Trip Report: A Week on O'ahu, Hawaii
This trip to Hawaii was not even on the radar at the beginning of the year. A few things happened that made this sort of inevitable. Just for fun, here’s that story, then we'll head to O'ahu:
This all started when I was making reservations for a business trip to Hampton, Virginia, back in March of this year. First of all, the Virginia trip was originally supposed to be a trip to San Jose, California, but the location was changed sort of last minute. By changing the location from California to Virginia, the lodging choice for the trip became my standard for a Hampton trip, the Embassy Suites near the Coliseum. The second thing that happened was the website was down when I tried to make the reservation online, so I had to call. Because I called, I got a special invitation to take a survey and get a travel voucher for my time. What the heck, I had a few minutes to spare, since I could continue to work the airline reservation online. Turned out that the survey was a vacation rental/timeshare sales pitch. You know the drill, “come listen to our pitch and we’ll give you a couple nights in one of our lovely timeshare properties.” Been there done that. Initially, the offer was 2 nights in either Las Vegas, New York City, Myrtle Beach or Orlando, all places I have visited and none that were on the return anytime soon list. The sales lady was nice, but persistent and finally went for the “crème de le crème” and offered a 6-night stay on Waikiki. Now she had my attention. So for 90 minutes of my time, and $1100, we would get lodging in the Hilton Hawaiian Village, 30K Hilton Honors points and a $200 travel voucher. Not a bad deal. While I was on the line with the sale lady, I called MsHick to make sure she was cool with this deal. She was, so we signed up. We had a few days to pick and confirm dates and after looking at the calendar for the rest of the year (the deal was that we had about a year in which to take the trip) we settled on mid November, departing on the 12th, and finalized our reservations with Hilton. The other point that factored into the decision, at least for me, was that I had been to O'ahu back in 2008 for a business trip (conference), but MsHick did not get to make that trip. While I only had a limited time for exploration of the island, I did have a nice time, so this was an opportunity to get MsHick off the mainland and let her see some of the things that I saw plus allow us time for additional fun.
Now that we are going to Hawaii, how is this going to work out for two people who are certainly not resort types and honestly not beach people? Since I always try to be a “glass half full” kind of guy, my thought was that this would force us to get out an perhaps do things that we would not normally do. From my brief previous visit, I knew that we would have great time, plus staying as a resort location we could also count on some downtime, a requirement that MsHick put on this trip. Our trips are usually to the National Park in the western US or some similar outdoors type location, and we fill our days with hiking through the wondrous landscapes and looking for critters. I figured we could do some of the same on O'ahu.
One last point then we’ll get to the trip. I am a planner, and usually do a lot of research in preparation for a trip. I try to have a plan in place that allows us to make the best use of our time, but still leave flexibility. I enjoy the planning and I think that it has paid off in our previous trips. Well, for this trip I tried something completely different…no plan. The lodging was locked in, the airfare was simple, so other than reservations for the USS Arizona Memorial we went with nothing firm on the schedule and just a few general ideas of things we might want to see and do. In other words, we were just going to wing it!
So with that rather long introduction, here’s how the trip went. Be warned, this is a rather long report and I have included links to reviews, EveryTrail maps and photos (in addition to the photos on the page).
Day 1 – Monday, 11/12: On to O'ahu!
Up and at ‘em at 0400. The plan was to be on the road by 5:30 and we were heading down the driveway at 5:40, so only a little behind schedule (actually this is very good for MsHick). I travel enough that I am able to maintain Premier Access status on United, so we were able to go through the shorter lines at check-in and security. We were finished with all that and having a bagel by 6:50 so no issues at all. Shoot, the entire travel day was about as easy as it could be. I was a little worried since on my first trip to Hawaii the flight schedule was a completed mess with delays, both coming and going, but this went without a hitch. Our flight to Honolulu started with a short hop from Cleveland to Chicago then a 9-hour flight to Hawaii. Because of that long flight, I bought more legroom for that segment; money well spent. For the return flight, I blew frequent flyer miles for upgrades to first class and that worked out very well for us, but I’m getting way ahead of myself. The only downside on the fight into Honolulu was that it was an older 757, so no personal TV, just the old style monitors mounted above the aisles. I’m not much of a TV/movie watcher, but even I need a break for a flight this long. But I kept myself entertained polishing notes from another trip as well as drafting a document for work.
Before I knew it, we were on the ground in O'ahu! The flight was right on time and we were heading to the baggage about 3:00. Baggage claim and the rental car were a little slow, but that was OK; we were on vacation and working on trying to set a slow pace anyway. BTW, we rented through Thrifty, which is offsite, so it took a little longer, but overall not too bad. I plugged in the GPS on my phone and headed toward Waikiki. It was a very slow drive to the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Honolulu traffic is a complete mess; that is a theme that will resurface throughout the week.
Check in at the HHV was a debacle, but as it happens that is the only problem that we had at the property all week. The staff folks that I dealt with were very helpful and friendly; their process is just slow. But we were finally in the room just after 5:00 PM. We did get a bit of an upgrade, according to the lady who was helping me at check in. I had requested a king bed room, but these seemed to be in short supply. She finally found one in the Ali’i Tower, which she said was usually about $50/night more expensive. It was a nice room and had a good view over the main pool and a partial view of the ocean from the 11th floor. Plenty of space in the room with a couch and desk in addition to the king bed. The bathroom was also large and well appointed. MsHick determined that we had a newly refurbished room and it did seem to be in very good shape. The only issue with the room was that the door was sticky (I had to give it a little tap with my foot to get it to open). Here’s my review of the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
We headed downstairs to look for dinner and just went to Tropics at the base of the Ali’i Tower. We sat outside (hey, it’s Hawaii…seems like everything is outside!). Wonderful view of the beach and sunset. As for Tropics, the food was very good, the service was excellent but the cost was high, so the value was not that great. But it was convenient. I had a burger and MsHick at a pizza. We also split a crème brulee for dessert. It had a kiwi flavor; good but I would prefer just good old vanilla. But the sunset was beautiful, so a great ending to the day.
We headed back up to the room at 7:00 and the lights were out by 8:00 (really 2:00 AM according to my body clock).
Day 2 – Tuesday, 11/13: Critters of Waikiki.
I woke up at midnight, but that was just too early, so I rolled over and got a couple more house of shut eye. Finally awake at 2:30 AM…not surprised. MsHick was also awake, so we just got up, chatted a bit about the plans for the day, she had her coffee and I worked a cross-sum puzzle. I headed to the fitness center on the 2nd floor at 5:00 and did an hour on a treadmill. Nice little fitness area. Sort of open air. Three treadmills, two elipticals, a couple reclined bikes and some weights. The fitness center is adjacent to the pool area, which was also very nice. There is also a lounge area next to the pool. I checked this all out when I was done with my “walk” and noted that there was a continental breakfast. After cleaning up, MsHick and I came back down to take advantage of the breakfast spread. Seemed to be a complimentary buffet, so bonus!
We wandered the grounds of the HHV on our way to our first appointment of the trip which was with our personal concierge, Laura. This was another little perk of the package and another reason for not doing all the detailed planning that I usually do for our vacations. Hey, what the heck, let’s let the local expert toss out some ideas. Our meeting was at 8:00 AM and we took a little time to look around the grounds of the HHV on the way to her office. We chatted with Laura for a little over a half hour and she gave us several tips on things to do, places to go, where to eat, etc. Overall, time well spent and we did get some nice tips.
We reloaded and hit the road about 9:15, walking down the beach to get to the zoo. We had a bit of a false start as we decided that we would need our hats after all, so I went back to fetch them…and once I got back to the room, I got a call from work…that’s what I get for not turning off the silly phone! We were finally on the trail at 9:35. We walked down the beach trail, then past Fort DeRussy park and down the main drag of Waikiki to get to the Honolulu Zoo.
We arrived at the zoo just a few minutes after 10:00, so it was about a 35-40 minute walk from the HHV. This is not a huge zoo but it is very nice. Lots of birds and very nice enclosures for the big critters. The elephants and the African savannah were certainly highlights. The landscaping throughout the grounds was beautiful with many varieties of flowers, plants and trees. We walked everyone inch of trails in the zoo (well, all the trails that were open; there were a couple of areas under construction). It took us about 3 hours to cover the zoo, but we tend to take our time and also take a lot of photos. There were also several non-zoo birds that we saw hanging out in the zoo (Black-Crowned Night Heron, a few Cattle Egrets and several varieties of songbirds). We renamed the Red-Crested Cardinal the “fidget bird” as it was hard to get a good photo since they kept moving around.
Our timing was pretty good at the zoo as we got to see some of the interactions with the handlers as well as some of the enrichment activities for the animals. The elephant keeper was having the animals lift their feet and salute with their trunks, “tricks” that the animals have to do as part of their medical examinations. As a reward they were given carrots and celery. The elephant’s truck is such an amazing adaptation. It was fun to watch them gently pick up their snacks and eat the entire carrot in one bite.
We arrived at the savanna just as the keepers were completing the enrichment set-up for the zebras and giraffes. It was interesting to watch the animals waiting for the keepers to finish; the critters knew what was going on. I took a video of the giraffes when they were released back into the big enclosure to see I could capture them trotting…no such luck. Here are more photos from the zoo.
After the zoo, we continued with our animal theme and walked across the road and a little further east along the beach to the Waikiki Aquarium. Another small facility but with some lovely displays and amazing reef tanks. It took us less than 30 minutes to walk through and admire all the displays. While we took the audio tour devices, we sort of gave up on them rather quickly…we preferred just to look at the fish and read the placards. There was a lot of diversity in the tank displays. The reefs were the most colorful and had the greatest variety of fish and other sea life, but the jellyfish tank was also very cool. Here are a few more photos from the aquarium (not the highest quality).
We did some window shopping along the Waikiki strip on the walk back. We walked through the International Market, but quickly determined that it was mostly junk so we kept moving. We’re not much for trinkets and tee-shirts.
We hit one of the ABC stores in the HHV on the way back to the room, arriving home about 3:00. We picked up beer and snacks. The Kono Brewing pale ale that I had last night was, well, weak, so I was hoping to find something with more hops. Decent selection at the ABC and we ended up with Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA and Deschutes Inversion IPA, so plenty of hops. We also got some snacks, including chocolate covered macadamias. We enjoyed a beer on our balcony before dinner.
For dinner tonight, we stayed on the HHV grounds and hit the Benihana at MsHick’s request. We got there just as the place opened so we were seated right away. The service was excellent, but the show and the food were just OK. Our chef was a bit of a klutz and dropped utensils and shakers a few times and had food flying in all directions. The beer selection was weak, so I just stuck with water. The only real issues (well, other than the beer selection) was that the vent hood over our grill/table was not working well and the smoke was blowing my way, which was more than a little annoying, but did dispel the old wives tale that smoke follows beauty.
After leaving the restaurant, we noticed a lot of Marines in their dress blues, many with young ladies on their arms. It appeared to be a military ball of some sort. I talked with one of the young Marines, a very nice kid named Ty from southern California. He told me that it was the Marine Corp’s birthday, so they had the night off and were heading to the party. Well, these young men certainly deserve a party. Ty told me that he had just gotten back from a tour in Afghanistan. Hats off to these young Marines.
Day 3 – Wednesday 11/14: Pearl Harbor.
Up early again but cat-napped until about 4:00 then we started to get moving. I did a little more reading on the hiking options; not sure how much hiking we will do as MsHick is looking for a more relaxed time. We’ll get in a few shorter walks, I’m sure. Once we were dressed, we went back down the second floor lounge for breakfast, but there was none. Well, as it happens, there was a big AMA conference going on over the weekend at the HHV, so we put 2 and 2 together and figured that the breakfast must have been part of that event, so we are now breakfast crashers! Oh well. No one said anything and there were no signs. I’m sure we did not break their budget! So off to Starbucks as they were the only place open at this time of morning.
After breakfast on the balcony we got loaded for our morning at Pearl Harbor and were on the road at 6:45. We had prebooked the 8:00 AM tour of the USS Arizona Memorial through the recreation.gov website ($1.50 fee per person; well worth the cost to avoid the lines that I stood in during my first visit four years ago). We hit horrific traffic on the H1; actually came to a stop on one occasion. I was worried about not getting to the Memorial in time and losing our tickets, as the instructions indicated that you had to arrive and hour in advance or the tickets would be redistributed (yeah, I know, leaving at 6:45 meant that I was not going to make 7:00 anyway, but I figured it would be close enough for government work). As it happens, there was nothing to worry about. We arrived at 7:15 and our tickets were waiting for us at the counter; no lines and no waiting. The GPS on my phone guided us right to the Memorial.
I was astounded when we arrived. What a metamorphosis the grounds and infrastructure have gone through since my last visit. The place looks wonderful and is a much more suitable supporting area for the USS Arizona Memorial. And there was basically no crowd at this time of day (when I visited in August 2008, there was a monster line and no advance reservations; granted this is November, but I would have expected more folks). We walked right up to the ticket counter, got our passes and walked around the grounds and into the museums while we waited for our tout to start.
As it happened, we had the first tour of the day (I had thought there was one earlier tour, but I reckon I was wrong). We queued up for the introductory film at 7:50, got the ground rules from a Ranger then filed into the auditorium. I think the movie that was shown as the first part of the tour was also new since my 2008 visit. Regardless, the movie is very well done, provides a great overview of the attack and aftermath, and is very emotional. There was not a lot of talk after the movie as we moved out to the dock to board the boat to the Arizona. I think that most folks were deep in contemplation on what they had just viewed…I know I was.
The sun was shining and the skies were blue with a few big puffy white clouds, but there had to be rain somewhere, as there was a rainbow arching over the Memorial. This made for a little more special visit to the Memorial.
Once at the Memorial I really realized the advantage of being on the first boat of the day. The Memorial was empty when we walked in and I was able to get a shot of the interior with no other visitors in view. We spent the time on the Memorial in silent reflection, taking in the views of the submerged Arizona and realizing the price paid by her crew.
Overall the time for the tour, starting when we got in line for the movie until returned from the Memorial was just under 90-minutes. The time seems short, but not rushed.
Once back from the Memorial, we walked through the museums and around the grounds a bit. There is an audio tour available for the museums, but we just look at the exhibits and read the placards. The museum exhibits do a great job in providing the history of the events leading up the attack as well as the attack on Pearl Harbor. Of particular interest were the video recordings of the survivor and witness accounts. Very strong stuff. The most amazing video clip was footage of the USS Arizona exploding when a Japanese bomb pierced the forward magazine.
On a lighter noted, we spent some time watching the birds flit around the grounds. Mostly Mynas and Red-Crested Cardinals (the fidget bird). I also got a glimpse of a critter scurrying under the shrubbery; some sort of squirrel looking thing. A little research will be needed to identify this one.
We also talked about options for the rest of the morning. We skipped the USS Bowfin as we have toured WWII era submarines in the past…I did not feel like banging my head in the cramped quarters! So we opted to check out the USS Missouri in order to get the history at both the beginning and the end of the Second World War.
To get to the Missouri and the other attractions on Ford Island you have to take a shuttle bus. It is a short ride; no photography while on the bus. Once at the Missouri we were given our options for tours. We took the self guided tour. Again, we took the audio tour device, but never used it. The map and the placards were sufficient. I reckon if you really wanted to get into the details, the audio tour would be the way to go (there are also guided tours offered). This was a very nice tour. The volunteers who work on the Mighty Mo are obviously very dedicated and want to keep the old girl in great shape. The tour was educational from several aspects, from historical (getting to walk over the surrender deck) to logistical (seeing the learning how the Sailors and Marines on these fighting ships lived and worked). We walked everywhere we were allowed to go on the ship. The only real disappointment was not getting to see the engines and more of the below deck operations.
After the Missouri, we caught the shuttle back to the museum area and made a pass through the gift shop and snack bar and headed out about 1:00. I got my “passport” photo of the Valor in the Pacific National Monument sign, then we loaded up and "went tourist" for the rest of the afternoon. Here's the photo album from our time in Pearl Harbor.
We skipped the swap meet at Aloha Stadium; MsHick figured it would be a kitsch overload. But we did hit the Dole Plantation for a look around. We grabbed lunch at their snack bar (actually not bad at all; I had the pork sandwich which was very good). We ended up taking the little train ride (the Pineapple Express) and walked through the small garden. Surprisingly, the train ride was educational in terms of learning about the pineapple industry on O'ahu. The gardens were also nice, but it did not take long to walk the pathway that wove through the garden. Here are a few additional photos.
By now it was 4:00 and too late for the Wahiawa Botanical Garden, so we’ll do that on another day. Instead we just headed to the north shore for a look around and to get the lay of the land. We did not make any stops as it was getting late, but we did find a few places for future exploration. We made good time on the return trip, until we reached Honolulu, then the traffic came to a screeching halt. We were finally home about 6:00.
For dinner we took Laura’s advice at went to Uncle Bo’s. It was good, but not great. It does not look like much from the outside plus it looks very small, but there is more room on the inside. It has a bit of an eclectic vibe to it. Parking is across the street in a pay lot; we missed it and had to make a u-turn to get lined up with the lot, but that was just a minor thing.
I guess we arrived before 7:00 and were seated right away. Excellent service; our server was friendly and expedient and also very helpful with regards to the menu. MsHick was a little put off by the lighting. There was nice artwork for sale displayed on the walls, but the spotlights that were illuminating the paintings were a little hard on the eyes. The food was very good and the portions were huge. MsHick had the filet which she said was tender and cooked to her liking; it was a pretty good deal at $20. My fish dish was also quite tasty. Overall, I would say this was a pretty good value. After dinner, it was back to the HHV and another early night.
In terms of critters, we saw several birds today at Pearl Harbor and the Dole Plantation. We also had a return guest on our balcony, a white pigeon that was missing two toes from one foot. He became a regular in the morning when we were having breakfast. MsHick started calling him Rupert (I have no idea where she got that name). Rupert was not worried by us at all, and would just sort of hang-out with us. We never fed him, but he did get the crumbs from our morning pastries.
We also saw what we later deduced were mongooses. The first one was at Pearl Harbor as we were sitting on a bench along the water and I saw some sort of squirrel-looking critter scurrying under the hedges. We also saw one later in the day as we were driving into the Waimea Valley. I quick Google search on my phone confirmed my suspicions that these were mongooses and that they are not well loved in Hawaii. Turns out that they are not native and were introduced as a way to control the rat population. Well, that did not work out and instead the mongooses ravaged the native birds, particularly their eggs. I guess Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is not the hero in this story.
Day 4 – Thursday 11/15/2012: Sales Pitch and Sightseeing.
Awake at 4:00, so an improvement from 2:00 AM. No rush today since this is our time share tour morning (appointment at 9:00). I used the time to hit the gym and got an hour in on a treadmill. Once back in the room, I got cleaned up while MsHick went to get us some breakfast at Starbucks. Another meal on the balcony with Rupert.
The timeshare pitch was pretty painless. Not a hard sell at all. We did go with open minds, although we were pretty sure that we would not buy anything. Actually, the young man who made the pitch was very helpful and tried to tailor the product to fit our needs (as any good salesperson should). We have seen a few timeshare options over the years, and this one was actually tempting, but in the end it really just did not fit our travel style nor did it really cater to the places that we generally visit (most of our trips are to National Parks in the western US; as mentioned, this Hawaii trip was very much out of character for us as we are not beach or resort people. While we had a great time on this trip, it was not something that we would want to do on a regular basis. Perhaps that will change in the future). Besides, we just did not want to shell out $15K to buy the timeshare plus about a grand a year in HOA fees. Interestingly, the final offer was for another timeshare pitch trip ($1700 for 7 nights at the Hilton resort on the Big Island, but it had to be used within 18 months…very tempting, but we passed). We did get tours of typical units that are available and they were amazing. Very well done, lots of space…all the comforts of home and then some! Part of a presentation was a video that described the timeshares and included lots of testimonials from owners. While the video provided all the positives of ownership, there were a couple of comments made that really helped to make up my mind. First, one owner stated that there was so much to do at the resort that they never had to leave the grounds. I reckon I travel to see what is at the destination, not just play in the resort (National Park people, remember; I go some place to get out into nature and see what I can see). The other was a comment that having the timeshare “forces” you to travel, makes you feel obligated to use the timeshare so you go to places that you might not otherwise visit. I see what they are saying, but the delivery of this message just did not sit right with me.
In the end we passed on everything and we both felt that we made the right decision. We talked about the timeshare option throughout the day and always came back to the same answer.
We were finally out of there about 11:15 and headed back to the room to reload. We had thought about some hiking this afternoon (Diamond Head and/or Makapu’u Lighthouse). However, our tummies were talking, so we decided to start with lunch. Based on a recommendation from the Lonely Planet guide book for Oahu, we picked the BluWater Grill, since we wanted to head to the southeast area of the island any way. Good choice. We got there around noon, but beat the lunch crowd. There was no one inside and only one table occupied on the patio we when arrived but the patio filled up quickly and there was decent number of tables filled inside by the time we left. Service was very speedy and the server was helpful and friendly. The food was excellent. Easily the best meal we had eaten thus far on the trip. I had the fish and chips, which was the daily special. I really like fish and chips, even though I know they are not good for me, and this dish was some of the best I had even had. The server said the fish was a Korean catfish of some sort and the breading was a macadamia nut crust that was really light. The fries were also very good (not the crinkle cut frozen bag fries that we were served elsewhere on the island). The downside was the lame beer selection (remember, I’m a hop head!), so bad that I just had water (besides, I was driving). We decided to try the crème brulee. The server stated that is was made with a passion fruit flavor and was very tart. It was tart, but still good (but again, I’d prefer it “plain”).
After lunch, we just opted for a driving tour and hit a few scenic overlooks. First was the blowhole, which I missed during my previous trip as the parking area was under construction. Pretty cool views. Then we stopped at the Makapu’u overlook and got some decent shots out over the bay. It was still overcast but the views were alright. We continued up the east coast along routes 72 and 83, just enjoying the scenery, then turned around about 3:00 and headed home.
No issues with the drive back to HHV until we got off the H1. We needed to make a left turn to get to the HHV, but the road we were on was “coned” so that every cotton-picking left turn was blocked. I’m guessing this was from traffic control to get folks out of Honolulu during the evening rush, but it sure hosed up our route for getting into Waikiki! We eventually got turned around and made it to base. Seems like every time we get on the highway it is a bad experience.
We stopped in the Whaler’s general store and got an assortment of beer and headed to the balcony. Rupert showed up and hung-out with us for most of the afternoon. So we tried the Kono Longboard; just did not like it. The Mehana pale ale was just OK (about as lackluster as the Kono Fire Rock pale ale). I think we’ll stick to the Torpedo and Inversion IPAs for the rest of the trip.
When went back down for a look around before sunset. MsHick finally got her toes in the Pacific Ocean (did I mention we were land lubbers?). Sunset was amazing; extremely colorful this evening. We just hung out on the beach and watched the colors play across the sky and clouds. We also saw the last of the surfers coming in as well as a few boats and dinner cruises out enjoying the sunset as well. This was almost worth the trip by itself.
After the sun clocked out for the evening, we took a walk through the shops and looked for some dinner. We finally opted for carry-out from the Pronto Pickle (at the base of the Ali’i Tower, next to Tropics). We enjoyed our dinner on our balcony. MsHick had a salad and I had a pizza…thank goodness for crushed red pepper seeds to provide a little more flavor.
Here are the photos from today's adventures.
Day 5 – Friday 11/16: Turtles, Waterfalls and Fireworks.
Starting to sleep a little later. I was awake at 4:00 but was able to catnap until 5:00. I headed out to check the sunrise, but the overcast muted the colors. Once again, breakfast from Starbucks and we ate on the balcony where we enjoyed more rainbows and some feather company as well (say good morning, Rupert).
We decided to delay our departure this morning to let the traffic settle down a bit (we hope) then we’ll head to the north shore with the plan being to look for gardens, turtles and waterfalls and maybe a shrimp truck. We were on the road at 9:30.
Now we had had some sort of rain each day of the trip, not really a surprise…besides, you need rain for the wonderful rainbows that we had seen almost every day. However today it was a heavier rain and the skies were a lot more gloomy. We’ll see how that affects our plans.
So our first stop was the Wahiawa Botanical Garden. The rain had slowed to a sprinkle when we arrived, so we headed on into the garden. As there was no admission fee, we decided to go on in and roll the dice that the rain would stay away. Well, good thing we weren’t in Las Vegas as we only were in the garden for 15 minutes or so before the skies opened and it just deluged. Fortunately we were near cover so we did not get soaked. We waited out the heavy stuff while chatting with one of the garden caretakers, then we made a dash for the car. I will say that the small portion of the garden that we saw was very nice; lush and green with a grand assortment of flowers. We saw a few junglefowl but no other birds (they were probably all grounded due to the weather).
We decided to try our luck on the north shore. At least the skies looked a little brighter to the north. Hey, what the heck, this is vacation in Hawaii! The skies did clear as we drove north. The dirt in the farm fields is as dark red as any I have seen, almost purple in places. Brings to mind the red rocks of southern Utah.
We also got another look at the large wind farm out to the east of the highway. Big freaking windmills. I know a lot of folks do not like these big turbines, but I like ‘em. They seem simple, but there is a lot of engineering, particularly low speed aerodynamics that goes into making these things and making them work properly. We would get a little better view of some wind turbines shortly.
Our first stop was a stretch of beach known as a turtle hang-out. Laura had pointed this out to us when we met on Tuesday. Her directions were right on target as she told us to look for a white picket fence on the right side of the road the parking would be immediately after that and the beach directly across the street from the parking. The only issue was it was not a white “picket” fence, but rather a white board/horse fence, but we figured it out. She also said that the traffic would probably be heavy as there was a major surfing tournament underway along the north shore and she was right on that point as well. Getting across the road was a bit of a hazard. There were several surfers were out and riding some huge waves. But we made it to the beach and found what we had come to see.
There was one big Green Sea Turtle on the beach along with about a dozen or so still out in the surf. MsHick had read that the smaller turtles often cannot make it to the beach when the surf is rough, but we could see them bobbing out in the waves.
The big guy on the beach was named Brutus but he also had a Hawaiian name of Nalukai. He is a male about 35 to 40 years old and weighs about 180 pounds. His left rear flipper is shorter due to a shark attack in 2004. Brutus is a world traveler as he made the 1000 mile trek to the mating and nesting site of the French Frigate Shoals in 2004 and 2011. And he did not seem to have a care in the world as he basked on the beach. There were a couple of volunteer turtle watchers (actually I think they were tourist watchers, as the turtles were doing no wrong). Good idea to make sure that these big critters are protected. But everyone was well behaved and just watched and took photos.
After making it back across the road (it was not that bad; while there was a lot of traffic folks were polite and made room for cars to pull on and off the road and stopped to allow the pedestrians to cross), we continued east to the Waimea Valley for a short hike. This was another activity recommended by Laura as the easiest of the waterfall hikes. My research indicated the same and while I would have liked to hike some of the other trails, I figured that with the rain that those trails would probably be fairly muddy and slick, so we went with the easy access hike.
We drove up the valley to the visitor center, the primary lot was not quite full and there were no cars in the overflow parking, so we figured the park would not be too crowded. I was getting a little hungry, so I figured I could pick up some trail mix or a granola bar at the snack shop, but they really catered more to serving lunch. OK, why fight it, we’ll have lunch here. Since we had been thinking of trying a shrimp truck, we opted for the garlic shrimp plate and an order of fries. Actually quite good and more than filling. A bit messy, so I was glad to have a washroom nearby before we took our walk.
The waterfall itself is a little underwhelming, but I knew going in that it was not a huge fall. Still it is a pretty setting with a nice pool below the falls. Swimming is allowed and there were lifeguards on duty, but with all the warning signs for various hazards, I was fine just enjoying the view from the trail.
We enjoyed our time in Waimea Valley. We actually spent about an hour and a half on the short trail, just enjoying the flowers and the birds and the other sites. The weather had cleared so this was a very enjoyable stroll and we were taking a fair number of photos of the flora. We did walk along most of the short spur trails to see the historical sites and also took the nature trail below the main trail on our return walk. While this is certainly not a must do it does provide a glimpse into the island away from the beaches.
Our last stop along the north shore was at Ted’s Bakery so that we could pick up something for breakfast tomorrow. We got a couple pastries and a two huge chocolate chip cookies for a snack. We drove home via the east coast then cut across on the Pali Highway. We drove up to the overlook, I reckon it was about 3:30. Man was it windy up there! But the view was great. We just stayed a few minutes then headed back to the HHV.
We were home about 4:30. MsHick said she would buy me a drink, so we headed to the lounge on the second floor and had a Mai Tai (there were no beers worth drinking on tap). After the drink, we walked through the grounds and shops of the HHV…just killing time until the fireworks show. We headed back to the second floor lounge/pool area about 6:15 and staked out our chairs for the fireworks. We were plenty early and got prime chairs along the railing in the pool area. MsHick had a book and I was playing with my phone (checking up on Trip Advisor and playing with You Tube). I also brought a couple beers from our stash for us, so we had a nice relaxing evening while waiting for the show. Of course, the light show started with the sunset. Not as nice as yesterday, but still and interesting view through the palm trees from our vantage point on the second floor.
The fireworks started promptly at 7:45. It was a short show but intense. Constant barrage of rockets of various colors and patterns. And there were very loud reports from the fireworks. The show only lasted a few minutes, but it was very entertaining and worth the wait. Very well done from both a visual and percussion perspective!
We did carry-out again for dinner, this time from Round Table pizza…a Hawaiian of course. We ate on the balcony and enjoyed the pleasant evening. A very nice and relaxed way to end the day. Here's a photographic synopsis of the days travels (from morning rainbows to fireworks).
Day 6 – Saturday 11/17: Diamond Head.
Up at 5:00 (that is sleeping in for this trip!). It is a grey morning outside and we could tell it was raining in Honolulu (but there were rainbows, so there is hope). We sat out on the balcony with Rupert and ate our cinnamon rolls that we purchased yesterday from Ted’s Bakery along with pineapple juice that we picked up from Whaler’s last night. The plan for today is to take the little hike up to the observation point on Diamond Head then perhaps Makapu’u lighthouse (that is up to MsHick). The only constraint is the weather; as long as it is not pouring, I think we will hit the trail.
With the weather being a little iffy, we felt that we did not have to be too early to beat the crowds (well at least get a parking spot) at Diamond Head and we were right. We pulled into the crater a little past 8:30, paid our fee ($5) and found a place to stow the rental. On the drive in we passed an art show in Kapi’olani park (adjacent to the zoo) plus we drove past the community college where the farmer’s market was being held. The farmer’s market was the bigger zoo!
So we were on the trail at 8:50 after getting our passport stamp photo of the park sign. I had made this hike during my first visit in 2008, so I knew what to expect. It is a 0.8 mile climb to the top of the crater rim with a fair amount of variation along the trail. The trail starts off as a wide concrete sidewalk that gently climbs from the crater floor through a few trees until the transition to a narrower, rock and dirt trail that really starts you climbing through a series of switchbacks to gain on the crater rim. Note that the elevation change from the parking lot to the observation area on the rim is about 600 feet and it is a steep hike in places. We did get rained on a one point; I was glad I had my wide-brimmed hat as that took care of most of the precipitation. But the problem with the rain is not getting wet so much as it is the trail getting slick. I think this trail requires a sturdy pair of hiking shoes or at least good athletic shoes, something with support for the foot and a good griping tread. We saw many folks with flip-flops, sandals (not hiking sandals) and even high heels and platform shoes (c’mon ladies, this ain’t a fashion show. If you twist or break an ankle here, is will be tough getting off the trail).
There was as addition to the trail made since I was last here. After climbing the first set of steps and exiting the tunnel, the trail splits. Someone had actually scrawled “easy way” and “hard way” on the wall at the tunnel exit. The hard way is a set of very steep concrete steps then a spiral staircase that takes you into the old observation bunker. We decided to check out the easy way. This was a new part of the trail which was paved and had a much more gradual slope to get to the observation area. This trail begins at an overlook into the crater and to the east and works gradually up the slope to a second overlook that provides a nice view toward Koko Head and over the ocean then turns up the crater rim to the observation bunker. This is a great upgrade to the hike and probably makes it much more accessible for many people.
The best views of course are from the observation bunker viewing platform. It was still overcast, so the views were not as great as they could have been, but there were nice vistas back to Waikiki and up to Koko Head. Well worth the effort.
While at the top, I passed a lady who commented that she did not remember the “easy” route from her last visit two years ago, so this is a very recent installation. I commented to her that I did not remember it either and said that I was glad it was not just me who was thinking they were losing their mind.
We made the return trip the old or “hard” way, by climbing into the bunker and heading down the spiral staircase and the longer, steep flight of stairs, so we did a bit of a loop at the top of the trail. Overall the hike came out to about 1.8 miles and took a little over an hour. We made it to the top in about 30 minutes with minimal stops on the way up (we opted just to keep the momentum going on the way up and make more photo stops on the return trip).
We paused back at the trailhead on the crater floor for a rest and ended up sitting at a picnic table and watched the birds for a while. Red-Vented Bulbuls, Java Finches, House Finches, Pacific Golden Plovers, Common Waxbills, Zebra Doves and Spotted Turtles Doves were there in droves. The smaller birds were a little jittery, but as long as we sat fairly still, they came up pretty close to the table, so we got some decent shots. The larger birds (doves and bulbuls) were fearless and walked right under the table looking for crumbs or handouts (just don’t feed the wildlife).
This album has a selection of photos from our hike up Diamond Head as well as shots of the birds we saw on the crater floor.
The art show that we passed on the drive to Diamond Head had piqued MsHick’s interest, so she proposed that we skip the lighthouse hike, head back to the HHV to reload and just walk back to the art show. OK, not the second hike that I was hoping for, but it was better than no hike at all. So that was what we did. On the way to the art show, we scoped out potential lunch spots, since I knew that I would be starving by the time we came back. The art show was nice; about 80 craftspersons and artists showing their wares according to one of the folks we talked to. By now the skies had cleared so it was a nice day for a walk in the park and along the main drag in Waikiki.
On the return trip, we passed by a beach volleyball tournament and watched for a few minutes. Looked like high school girls. I was impressed with the communications between the teammates in terms of calling and setting up plays. MsHick did a little window shopping (she was looking for a book store, but no luck). We stopped for lunch at Giovanni Pastrami. We got there a little after 1:00 and got seated immediately. Excellent service. Big menu but more along a pub variety (burgers, sandwiches, etc.) A very popular place to gather for college football. There was a very large Ohio State contingent (I just can’t get away from those guys) and a strong showing from both USC and UCLA, since those teams were playing each other. The UCLA folks seemed much happier with the score today. I had a burger and it was great (BBQ, bacon cheeseburger…I’ll need to climb Diamond Head a couple more times to work that one off!).
Since we could not find a book store along the Waikiki strip, we walked to the mall on the other side of the HHV to the Barnes and Noble where MsHick was successful in her quest (I think she was looking for the next Hunger Games installment…I just hope she does not try to drag me to those movies…freaking Harry Potter was bad enough). We were back on the balcony at the HHV by 3:00 with a beer and a huge cookie from Ted’s Bakery. Nice relaxing afternoon.
We headed back downstairs in the early evening for sunset (it was a non-event due to the overcast) and to get MsHick some coffee to take home and look at dinner options. Following that big lunch and the mondo cookie, neither of us were that hungry, so we just grabbed a sandwich from the Pronto Pickle and headed back to the balcony (I had a turkey Panini….ehh). We ended up watching the Mummy II and drinking our last beer before crashing at 9:00.
Day 7 – Sunday 11/18: Last day in Paradise….
Up early again (awake at 4:00 but lazed around until 5:00). Much nicer looking morning, with blue skies over the beach and on down to Pearl Harbor, but still dark clouds heading inland…but it does seem to be clearing.
Packing and planning this morning. Check out is not until 11:00, so we have plenty of time. We’ll store the luggage with the bell desk then cruise around the island some more. No need to be at the airport until about 8:00 PM for our red-eye flight so we will have time to enjoy one last sunset and dinner before the flight. We’ll head into Honolulu to check some of the historic sites then drive the west coast and probably back to the north shore for one last look around.
We went looking for breakfast at about 9:00. We got sidetracked at the Koi ponds. It was feeding time, so MsHick got a couple cups of fish food from one of the keepers. The interesting thing was that there were 2 or 3 wild Black-Crested Night Herons at the ponds, and they were also looking for breakfast and finding it as they were catching the little blue fish in the ponds. It was fun watching the critters eat, but now it was time for us to get some vittles.
We first tried the buffet at the Rainbow Tower, but did not want to wait 20 minutes, so we scooted over to Tropics where the wait was less than 10 minutes. MsHick had the banana pancakes and I went ala carte with a bagel, side of ham and fresh pineapple and made my one Hawaiian breakfast sammich…I’m a genius.
After breakfast we finished packing, checked-out, stored the luggage with the bell desk and got ready to head out. The bellman mentioned that when we return to get the bags we can get a courtesy room to freshen up before our flight. That is a nice touch.
So here’s the rundown on what we did with our last day on O’ahu:
We started in downtown Honolulu to see a few of the landmarks. Since it was Sunday, most things were closed but that was OK as the day was so beautiful we wanted to be outside anyway. First stop was the Iolani Palace. It looked like there must have been a major league shindig there last night as the place was covered in flags and there was a large tent structure being dismantled at the front of the building. Must have been some party. We also saw the State Capitol; very interesting architecture. Next stop was the King Kamehameha statue which has quite an interesting history, following by a walk by the Maritime Museum and finally the Aloha Tower. We did venture up to the 10th floor observation deck and were rewarded with some wonderful views of the city and the harbor.
The driving tour part of the day also covered a lot of ground and a wide range of destinations. We first drove along the west coast as that was one area of the island that we had completely missed. Very pretty views of the ocean and the mountains, but there were no places to stop to get good views of the mountains, so no photos. We then backtracked then turned north on route 750 toward Hale’iwa. We basically did a drive through of historic Hale’iwa, although we did have lunch at Breakers Grill. Perhaps this is a hidden gem as this was perhaps the best meal we had this week. We just had a couple small plates, crab cakes and coconut shrimp, plus I had a bowl of chowder and MsHick had a salad. All were great. The crab cakes and the coconut shrimp were amazing; some of the best I have ever had. Fresh, sweet coconut….yum! After lunch we looked through a few shops but bought nothing.
There were no big waves today on the north shore so I reckon there was no surf competition, but there was still more than a little traffic. We stopped by back at the beach to check for turtles. There was one big one names Kuhina, which means “the Ambassador.” He is about 35 years old and weighs in at 260 pounds. He is the largest male turtle of the family at Laniakea.
We returned via route 99 and H2 to Honolulu. The sun was out but there was rain somewhere as there was a huge rainbow off to the east of the highway. Since I had purchased the tank of gas when I rented the car I was now nursing the fuel level in order to return the car on fumes. I had to stop twice for gas, buying 2 gallons each time, but we rolled back into the Thrifty with very little left in the tank.
We were back at the HHV about 5:00 just in time for a final beer and sunset on the beach. Neither was that great, but the beer was cold and there was a little color in the sky so it was still a great way to end the trip. This is the final set of photos documenting our final day touring O'ahu.
We collected our bags and headed to the airport. The GPS took us straight to Thrifty and following just a minor delay (they seemed to be under staffed) we were off to the airport. For the return trip I blew some frequent flyer miles for upgrades to first class and that paid off just in avoiding the coach check-in and security lines. I reckon it took us about 20 minutes from the time we got to the airport to the time we were at the gate. The flights went well (we connected through LAX) and we were back in Cleveland just about on schedule. Another great trip has come to a close.
We had a great time on O'ahu. This was a great vacation and a nice change of pace for us; much more downtime and not as jammed-packed of an itinerary which is what MsHick was looking for. We spent more time “in the room” on this trip than we normally do, granted most of that time was out on the balcony or elsewhere on the resort grounds. It was good for a change, but would not be my preferred mode of vacation…as mentioned, I’m a National Parks guy. I reckon that is my comfort zone and I think provides more solitude and just puts me more at ease. I reckon I need to see the other islands in Hawaii, as I understand that there are slower paced and less crowded places. While I greatly enjoyed O'ahu, I think it is now in the “been there, done that” column…at least for now. But we will certainly return to Hawaii in the future to explore Maui, Kauai and the Big Island at the very least.
We had toyed with the idea of making at least a day trip for another island, but decided that would be trying to cram in too much for the time that we had. Since we were doing this trip as part of a timeshare pitch, we were set with lodging, but if I were planning this trip from scratch I would have split my time between perhaps two areas of the island. I would have also added a few more days so that we could have gone to the Big Island to explore Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. But we’ll get there sometime in the future.
In case I missed anything with the links to photos above, here's a final link to all the photo galleries from our Hawaii 2012 trip.
In case I missed anything with the links to photos above, here's a final link to all the photo galleries from our Hawaii 2012 trip.