O’ahu, Hawaii – my first trip to this amazing island. It’s somewhere that has been on the bucket list for quite some time. Prior to going, I was given tips by so many people and as I always do, I researched the hell out of the place to make sure I didn’t miss anything, so this is my condensed, concise version of what I thought was the absolutely must do’s and some tips and tricks that I discovered.
First up, why Hawaii? Coming from the Gold Coast’s hot summer, I had a few pre-requisites. I wanted to go somewhere warm, with reliable weather (I went skiing in Japan the pervious Xmas), not more than a 12 hour plane flight and plenty to do in the case of the weather not being great – lets face it, you can never guarantee perfect weather. Fiji and the Cook Islands were on the list, but the weather factor was too questionable so really, the only other place that seemed to cover what I was looking for was Hawaii, and let me tell you right now, what a fantastic choice. I absolutely loved it!
The next decision was where in Hawaii? There are 8 islands to choose from, each offering something different. In the end, as it was my first trip, I decided just to spend the full 2 weeks on the island of O’ahu, where Waikiki Beach and Honolulu are located. Partly because you can fly direct from Brisbane (Sydney or Melbourne) straight there and I didn’t want to mess around changing planes etc, and also I read mixed reports about weather conditions on some other islands at this time of year (lots of rain etc).
I booked one week at the Modern Hotel at the Marina at the west end of Waikiki Beach and one week smack bang in the middle of Waikiki Beach at the Moana Surfrider. Both had their benefits. The Modern was a bit up the quieter end, out of the hassle and bustle (but still only across the road from the beach) and the Surfrider was right in the action so was a perfect mix. Although in hindsight, I would recommend around 4 nights at either the North Shore (I saw lots of houses right on the beach for holiday rental) or my absolute favorite part of the island, the West Coast. There is a great resort at Ko’Olina (if you have seen the movie “Blue Crush” it was filmed at one of these hotels).
Next up, I would definitely recommend to hire a car. With the Australian dollar the way it currently is, I found Waikiki pretty expensive, but the one thing that was really cheap was car hire. I paid about UD$800 for 12 days including return with empty tank for a late model Jeep. It gave me a lot of freedom to not only get a lay of the land, but also explore, which is something I love to do. Now don’t get me wrong, I met people holidaying that literally sat on Waikiki beach from 8 am to 5 pm every day and were happy to just swim in the beach there – and that’s totally fine, but if you’re anything like me, I love to see and do everything I possibly can so having a car definitely made this easier.
With the car, I pretty much did a lap of the whole island – several times. There are 3 main roads that get you everywhere. The H1 takes you East to West across the bottom of the island, the H2 up the middle from Waipahu (where Pearl Harbor and the airport are) up to the North Shore and the H3 from Waipahu to the East Coast. There is also a road right down the east coast from the North Shore to the bottom of the island that is really scenic and worth the drive. I did this, stopping constantly at anywhere that looked pretty (I stopped a lot). One thing I will say is, the signage wasn’t great for a first time tourist so I did use my phone GPS a lot (it was cheaper to buy a Telstra travel pass with data than pay the extra for the GPS with the hire car company).
One of the many things I loved about O’ahu was there was so much to do. It is such a beautiful island with a great variety of activities, it will please absolutely anyone. Was great for families, with lots to keep even the most hard to please children entertained. I could write a book about all the activities, but here is my quick suggestion list, depending on what you like to do, but I can definitely recommend any or all of the following:
- Hands down the number one thing to do, and please do yourself a favor and make sure if you do nothing else, you absolutely do this, is book a tour to swim with the dolphins and turtles on the West Coast. You can actually just swim off the shore if you know the right places, but this was a bit hit and miss so I would suggest going with one of the tour operators that knows the area and will pretty much guarantee you will get to swim with these incredible animals. Make sure when you book, you actually get to go in the water with the dolphins as some of the boats were for looking only. I went with EO Wai’anae tours. They are a small, family owned operator who only has small groups. They can pick you up from your hotel and the family actually take the tour. They were loads of fun. My only comment would be they did a range of things on the tour starting with swimming with dolphins, then a stop to swim with turtles and a final stop at a protected cove for lunch and paddle boarding and swimming. You can have tour operators that only follow dolphins so just keep this in mind.
- A drive on the West Coast is at least one day trip. I would say stop at Kaneana Cave for a swim as well as any of the beaches south of there, they are all pretty beautiful and for some reason, no tourists. There weren’t many food outlets or facilities, but there were also hardly any people on the beaches so I loved this. Definitely stop at Electric Beach for a snorkel. This was the best place on the island for snorkeling, perfect water and lots of fish. Apparently there is some byproduct from the nearby electricity plant that goes into the ocean that attracts the fish – not dangerous. This was just what one of the locals told me so not sure if it is true, but the snorkeling was spot on. It is just north of Ko’Olina and you literally look out for the electricity plant on your right and the beach is on the left. You cant miss it. The Ko’Olina resort had some great places for coffee and food so if you don’t take food with you, you can always stop here.
- The North Shore is another great place for a day trip. Loved sitting on the beach at Pipeline and watching the local surfers. Amazing in the big waves. Hale’iwa is also a cute little town worth a stop. There are some great “shrimp” trucks stops on the North Shore just along the road side – I had the best fish taco I have ever tasted there, but again, lots of people so get in early.
- Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve is another great place to snorkel. Let me warn you though, the car park only holds 300 cars and fills quickly so either get there early (it is open from 6am to 7pm), get a shuttle or do what I did, and park across the road and take a short 10 minute walk. This is a Nature Reserve formed within a volcanic cone and spectacularly beautiful. It is closed every Tuesday and has a US$7.50 entry fee. They get around 3000 visitors per day. I personally think that they should cap the number of people that go in, particularly for the sea life in the area, and also because it is just so ridiculously busy in the middle of the day, so go early, it is just amazing.
- If you are looking for something a bit more energetic and with spectacular views, take the walk up Diamond Head and Koko Head. Diamond Head is a walk inside a dormant volcanic crater to the top with views back to Waikiki. The whole walk took about an hour and half. The area was once home to the US Military Reserve in Hawaii and there are still bunkers on top of the craters that you can go in. It’s a bit of a hike, but I spoke to a 90 year old who made the walk so as long as you allow plenty of time, I think pretty much most fitness levels could manage. Koko head on the other hand is a bit more of a challenge. This is literally a hike straight up 1048 railway sleepers to the top of a crater, but again, worth it for the view!
- Hire a stand up paddleboard or surfboard on Waikiki Beach. You could stand for such a long way off shore and the surf was gentle with the waves going on forever so was ideal for beginners.
- Waikiki is obviously a no brainer and I would definitely recommend staying somewhere close to town. There is so much to do. There is the Ala Moano shopping center, which is the largest open air shopping center in the world, with pretty much every store you could ask for including the big department stores like Macys, Neiman Marcus (great restaurant there overlooking the beach), Bloomingdales, Nordstrom and Saks. Then there is shopping on Kalakua Avenue with all the high end brands and of course, there are so many quirky side streets and shops including a souvenir market in the area (although I personally found this a bit disappointing with little local products and more “junk”). Another tip in Waikiki is the ABC stores. I was told about these – there is literally one on every corner. They sell pretty much every supply you could need from sun cream, beach toys, alcohol, very cheap food (sushi, sandwiches, hot food, fruit, salads, pasta etc) and so much more and all very cheap. Check these out for sure.
- There were the “Waikele Premium Outlets” about 10 minutes from Pearl Harbor but I would say don’t take a trip there especially. I went on our way past from the West Coast and they were ok, but again with the way the US dollar is for Australians, it wasn’t particularly great value and not nearly as big as some of the other outlet malls I found on the US Mainland.
Some of the things I didn’t get the opportunity ot try out, but was recommended are the following so perhaps keep these in mind as well, although I obviously cant comment either way.
- Kualoa Ranch Nature Reserve – where Jurassic Park was filmed
- Waimea Valley on the North Shore
- One place I really would have liked to have gone, but only found out about in the last few days of my trip was the Dole Pineapple plantation on the H2 up towards the North Shore. The Pineapples are a big thing in Hawaii and so so delicious as is the “Dole Whip” pineapple ice-cream. Would have been fun to check this place out. Also has the worlds largest maze, train rides etc.
- Oahu Zipline (although I did look this up and it seemed quite expensive so I didn’t make it a priority)
- Turtle Bay right up the top of the North Shore
- Pearl Harbor. I did go there one day, but again, it was really busy and had to park a long way away. Then there was a sign saying you could not take backpacks or bags in (I had a lot of valuables including my camera in my backpack) and then another sign saying don’t leave any valuables in your car as it was a high theft area. I left intending to go back another day, but never go around to it. Possibly go on a shuttle so you don’t have to take your car
I think I could quite possibly write a book on things to do and tips for Hawaii so for now, I will leave it at that, but if you have any queries, feel free to comment and I will answer any questions I can. There is a whole other blog to be done about food, so will cover that another time. First impression though, from my first trip were that Hawaii is a great place with so much to do, beautiful friendly people who are very helpful and lots of fun. I was blown away by how pristine the water was, especially with the amount of visitors, but it was crystal clear and especially on Waikiki beach, so calm and great for all swimming abilities.
I would definitely suggest talking to locals. I asked everyone from staff at the hotels to people I met on the beach and got lots of tips and suggestions of things to see and do. Next trip I will definitely venture to another island (I really want to see a live volcano) and also stay part of my visit on another part of O’ahu island as well as Waikiki.
Another thing to note also is apparently the wave and current conditions change with the seasons. I travelled in January, which was the Hawaian winter (although temperatures were around 18C overnight to 28C during the day – perfect). Surf on the North Shore was big as was the East Coast. The West Coast and Waikiki was flat. Maybe double check with a local when you arrive for conditions at the time you are travelling.
Hope this was helpful. Mahalo