ton to offer those who seek it out. As the name suggests, it is a great place to spot honu, or green sea turtles. As with all wildlife on the island, keep your distance and respect the creatures. Laniakea Beach is long and has plenty of space to enjoy all that the sand and ocean have to offer. While not a hot spot for surfers, those can be found at other North Shore beaches, you’ll likely see a few folks out enjoying the waves.
There is so much more that Oahu has to offer, and that’s before you even consider island hopping to the other destinations of Hawaii. No matter how much time you have there, you are going to run out of time to do all of the things that you want to on your tour of the island. I hope this helped you make some decisions, though perhaps I made some of your choices even tougher. Either way, I hope you find meaningful, relaxing, and wonderful ways to spend your time on Oahu, while protecting the land, creatures, and people who call this gorgeous place home.

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