Each of the Hawaiian islands has its own distinct character, I was told. And this time last year, I discovered for myself that this is indeed true. I began my Hawaiian adventure on Kauai, the Garden Island, before continuing on to Molokai, the Friendly Island, then Maui, the Valley Island, and the Big Island of Hawaii itself. My fabulous time in the Pacific culminated with three days on Oahu, the Gathering Place.
When we were initially planning our trip, we were advised that the island we needed the least time on was Oahu. We were basically told there was Pearl Harbor and downtown Honolulu, and that was about it. Sadly, we followed this advice, and ended up wishing we’d had more time on this beautiful island.
Oahu comes by its nickname of the Gathering Place honestly. It’s certainly the most urbanised of the Hawaiian Islands. In many ways, the greater Honolulu area is similar to other American cities, although it still maintains a uniquely Hawaiian character. That said, far more of Oahu retains an idyllic tropical island feel than I’d expected.
We were excited to discover the International Marketplace, one of Oahu’s most notable gathering places, was right beside our hotel in Waikiki. Rich’s dad had been there almost fifty years earlier and had encouraged us to see it for ourselves. Imagine our shock when we learned that we’d only just made it in time, and that we would be among the last to visit it, as this historic location was to be demolished only days after we were there.
Gone but not forgotten, Waikiki’s International Market Place
Local craftsman at the International Market Place
I’m not one for lying about on beaches. This planet has way too many other interesting and exciting distractions to offer. Even so, how could you stay in Waikiki and not go to the beach? Especially to watch the sunset.
Waikiki at sunset
Waikiki Beach parking lot
Duke Kahanamoku statue, Waikiki Beach
With limited time available, on our first full day we naturally made a beeline for the item at the top of our Oahu Bucket List: Pearl Harbor. Again following others’ advice, which this time was sound, we arrived early to pick up our pre-booked tickets out to the USS Arizona Memorial and were rewarded by getting on an earlier boat. As it turned out, this was a huge stroke of luck, since lightening storms and torrential downpours caused transfers out to the memorial to be cancelled for the rest of day, long before the time of our original shuttle.
Soggy Shaka on the USS Bowfin submarine, Pearl Harbor
Our time at the Arizona Memorial was an incredibly moving experience. It was heartbreaking to see the ship just below the surface, the grave of so many young sailors, still bleeding oil after all these years.
Inside the USS Arizona Memorial
The USS Arizona from inside the Memorial
The Arizona Memorial
Despite visiting the Arizona first thing in the morning, we were still hard-pressed to explore all the exhibits that make up the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites. I could have spent a whole day aboard the USS Missouri alone.
Pacific Aviation Museum, Pearl Harbor
Aboard the USS Missouri
As it turned out, our visit to the Missouri coincided with the TV screening of an episode of Hawaii Five-0 that had been partially filmed aboard this historic battleship. And this wasn’t the only filming location came across on Oahu. In Honolulu we saw the building that doubles as the Five-0 headquarters, while on the North Shore we visited two of the major locations from the TV show Lost.
Ali’iolani Hale (aka home of Hawaii Five-O!) and King Kamehameha statue, Honolulu
Oahu North Shore: view towards Ka’ena Point from the Lost crash site
Oahu North Shore: “Othersville” from the TV show Lost
We only had one evening in downtown Honolulu, which meant that sadly, most of the attractions were closed. I would have particularly loved to see inside the ʻIolani Palace, the only royal palace in the USA. Next door stands the Hawaiian Capitol Building, which I have since realised was only my fourth US Capitol, despite Hawaii being my 50th state.
ʻIolani Palace, Honolulu
Hawaiian Capitol Building
It was strange to see Honolulu all dressed up in Christmas decorations, but I’ll save going into that for my Christmas Day post.
Sneak peek: Hawaiian Christmas – come back next week for a full post!
Of the things I definitely wanted to do while on Oahu, hiking Diamond Head was second only to visiting Pearl Harbor. And I wasn’t disappointed. As I may have mentioned in previous posts, I’ve always been fascinated with volcanoes, so the chance to trek up the rim of this famous crater was not to be missed.
Diamond Head Crater
Waikiki and Honolulu from Diamond Head
The Punchbowl is another volcanic crater on the outskirts of Honolulu. It houses the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. We took a short walk around this solemn place and saw moving memorials to people, many of whom lost their lives before their time.
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, inside Punchbowl crater
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific: Lt Col Onizuka, one of the Challenger astronauts
You don’t have to visit a cemetery to get away from the bustle of Honolulu. A drive around the coast will take you past secluded bays and isolated headlands.
Portlock Spitting Cave
While Oahu might be a gathering place for people, the whole of Hawaii attracts humpback whales during the breeding season, which begins in late December. Unfortunately, we were there a little too early, and the only whale of our trip was seen from at a distance one of Oahu’s headlands.
A Humpback whale off Makapu’u Point
We found more peace and quiet at the Boyodo-In Temple on the west side of the island. This beautiful Buddhist Temple is so authentically Japanese it has been used as a backdrop to movies supposedly set in Japan itself, including the latest Wolverine installment.
What trip to Hawaii would be complete without catching some waves? Or at least watching other people catching waves. The North Shore of Oahu is a world class gathering place for surfers. It was amazing to watch them conquer the daunting rollers armed only with a fibreglass plank.
Oahu North Shore: surfers at Banzai pipeline
It’s kind of fitting that the last thing we did on our final evening on Oahu is find the oldest Hawaiian geocache. Finding the cache was great, but the view we got looking down on Pearl Harbour on the way back to the car was even better.
Looking down on Pearl Harbor from near Hawaii’s oldest geocache
Turns out there’s so much more to Oahu than just Pearl Harbor and downtown Honolulu. In the end, I was disappointed to have had such a short time there. We rushed around and saw a lot, but I could have easily spent another week. Hopefully this means that Hawaii, like so many other places I visit, won’t be a once in a lifetime destination after all.
While you’re dreaming of gathering together with friends on Oahu, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?
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