If your spouse had a business trip to Oahu, and you had enough frequent flier miles for two extra plane tickets, you’d go, right? And you’d move mountains to travel with your teen, even during the school year.
That’s what I did to spend ten days exploring Oahu in October. The weather was perfect, if you had a bathing suit and sun screen for the day and ceiling fans or air conditioning at night. The crowds were way below guidebook warnings, even at Pearl Harbor. And the beaches were mostly uncrowded.
Snorkeling, Driving and Exploring
Our first venture was on foot–the walk from our rented condo to Snorkel Bob. I had reserved three snorkel sets online ($35 per person per week) before I left home, and picking them up was a breeze. Plus we got tips on snorkel spots and an invaluable phone number to call for daily surf conditions.
We didn’t need much time in crowded Waikiki Beach to know that’s not where we’d spend our vacation. We tested our snorkel gear at Sans Souci Beach and then rented a car and headed out of town on the gorgeous Pali Highway. We drove to the Pali Lookout and gasped (like all the other newbie tourists) at the beauty of Kane’ohe Bay, Mokapu Peninsula and the Ko’olau cliffs.
From there, we went to the Byodo-in Temple, which was beautiful as replicas go but did not exude the same sense of deep spiritual resonance that old Japanese Buddhist temples do. Maybe that’s because we paid a $3 per person entrance fee and saw only non-Buddhist tourists there.
On the Kamehameha Highway
From the temple we followed the Kamehameha Highway, a mellow, two-lane route, up to the north shore, stopping to sample the macadamia nuts and coffee at Tropical Farms, and then to watch the bravest of surfers at the Banzai Pipeline. We didn’t get into the water until Shark’s Cove where five minutes after suiting up we spotted needlefish, bandtailed goatfish, ornate butterfly fish, sea turtles, and a moray eel. I stayed in the water for the rest of the afternoon, getting out only when my shoulder started to fry (used a sunscreen swimshirt after that).
Jetlag put us to bed early the first couple of nights after eating in. Yes, you can save money on food by cooking your own in a condo, but watch out for grocery prices. A gallon of milk can cost as much as $8 (our taxi driver quoted $10, but I didn’t see that price) and a loaf of whole grain bread cost us $6.59. But we decided we had saved so much by booking a condo at Vacation Rental By Owner that we could go a little further with our food choices.
On our fourth day, my husband had to work, but he slipped away in the afternoon to go with us to Pearl Harbor. The only time we ever got lost was when we missed the exit off the H-1 and drove way past the East Loch of the harbor. But our Nelles Oahu map and our iPhone got us back to the memorial parking lot. We didn’t have to wait for tickets to the USS Arizona and USS Bowfin submarine, which seemed a stroke of good luck, and we saw these sights without huge crowds. There is no way to leave Pearl Harbor in an upbeat mood. After watching the 20-minute documentary of the bombing and standing on the spot where so many died, we were reeling from the powerful imagery. My way of dealing with this feeling was to rejoice in the happier multiculturalism of today’s Hawaii.
The rest of our trip had a pattern to it. Each morning I took a fast walk down to and around the Ala Moana seaside park while my son did a couple of hours of schoolwork. I saw many of the same morning walkers and swimmers every day and decided I fit right in. Then my son and I jumped into our now sand-filled car, called the surf line, and picked a beach. We weren’t crazy about the famed Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve that charged us for parking and entrance. This lovely bay had too few locals and too shallow waters. At times we were swimming inches above the reef, which we knew not to touch. Our favorite beaches were Waimea Bay for snorkeling and deep-sea swimming, Shark’s Cove for the fish, and the unbeatable Kailua beach for body surfing.
Out of the Water
Besides swimming, we also took in the shops at Hale’iwa, ate tangy Li Hing Mui flavored shave ice at the famous Matsumoto’s of Hele’iwa and the less famous Flavors of Kailua on Oneawa St in Kailua (ask for Bob-O), and stopped in at the pricey Dole Plantation gift shop. We climbed to the top of Diamond Head (crowded trails), visited the Bishop Museum, and drove through Chinatown. I have to admit one of the high points of the trip for me was having a Lomilomi massage from Kaui, a longtime healer, at Aloha Lomilomi in Honolulu. If you have never had lomilomi, treat yourself!
Now home and looking at my travel brochures and notes, I have a few regrets—I still want to kayak to the sunken island from Kane’ohe Bay, ride horseback along the shore, and hike to hidden waterfalls. But I’ll save that for another trip. My teen son isn’t as crazy about horses and hiking as I am. But he’s off to college next year, and my husband and I will get back to Hawaii before too long. I’ve already started saving the frequent flier miles.