Oahu

2007 September 9th to 22nd

Oahu

With Em due in mid-December, this would be our last chance to have "proper" vacation for some time, so we took the opportunity to spend two weeks in Hawaii. Em had been to Oahu about 20 years ago but this was my first trip. We spent the first 4 nights in Waikiki at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa and then, when we couldn't take it any longer, rented a studio attached to private house in Kailua, on the windward side of the island.

Self portrait with a disposable film camera on the old Pali Road. Our digital camera got wet at Shark's Cove after about 9 days and over 100 photos. Thankfully the SD card, once it dried out, didn't lose any of the pictures.

Hilton

Our first 4 nights in Oahu where spent at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa, a huge complex dominating the west end of Waikiki. We wouldn't normally stay at a place like that, but Em's parents had some points that were about to expire so it didn't cost anything. Except for the booking fee. And don't forget parking, that's $20 a day for self parking. Valet service costs the same but you need to tip every time you get your car.

When we first arrived at around 11 a.m., we were told that we could not check in right away and they would call us when our room was ready. We checked in our luggage and drove over to Kailua to settle the question of where we would stay once our stay in Waikiki was over. When we got back around 3 p.m. (normal check-in time), the lady at the desk told us that they didn't have anything ready yet. After some back and forth, she gave us a room in the Tapa Tower. Unfortunately, we had to switch right away because it did not have the king sized bed we requested. In the switch, Poobie lost his favorite running shoes.

To make up for the room snafus, Luana from the desk gave us some coupons for free breakfast, lunch and dinner (gah! hotel food). While the meals weren't the worst ever, they certainly left something to be desired. Still, the gesture was very sweet and we appreciated not having to worry about where our next meal was going to come from.

A view from our room taken from the door. The king size bed is to the left along with a barely visible desk. The opening in the wall leads to a closet area with mini-fridge and then finally to the bathroom. The view from the balcony is in the picture below.

A view from our room taken from the door. The king size bed is to the left along with a barely visible desk. The opening in the wall leads to a closet area with mini-fridge and then finally to the bathroom. The view from the balcony is in the picture below.

To the left in the photo is the Hilton Rainbow Tower dominating the southern end of Waikiki Beach. We stayed in the Tapa Tower which is a bit further to the left. The complex has two other towers as well, the names of which escape me at the moment.

This was one of three pools in the complex, Hilton claims that it's the largest pool in Waikiki. Em and I spent about 40 minutes sunning on the lounge chairs here, packed in like sardines with red mid-west Americans and uber-pale Japanese, before leaving for good. Note that the beach is just seconds from this pool.

I've heard people belittle Waikiki Beach but I found our early evening stroll to be just about perfect. We started at the Hilton and walked all the way to the War Memorial, about 1.5 miles each way. We had the sun at our back, sand and water at our feet, and an amazing view of the Diamond Head crater on our way down. On the way back the sun had set and we walked along the sidewalk.

Waikiki lobsters, hee hee. This is how I imagined the beach to be. In some areas it was this crowded but such areas where the exception, not the rule.

Kailua

In Kailua, we rented a little studio attached to a private residence, just 5 houses away from the beach. Kailua is world away from Waikiki, in fact, they don't even have any hotels or motels, justs B&B's and private rooms and houses for rent. We located the house off of the VRBO website and I have to say, it is an invaluable resource. The owners of the house were super nice (thanks Rob and Cathy!) and we loved their dog Blue. The room was cozy and just what we needed to spend a comfortable week.

45 seconds from the house leads to the middle of Kailua Beach. On this trip we took the house dog, Blue, to the surf with us. He never grew tired of chasing the ball but often would not bring it back.

A view from the southern end the 2.5 mile long beach in Kailua.

Our studio didn't have much of a kitchen, as you will see in the next photo, but we did have access to the backyard and its grill. Here Em is cooking opah (moonfish) that we bought from some locals during a drive up the windward coast.

Em shows off our kitchen cabinet. With the grill outside and the rice cooker we didn't miss a stove. The stairs at the left lead up to a sleeping loft although we slept on the bed down at this level. It sure seemed small, the 'full' size bed, after coming from a 'king' size at the Hilton.

Our fourth car on this trip, a Toyota Yaris. I've written about the first three elsewhere.

It seems like we went to shopping at Don Quijote's every day we where in Kailua. In fact, sometimes we went twice a day. It's a Japanese grocery store plus everything else.

Not just in Kailua, but all over the island we encountered these cool bike racks.

This picture, taken by someone else, shows the only place I wanted to go but didn't, the Sunken Island in Kane'ohe Bay, just north of Kailua. It's about a mile offshore so a kayak is required but once you get there the water is only a foot or so deep. The days we planned to go it was very windy so we aborted. If asking locals about this place, call it the 'sandbar', not the 'sunken island'.

Diamond Head

A hike to the top of the crater at Diamond Head State Monument is a great trip to make the day after you arrive in Hawaii since your still on mainland time. We arrived at the gate at 5:45 am after a breakfast of Portuguese sausage at Zippy's and then proceeded along the 0.8 mile trail, gaining 560 feet from the crater floor to the summit. We thought we might be the first to the top but, not surprisingly, were beat by a busload of Japanese tourists.

Sunrise on Diamond Head. Em is in the middle of the photo on the stairs. It appears that I haven't reset the clock in the camera.

Em and I have switched places from the previous photo and, according to the time stamps on the pictures, 19 minutes have elapsed.

No matter where we travel, we can always count on one thing, the Japanese will be there and they will always have the coolest shirts.

To get to the top of Diamond Head you have to climb through a bunker. The trail actually goes through the lower opening to the left.

And of course, stairs are involved, but only at the very end of the trail. Even at 6 months gone, I beat a bunch of fit-looking Japanese hikers. They seemed very surprised to see my belly go by...

For the most part the trail is well graded and quite a pleasure to walk along.

Tantalus Drive

When you can't stand the crowds of Honolulu any longer you can hop in your car and head to the mountains. Within minutes you can leave everyone behind and find yourself in a rainforest, in fact Em and I were rained on during this drive while looking down at the ever sunny Honolulu.

You will get great views of Honolulu even if you never leave your car on the Tantalus Drive loop but it would be insane to not stop here, at the Pu'u Ualaka'a State Wayside Park. Diamond Head crater is to the left. Amazingly, we were the only people at this park.

This view is taken looking west, Pearl Harbor is to the far right, out of the photo.

Hey, I already warned you that we had the park all to ourselves. Theirs no time like the present to start working on your tan.

Oahu is full of these trees that have the most amazing canopies. I am standing at the base just to the right of the trunk.

Ridge Hike

The mountains on Oahu are not that high but given the breathtaking views and sheer cliffs their was little doubt that we would be going up one of them. Based on the recommendation of our guidebook, Oahu Revealed by Wizard Publications, we selected the Kuli'ou Ridge Trail which climbs almost 2000 feet over 2 miles.

After climbing the switchbacks we finally reached the ridge and found this dramatic standoff between the Ironwood trees on the left and the Cook Island Pines on the right.

Don't adjust your screen, this photo is blurry but we thought it was pretty cool that the trail went right through this "tree door".

An attempt to take an "artsy" photograph.

This view is looking back down the valley towards the trailhead and ocean beyond. The trail is visible behind the '11' of the date stamp.

And here I am at the end of the trail, or so says the sign just visible to the right. My guidebook said that for better views one should continue on to the peak, Pu'uo Kona, elevation 2,200 feet, visible to my left. The also cautioned that "only advance hikers and people without heart problems" should attempt this. I went but Em stayed.

And from that peak I took this photo of Kailua bay with the Kane'ohe Marine Corps Base sticking out to the left. It's very easy to locate the Marine base if you look at the map below.

Ocean Cave

Near the Kuli'ou Ridge trailhead is the Spitting Cave of Portlock, a lava cliff in which the sea has bored a cave which will, if conditions are right, spit. Just to the right of the short trail leading down to this area is a lot for sale. Anyone want to go halfsies with us?

I'm standing 65 feet above the spitting cave. I have no inclination to jump but apparently, when the water is calm, locals have been doing just that for generations, but only on the weekends. To the right, not really visible in this photo, is a rusted ladder I used to get down to just above the water at the cave.

Here I am waiting for the cave to spit, it did so several times but none of the photos came out. I desperately wanted to swim here, the water was soooooo bluuuuue, but erred on the side of caution since it was pretty rough and we were the only people there.

On our second trip the spitting cave the sea was really rough and the cave was spitting up a storm. This photo, and the one below, are a bit wonky at they were taken with a cheap disposable camera after our digital got wet and died.

However, the highlight of this second trip was the bodybuilder in the red Speedo who chose this location for his headshots, err body-shots?

Famous Beach

After going to the spitting cave of Portlock, we started to head back towards Honolulu only to get stuck in world class traffic on highway 72. Specifically, the highway is 3 lanes in each direction with a substantial median dividing the cars. However, so many people are trying to get into Honolulu in the morning that they reversed the direction of one of the lanes on the opposite side of the median so that 4 lanes of cars could fight their way in the morning commute. After a few minutes of going nowhere we turned around and decided to take the long way back, through Kailua and then through the mountains. During this impromptu drive we pulled over at a beach that looked nice and went for swim. It turned out to be Halona Beach, the site of famous rolling in the sand kissing scene in the movie "From Here to Eternity".

Halona Beach meets all of my criteria for a great beach: good sand, decent waves, and steep terrain (I don't like flat beaches). The only negative thing I can say about it is that it suffers from a bit of trash. It's also close to the road and a giant parking lot but most people just stay up there and look at the ocean and blowholes.

Speaking of the giant parking lot, here it is along with our first (of four) rental cars, a PT Cruiser. This guy got a flat so we traded it for another PT Cruiser which was white. That was fine except for the airbag light which wouldn't go off so we traded it for a Dodge Charger, I think. It didn't have any problems but some jerk broke our front window when we were hiking to Maunawili Falls. They didn't get anything since nothing was inside. Our final car was a little Toyota Yaris.

When the tourists get off of the buses they take pictures of each other and the ocean at the overlook. Most have no idea that the parking lot and overlook are there so you can see the blowholes.

A better picture of the blowhole by someone else.

Snorkeling

Em has great memories of snorkeling in Hanauma Bay when she was little. I glad to say that she, and I, were not disappointed after returning some 20 odd years later. Back in the day, they did not have the multi-million dollar educational facility at the top. In fact, no one was discouraged from walking on the reef or say... feeding the fish potato chips!

We arrived so early that we didn't have to pay to park or to get into the park, woo hoo! In this photo we are waiting on the beach, during the sunrise, until the rental facility opens. On our second trip here we brought snorkeling equipment from the Kailua house. Unfortunately, it didn't really work well with Em's nose, or lack thereof.

After snorkeling to our hearts content we felt a bit superior in that we didn't have wait in line or pay like these schmucks.

Em's rocking the baby belly in this shot looking down at the bay.

The other place we went snorkeling was at Sharks Cove on the North Shore, the site of the wet camera fiasco.

Manoa Falls

The hike to Manoa Falls, according to our guide book, is the second most popular hike after Diamond Head. Em and I were not impressed with the falls but really enjoyed the hike through the rainforest to get there and the drive to the falls through Manoa Valley. If you go, the hike is 1 mile each way and fairly gradual. If it has rained recently expect to get muddy.

Bamboo, bamboo everywhere so let's all have a drink.

Now that I've been to a proper rain forest jungle I'm not sure I want to spend to much time there in the future. If you misbehave on the trail, as I did, you get put in the bramble.

Manoa Falls plummets 160 feet into a small pool. It didn't have much volume the day we where there.

Maunawili Falls

Stacy from Chez Panisse accompanied us on our second waterfall hike to Maunawili Falls. Due to recent rain we got quite muddy on the hike in and found the area full of people since it was a weekend. This wasn't a bad turn of events though, in fact, it was quite fun watching some of the more daring young men and women jump off of the cliff into the pool. Upon returning to the car we found that it had been broken into. Nothing was taken since we didn't leave anything in it but we should have left the doors unlocked.

Most people jump into the pool from where the two people are sitting in the center of the photo. Thrill seekers make a sketchy climb to a ledge about 40 feet above the pool to the right, where you can see a young man ready to jump.

And there he goes. As you can tell, he didn't just jump but instead leaped forward into a back-flip, it was pretty damn impressive.

Makau'u Lighthouse

At the south-east corner of the island sits the Makapu'u lighthouse, a very nice 1 1/4 mile walk with a 500 foot elevation gain from the parking lot. Compared to the hikes in the humid jungle that we had been taking, this one was paradise or at least, more of what we're used to i.e. not humid...

Above the lighthouse is an lookout with spectacular views. Here Em is looking north. The Makai Research Pier is visible in the photo and I mention this because we stopped there to say hi to some people who I was working with on an outfall in Guam.

In this photo, I have run to the highest point in the area, Makapu'u Head, and taken a photo looking south. The peak to the right of the lighthouse is where Em was standing in the previous photo.

Access to the lighthouse is forbidden, unless you squeeze by this fence and then another one a bit further on. There is nothing really special to see at the lighthouse so I don't recommend that you trespass on government property.

Another thing you can do when hiking in this area is cut down to the Dragon's Nostril's blowholes, some 400 vertical feet below the trail at the Whale watching placard. In addition to the blowholes, you can also swim in tide pools down here. I did just that on our second trip here but it was a bit sketchy since the seas where a bit rough.

Old Pali Road

To get from Honolulu to the Windward Coast without hugging the water one used to take the Pali Road which went over the mountains at a pass. That was in the olden days, now you have a choice of 3 roads, one of them an interstate (in Hawaii, how does that make sense?) that cut through the mountains via tunnels. The old Pali Road, long since out of commission, makes a fine place for a stroll. Half-way down the trail, you walk through a grove of wild guava trees. How aloha is that, when a trail provides a snack for hikers?

Heading down the old Pali Road with jungle encroaching from both sides.

Here we see Em on the old Pali Road with the its replacement, the Pali Highway or 61 to the right just before it heads into a tunnel.

I was delighted to find wild guava on our walk along the old Pali Road. They were super fragrant and bit tart. Dee-lish!

And Em was delighted as well to find wild guava on our walk along the old Pali Road.

Haiku Stairs

What can I say about my hike up the Haiku Stairs, or the Stairway to Heaven. I think the statistics say it all: 3,922 stairs gaining 2,200 feet. The stairs are closed and there is even a guard to keep you away so I didn't plan on hiking them but one day, as we drove along the H-3 interstate towards Kailua I happened to see someone going down the stairs (they go under the elevated freeway) so from that point on I was obsessed. After some scouting missions, driving around the area we thought the stairs might originate, we finally consulted a map and found Haiku Road. Imagine that! I dropped Poobie off at the gate and waited for 15 minutes, just in case he found the way impassable. While I was waiting, Joe and Maurice approached our car, thinking maybe I was a cop. They were on their way up the stairs too... I told them to say hi to Poobie. They eventually gave him a ride home. Thanks Joe and Maurice!!!

Self portrait at the top of the Haiku Stairs.

From the spot of the previous picture, but looking the other way, is Joe. I caught up with Joe and his friend Maurice at the start of the climb and they were kind enough to give me a ride home (Em had dropped me off since we didn't know how long the adventure would take).

Despite the cloudy weather the hike was spectacular, however this is what it looks like on a clear day. Note that this photo is taken at roughly the same place as the previous photo.

Here's Maurice on the way down from the summit.

And here's another shot of Joe with the H-3 interstate below.

This photo, taken by someone else, does a great job of showing how the stairs cling to the impossibly steep and narrow ridge.

Another shot of Maurice and Joe as they approach the first landing or rest spot. The landings are crucial, as you can see in the next photo.

The stairs are in great shape, having been retrofitted in 2005 to the sum of $1,000,000 but they are very narrow. I'm not sure what it would be like going up and down these having to pass people.

This signpost is just about at the start of the stairs, however, just getting to this point is not easy. In my case I had to go around a chain link fence with barbed wire, walk along a paved road, turn onto an unsigned-muddy trail, then climb over another chain link fence with barbed wire just to get to this sign.

The stairs start below the elevated freeway then follow the ridges to the top of the mountains.

Windward Drive

The same day that I went up the Haiku Stairs, Em and I drove up the windward coast, almost to the northern tip of the island.

Em's standing at an outdoor shower at a cabin you can rent at the Malaekahana Campground. However, they are in such a state of disrepair that they won't rent them to you unless you've seen them in person, a good policy I think.

And here's another view of the same cabin. At this campground you can also pitch your tent, rent yurts, and other decrepit cabins. Of all of the places one can camp on the island, this is only place we would do so in the future.

Em on Malaekahana Beach on the eastern side of the island just below the northern tip.

The arch at La'ie Point.

Locals like to fish at La'ie Point. We stopped to talk to a grizzled Japanese local who was convinced that Em was a 'local girl'. He asked her twice in fact.

For shits and giggles we stopped at the Byodo-In Buddhist temple, a replica of a 950-year old temple in Uji, Japan. It was pretty neat, especially against the backdrop of the steep, misty mountains.

Within the temple grounds we found it funny to see the fat tourists feeding the fat fish.

Swim to Chinaman's Hat

Our guide book lists 'activities' and 'adventures'. The swim to Chinaman's Hat and subsequent scramble to the top of the island fell within the latter category. According to the guidebook, its only 614 yards each way but it sure felt much longer to me due to the choppy water.

An aerial photo taken by someone else of Chinaman's Hat (or Mokoli'i Island) looking back at Oahu, Kuoloa Beach State Park, specifically.

The island looks like its quite a bit further away in this photo, me thinks. For perspective, you can see my head sticking out of the water.

Back safe and sound.

West Coast Drive

The guidebook says that the west coast of Oahu is the least visited and roughest place on the whole island. We didn't have any bad experiences on our drive up the coast to where the road ends but then again, we were in our car most of the time. What struck us most about the west coast was the huge number of shanty towns at the parks where camping is allowed. Technically you can only camp for a limited number of days each month and all camps are closed at least one day each week but that rule was clearly not being enforced. We found this to be true not just on the west coast of the island but at all of the camps.

This photo by someone else shows a typical shanty town camp, a common site at the 16 campgrounds on Oahu.

North Shore Drive

A trip to Oahu would not be complete without going to famous North Shore, where big waves pound the coast in the winter. On our trip we first stopped so I could swim to Chinaman's Hat so we could kill time so that we would be at the famous shrimp shacks around lunch time. We had 1 pound of said shrimp at Romy's for $14 and I found it to be nothing special. We next stopped at Ted's for a sliced of famous chocolate / haupia pie which also was not very exciting. The beaches along the North Shore were beautiful but didn't have large waves since it wasn't the right time of year. At Shark's Cove we went snorkeling and destroyed our camera then stopped at Waimea Bay Beach. Next we got shaved ice at Aoki's which was super good and I highly recommend, just make sure to get the ice cream and beans with it. Then we drove west to the end of the road, stopping at the Episcopal Church to check out their campsites, Camp Mokule'ia. I thought they were mediocre at best but they were far better than the shanty town camps.

This is Waimea Bay Beach State Park with its famous jumping rock. This beach is huge and parking is scarce, a good combination.

Food

How do I love Hawaiian food, let me count the ways. One, poke. Two, uhh.. err.. ahh... malasadas? Well, I really like poke, so maybe it should count for more than one. We really knew we were in a different place when we went to get some staples at the first Safeway supermarket we saw. In their deli section, they had no less than 17 different types of poke.

In addition to the meals we had on our own we also ate at a Japanese restaurant with the Chez Panisse contingent, had another meal at the house the Chez Panisse group rented in Waimanalo, and on our final night had the 7-course tasting menu with wine pairing at Alan Wong's in Honolulu with Em's brother Raymond. Em wasn't so impressed with the food and the service was a bit lacking, even though our waiter was very nice. (Many of the dishes and individual elements of the menu were great... However, too many of the dishes were either overpowered by sauces or the flavor combinations were confusing to the palate. Maybe I've been at Chez too long...) Regarding the wines, he told us that Paso Robles was near Santa Barbara! For me, the Bonny Doon Muscat was much to sweet.

The Japanese department store Shirokiya in the Ala Moana shopping center in Honolulu has great food! Clockwise, from the upper left we have rice with a lot of pickly stuff in it, a grilled squid, scraped toro sashimi and sautéed mustard greens.

Don Quijote sold about 15 kinds of poke, yum! Everyone eats POKE, yeah! We have two kinds on this particular plate. At about 6 o'clock there is Ahi-limu poke and at 7 o'clock is the white crab kimchee. Poobie liked both!

My assembled fruit basket in our studio in Kailua featuring guavas from the Old Pali Road and apple-bananas. The rest of the fruit, papayas, mangoes and pineapple I got at the Thursday farmer's market in Kailua.

Another great meal in Kailua featuring rice and grilled meat, this time beef and shrimp.

Shrimp from Romy's shrimp shack. The shrimp are farmed in a field right next to the shack.