Oahu was our final island to visit on our 3-month Hawaiian adventure. Instead of just telling you about the places on the island to visit, we thought we would start off by giving you our take on how Oahu feels to us. Of course, it is obvious that comparing Oahu to Kauai is like comparing pineapples to papayas, so we won’t do that. With that in mind, this first article about Oahu focuses on the vibe.
Unlike most travelers, we were coming from an extended stay in Kauai. Covid tests are currently only required for mainland arrivals to Oahu, so we bypassed the queues set up to screen long-haul passengers. Still, our Southwest Airlines arrival gate was the furthest possible gate. The walk to baggage claim felt like it took forever, a good thing Diana is walking well now. It seemed silly to use the inter-airport Wiki Wiki shuttle to claim our bags, but I guess it’s there for a reason.
Getting to and from the airport by car is also confusing right now because there is commuter rail construction around the airport. On one occasion, the usually reliable Google Maps application led us to a dead-end, made dropping off our guests on time a little nerve-racking. We heard later that they needed to deboard their plane prior to departure because it needed to be rebooted. Happily, it all worked out.
After claiming our bags, the next challenge we faced in Honolulu was traffic. The bustling capital is home to 900k people or 60% of the state’s population. Two downtown interstate freeways struggle to shoulder the load of commuters. Google Maps did help us choose routes around slowdowns. But on Oahu, it’s best to plan your trips accordingly or at least allow for delays.
The Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club is a large timeshare property on the west shore of Oahu. The resort area is about 30 minutes from the airport if there is no traffic. The Ko Olina resort is comprised of the Marriott, a Four Seasons, and the Disney Aulani Hawaii Resort (another timeshare). There are also several other large and small developments, a golf course, several restaurants, and a narrow-gauge tourist railway. Ko Olina has 4 man-made lagoons that have been carved out of the adjacent, rocky seashore, creating tame sandy beaches for families to enjoy. The whole development is kind of a world unto itself, a bit unreal.
The Marriott itself is comprised of three 15-story buildings, with several pools and restaurants. The rooms are fairly large and well-appointed. Even though the resort was close to capacity, we were able to find shady poolside loungers without much trouble. Our stay was pleasant but nothing special.
Aside from being a bit isolated from the rest of Oahu, one gripe was that we were in the flight path for Honolulu airport as well as Hickham Air Force Base. The military flies F-35s that were quite loud when they returned from training flights. Also, we had to evacuate our room twice due to other guest’s kitchen fires during our stay. So many people in an unfamiliar building come with consequences.
Given the expense of Hawaii, it is no surprise that the state has the lowest income relative to cost of living in the US. Oahu housing is especially expensive. The prices on this island are made more competitive by the large military presence. Service personnel are given a large housing stipend. As a result, many soldiers and sailors can afford to live off base while on base property sits empty.
We passed the largest homeless camp on the island in Waianae on our way to catch our sunset cruise on the west shore. It had infants and toddlers among its residents. Homelessness seems to be an ongoing struggle for the local government to manage.
Heading north up the West Shore from our timeshare, the plush resort enclave vibe quickly transitions to quiet and sometimes gritty towns. Gone are the chic hotels and eateries, replaced with bedroom and light industrial communities. There is a sprinkling of beaches, a few with homeless camps, along the way to the end of the road. It definitely feels like a forgotten area of the island.
The North Shore is famous for its winter swells especially at Bonzai Beach, with waves commonly reaching 20ft and more. The sea was much calmer when we visited in May, but there were still a number of surfers out enjoying the action. On nearby Laniakea Beach, turtles frequently come ashore for a rest. Sadly, when we visited, oblivious tourists were too busy snapping photos for Instagram to realize that they were occupying the turtle landing zone. Thus, preventing the turtles from coming ashore. Sometimes tourism sucks.
At 2.3 million years, Oahu is the second oldest of the main Hawaiian islands, after Kauai. As on the Garden Island’s Na Pali Coast, time and weather have conspired to create some impossibly jagged ridges which are visible in several places on Oahu. At Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout in the southeast part of the island, one gets a close-up look at some of these ridges and as well as some gorgeous vistas up the rugged coast.
The Punchbowl and Waikiki
The Punchbowl Cemetery near Diamond Head Crater, AKA the Arlington of the Pacific, is a somber reminder of the cost of war. Most of those interred at the Punchbowl were casualties of WW2, but there are others from US wars since 1915. Like Arlington, the cemetery setting is picturesque, with a sweeping view of Diamond Head.
There is a memorial at the cemetery for the those who perished in the attack on Pearl Harbor whose remains have yet to be identified as well as beautiful, impressive, detailed mosaics of significant battles from the war in the pacific.
No visit to Honolulu is complete without a stop on world famous Waikiki Beach. Beautiful and vibrant, the swanky and not-so-swanky hotels lining the beach provide easy access to the busy beach. You can shop the high-end boutiques then chill out with cool drinks and pupus while you watch surf classes and tourist laden outrigger canoes ride the waves in.
Parking on Waikiki can be a challenge. We got a four hour free valet by dropping $25 on drinks at the pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel, one of the original grande dames of the beach.
What will it be, surf lessons or outrigger ride?