Oahu, Hawaii (Winter Vacation Part 1 of 3)

I’m back from a trip out to the islands of Hawaii and subsequently San Francisco. I’m splitting the trip into three posts: Oahu, Hawai’i (the Big Island), and SF. I’m sitting at the kitchen table with a Toto at my feet, NY Philharmonic on TV, and a cup of tea at my fingertips. There is a certain lovely joy in the comforts of home, just as there is in movement and travel.

We arrived in Honolulu on the afternoon of the 13th and drove out to Disney’s Aulani Hotel, west of the airport. It’s a delightful resort built with attention to detail (on the Hawaiian and Polynesian culture) that one comes to expect from Disney. After climbing 12 flights of stairs to our hotel room (the elevators just happened to be out of service when we arrived), we called it a night.


Hanauma Bay! This state park is one of my favorite places on Oahu. There’s phenomenal snorkeling that is easily accessible for people of all swim levels. Mom, who’s not a big swimmer, stood with her ankles in the water and could see all sorts of fish. My favorite fish are puffer fish. I like their boxy heads and spotted patterns. Dad and I saw an eel swim across the reef in search of a new hiding spot. After a morning at the bay, we made our way over to the USS Arizona Memorial. It’s a beautiful memorial and the boat ride from shore to the memorial adds weight to the tour.

I went for a little run around the Ko Olina resort the following morning since I was jet lagged. Day 2 agenda: dive with Reef Pirates. We went out to Koko Crater for two shallow reef dives. We saw so many green sea turtles (they’re called honu in Hawaiian) and a moray eel swimming with a fish buddy. The depression of one of the craters was scattered with bleached coral due to the rising ocean temperatures. 😦 When we came up from our second dive, dad realized he had gone diving with his car keys in his pocket. Since the keys were electronic, we couldn’t turn on the car. Dad called Alamo and found out we’d have to get the car towed to the rental car return and rent a new car. AAA said they could only take 2 people. Thankfully Lee, our dive master, offered to drive Michelle and I to the rental car place. Along the way, we had to stop by another dive shop to get the tanks filled. In the meantime, Michelle and I walked across the street to Leonards and got malasadas (the Portuguese version of fried dough). We got haupia (coconut) flavor and they were delicious. Hot and fresh out of the fryer, the filling inside gushed out when we bit into them. My favorite part: the crust of crystal sugar on the outside. Yum! We waited at Alamo for dad to arrive before getting a new car and making the long drive (traffic on Oahu is no joke) back to Aulani. This was a serious case of #ITried. Oftentimes simpler is better. If the key had only been an old-timey mechanical key…

The next day, we went to Waikiki to do a sea turtle snorkel. The boat stopped at a sea turtle shell cleaning spot and we saw fish clean the turtles’ shells. I’ve concluded that whenever there is a choice between snorkeling and diving, always pick the dive option. The divers saw takos (octopus) under the ridge of the reef. After the morning snorkel, we went to Manoa Hills for a hike to the Manoa Falls. The trail was supposed to be short and easy: 30 minutes up and 15 minutes down. Somehow, we started off at the wrong spot and trekked into the middle of a jungle. I felt like I was a character in Jurassic Park, ready to be eaten at any point. Several mosquito bites and 45 minutes later, we found the main (PAVED) trail and walked to the falls. The waterfall was a little underwhelming given all the backroads trekking.

After Manoa, we drove to Diamond Head Crater right before the last admittance at 4:30. Diamond Head did not disappoint. Although there were a lot of tourists, I loved the views and the breeze at the top. There’s nothing as wonderful as the big blue sea stretching out across your view of the horizon. On our way down, we also saw a rainbow! In the evening, we walked along Wikiki beach and bought gifts (read: cookies and chocolate).

On our last full day on Oahu, we went to the Dole Pineapple Plantation. It’s a huge tourist trap but it’s also a huge tourist trap WITH a maze! Michelle and I walked through the maze of hedges to find the 8 secret spots, ate pineapple soft serve, and rode the pineapple express train. In the afternoon, we stayed at Aulani, snorkeled in Aulani’s artificial reef (I like Hanauma bay better), rode the pool’s slides, swam in the lagoon, and generally enjoyed the resort life. Thus concluded our stay on Oahu.

Some thoughts:

  • We made a couple of trips to Chinatown over the course of our stay. In Chinatown, I saw so many homeless people. There was a woman applying lipstick while sitting on her mat of cardboard and rags. There was a long, long line snaking around the corner of a block. At the front of the line: entrance to a “family center.” When I see abject poverty and living conditions, I want to help, but don’t know how. Just a few miles down the street, there’s a Jaguar dealership and all the glitziness of Waikiki beach. It’s hard for me to reconcile the staggering differences between wealth and poverty, especially in such close proximity.
  • Honolulu is crazy. The city is a huge metropolitan center with frustrating traffic. Certainly not something I associated with “Hawaii.” It reminded me of a passage from Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country. In this section, Bryson described Canberra, Australia’s capital.

It reminded me less of a city–much less–than of, say, a preserved battlefield. There was that sense of spaciousness and respectful greenness that you would expect to find at Gettysburg or Waterloo.

It was impossible to believe that 330,000 people were tucked into that view and it was this though–startling when it hit me–that made me change my perception of Canberra completely. I had been scorning it for what was in fact its most admirable achievement. This was a place that had, without a twitch of evident stress, multiplied by a factor of 10 since the late 1950s and yet was still a park.

Imagine some sweet little American community–Aspen, Colorado, say–absorbing 320,000 additional residents in forty years. Think of the infrastructure that would be required to support the needs for car-based convenience of 320,000 more of us–the shopping malls and parking lots, the eight-lane roads stretching off into a forest of bright signs and elevated billboards, the vast graded acres of housing (bye, woods! bye, farm!), the distant plazas of supermarkets and box stores, the tangled ganglia of motels, gas stations, and fast-food places. Think of the miles of random, carelessly dribbled awfulness you would pass through every time you went out to buy a refrigerator or pair of running shoes or to fill the car with gas. (98)

The last paragraph reminds me of Honolulu: “eight-lane roads…carelessly dribbled awfulness.” All the while, in the distance, Honolulu is surrounded by lush greenness on one side and vast blues on the other.

  • There are so many Japanese people in Hawaii. Everything is written in English and Japanese. There was a rice cooker (a famous Japanese brand, no less) in our hotel room!!
  • Aloha. I love how its meaning extends beyond just “hello” and “goodbye.” It’s a word filled with goodwill. Several times I heard someone mention the spirit of aloha. Living with the spirit of aloha means living with love, respect, and kindness for those around you. I love everything about this.
    • Side note: it reminds me of Namaste as a greeting. The highest in me honors the highest in you.
  • Pineapples! I love pineapples. I could eat them all day long. I also love that they’re a symbol of hospitality and welcoming. Note to self: apartment needs pineapples.
  • Right on. Everyone says it, especially our DMs.
  • Rainbows. We saw so many rainbows during our stay on both Oahu and Hawai’i. No wonder the Hawaiian license plate tags have rainbows.



2 thoughts on “Oahu, Hawaii (Winter Vacation Part 1 of 3)

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