February 1 we flew from rainy cold to paradise…Seattle to Honolulu. We have now traveled to every one of the 50 states and all 9 Canadian Provinces! Just getting off the plane it felt different. Who takes pictures during their walk to the baggage claim area? Yep, this is definitely like no place we’ve ever been! Several times throughout the month we remarked to each other that we felt like we were in a foreign country. For us Hawaii is like traveling abroad with all the best parts of the US.
The pilot had told us on landing that there were showers in the area and our first reaction was, “Oh no!” But after a few days we realized it seems to always be raining somewhere on Oahu. Most of the time it’s just a short shower, at least that’s all it amounted to during the time we were there. So it makes sense that there’s a rainbow on the license plate and the University of Hawaii is nicknamed the Rainbows.
Our first interaction with the locals was picking up the rental car. Wow! Talk about friendly! The woman asked if we’d like a free upgrade, gave us directions to our destination, commented on how nice that area was! Was there anything else she could help us with? And this was just the beginning. For the entire month we were on the island we only heard a car honk once. People assume others will cut into traffic and graciously give way.
Our condo was in a subdivision in Ko Olina, located on the west side of the island, about a half hour drive from Honolulu when it’s not rush hour. It’s a comfortable two bedroom condo with a great lanai where we spent a lot of time eating, reading and playing cards!
The west side is also the leeward side which receives far less rain than the rest of the island. Beaches are all public on Hawaii (with the exception of a few areas owned by the federal government). In Ko Olina there are four lagoons These are manmade swimming and snorkling areas that are separated from the ocean by sea walls that allow the ocean water to enter but keep the huge waves out. Our condo gave us access to two pools but they couldn’t begin to compare with the lagoons!
There is a lovely winding walkway that connects the four sandy lagoon beaches. Restaurants and bars also line the walk and there’s free parking nearby. They truly have thought of everything! We spent many hours sitting at one of the lagoons people watching and reading. And on our first day we were amazed to see a monk seal swim up and plop himself down on the beach. We were impressed the way locals immediately cordoned him off with tape and signs that reminded tourists to give him space. This must a familiar happening given the speed and efficiency with which they reacted.
When we first decided to go to Hawaii we weren’t sure which island to visit and whether we should hop from one to another. But in the end we decided since this was our first visit we’d stay in one place. Hawaii is a very expensive place and not changing locations would save a great deal of money. We chose Oahu because as history buffs visiting Pearl Harbor was at the top of our list and that’s where we wanted to start!I had read online that it’s important to book tickets far in advance for the launch that transports tourists to the Arizona Memorial. But by the time I read that, there were none available. The site did say that I could check each morning for the following day. Fortunately, on one of our first days on the island, I tried that and we had several choices for the next day.
The emotional response is beyond description! I don’t think unless we had actually been there on December 7, 1941, we can understand what it must have been like to be stationed in this tropical paradise and then in a matter of moments have it all turn into a hell with an unknown future! Would the Japanese come back and bomb more? What was next? The museum, as well as the audio tour, does a good job of describing moments in individual lives. It’s a short trip out to the Arizona and there were rangers there to answer any questions visitors had. All in all it was a very moving day!
Our son Patrick and his roommate, Ryne, flew out from DC to spend a week with us. I had reserved a van with a personal guide to take us around the island for the day. Money well spent. And we couldn’t have picked a better day. The guide picked us up at our condo and from there we headed south and worked our way around the entire island. The views were spectacular; the wildlife amazing.
Because the water was calm we were able to see whales with blowholes spouting on several occasions. We also saw a huge tortoise on a beach. As we approached the northern coast, the guide showed us where parts of Jurassic Park were filmed. This part of the island is so much different than the populated south.
Earlier in the month we had met a guy from Indiana, who told us the shrimp trucks on the north side of the island were a must do. When I inquired of the guide if we could have lunch there, he immediately knew which truck was the best. He even knew to stop at a party store before we arrived so we could pick up a six pack! And the shrimp? It did not disappoint.
The northern shore of Oahu is known for their great surfing. This was the one place on our tour that the calm waters were a drawback. There weren’t enough waves for surfing the day we were there but still it was really pretty. After lunch we continued down the center of Oahu and past the Dole Plantation. We knew this was going to be touristy but we had to stop. Pineapple was definitely the theme. Trinkets, souvenirs of all kinds, candies and every sort of ice cream treat we could want! We opted for cones. Wow! They were huge and wonderful!
I’d never seen pineapples growing before. They grow as a single plant with the pineapple in the middle, really unusual. About 6 hours after we had started, the guide dropped us back at our door. What a great day! We had seen most of the island and everyone could enjoy the scenery without worry about navigating where next.
There were several other places we wanted to explore on our own. Downtown Honolulu is the home to the Iolani Palace built in 1882, the only royal palace in the United States. Bob and I decided this would be a great way to learn more about Hawaii’s history. (We were surprised when they gave us cloth covers for our shoes! ) The palace was the home of King Kamehameha III through the time of Queen Liliuokalani. It was an incredibly modern home for the time having both electricity and also a telephone before the White House. Queen Liliuokalani was a phenomenal leader who looked out for all of her people including ensuring those with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) were well cared for on Molokai. She was also an optimist, believing up to the time of the overthrow, that the United States would do what was right. And while President Cleveland did support the monarchy, Congress did not. On August 12 1898, troops from the USS Philadelphia came ashore and overthrew the Hawaiian Monarchy. Queen Liliuokalani was imprisoned for 9 months in her upstairs bedroom.
Across from the palace is a statue of King Kamehameha. And also nearby is the Hawaii State House. It is lovely! It’s designed around an open air courtyard with an entrance to the House of Representatives on one side and the Senate on the others. Far easier access than we’ve ever seen in other states.
And while it wasn’t in session when we were there, we could peek in the windows and see where all the action would take place. One one side of the state house is a statue of Queen Liliuokalani and on the other is a statue of Father Damien, who dedicated his life to caring for the people of Molokai.
Foster Botanical Gardens is a particularly unusual garden because its focus is on trees. We saw candle trees, rainbow trees, cannon ball trees and orchids upon orchids! So many new and interesting varieties we had never heard of before and the garden was right in downtown Honolulu.
Several folks had mentioned the Aloha Stadium Swap Market. It’s open on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. We decided to check it out on a Wednesday figuring it probably would be less crowded on a weekday. It was huge. Every sort of souvenir you could imagine is sold here. Food including fresh fruits, nuts and jams to tee shirts, purses, keychains, you name it, they have it. But again because we travel full time we don’t have the room to purchase much. So after wandering down the aisles making sure we didn’t miss anything and purchasing a few gifts, we were ready to move on.
Diamond Head is a volcanic cone that’s shaped like a tuna’s dorsal fin. It’s also the most popular state park in Hawaii.
None of us were up for the challenge of climbing Diamond Head but we definitely wanted to see it. And the views from there were gorgeous! We also wanted to visit the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. It’s located in the Punch Bowl Crater. In addition to the more than 13,000 WW II soldiers who are buried there, there are other familiar names including war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, Senator Daniel Inouye, and Stanley Dunham (President Barack Obama’s grandfather). There are also 70 unknown markers for men who died at Pearl Harbor.
As with other national cemeteries we have visited, the solemnity that permeates took my breath away. I was struck as we walked along the plaques describing the various battles, how much I know about the War in Europe compared to very little about the War in the Pacific. Much of what I read was totally new to me. And yet the sacrifices were so great!
We tried a variety of food in Hawaii…even SPAM. I’m assuming SPAM is a staple because there is such a limited area to raise cattle and importing beef has to be expensive. On one of our first days on Oahu, Bob I walked to a nifty breakfast place about a 5 minutes from our condo, and I decided to give it a try. Don’t think I’d want it on a regular basis but it wasn’t bad especially because along with the SPAM and eggs, I was served a Hawaiian mimosa made with POG juice. Pog stands for passion, orange and guava juices. Could definitely make that a regular addition to my diet!
Up not far from the shrimp trucks was a little town called Halewai. It’s very touristy but a fun little town with quaint (and very expensive) shops. Bob and I had already scouted it before the boys arrived and went back with them. We found a little bar, Uncle Bo’s, https://www.unclebosrestaurant.com/ that was showing surfing competition on the tvs. We knew it wasn’t live but asked our waiter/bartender if the competition was nearby. He explained if we went behind the bar and turned to the right we’d come to the exact location. After indulging in some very tasty appetizers and beer, we headed over there. Again because the water was so calm we saw only a few surfers but could well imagine how packed it must be on a high surf day!
As we toured Honolulu we came upon a great hole in the wall Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. Quite the find. Really authentic and yummy! But our favorite restaurant was Tiki’s Bar and Grill near Waikiki Beach. Surprisingly, finding a parking place late on a Saturday afternoon wasn’t too bad. We fed the meter and then headed around the corner. The restaurant is located upstairs in the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel. It had everything…a live band, outside seating with a view of the sunset, and a fabulous menu with lots of seafood! And to make things better, we walked in during happy hour! I swear Bob’s drink, The Monkey, looked more like a milkshake than an alcoholic libation! If ever in Honolulu, you definitely have to give it a try! https://www.tikisgrill.com/ After leaving the restaurant we took a stroll down Kalakaua Street, the main street of the Waikiki neighborhood.
The street parallels the beach and is lined with many high end shops. After several blocks we had seen enough and headed back glad that we were staying in a quieter area.
On the night before Patrick and Ryne flew home we had tickets for a luau. There were several that had good reviews, but I had opted for the Paradise Cove Luau because it was walking distance from the condo. It seemed appropriate that as we went through the entrance we were given a Mai Tai as well as an orchid lei.
Then once inside we were shown to our seats for dinner and the show and then we had an hour or so to wander around the grounds right along a beautiful beach watching and/or participating in various activities including spear throwing, canoe rides,and lei making. And of course there was the ubiquitous gift shop. Finally we were called to the imu ceremony where the roast pig was unveiled just as the sun was setting in front of us. We moved to our seats and then on to the buffet. Yummy! And it was amazingly efficient! After dinner the show with lots of dancing and Hawaiian music began. The fire dances were definitely the high point for me.
Patrick and Ryne didn’t fly out until late Saturday and we were leaving the next day so we had plenty of time to pack and then spend one last afternoon at the beach. After dinner they took the rental car back for us on their way to fly out so that on Sunday all we had to do was get ourselves to the airport. Just as we arrived at the airport late Sunday morning, Patrick texted they were home. Several hours later we touched down in Seattle. Now it all seems like a magical dream! Definitely a state we want to return to, maybe even annually if we can afford it! It was our 50th state to visit but it sure seems like we saved the best for last!