Monday, August 26, 2013

Hawaii: A Visit to Oahu

My wife and I have been married for 24+ years, but one thing we haven’t done a lot of is traveling. Our three kids are now teens or older, and we finally decided to start seeing places that have seemed out of reach in the past. We planned a trip to Hawaii, on the island of Oahu.
We flew out of Atlanta on Delta on a 10+ hour direct flight, which was another new adventure. We both managed the long flight well, which was a cause of concern at first.  Like many things, the worries proved to be unfounded. We arrive at 2:30 in the afternoon at the Honolulu Airport (8:30 Atlanta time) and started our week long adventure with my wife’s aunt and uncle, another aunt, and two of their friends. After picking up my wife’s aunt who arrived later in the afternoon, we started the week at Hickam AFB, courtesy of my wife’s uncle, a retired veteran who served in Vietnam. We had dinner at the Golden Anchor Restaurant on the base, and watched the sun set on the Pacific.
 We climbed Diamond Head on the first full day, which turned out to be more eventful than we had planned. A hiker collapsed, and after determining she could not hike down under her own power, a helicopter was called and landed on a pad at the top. The crew lowered a basket, and paramedics strapped her in for a windy ride down to the parking area and to a waiting ambulance.
 Looking down from the top at the lighthouse
 Looking out through the turret at the top
 Waikiki and Honolulu

The views from Diamond Head are worth the hike, which is 1.5 miles round trip. Steep in places with steps, it turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip. Views from the top cover Waikiki and Honolulu. You will go in one of the artillery holes at the top.  The old road is visible in spots from the war years.  Had to get the artillery up there. At the bottom of the trail the shaved ice is refreshing, especially after the walk back down.
We ate breakfast a couple of mornings at a military only restaurant the Koko Café at the Hale Koa, and the fresh fruit was something we don’t get back home. Pineapple, guava, apricot, watermelon, cantaloupes, and apples were spread out on one table, with made-to-order omelets on another, and everything in between including Hawaiian fried rice.
My favorite part of the island tour was the southeast to east coast, including the Halona Blow Hole, Whale Island, and views that can only be described with the attached images. The water was a deep blue, after getting past the shallow waters that were lighter and dotted with coral and lava rock. An old VW Beetle, orange with surfboards on top, and a dune buggy were parked at Sandy Beach Park. Graffiti is everywhere on the island, and many signs on the eastern side beaches were covered with painted art and decals. A number of tributes to surfers dotted the shores as well, with items such as leis and other flora. One had rocks stacked with a roll of gauze and a chess piece of the bishop in the memorial. I would like to hear the stories on the tributes. This side of the island gets its share of rain even when the other side is dry, but we caught some nice weather on our day out there.

 The blow hole. Note the water shooting upward in the middle of the rock

 Whale Island
Visiting the north shore is worth the trip. This is where the monster waves hit that the island is famous for. The really big waves are only there during the winter. We stopped off at a beach and the waves weren’t too big, but walking along the waterline we found out you don’t turn your back unless you want to get hit by a knee high wave that’s strong enough to knock you down, and by a return tide that’s enough to sweep you out. I planted my feet, and they disappeared into the sand to my ankles. I squatted down for a photo at water level and saw a wave coming in from my left. I stood up in time but still got blasted with water.
We visited the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout toward week end, which is on Highway 61 in the central portion of the island. The flora looked more like something in the eastern US Mountains as we approached, with a few unusual items like trees that resembled cyprus, and when we walked from the parking area to the lookout I found out why my wife’s uncle warned us to take hats off, the wind is hard to describe. At one point the wind shifted and pushed me toward the overlook, which is a sheer cliff going down what looked like a couple hundred feet. This was unnerving. The road to the Pali was the only path through the mountain before Hwy 61 was built, and you can see a portion of the original road from the top, looking to the right. It dead ends into the hill. My wife’s uncle was driving, and he said this road looks the same as it did 30 years ago.

 Old road

Pearl Harbor is a must see. Plan to reserve your free tickets to the Arizona memorial, courtesy of a short boat ride, online and in advance. We managed to get tickets on site, but we had to wait in the standby line for a while. The film shown before the boat leaves is stirring, and it’s a hallowed place, with 2,000 soldiers killed and buried with the ship. Visualizing that where we sat the attack took place, and trying to imagine the deafening sounds, death, and smoke was overwhelming. You can see the outline below you, and oil that still comes to the surface, almost 62 years after the bombing. Oil will come to the surface another 100 years before it is all out, or if you believe legend that says the ship is weeping for its dead and will stop leaking oil when the last survivor dies, only nine are still alive.
 Boat ride to the memorial

 Names of victims

 Oil seeping out

We visited the Punchbowl Cemetery, which is a military site with over 33K veterans buried there.  Beautiful memorials to the missing in action along with burial sites for veterans of different wars.  The Dole Plantation and Polynesian Culture Center are both interesting and worth a look, but check the prices first (Dole is free unless you do the trail ride or go into the garden area.) The Polynesian Culture Center has different packages, and we ate at a luau that was part of the price ($100 per person for our package.) You can also take a bus tour of the local Mormon temple grounds and visitor center, included in the price of admission. The Mormons run the center, and students work there to help pay for their college tuition at the university.

 View from top of the Punchbowl Cemetery

 If you visit the Honolulu side you need to stop at the clock tower, which stands at the harbor. It has a long history; during WWII the tower was painted camouflage. You can ride to the top in the old elevator and get 360 degree views. On Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday the Aloha Stadium, where the Pro Bowl game is held every year, is turned into a massive flea market. A good place if you need t-shirts or other souvenirs to take home. Plus there is an onsite post office to mail stuff you buy, since luggage space is at a premium. Hawaii has the most expensive gas in the states, but everything else there is expensive, so it blends into the surroundings.

View from top of the clock tower
One thing I found surprising was the amount of homeless I saw in parks, on the beach, and under an overpass we drove under. They put up tarps and kept their stuff in piles at their staked ground, and didn’t seem to bother anyone. They seemed to coexist with tourists pretty well. I guess if I was homeless that would be the best place. They slept by day and roamed at night, so I didn’t get a sense of people out putting in job apps.
The flowers and greenery were beautiful. We didn’t see much wildlife, not even a lot of seabirds. I did see one mongoose running into a patch of bushes.

One really cool thing I saw was several bicycles with surfboard holders on the side. The board rode sidesaddle and probably had more priority than a person would have.  Lots of surfers on the island.

One thing I did not get to do on this trip was the kayaking I had planned, or any hiking. Not enough time to do everything.  Next round I plan to make it more of a priority. Kayaking to the twin Moki Islands or hiking to waterfalls of the national park would have been fun. The mountainous, interior potion of the island would take up a week I’m sure, if time allowed. I like to experience places, not just see them from a car.
The language is fun to experience; “Kane” means man and “Wahine” means woman. Aloha simply means love. It can also mean hello, or goodbye with the understanding you will return, according to one explanation I heard in the island. Swimming in the Pacific proved an interesting encounter. I heard several different dialects when I was out in the water, from different families from Japan, Germany, and various accents of the English language. The island truly is a melting pot of visitors and locals as well.
On the last night we took one more dip in the Pacific before heading back to pack.  I walked a short distance out on a pier and stepped up onto lava rock to the right, piled high against the pier as a barrier to keep waves from sweeping you off. I watched fireworks out over the water, reflecting reds, whites, blues, and greens in a line across the water that stretched toward the gathering of beachgoers like multicolored spotlights. Mixed in I watched lights from passenger planes taking off and heading back toward the US mainland.  Walking back, an elderly gentleman crossing street on a motorized cart stopped us and asked, “Hey, you know why the palm trees are all crooked? Because they were planted by our government.”  Funny guy.
I have to comment on the Honolulu Airport. After going through TSA security we headed toward our gate, with a couple of hours to spare. That’s how I like to travel; arrive early and stress free. Approaching the section of gates we needed we passed through an open air section with a creek and trees below; seemed fitting for such a beautiful island. And, the fresh leis are a treat. You won’t receive one as you step off the plane like you see on TV, but they are everywhere. It’s part of the experience.
On our way home, approaching the Los Angeles airport for a layover of 3+ hours, we saw the sun set and drop below the mountains along the California coast. Approaching Atlanta, the sunrise lit up the sky just before landing, leaving a surreal looking reflection of the ball of the sun on a thin layer of clouds that extended to the brightest point of the morning sky; so we followed the sun all the way home on a journey we will never forget.
 Sunrise, with Diamond Head in the background

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