“Be prepared. Hawaii is so American.”
I got that advice from Pat about a year ago when I talked about my travel plans in the Pacific. I expected something like that – hey, I watched Disney’s Lilo & Stitch, I’m so prepared for this! – but it was good to be reminded. After staying on Fiji and Samoa arriving at Honolulu was mildly said weird. Good in the way that I’m back in a familiar culture where I know how to move. Weird in the total overflow of people and shops. But being at Waikiki Beach for New Year’s sounded way to good to skip that experience.
What I did around New Years sounds a bit like working down the Top 10 list on Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet and well, it was kind of.
First Look Arounds
It’s a weird feeling to have the US dollar in my hands for the first time. Money I just know from innumerable tv shows and movies. You can tell because the first thing I did was looking for the “secret messages” on the bills like Nicolas Cage did in “National Treasure”. Yes, this is the first time to the states for me. It took me some time to come here. And it’s an interesting feeling, like I planned to come to Hawaii for so so long – about 20 years? – and now I’m totally overwhelmed. Partly from the many shops, restaurants and half-naked muscular intimidating guys that are ever present in Waikiki.
To get rid of the overflow feeling I started my first day with a walk along the beach to the Diamond Head, around it and to its trail head ready to get a first small hike and nice view over Waikiki and Honolulu. Well, at least I tried as on arrival at the entrance gates I couldn’t come up with the one dollar in cash to enter the hike. I therefore put a reminder in my head, just went back and would give it another try on another day. So instead I explored the neighbourhood, walked around, watched tourists on holidays and finished the day with Duke’s chicken wings that I have been recommended on Fiji by Alex and Mitch. Together with a Hawaiian draft beer they have been absolutely delicious as promised – maybe not life changing but definitely the best chicken wings I head. Buzzed by a second Hawaiian beer I decided to end the day with getting a SIM card for my phone – which you can’t get at the airport as in any other country so far, why do the US mobile carriers miss this chance? – and with it back to social networks life.
Koko Crater Trail & Hanauma Bay
My luck with unsuccessful hikes seemed to last. During breakfast I made up the plan to do the Kuli’ou’ou Ridge Trail and go to refreshing snorkelling in the Hanauma Bay afterwards. A bus should take us there as I teamed up with Anja and Mette who I met over my too obvious eavesdropping of their exchanging plans for the day. We took the bus, the not quite right bus, had to change buses therefore, ended up at the wrong place, took another bus and asked the driver if he is going to the start of the trail. He said yes and let us off at a crossing. Well, it was a different trail as we found out with a quick look into our map. “That’s the fun about travelling, just take it relaxed and see where you end up,” Anja summarised our day. A car stopped by and we got a free short lift to the start of the – we then learned – Koko Crater trail which the two local women wanted to tackle that day as well.
And when the Koko Head got into sight we knew this was going to be a completely different hike. Steep up along an old railroad, partly with firm underground, partly just the remaining sleepers / ties to step on. Uphill was definitely a sweaty job. But downhill you needed a cool head to put your feet right. It was fun with the view as an additional reward. Or how the American woman we met again summarised “This is the first and the last time I did this trail.”
The afternoon snorkelling in Hanauma Bay was a refreshing and interesting side trip with my first Hawaiian coral reef and the discovery that the water temperature in Hawaii is slightly – freezing! – colder than around Fiji and Samoa. We therefore needed a good and rewarding dinner back in Honolulu and chose Lulu’s for burgers, beer, live music and sunset. Definitely a good choice!
What on the fiction side has been Hobbiton in New Zealand is for me on the non-fiction side Pearl Harbor. As a late teenager I was so interested in the historical story and strategy behind it – and of course watched the blockbuster movie a lot – that I had to make sure to get one of the free tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial. And in high season around New Year where all online tickets were sold out that meant the following:
- Get up at 6:15 am.
- Grab a flat white coffee and a lemon loaf cake at Starbucks.
- Catch the bus at 7 am.
- Arrive at 8:15 am at Pearl Harbor.
- Bring your bag to the luggage storage.
- Get inside of the area and queue for a free ticket.
- Receive at 8:30 am the free ticket with the tour time of 1:45 pm.
- Get back into town for a second breakfast.
- Wander around Ala Moana for some window shopping.
- Get back to Pearl Harbor.
- Stroll through the free exhibition, watch the – very American – introduction movie
- Finally get on the boat to the USS Arizona memorial.
- Leave Pearl Harbor – don’t forget the luggage!
- And arrive back in Waikiki at 4 pm.
It was special and like Hobbiton more for people interested in the site and its history. And I might have the title song of the movie Pearl Harbor stuck in my head for the next hours. “There you’ll beeee….”
New Year’s Eve
A bit tired from the long day I was tucked back into Waikiki and the preparation for New Year’s Eve. With the hostel having a DJ and free bbq I just needed to equip myself with a six pack of Kona’s Big Wave beer and was all set for a cheap but fun evening. That beer brought me through some hard months back home. I had it several times in my favourite craft beer bar when I needed a positive reminder for the oncoming travels.
Christmas has been strange without my family and NYE started with the same feeling. Since the morning I received happy new year wishes from all over the world and my friends and family would have already been 12 hours into the new year before I followed. That’s a strange feeling I can tell you. The DJ struggling with what songs to play next made us – Anja, Mette and me – focus more on talking, eating and drinking before “Don’t stop believing” reminded me of how far I’ve come since December last year and some Latin songs led us to dance. Good I met these two girls!
Gathering with everybody at Waikiki beach to see the fireworks lit offshore and dipping your feet afterwards in the ocean was a good way to come into the brand new 2018. And I wish you all a small or bigger adventure outside the comfort zone in it.
Lanikai Pillbox hike (secret entrance)
I started into the new year with a good every new year routine: I did a workout at the beach and had a proper breakfast. Today I felt like hiking again after I spent most of yesterday in buses and waiting – for Pearl Harbor and for the New Year to arrive. Lanikai’s Pillbox hike was the choice of the day following again some happy recommendations of Mette and Anja. I didn’t ask for directions – typical – but with google and a quick look at the bus network I felt prepared enough. Just to find out on arrival what I thought to be an official entrance – maps showed me dotted lines – seemed to be the more unknown “secret entrance” to do the longer one way hike and not the there and back loop. So without any tourists for the first half I enjoyed the slight uphill and the beautiful green ridges and views to the ocean before I reached the second pillbox and with it people struggling up the slippery path from the official entrance.
If you ever come to O’ahu and want to do the pillbox hike without a car make sure to get that unknown entrance. It’s amazing!
Once I shifted myself down the slippery path I reached Lanikai Beach and next to it Kailua Beach ⁃ choices! By the way m ukulele’s brand is Lanikai so I gave a short greeting from her to the ocean down there. I dipped feet and more into the sea at both beaches, had a very very late lunch – what’s wrong with me? Back home I would already be hangry beyond control. – and caught different but correct – ha! – buses back to Waikiki.
I ended the day in good company with Mette, Anja and Joe – a Marine stationed at Hawaii – at Side Street’s Inn with big family portions and fine beer. And a little beach walk to Duke’s afterwards to drink a Mai Tai – the famous Hawaii / Pacific Cocktail. Said so we wanted to know the story behind it and were a bit disappointed while reading the Wikipedia site – please don’t google it if you want to keep on believing that it’s especially for the Pacific islands.
Said so I guess some of your minds are already set to do so as the brain doesn’t understand the “no / not” – Don’t think of a pink elephant!
The North Shore
Next stop in my quick rumble through O’ahu: the North Shore. I took again a very early bus, munched on the leftovers of dinner and arrived after 2 hours in Haleiwa, the one “in town” at the north shore, to get my morning coffee and to stroll around a bit. On my way there the bus passed all the potential hop off spots at the coast so I could do raisin picking by taking the bus the other way around and hopping off and on as I found something interesting: Shark’s cove, huge rolling waves in the Banzai pipeline, another Pillbox hike, poke bowl for lunch and many brave surfers at sunset beach – and yes, most of the time I spent sitting at beaches and watching the waves. That’s why there’s not much to tell, only some pictures to share.
In every guide book or flyer about Hawaii and the sea I repeatedly read the sentence “Never turn your back to the ocean”. And with the rule that every x-th wave is a rogue wave (that comes in way further than the other ones before) here is a short story in three pictures. You get soaked, you learn. By the way, one of these waves took me also by surprise. So I had to ride the bus back home in completely wet shoes.
The North Shore is well worth a visit for food, beaches and surf. And with just 5$ you get a day ticket for the bus that gets you all around the island of O’ahu and in 2 hours to the North Shore where you can hop on and off as much as you like. No car rental can beat that price – although you have to chill a bit in speed and frequency of the buses. But that’s part of being in Hawaii, isn’t it?
Waikiki Beach Day
My last full day on O’ahu should finally be a day at Waikiki beach. I can’t leave the island without being at least once in the sea here and sunbathed for a bit with all the others. I spent the first hours with laundry but without shoes as they were still north shore wet and tried to get everything booked for Maui and Kauai which couldn’t wait – accommodation and car rental took most of my time and worries. And it was finally time to get a new pair of flip flops/ thongs/ jendals/ you name it. Since my last Iceland Blue Lagoon pair gave up in Fiji I got around without. But now I was ready for new ones – my only Hawaiian souvenir shop buy.
As I was already in the touristic mood I thought I could as well get some pastries at Leonard’s what every Honolulu guide recommends. I combined the walk over there in my new Flipflops with a happy and LA detail planning phone call with Bridget – I can’t believe it’s so soon time for our reunion, LA and Cali! – and a parallel supermarket visit for some picnic food and drinks for tonight’s sunset at the beach picnic with Anja.
I’m an official fan of sunsets. Sunrises always have a fixed choreography and you know when it’s over it’s over. With sunsets it’s not. They always surprise with which colours they come up – yellows, oranges, reds, blues, purples, pinks – and even if you think it’s over they sometimes throw last minute another colour into the sky.
So we enjoyed all of tonight’s colours in the sky accompanied by cheese, tortillas, fruit and something out of a brown paper bag mixed with coke and ice.
With the sunset being over, the dinner being eaten, the rum being evaporated we made our way back to hostel to be surprised by an hour of live music by a singer/songwriter and his guitar. How could the last evening have been more perfect.
Last day’s activities
As the last day kept coming I remembered that there was still the Diamond Head Trail on my list. And after I had a look at the pictures of Mette and Anja going there for sunrise seemed to be the way to do it. So I set the alarm for 5:45 am.
I got up, walked around the corner to find the Starbucks open already and went inside to get my morning drink to go. Today’s choice fell on a dirty chai. If you don’t know it no worries. I learned about it on Fiji when I talked to Miranda. It’s a chai latte with a solo or double espresso shot inside. Prepared for the 40 minutes walk I left Waikiki beach with one of the many island’s roosters making his good morning calls. The air was still nice and fresh as I passed through empty parks and along empty streets. I sipped on my dirty chai and enjoyed the morning feeling and taste of it.
When I got close to the park gates I also got aware of the many signs who weren’t there the last time. And reading these signs stopped me in my tracks. The Diamond Head Trail was closed for two weeks due to maintenance they had written on them. I read it two times, three times. The pull down machine next to me squeaked as one lonely guy was doing his before sunrise workout at the outdoor gym. I stared at the sign another time, had to laugh out loud, finished my last sip of dirty chai, waved to the guy on his next workout machine and turned around for my 40 minute walk back to Waikiki. At least I got a free early morning workout.
So this is the second time I tried to hike the Diamond Head and was stopped. It’s not meant to be. That’s why you get just a picture from below of that bugger!
O’ahu was beaches, people, tourism, food and drinks. It’s good for an entry into Hawaii. Now I’m looking forward to independence with my own car and more chilled and remote places.
So off to Maui!