About Me

Tired of the mundane and craving an adventure, on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, I embarked on the ultimate American road trip through all fifty states. After nearly a year and a half on the road, on a budget of less than 50 bucks a day, this is my story...

Hawaii, Chapter 8: Oahu - Gathering Place


  "Oahu is the most commercial of the islands, and in many ways, the center of the Hawaiian universe.  It's home to Waikiki (famous the world over, where urban culture and the distinct Polynesian flavor of Hawaii co-exist) and jam-packed Honolulu (the state's capital and home to nearly 80% of the state's population). But don't let that fool you:  Oahu mesmerizes visitors with rainforests, mountains, valleys, and spectacular ocean waves. A great suggestion for any island newcomer is to rent a car (an open top is ideal) and drive the perimeter of the island - you may well be awed by how slow-paced, undeveloped and quaint much of the island remains, particularly on its northern and eastern shores."

Thursday, February 10th - Drivin' with the Top Down!
This morning for $71 I flew to Honolulu, and went to Hertz to pick up my rental car.  I had reserved a little economy car for $122, but there was evidently something wrong, because when I finally spoke with the inexperienced agent behind the counter, after waiting forever in the slow line of people, she went and spoke with a fellow associate, then talked on the phone part-way into another room so I couldn't hear her admit her mistake, then finally came back and asked if I would be okay with a free upgrade to a convertible!  HECK YES!  SWEET!!!  A few minutes later I was driving off the lot in a new, red Mustang convertible with the top down!  WOO-HOO!

Waikiki Beachside Hostel, Photo f/ Google Images
I checked into Waikiki Beachside Hostel, a large hostel located a block away from popular Waikiki Beach.  The hostel is run like a hotel (the staff is even in uniform!), so I felt pampered, since I've stayed in hole-in-the-walls with bedbugs!  I went to my room which was nice and secure, an a 8-person co-ed dorm with a little kitchen area, telephone (free local calls), bathroom, lanai (deck), air conditioning, lockers, and electronic door lock :)

I walked up Kalakaua Ave, the main drag along Waikiki Beach, lined with restaurants, hotels, shopping boutiques,  to Duke's, where I had the lunch buffet recommended by a fellow Banana Bungalow-er in Maui.  The open-air dining room is great, open to great views of the beach, and the service was good, but the buffet didn't have much selection, and I found hair in my food!  Needless to say, I lost my appetite and left.  On the way back to the hostel I stopped to check out the busy beach (a bit overrated in my opinion).

Upon arriving back at the hostel, I hopped in the car for a drive around the perimeter of the island.  Heading southeast from Waikiki, I passed iconic Diamond Head, and "a dozen bedroom communities tucked into the valleys at the foot of the Koolau Range, with just fleeting glimpses of the ocean from a couple pocket parks. This is where civilization falls away, the four-lane Kalaniana'ole Highway narrows to two lanes, and you enter the rugged coastline of Kokohead and Ka Iwi.  This is a cruel coastline: dry, wind-swept, and rocky shores, with  notoriously treacherous untamed waves." 

Koko Head Crater & Hanauma Bay, Photo f/ Hawaii.edu
"At this point, you're passing through Koko Head Regional Park.  On your right is the bulging remnant of a pair of volcanic craters that the Hawaiians called Kawaihoa, known today as Koko Head.  To the left is Koko Crater and the area of the park that includes a hiking trail, a dry land botanical garden, a firing range, and a riding stable.  Ahead is a sinuous shoreline with scenic pullouts, beaches, and Makapu'u Point.  Named the Ka Iwi Coast for the channel just offshore, this area was once home to a ranch and small fishing enclave that were destroyed by a tidal wave in the 1940s."

Passing Hanauma Bay (a tuff ring breached by the ocean), I stopped at a handful of scenic lookouts, Lanai Lookout (features a very distant view of the Island of Lānai on a clear day), Hālona Blowhole (ocean swells surge into lava tube and spout up 50 ft. (16 m) high.
Whale watching in season; next to "From Here to Eternity" Beach at Halona Cove), Sandy Beach Park and Makapu'u Point State Wayside.

Continuing along the coastal highway, I passed Mānana Island, Makai Pier (long, concrete pier built that houses several commercial marine engineering firms and HURL - Hawaii Underwater Research Laboratory), more beach parks, and I accidentally dead-ended at a marine corps base, lol.

"Chinaman’s Hat,"Photo f/ HawaiiWeatherToday.com
I got some gas and picked up a slushie (I like to use a mixture of flavors), before continuing my drive along the eastern, "Windward Oahu" coast.

"Looking at Honolulu's topsy-turvy urban sprawl, you would never suspect the windward side existed.  It's a secret Oahuans like to keep, so they can watch the awe on the faces of their guests when the car emerges from the tunnels through the mountains and they gave for the first time on the panorama of turquoise bays and emerald valleys watched over by the knife-edged Koolau ridges."

"It is on this side of the island that many Native Hawaiians live. Evidence of traditional lifestyles is abundant in crumbing fish ponds, rock platforms that once were altars, and taro patches still being worked.  Here, the pace is slower, more oriented toward nature."

Windward Oahu, Photo f/ HawaiiWeatherToday.com
turned out to be a Mormon Temple, with beautiful manicured gardens surrounding the striking coral-white temple, which has been a La'ie landmark since 1919. I made a brief stop in the visitor center (features a breathtaking replica of Thorvaldsen's "Christus" statue), before being hounded by a couple of "friendly representatives," eager to know my religious beliefs and pressuring me to watch their "informational video" (I declined).

I then curved around Oahu's North Shore, the region known for surfing, surfing and more surfing.  Roughly from Kahuku Point to Kaena Point, is an area of small farms and big waves, tourist traps, and other-worldly landscapes, and I passed several parks and beaches, roadside fruit stands and shrimp shacks, between the one-time plantation town of Kahuku and the surf mecca of Haleiwa.  Just opposite of tranquil Waimea Valley was my favorite place along the North Shore, Waimea Bay, an influential surf spot during the dawn of big wave surfing in the 1950’s, with wide stretches of sand to sunbathe and picnic, and a rock outcropping to climb and jump off of - lots of feral cats, lol. 

Haleiwa, "Surf City U.S.A," has had many lives, from resort getaway in the 1900s to plantation town through the 20th century to its life today as a surf and tourist magnet, offering fashion boutiques, surf shops, restaurants and "shave ice." 

Beyond Haleiwa is the tiny village of Waialua, a string of beach parks, an airfield where gliders, hang-gliders, and parachutists play, and, at the end of the road, Kaena Point State Recreation Area, on a windy barren coast that lacks both shade and fresh water (or any man-made amenities), which offers a brisk hike, striking views and whale-watching in season.

Halawei Town, Photo f/ ParadiseBabyCo.com
It was getting dark, so I didn't follow the coast back, though I did get a good taste of the rural countryside that the west part of the island is known for, along Kamehameha Highway heading south.  "There are commuters from this side to Honolulu, but many are born, live and die on this side with scarcely a trip to town.  For the most part, there's less hostility and more curiosity toward outsiders. Occasional problems have flared up, mostly due to drug abuse that has ravaged the fringes of the island. But the problems have generally been car break-ins, not violence. So, in short, lock your car, don't bring valuables, and enjoy the amazing beaches."

"The beaches on the west side are expansive and empty. Most Oahu residents and tourists don't make it to this side simply because of the drive, but you'll be hard pressed to find a better sunset anywhere," speaking of which, I did get to witness a pretty spectacular one from the rear view mirror on the way back to the hostel.

The hostel was pretty happenin' when I got back.  They cooked up an all-American dinner of burgers and beans for $5 (yummy veggie burgers, too), and while sitting down to plan my next day I met David from Ann Arbor and Jenna from Vancouver.  The 3 of us got along great, and we went for a little walk around the neighboring streets of Waikiki to check out the local nightlife.  On the way back, David and I were propositioned by friendly women (prostitutes) countless times.  David's a very handsome guy, so I had no problem with him telling the girls that I was his man, LOL. 

Friday, February 11th - Hikin' Haiku!
View f/ Puu Keahiakahoe Summit
Photo by David Gorham
This morning David and I got up super early (maybe 5 am?) and went for one of the most unique, most awe-inspiring hikes I've ever done!  Last night I was thinking out loud with David about which hike I'd like to do today (Manoa Falls, Diamond Head...), when a fellow hosteler spoke up and recommended the "Haiku Stairs" (aka "Haiku Ladder" and "Stairway to Heaven," as it frequently disappears into the clouds), a network of connecting sections of metal stairs, scaling the slope of Koolau Mountain up to an abandoned radar tower in Kaneohe. 

"The trail began as a wooden ladder spiked to the cliff on the south side of the Haiku Valley, installed in 1943 to enable the construction of antenna cables and a building to provide continuous communication between Wahiawa and Haiku Valley Naval Radio Station - elevation approximately 2800 feet. The extraordinary antennas transmitted radio signals that could reach US Navy submarines as far away as Tokyo Bay, even while the submarines remained underwater."

"When the Naval base was decommissioned in the 1950s, the United States Coast Guard used the site for an Omega station. In the early 50s, the wooden stairs were replaced by sections of metal steps and ramps — by one count, 3,922 steps. The station and trail were closed to the public in 1987."

View of Sunrise f/ 1st Platform of Haiku Stairs
Photo by David Gorham
"We parked in the residential neighborhood of 'Haiku Village,' and quietly found our way to the gate with signs reading "No Trespassing" and "Haiku Stairs Closed. Trespassers will be prosecuted."  We squeezed through, and this is where the real "Mission Impossible" fun started.  No matter who's directions on Yelp you follow to get to the stairs, you'll most likely do some back-tracking as we did.  Through fences, under fences, around fences, turning here, turning there, paved paths, dirt paths, "follow the "orange ribbons," "go under the bridge" - with ambiguous directions and the light from David's phone, we eventually made it to the blue tarp, where at 6:20am the guard would be stationed, turning away all hopeful trespassers.

A few chain-link fences later, we began our ascent up the 3,922 slippery stairs, potentially with one wrong step making for a very, very bad day.  "The stairs are comprised of approximately eight-foot-high segments which are interlinked by hooks and anchored by spikes driven into the mountain side. A pair of hollow steel-tube railings, an average of 18 - 24 inches apart, are bolted to each segment. The grade of the ascent ranges from completely flat to nearly vertical, however, the majority remains above a 45-degree gradient.  The step spacing is very manageable, but one should realize this is equivalent to about a 60 - 90 minute continuous work-out on a "stair-climber" machine.

We made it to the first platform of the Koolau Mountains just in time to witness the spectacular sunrise over Honolulu giving way to jaw-dropping views.  As an additional bonus, we looked to left above the highway to find a giant double-rainbow!  I took a few minutes perched on the concrete slab, catching my breath and thanking the universe for this amazing experience.

"Ganja!" - Abandoned Hoist House
Photoby David Gorham
We kept climbing, making our way to an abandoned concrete structure which houses the antenna's winching equipment, elevation at 2,480 ft.  We had fun checking out the old, rusted equipment and interesting graffiti walls, before making our final climb to the 2800-foot summit of Puu Keahiakahoe overlooking Haiku Valley.  Here, you feel a million miles up from the dots of buildings on the valley floor, with an incredible, panoramic, bird's-eye view of the the ocean, mountains, and communities below.  We had fun striking a couple poses for the camera, checking out the abandoned radar tower, and chatting with a few others who made it up.

It started raining before we descended the mountain, making the metal stairs even more wet, but we made it down without a problem, chatting with the friendly, social guard upon leaving the trail.  The guard was interesting, sporting a pink mohawk-type do, and sharing his love of the trail us - he said he's made it up to the top in a record 26 minutes (or something like that - it was too early to remember details, lol)!

David and I refreshed ourselves with a trip to Jamba Juice (difficult to find!), before grabbing a fish plate lunch with a "groupon" at a local hole-in-the-wall, where David accidentally squashed a giant cockroach lurking under our table!

We attempted to spend a day at the beach on the North Shore, but turned around when it started raining heavily.

When we got back to the hostel I intended to watch a little "Dexter" with David, but their internet connection was down, so I took myself to dinner and a movie.  

Oceanarium Restaurant
Photo f/ travelofscool-anda.blogspot.com
To make up for the disappointing, hair-in-the-food buffet let-down at Duke's, I treated myself to an upscale experience at Pacific Beach Hotel’s award-winning Oceanarium Restaurant, where "the flavors are as amazing as the views," just a few blocks away from the hostel.  I indulged myself with (5 plates in all?) fresh island crab legs, sushi, mahi mahi and more, with a trip to the delectable dessert station  – all alongside window-paned views of "nearly 400 fish from more than 70 different species of marine life."

Then I went and saw "Green Hornet" at Consolidated Theatres Ward 16, in Oahu's bustling downtown business district.  

When I came out of the movies it was a beautiful night, so I decided to take advantage of it with a joyride around Waikiki's hip nightlife scene and surrounding suburbs, top down, music up :)

When I got back to the hostel, the party was just starting.  I said hi to Jenna and the others playing drinking games in the common area, ran with Jenna to catch the end of the fantastic fireworks show above the waters of Waikiki, and introduced David to my favorite TV show, "Dexter."

Saturday, February 12th - Swimmin' with the fishes!
Makapu'u Lighthouse, Photo by Google Images
This morning I slept in, said hello to Jenna as she was setting out for a joyride on her scooter rental, and drove back to Makapu'u State Wayside to hike Makapu‘u Point's popular Lighthouse Trail, an easy 2-mile round-trip trail involving an elevation climb of 500 feet. 

Along the paved trail I took in the scenery of low-growing kiawe and panini (cactus), and beautiful views of O‘ahu’s southeastern coastline, including Koko Head and Koko Crater. Upon reaching the end of the line at Makapu‘u Head, I found the quaint, historic red-roofed Makapu‘u Lighthouse built in 1909.  Then I walked to the cement platforms for magnificent views of the windward coast and offshore islets that are wildlife sanctuaries for Hawaiian seabirds.

On the way back to the hostel, I satisfied my hunger with a strawberry-banana smoothie, before packing my things, saying goodbye to my friend David, and checking out.

No trip to Oahu is complete without a trip to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve.  "The exterior wall of a volcanic crater collapsed into the sea thousands of years ago, thereby giving birth to Oahu's most famous snorkeling destination. Even from the overlook, the horseshoe-shape bay is a beauty, and you can easily see the reefs through the clear aqua waters. The wide, sandy beach is a great place for sunbathing and picnics."

Hanauma Bay, Photo by Vince Tylor
It was a pricey $20.50 when it was all said and done, including $1 parking, $7.50 admission and $12 snorkel mask & fins (next time I'll save $ by renting the gear in town).  And you can't just hop in.  Upon admittance down to the bay, you're required to go through the Education Center for a short video explaining the cultural history of the area and the importance of protecting its marine life.  But this was all well-worth the world of pristine marine life that awaited me in the clear, shallow waters.  I swam with over a dozen different spectacular species of strange, colorful fish, coral and sea urchins, and was given quite a thrill when an eel darted across my path!

When I was done with my day of underwater discovery at Hanauma Bay, I spent a while saying goodbye to Hawaii with the top down and music up.  I mean who knows when the next opportunity for a drive in the tropics would be?!  I drove all around the greater Waikiki/Honolulu area, from within downtown's hip nightlife scene, all the way west to the quiet outskirts of Kapolei and back, before returning my rental car and taking the red-eye to California (I actually slept - a first for me!). 

*Note - my camera was stolen with all the hundreds of photos of Oahu in it, hence I'm using photos from friends and the internet. 


  1. Love this Mattie :-) After reading this blog, I realized that I want to go back! I still have so much to do there!! ..and yummy Oceanarium Restuarant! I loved it there too :-)

  2. Me too, Sue! There's just so much to see! Funny we went to the same restaurant - deelish!


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