My husband and I had our wedding on the Big Island of Hawaii, then hopped over to Oahu for the last six days of our honeymoon in November 2015. The weather at that time of year can be surprisingly hot and humid in Hawaii, and our case, particularly rainy, but we didn’t allow the rain to deter us.
Oahu is very different from the Big Island. There is a busy, touristy atmosphere in Honolulu, more city and a lot of traffic. Waikiki beach, while beautiful, is never empty and certainly doesn’t feel private. Coming from Australia, I personally felt as though I’d stepped into an American city until we ventured outside of Honolulu–of course, Honolulu is an American city, but I had expected it to seem more like a tropical island and less urban. However there is still plenty of jungle outside of Honolulu, many other beaches to visit, waterfalls, Diamond Head crater, lookouts, and the famous Pearl Harbour.
My husband booked well priced accommodation at Aqua Aloha Surf by bidding on Priceline. What we did not know is that most hotels in Oahu charge extra for parking. At Aqua Aloha it cost approximately $20 USD per night (in 2015) unless parking could be found elsewhere. There was one overnight carpark right near the hotel which was a little cheaper and we found free parking on the street one night. As we paid for parking on a day to day basis, we were able to save a little in parking costs, but due to the rain we opted for hotel parking most of the time.
The hotel was otherwise nice and cosy. Our balcony had a side view of Ala Wai Canal which was enjoyable to walk around. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for whales painted on some of the buildings in the local area! We were only a 5 minute drive and less than a 15 minute walk to Waikiki beach and Honolulu shops. There were also some great places to eat near our hotel including the Cream Pot where we had a luxurious breakfast one morning, and the Cheeseburger Waikiki with its interesting shell decorations and pictures throughout the restaurant. There is also a Chinese restaurant adjoined to the hotel (owned separately) which we dined in one night.
After arriving and eating lunch on a Sunday afternoon, we drove to Manoa Falls and decided to hike it in the rain. It cost $5 for parking, was somewhat uphill but not a dangerous hike and took us about 45 minutes one way. The waterfall at the end was amazing. We stood the same height as the pond the water pooled into, streaming down from a height far above us. Though I had felt anxious about the rain and the setting sun, the view was worth it and we had no mishaps on our hike back to the car.
It was raining again on Monday, so we decided that rather than hiking, we would brave Pearl Harbour in the rain. I was surprised to see a large number of people there in their Ponchos, many carrying umbrellas like us. Our feet were saturated after walking around reading different memorials, but we had a reprieve when we went inside to watch a documentary about the attack on Pearl Harbour, before boarding a ferry to view the sunken USS Arizona.
The viewing dock that looks down onto the USS Arizona, has quite an eerie feeling, with the oil from the ship still rising to the surface of the water, and parts of the ship visibly rusting away. The fact that it was raining and the ceiling above us was not fully enclosed, requiring the use of our umbrella, only added to the atonal melody of grief and respect that hung in the air. We later boarded a submarine and investigated its innards. Serendipitously, the sun came out and we took photos of each other behind the machine gun rigs atop the submarine, and in front of the massive anchor monument on the land.
We then headed to an exquisitely authentic Mexican restaurant for lunch, simply called Mexico Restaurant. After lunch we drove to Pu’u Ualaka’a State Park, Diamond View Lookout, which is well worth the view of Honolulu. Diamond Head Crater, the city, the ocean and even Pearl Harbour can be seen from different vantage points.
On Tuesday morning we set out to conquer as much hiking as possible while the rain held off. Our first port of call was Diamond Head. There are a lot of stairs leading up to the crater and it is about a thirty minute walk one way. If you are asthmatic, bring your puffer. We read reviews recommending that this walk be done in the early hours of the morning to avoid the humidity, so we set out at the crack of dawn and got some beautiful photos. There are lookouts along the way for some great views of the landscape. I also didn’t realise that Diamond Head crater itself has been overgrown by plants and is very green. I was looking for a rocky, dirty looking crater and it took me a moment to realise that I’d been looking at the crater the whole time I was climbing. I mentally adjusted and the site was well worth seeing. The view of the ocean is also gorgeous.
Lulumahu Falls is an interesting hike, especially after a lot of rain. My shoes were covered and filled with mud by the end of the walk and it was not the easiest trek. I would not recommend it for families with small children or people who feel unfit. Mind you, I can be a bit of a princess when it comes to hiking. I don’t really like feeling dirty, wading through streams of water, ducking under branches, feeling anxious about getting lost on a trail marked only by a few red ribbons and not clearly trodden. The waterfall at the end of this walk only looks a little different from Manoa Falls. There appears to be a bend in the falls at Lulumahu. To get a good picture in front of the falls may also require stepping into the pools of water, so it might be a good idea to bring swim suits. In fact, it could be a nice place to swim, but don’t forget the bug repellant–we were nearly eaten alive by mosquitos!
Having said all of that, I don’t regret taking this walk with my husband since some of the scenery on the way to the falls seemed to come right out of the movies–or maybe the ‘Lost’ television series–and engaged my imagination. What’s more, I had a real sense of achievement by the end of it. The mud, squishing and sliding between my toes wasn’t enough to deter me and I made it all the way there and back. It is about 2.5 miles roundtrip, but it felt like double that to me. If you have to choose between Lulumahu and Manoa, you are basically choosing between a more vigorous, adventure hike and a well-marked, fairly direct hike for similar views.
Our third trek that day was to the Lanikai Pillboxes. This was an extremely steep, uphill and then–obviously–downhill hike. I advise using a branch as a walking stick. On your way up you will be grabbing for tree branches and rocks to pull yourself upward. On your way down, if it is muddy like it was for us, you may find yourself sliding down on your butt. Okay, I didn’t exactly slide down, but there were times I crouched low or sat on a rock to climb further down. Some parts of the walk are certainly easier than others, but when you get to the parts that are less step, you realise you are walking fairly close to a cliff face with no fence or other protection. I saw children doing this walk and wondered if I would have the guts to let my children do it in future. I thought back to my childhood and realised my parents probably wouldn’t have hesitated to send us walking uphill to burn off energy–after all, they had four kids! But you would definitely want your children to be careful on this kind of walk. The view on the way up, at the first pillbox and at the second are all amazing. The aqua ocean with scattered islands is picturesque. I felt a tad overwhelmed about getting to the second Pillbox and left that to my husband who said that the view from there is even more spectacular than the first!
We made two other stops that same day. One was to Nu’uanu Pali lookout which is a short walk from the carpark and overlooks the glorious mountains and cliff faces (Pali means cliffs), with uniquely jutting ridges. The other was to Kailua Beach where we ate our pre-made salad for lunch. If we’d had better weather that week, Kailua would have been exactly my kind of beach: perfect for sunbaking and reading a book, taking a nice long walk along the sand and a dip in the ocean, without attracting quite as many tourists as Waikiki.
Later in the week we visited Sandy Beach and Sunset Beach. The waves at Sandy beach seemed much more tumultuous than in Kailua, but it is a gorgeous area and Sandy Beach is recommended for good sunrise pictures. This proved true for us on Wednesday morning. Sunset beach is on the other side of the island from Waikiki, has quite a large beach area and is another beach I wish I could have seen much more of. Sunset beach is obviously a highly recommended place to view the sunset in Oahu, but our sunset on Wednesday night was somewhat eclipsed by rainclouds.
Between our visits to Sandy beach and Sunset beach on Wednesday, we finally visited Waikiki beach and it was hot enough to sunbake. I was fascinated by the pink umbrellas outside the very pink, Royal Hawaiian Resort, and the view of Diamond head from Waikiki was sensational–if you don’t mind large quantities of tourists in your photographs. Waikiki was packed that day, and quite frankly, I prefer the quieter beaches. But I like being able to say I’ve been there done that, and even swam briefly in the friendly waves where a lot of people were using paddle boards and canoes that can be hired on the beach.
We also visited Honolulu Zoo the day they happened to open the new penguin enclosure. We walked through the African Savanna, witnessed two rhinos mating, saw a small antelope called a Dik Dik, and the Fennec Fox that I found especially fascinating! There are a little over 30 enclosures, some beautiful murals and sculptures, reptile pools, bird aviaries, flamingos and komodo dragons; and it only takes a few hours to see the whole park.
The Cheesecake Factory came highly recommended, so we stopped there after the zoo and ordered two pieces of sensational cheesecake that we shared in the car on our drive to Sunset Beach. If you like cheesecake, then this really is a must with an extensive variety of flavours to tempt the palate. It is also a fully equipped restaurant with numerous other dishes on the menu.
My husband and I spent our first Thanksgiving as a married couple, in Oahu. We took a walk around the canal before the rain resumed, then went to the cinema to enjoy a movie–FYI cinemas in America are substantially cheaper than in Australia. My husband is American and we decided that a luau would be a great way to commemorate Thanksgiving that evening. Fortunately we only experienced mild showers at Paradise Cove. We hemmed and hawed about shopping in the Black Friday sales the next day and when we finally drove through Honolulu in the evening it was so packed that we couldn’t find parking and decided to head back to the hotel. Honolulu is definitely a happening place during the Thanksgiving sales with plenty of popular American shops selling clothes, jewellery, handbags etc. for the excited buyer.
On our last full day in Oahu, my husband and I decided to visit Sea Life Park where parts of 50 First Dates was filmed. Sea Life Park had a pricey entry fee and is even more expensive if you want to feed the seals, swim with the dolphins or closely interact with other water creatures. Having already swum with dolphins on the Big Island, we opted to just pay the entry fee. The park is also relatively small–much smaller than the zoo, and quick to get around. So whether or not it is worth the fee, depends on what you want to get out of the experience. The seal and dolphin shows we saw that day were absolutely fantastic and we were only rained on in the line while buying our tickets, so I would say we got most of our monies worth (if only the Australian dollar hadn’t been so weak at the time). There is also a bird aviary in the park–which seems perhaps a little strange for a park full of aquatic animals–but it was quite remarkable. It mostly contained peach-faced lovebirds and they were tame enough to eat out of people’s hands and perch on shoulders. My sister and brother-in-law, on the other hand, visited Waikiki Aquarium which was about three times cheaper. They enjoyed the varieties of fish they saw there, many of which are unique to Hawaii.
Before Sea Life Park, we walked the Makapu’u lighthouse trail. This is very close to Sandy Beach, Halona Blowhole (which I will write about next) and for us it was on the way to Sealife Park. It is a fairly easy, cement paved, uphill trail of 1.5 miles roundtrip with free parking. The lighthouse can be seen when you get partway to the top, but is no longer accessible to walk to. There seemed to be some construction work going on at the top while we were there, but the view of the coast from Makapu’u summit is gorgeous and the sunrise we saw while walking that day was breathtakingly beautiful. Apparently this is also a great viewing point during whale migration season which we were about one month too early to see.
If you go to Makapu’u, you’ll also want to stop in at Halona Blowhole. What I have discovered since visiting Oahu is that Halona Blowhole and the mysterious lava tube that there seems to be no map to, are one and the same thing. When we were there, the tide was out and we did not see the blowhole do its thing. I actually thought it was an inappropriate name, not realising that the hole only blows during high tide. But what we got to do is explore the lava tube while the tide was out. We climbed down to the small beach area encamped between the rocks, and found the entryway to the lava tube. This tube is smaller than Thurston lava tube on the Big Island, and feels more secretive and adventurous. If you walk until you have to crouch and then crawl through the far end of the lava tube you should come out on the other side of the road–we saw another couple do this. Personally we enjoyed our exploration of the tube closer to the seashore and took some great shots. I only regret that we didn’t come back at low tide to witness the blowhole.
There are so many things to do in Oahu; we barely scratched the surface. For more ideas about your trip to Hawaii check out my Hawaii board on Pinterest.