Hawaii 🌸 Truly one of those places you don’t realise how special it is until you visit. A Pacific island paradise, with every convenience you come to expect in America. The problem is it is so remote. A tiny dot in the Pacific and a daunting prospect for travel if you’re from England. Which is why we chose to visit on this trip; flying Taiwan to Colorado you couldn’t ask for a better layover. Since we only had 5 full days we decided from the outset to spend them all on Oahu as there is so much to see and do there.
Just 5 full days here
Landing and renting a car we, like all American kids from the 80s, headed to the mall. After 4 months of Asia living out of backpacks we were both in need of some new clothes. Even here it was undeniably tropical with birds and animals wandering around that you would not associate with the US at all. While looking in GAP. Quite surreal really. We made sure our first meal on the island was at Kono’s, a famous Kalua pig shop. Delicious cuts of bbq pork, Hawaiian style, shoved into bread. Not going to lie, it was the best pork sandwich I have had in my life. And pork is my favourite. If only it wasn’t so far away…
We were pretty jet lagged after that, as Hawaii is 18 hours behind Taipei… We me our hosts, Emily’s old roommate Rob and his wife Caitlin, who were amazing enough to put us up for our stay (seriously thank you guys, $1000 saving right there) and we called it a night. Of course, the following morning we woke up super early. So we took a mini North shore road trip before our main destination of the day. Grabbing a Portuguese sausage roll and a slice of Haupia Pie (a kind of coconut and chocolate blancmange), we had breakfast watching people tear up the early morning waves. For me, that’s the moment that it really sank in we were actually there. Hawaii!
Adding to our Hawaii vibes, we headed to the Polynesian Cultural Centre. On the island of Oahu this is your one stop shop for native culture. Theme park meets cultural experience, this place shoves a whole day of adventure into one package. Our Ambassador Luau package gave us a full guided roam around the park, ensuring we got to see every show and every demonstration before taking part in a Hawaiian Luau for dinner – a buffet experience with pit roasted pork and native story telling. Magical. Plus all park employees are young Polynesians being sponsored through college. In America that’s no small expense. It allows people from less developed parts of Polynesia to share their culture and have a better opportunity in life through employment and education in the USA. Even more magical.
Amazing to think of the exploration done on vessels like this
It all culminates with a full show in their concert hall; the Breath of Life. For the best part of an hour you are treated to storytelling from Polynesian folklore. It’s a live action Moana and was one of the most stunning performances either Emily or I have seen. After such a full on day we were tired and went straight to bed once we got back. But the experience will stay with us forever. Really we were left wondering why native heritage is so celebrated in Hawaii but not on mainland USA. But that’s another story.
Us, mid Luau
Ready for a day outdoors, we fuelled up at Fresh Catch Kaimuki in Honolulu. A well known spot for some of the best cheap eats poke on the island, it did not disappoint. Once we were fully loaded on deliciously marinated chunks of raw tuna and octopus, washed down with a root beer (of course), we headed out to our spots on the east coast of the island for day.
One for our nieces
First stop; Makapu’u Point. When in Hawaii you have to go hiking. It’s a must. We’re talking about one of the most remote and beautiful places on the planet. Getting outdoors and exploring the habitat that can only be found here was right at the top of our list. So this famous trail that ends in a little lighthouse was perfect for us. It wound through woodland before breaking out onto rugged volcanic cliffs. For the majority of the hike you can see out to Maui, another of the islands and depending on the season, humpback whales migrate through the island channel. It’s complete perfection.
We always love rugged coastline
The hike is a there and back, and when you’re done it’s only a short dive to Waimanalo beach. Which you’ll want to visit because you’ll have seen the beautiful blue lagoon to your north for the last half hour of your hike. Looking at it from a distance we knew we had to check it out, especially after Rob and Caitlin had already recommended it to us. A relaxing afternoon reading on the perfect island beach is a just reward after a hike. That was our thinking anyway, and it rounded off another day in paradise.
Views forever in Hawaii
Of course I wasn’t going to go all the way to Hawaii and not check out Kualoa Ranch, home of some of the most iconic film and TV sets in the world. Including Jurassic Park & Jurassic World. Which is only my ALL TIME favourite film franchise. Of the various tours available we chose to do a full day experience that combined 3 separate packages and a buffet lunch. We started exploring the various farm activities that are still ongoing at the ranch, trying various local delicacies and seeing the relationship with land and food that Hawaii is so famous for. Really though, it was the second event that I was waiting for. The Hollywood Movie Sites tour takes you through various filming locations within the ranch, from LOST to Pearl Harbor and finally Jurassic Park. The iconic valley scene where Dr. Alan Grant and the children take shelter from the Gallimimus herd and T-Rex behind the “JP log” is something that is etched into my brain. Posing behind the same log, in the same valley, was a once in a lifetime moment for me. Ultimate nerdgasm. After a massive buffet style lunch (400 ribs later) we took an ATV through the jungle to explore yet more filming locations. A stop inside the Indominus Rex paddock ended what was, for me at least, a jaw-dropping day. A major bucket-list check off there!
I couldn’t have been more thrilled
We spent the evening on Waikiki beach in Honolulu (after struggling for a parking space) to watch a sunset. Despite being the most famous beach on Oahu, it was probably our least favourite. Busy, boozy and straight out of the same mould as Ibiza or Mallorca. We were treated to an unexpected parade though, as our trip coincided with the 78th anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbour. Floats, bands, military. Schools, retro cars, dancers. It had it all and was a perfect end to our day.
Diamond Head from Waikiki
Any spare moments we had we spent exploring different coasts. It’s impossible to fit everything into a 5 day stay on Oahu but we were lucky enough to taste the delicious North Shore shrimp trucks, hang out watching surfers at Waimea Bay and see the LOST beach and filming locations. The west coast of the island is pretty rugged and if we had all the time in the world I would have loved to hike it all. But time was precious and we still had a few more heavy hitters to check out…
Living our LOST dreams
It would have been impossible for me to visit Hawaii without checking out Pearl Harbor. One of the most enigmatic sites on Oahu, the history of this military base is really unparalleled when looking at the Pacific theatre of the Second World War. Many of the experiences at Pearl Harbor can cost a few pennies, especially if you are on a backpacking budget for two. But with some careful planning, it is possible to explore the complex for free. We pre-booked tickets in advance to see the USS Arizona Memorial and explore the free museums covering the collision course America and Japan found itself in the 1930s on the road to war. Both moving, both worth an hour or so of your time, and both free. You take a boat across to the site of the submerged USS Arizona and have the opportunity to pay your respects. One thing that really stands out is that despite it being over 75 years since the attack and the battleship was sunk, oil still spills out of the gargantuan tanks, slicking the surface you walk over. It’s as if the ship is still bleeding. We had commanding views across the bay and base, and could see the USS Missouri and the Bowfin despite not visiting them. Next time, eh?
The USS Missouri
We ended our last night with a drive to another coast, a sunset lagoon and the perfect Hawaiian burger. Low key and bliss. The following morning, once we had packed, we headed out for our final Oahu activity; climbing the rim of Diamond Head, the iconic volcano that overlooks Honolulu. Lēʻahi, as it is called by Hawaiians, is 762 feet (232 metres). What it lacks in overall height it makes up for in relative prominence. It juts straight out of the water dominating the landscape. After a 30 minute trail to the summit we were rewarded with expansive views across the southern part of the island. A stunning end to one of the most beautiful places we have been lucky enough to visit.
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Views across Honolulu from the summit Diamond Head