Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Hawaii: Oahu

You wouldn't believe how many time our Hawaii trip has come up lately and so I thought, "I should blog about that.".  It really has come up semi-often, considering it was almost 9 years ago.  One of Matt's sisters went in November (although, not to either of the islands we visited) and his engaged niece was considering it for her honeymoon (something we were strongly in favor of because Hawaii is wonderful).  So here is a post not about the trip we took a few weeks ago (New York) OR our solo weekend trip the weekend after that (Holland, Michigan)...but one we took more than a few years ago.  You are welcome, internet.

It had long been my dream to go to Hawaii (about since I learned it existed in grade school) but I wanted to go for two weeks and we couldn't get that time off with our wedding.  So after 14 months of marriage we finally made the big trip over the Pacific Ocean and landed in Hawaii...more than 24 hours after we left home.  I was immediately smitten.  It was everything I dreamed of and more.  We will go back some day.

This is the first of a few posts of our trip.  We were gone for 15 nights (including one in Indy before our early flight and one on a red eye flight home), visited 2 islands, bought the last Harry Potter book (on the day it came out), celebrated 5 years together, my 24th birthday, and got sun burnt more than once.  It was fantastic.

We flew out of Indy about 6am, had a layover in Minneapolis, and then a LOOOOONG 8 hour flight to Honolulu (my travel journal has multiple references to being very sore from sitting for so long). 

TIP #1: If you are going on a flight that long, buy some real food on the plane.  We had continental breakfast at our hotel at about 5am and then only snacks until we landed in Hawaii...about 11pm Indiana time.  We were starved and I had a horrible headache from the lack of food.  We should have spent the $8 or whatever for a cold meat sandwich on the plane and felt so. much. better.

Where we stayed
We did a VRBO condo 2 blocks back from Waikiki Beach called the Blue Banyan.  We had a bedroom, bathroom, I believe a full kitchen (we mostly used the fridge, microwave, and dishes), a sitting area, a lanai with views of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head, and bamboo floors (which may have heavily influenced us putting them in my office two years later.)  It was wonderful and maybe my all time favorite place we've ever stayed.  I'm currently using up the pineapple lotion that went with the pineapple body wash I first used in this condo and every time I use it I am reminded of this condo and our wonderful trip.  


Would we recommend: YES!  The price has gone up but if we ever get to go back to Oahu, I would probably book around trip around when this condo was available (also, sentimental reasons).  Highly, highly recommend.

Where we ate
A Burger King.  BUT it was right by the beach and we could eat on benches by the ocean AND it was fast food which we needed literally because we hadn't had real food in about 17 hours.  We broke our general travel rule of not eating at "restaurants" we have at home but this exception was needed. 

TIP #2: If you need anything (sunscreen, beach towels, beach mats, cheap souvenirs), visit the ABC Stores.  They are ALL OVER Waikiki.  (Literally every couple blocks.)  We were there at least once a day for a lot of the previously mentioned things.  Super handy. 

We went to Hawaii with a rough list of things we wanted to do but not real planned out when we were going to do them (other than a pre-booked day at the Polynesian Culture Center).  Gave us some flexibility but also knew we wouldn't just "waste" our time (as if just sitting on the beach would be such a horrible thing).  Here are things we did on Oahu, in chronilogical order.

What we did: Pearl Harbor Memorial

At the top of my list was going to  and seeing the Arizona Memorial so that's what we did on our first full day...once we figured out The Bus system.  I've realized subways are much easier than buses, we've never had a lot of luck with buses.  But we did eventually make it to Pearl Harbor.  My interest in Pearl Harbor is in no way related to the cheesy 2001 movie with the same name, not at all (maybe a little bit, I did see that movie 3-4 times in the theater but I was interested in Pearl Harbor before that).  I found it rather strange that that (apparently not the most accurate telling of the events) movie was sold at the National Park gift shop there.

Anyways, Pearl Harbor was very moving and definitely worth the hours it took to go.  There was a line for tickets, locking up our stuff (at the time you could only take in a camera, literally no bags of any sort.  We knew this and didn't take anything.  Most other people didn't.  I was shocked nobody else checked out the National Park site before going, where it talked about it clearly in many places.).  A short movie about the attack, and then about an hour to browse the museum while we wanted for our boat ride.

TIP #3: If you want to go to Pearl Harbor go early.  They only release a certain number of tickets a day and they are handed out on a first-come, first-serve basis.  They often run out during peak tourist season. 

view from the visitor's center

The Memorial sits perpendicular over the sunken Arizona and many parts of the ship are visible, Below you can see the same smoke stack (??) in the model and below in the water.

Would we recommend: Yes!  Besides swimming/snorkeling/laying on the beach, this is what I would most recommend on Oahu.  It was really moving but also educational to see something we had learned about in school. 

Where we ate: The Cheesecake Factory to celebrate our 5 year dating anniversary (we don't have one where we live so this totally doesn't break our restaurant travel rule). 

What we did: Rented a piece of crap Geo Tracker for two days to drive around Oahu. 

When we got to Hawaii we were both 23.  Most rental car companies charge (or charged, not sure if they still do) a hefty surcharge for being under 25.  This made renting a car very expensive.  I was a little upset thinking we weren't going to get out of Waikiki much, even though I really liked it.  Then some quick calls by my sweet husband and we had a Geo Tracker reserved for 2 days for a grand total of $80.  That might have been overpaying but we didn't care because we were going to get to see more of Oahu without spending an arm and a leg.

Tip #4: You don't need a car every day if you are staying in the Waikiki/Honolulu area.  There are PLENTY of restaurants and shops within walking distance and the beach, obviously.  We used public transport and an airport shuttle for less than it would have cost us to rent a car for those days.  Plus, driving was a little crazy.  I'm glad we were able to get out of town a few days but also glad we didn't pay to rent a car the entire time.

Would we recommend: Getting out of Oahu, yes.  Renting a very abused Tracker that may have put our lives in serious danger?  Not really. 

We drove the entire east coast and most of the north shore of the island, stopping when things looked interesting or photo worthy (that was very often). 

The opposite side of Diamond Head, the one that faces away from Waikiki

Matt had to do all the driving because we rented a stick and I still can't drive one (also, never tried).  I really really liked Waikiki but it was wonderful to see more of the island.  Once we were out of the Waikiki area there wasn't a lot of traffic and we could find whole beaches to ourselves.  That's pretty much the dream: deserted Hawaiian beach with your honey. 

Somewhere on the eastern coast, I think.

We drove and stopped and drove and stopped.  We saw the From Here to Eternity Beach and many places we recognized from Lost (which was still on the air at the time).

We got engaged when my parents were in Hawaii for a 30th anniversary trip; the longest they left us girls in 24 years.  We got engaged on our 3 year dating anniversary so Matt can be excused for not waiting until they were home (at least in my mind).  This is approximately where they were when we called to tell them, almost exactly 2 years to the day earlier:

My Mom told me on that phone call that the water was an incredible blue and it would make a perfect color for bridesmaid dresses.  Which actually happened.

This was somewhere on the east shore (Laie Point State Wayside, per Google Maps).  I really wanted to see that sea arch even though there isn't much to it:

What we did: Snorkel at Sharks Cove
At the suggestion of my aunt (who has visited Hawaii multiple times), we went searching for Sharks Cove to snorkel and it was perfect, other than the sharp rocks we had to climb over to get in and out.  The water was about waist deep on me and bathwater warm (my ideal).  It was a cove (hence the name) so the water was pretty calm and made for easy snorkeling.  Despite many summers of swim lessons, I'm not a very strong swimmer so this was definitely my preferred way to snorkel!

Would we recommend: absolutely.  This was amazing snorkeling.

We drove past Waimea Bay, famous North Shore surf spot (also referenced in the Beach Boys' Surfin' USA song.)  It was a gorgeous beach but snorkeling was enough for me.  I wasn't about to try surfing too.

We hit some nice Hawaiian rush hour traffic coming back on the H2 and through Honolulu which really sucked, especially on the H2 because I'm not sure our Geo Tracker was made to go about 40 and were going 65.  We had to scream to hear each other, even while sitting next to each other, and I was fairly confident the car was just going to fall to pieces around us like in the cartoons.  I was happy to be wrong about that one.

TIP #5: Maybe avoid driving crazy roads during rush hour when your rental is a piece of crap, at least if you value your life.

What we did: visited Punchbowl, Cemetery of the Pacific

I had a super cushy job in college.  I "worked" for a retired professor, helping him with various events like a speaker series for teachers, a basketball tournament, and a 5k run.  By my senior year I was being paid to work 20 hours/week but actually only working about an hour of that, doing my homework the rest.  It was fantastic.  (I also did open tutoring where I was also frequently paid to sit and do homework.  I really perfected that in college.)  My professor boss had a daughter who lived in Hawaii and one year their Christmas card was from .  After seeing that picture so many times it was added to my list.

This is approximately where that Christmas card was taken (this trip was only 2 years after college so it was still very fresh in my mind!). 

Would we recommend: If you have an interest in World War II this might be a good stop.  Or just free, good views.  

What we did: Dole Pineapple Plantation

I like pineapple, especially fresh pineapple.  It might rank in my top 5 favorite fruits.  So we stopped and found out to buy a pineapple, right from the plantation where it was grown, would be about $5.  I could buy a whole Dole pineapple at the grocery store back home for around $2.  This is one of those few things Hawaii doesn't have to import!  And it was still more expensive than home!!  Needless to say, we didn't buy a pineapple.

We DID do their maze (declared the World's largest in 2008, the year after we visited) which took just over an hour.  Matt's smile is a little forced here.  He found it hot.
After some gift store browsing, that was the end of our pineapple stop.

Would we recommend:  If you have a serious taste for pineapple or need a semi-cheap activity (even though sitting on the beach would be free...)  It wasn't a waste of time but not something I'd be rushing to recommend to others.

More driving around the island.  I have this picture on a canvas right above my desk as I type.

What we did: visited one of the beaches used in Lost, Mokule'ia Beach
We had been watching Lost since the beginning and knew they filmed in Hawaii.  They weren't filming when we were there BUT we did find the beach they used as the main set in the early seasons.  This is where they all lived after the initial plane crash, before the hatch and everything that came after (I really don't remember everything that came after, it's been 3 years since we rewatched.)  Thanks to a whole website dedicated to their filming locations, we were able to find this and verify, based on the trees, that it was the right beach.  

It was super loud and the waves were huge.  We kept saying we didn't know how they were able to film there because the waves were so so loud.  Right across the street from this beach (which was basically deserted) was a small airport which is a little ironic considering they filmed a show based on a plane crashing on deserted island here.

Would we recommend: If you are a Lost fan.  This was an easy-ish place to find and the beach was gorgeous either way. 

This is back at Waimea Bay.  We wanted to get out of the car and walk around but parking was insane so I jumped out while Matt circled the small lot, took this picture (one of my favorites from the whole trip) and jumped back in the car. 

I have absolutely no idea where these next two pictures were taken.  We did a lot of driving around and then stopped.  The first is framed in our house.  Basically every where you look in Hawaii is gorgeous.

The other thing Matt really wanted to do in Hawaii, besides snorkel, is snorkel with turtles.  We couldn't force that to happen BUT we did do looking for sea turtles.  At a place called Turtle Beach.  Seemed like they should be there, right?

The turtle on the beach behind him was huge.  As big as the statue at our zoo, for anyone local.  And it didn't move the whole time we were there.

Sunset from our lanai
Morning on Waikiki Beach
What we did: Polynesian Culture Center
My parents had visited the PCC on their visit and spoke highly of it so we decided to check it out.  I know "learning something about Polynesian islands" might not be super high on Hawaiian tourists lists but also, I couldn't sit on a beach for hours on end.  AND their luau was supposed to be very good and I was determined to try one on each island (for scientific purposes).  The bus ride was maybe 30-45 minutes?  There was a guide on the bus who talked most of the way out there but it was interesting.  For instance, he asked by a show of hands who had milk for less than $5/gallon at home (we would have paid $8/gallon in Waikiki).  We had the cheapest on the bus at around $2.50/gallon at the time (now we regularly pay less than $2 at Aldi).

I don't remember how much we paid for our admission/luau tickets but it wasn't outrageous.  Then the bus tour guide gave us this big spiel about how hard it would to be get to all the different parts on our own and make all the different shows...but you could join a tour group for another $20/person.  And we bought it.  Which we rarely do.  But it worked fine.  There were 7 different "villages" representing life on the different Polynesian Islands.  I think we made it to 6 plus the riverboat show (seen below).  We tried poi (which has the consistency of glue).  We saw a guy climb a palm tree right up the trunk.  It was an interesting day.

Our day ended with a big meal with, honestly, some of the best food I've had in my life.  The pig (cooked in the ground, under leaves) was maybe the best meat I've ever had.  It was amazing.  And the pineapple was great.  And that is a normal salad like you can get anywhere on the mainland.  BUT, the meat made up for everything else.  It was great.

AND we got these beautiful leis which smelled SO. GOOD.  And we got to wear them.  They still hang (dried) on the mirror in our bedroom.  They no longer smell though.

Then there was the luau show which was also amazing.  I've really wanted to learn how to twirl fire (my color guard experience has to be good for something, right?) and they did that and I'm jealous.  You can take surf lessons in Hawaii but I doubt anyone is willing to teach tourists how to twirl fire??  Doesn't matter, I still want to learn.

Would we recommend: Yes, if you have an extra day.  It was nice to see and learn a lot about the native islanders but I wouldn't prioritize it over some good beach time.  And the luau was absolutely incredible.  I don't know if you can just go for that but it would be worth it if you can.

What we did: Hike Diamond Head
The last thing on our "to-see/do" list was hiking Diamond Head.  We could see it from our condo lanai and it didn't seem that far away...so we set out walking.  It took almost an hour just to get inside the crater (turns out the entrance is on the back side of Diamond Head, facing away from Waikiki.  We did basically no research before we started this hike.)  We were sweaty before we even started on the stairs.  Which was most of the hike to the top.

TIP #6: Take water on this hike.

But the view from the top was pretty worth it. 

Diamond Head was used as a military base (or look-out?) in World War II and to get to the outside viewing platforms above you had to climb through this bunker.  The entrance out to the top was a 3-4 foot opening a few feet off the ground.  It wasn't the easiest thing to maneuver and we were fairly fit, fairly young people (at the time)!  This hike definitely wasn't wheelchair or stroller accessible.

Would we recommend: Yes!  Maybe drive a car to the base or take the bus.  It's a long hike to just start the real hike and we were on the end of Waikiki closer to Diamond Head.

What we did: waved to the webcam at The Duke statue
Back in college, one of my roomies did a semester in Hawaii at our sister university.  She waved to us from the webcam aiming at this statue of The Duke.  When my parents went they waved to us.  I had watched the webcam many, many other times, dreaming of going to Hawaii.  Seeing it in person was one of those "We're really in Hawaii!" moments.  Here I'm talking to my Mom on the phone while she watched on the webcam back home.  This was really exciting back when our cell phones could barely take pictures, and nobody texted those because they cost too much.  (On our recent NYC trip I was texting pictures to both my parents, some of my sisters, posting to Facebook from my phone...we've come a long way.) 

Would we recommend:  Not sure the webcam thing still exists but the statue is pretty easy to find (you'd likely walk past it just being in Waikiki).  Good photo op. 

We also found a R2-D2 mailbox.  I don't know why there were R2-D2 mailboxes.  But of course we found one.

Ahhhh...to be 23... (actually, I don't really want to be 23 again).

We woke up our last morning, before flying out, to our first Hawaiian sunset.  We had avoided rain all week and still did since we were sleeping, but the rainbow over the ocean was a pretty nice sight.

Things we would absolutely recommend on Oahu:
-Pearl Harbor
-snorkeling at Sharks Cove
-getting out of Waikiki, checking out the North Shore

-Polynesian Culture Center (if you have a whole day for it)
-a luau, somehow, somewhere

Now off to Maui!! 

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