For our second week of the Hawaii trip, we went to the most populated of all the islands, O’ahu. Although it is smaller than Maui, over 1.4 million people are on O’ahu at any one time including in the capital city of all the islands, Honolulu.
By comparison, there are only around 150,000 people on Maui.
We stayed in Waikiki in Honolulu an area famous around the world for Waikiki Beach, designer stores, giant hotel resorts, gift shops as well as restaurants and bars.
O’ahu was also blessed with Uber but the public transport service provided by The Bus service was a lot cheaper at $2.50 per journey. Uber quotes ranged from $25 all the way up to $70 depending on where on the island we needed to go.
You could definitely tell that the island was more geared up for visitors with other tourists quite easy to spot.
Being an island, there were quite a few beaches to choose from, but Waikiki Beach was our nearest just down the road – about 10 minutes’ walk from our accommodation. On our first visit it was pretty busy, with almost every inch of sand and sea occupied.
There are a number of companies that rent beach chairs and umbrellas but we just grabbed a pair from the first stand we went to at $30 for the both of us for 4 hours.
While we were on O’ahu they held the annual Lantern Festival at the Ala Moana Beach on Memorial Day, Monday 29 May. It allows people to attach a message to a lantern for free and float it out to sea to remember loved ones. ‘Many Rivers, One Ocean – Interconnectedness’ was the theme this year.
We walked there but the queue was ridiculously long considering we had lots more exploring to do. We ended up popping into the Ala Moana Centre (a gigantic shopping centre or “Mall” as the Americans say) for ice cream and air con!
The best day by far was when we went on a dolphin excursion with Wild Side Specialty Tours, which set off, from Waianae Boat Harbor. Another early start but we were up early and ready to roll taking the bus part way but then jumping in an Uber to get there in time.
Once again, the team on the boat were conservationists and we could tell that they really cared about the dolphins and other wildlife in the sea. Captain Downing, Captain Elizabeth and Noelle were really passionate about the tours and wanted everyone on the tour to have the best experience.
We had a briefing to start off and were able to learn a bit more about dolphins and how to swim with them and not at them which can be distressing and dangerous for them.
There was a small group of just six of us on the boat with space to sit up front (bow) with a viewing platform into the sea and also seats at the back (stern). Breakfast and juices were provided which was much needed with the early start.
As we got further from shore, we suddenly had dolphins surrounding the whole boat. We saw them in their hundreds, chasing the boat and swimming the waves. They were diving, doing flips and spinning in the air. They gave us a great show!
With our snorkelling fins and masks ready from when we set off, all six of us in the group squeezed onto the back of the boat and prepared to dive in with Noelle. We had to be ready to jump as soon as soon as she said go, to not scare the dolphins. Once in, we had dolphins swimming all around us and underneath us, even baby dolphins too! It was magical and felt almost like being in a movie. Absolutely surreal!
The two different species we got to see were spotted dolphins and spinner dolphins. We continued on and got back in the water even though it was raining and were able to swim with a few more dolphins and a group of turtles as well until some teenagers not with our group showed up and scared them away by getting too close.
We met the first two other English people of the entire trip on the boat trip – mostly everyone in Hawaii assumed we were Australian as our accent was “different” and England is a long way away. It was possibly fate as they were headed to Pearl Harbor on the same day and were so nice to offer us a lift, which spared us from heading back out there by bus or Uber. Good luck with ticking off the rest of the United States Jo and we definitely owe you guys a drink!
At Pearl Harbor we hadn’t pre-booked but we were able to pay at the gate and see the USS Missouri battleship also known as Mighty Mo. We piggybacked a short tour that was kicking off and went to see where a Japanese kamikaze plane famously hit the side of the boat back in 1945. It was quite impressive to see the big guns and ammunition up close as well, knowing that it was involved in battles and was not actually decommissioned until 1992.
We then went down into the ship and saw all the living quarters, training rooms, canteens and offices. It was fairly cramped with lots of trip hazards but perhaps something those on board acclimatised to.
On the hottest day of the entire trip, we rode the two-hour bus up to the North Shore at the top of O’ahu – the bus allowed us to see much more of the island and took a route winding all the way around the coast from the south. We passed a load of beaches and envied the privileged few whose houses backed onto the Ocean.
Our destination was Waimea Valley, which is a massive historical site and nature reserve with original terraces, buildings and pathways. We saw flowers and trees of every colour, including rare and endangered ones, inside the grounds as well as lots of information available to read around the valley.
There were also live demonstrations by staff showing the traditions and entertainment from the native Hawaiians that used to live in the valley.
We managed to reach the end without getting lost and with it, the pièce de résistance – a waterfall. It was the only waterfall we got to see in Hawaii and I went to dip my toes in. It’s open for anyone to get into and all floatation devices are provided at no extra charge.
For lunch here and I got to try Hawaiian Kalua Pork and pineapple in a “Taro Bun” at Waimea Valley – we steered clear of ordering chicken with the peacocks and hens strolling around our table. Taro is a vegetable and gave the bun a purple colour. It originally grew here on O’ahu along with sweet potato and bananas*.
We bumped into Jo and her Mum again here but they had already been to Laniakea Beach (more famously known as Turtle Beach). They said there were no turtles to see that day, so we gave it a miss.
The next day we headed to Diamond Head for a hike which was accessible by bus or taxi from Honolulu, but we kept missing buses and decided to push on walking in the heat, even declining a $1 taxi as we got nearer. Call us crazy but we walked around 1 hour to Diamond Head before we even started the hike. Entry was $1 and we headed in eyeing up the shave ice stand for our post-hike treat!
We prepared by filling our water bottles, spraying repellent and topping up sun cream before setting off for the top. The path was rocky and winding with areas to stop and get your breath and energy back. People of all ages were climbing with us and we pushed on up slopes, steep staircases, a dark one-way tunnel and even climbing through a gap on the way.
We were proud of ourselves for pushing on and then we finally made it to the top…
The view was stunning with 360° views panoramic over O’ahu. We could see a lighthouse, the winding coast, Waikiki Beach and also all the other residential areas. To put it in perspective we’d climbed about the height of the iconic Canary Wharf building One Canada Square and higher than the Crystal Palace Tower. We took lots of photos and it even inspired me to do a special blog post on all the cool panoramas I’ve got on my phone and camera.
We treated ourselves to a giant strawberry shave ice when we got back down to the bottom and got the bus back to Waikiki.
We were also due to visit Wet n Wild waterpark but we didn’t make it there as it was too far and we ran out of time.
The Airbnb experience wasn’t quite so positive this time round (my first real negative time using it, Rio 2016 aside) and although it looked really nice inside and was in the heart of the city, we killed cockroaches and other bugs from our first night there. It seemed to be an infestation. We saw them on the bed, on the ceiling and in the bathroom. Although we were on a tropical island, we didn’t have any bugs at all in the, apartment we stayed in on Maui.
Over dinner, we made the decision to move in to the Surfjack Hotel just two doors down, for our last few nights. We thought that this could be our one and only time in Hawaii so we wanted to make the most of it and enjoy our stay!
It was pure luxury – apparently, before renovation, it was the complete opposite and more like an American motel. The staff were really friendly and upgraded us to an amazing suite. I didn’t get the name of the manager on night shifts but he was so kind and really appreciated that we’d been to Maui. The only thing was the swimming pool was closed for renovation but having a choice of adequate beaches nearby meant it wasn’t a major issue especially with the free beach towels they give out!
Food and drink
It’s not a lie when they say American portions are huge – many of our meals were unfinishable (that’s a word now) even with my appetite – meaning that we took advantage of the takeaway boxes on offer and enjoyed whole leftover meals the next day.
Siam Square was a delicious Thai restaurant with a bit of a party vibe – music played with oriental music videos on the many TV screens. Our food came out in what felt like seconds even with the staff having a little trouble with the language barrier!
PF Chang’s is an Asian-themed American chain offering flavour-packed food, and unlimited rice, all free of all the grease and fluorescent sauces you might get in some other Chinese restaurants. Service was impeccable and we had a nice romantic spot out on the balcony area, which became very quiet when we were the last ones out there at the end of the night. I look forward to seeing their new Covent Garden restaurant open in London this year.
Cheesecake Factory may sound like a bakery but it’s actually a restaurant well known across America for its extensive menu – about seven pages long! The massive queue may have been daunting but we got a buzzer and managed to grab a seat at the bar to read through the food choices. Staff were friendly and we got chatting to the barman about what brought him to Hawaii.
Once seated, they bring you over fresh warm bread and butter. We also decided to have a starter of crispy wontons – probably a bit of mistake. They were huge and we already had to start getting the to-go boxes ready.
I opted for a pork burger and Liv chose a chicken burger for the main course. We definitely had to try the cheesecake and there were like 50 choices in the menu.
We grabbed a lemon and lime cheesecake to take home with us. I must say it wasn’t the best I’d ever tried despite the place being named after it – the other food made up for it though and we even went back again a second time to try the things we didn’t get a chance to.
Yard House is a pub that had more beers than you can shake a stick at from around the world. It was a typical-looking American style pub with hundreds of beers on tap to choose from.
I went for a Primo Island Lager, another Hawaiian lager but this time from Honolulu, after exhausting the other Hawaiian beers (the Maui Brewing Co. Bikini Blonde and Longboard Lager) already. Liv had a tasty gin cocktail and we also shared an ice cream. One beer that caught my eye was namesake pale ale from an American brewery called Clown Shoes – “Josh the Guava King” a beer with Guava added.
Eggs ‘n Things was our last breakfast of the holiday. There was a bit of a queue with a waiting area downstairs while you wait for your buzzer to go off and all the dining area upstairs. It’s a really well known place and well established on Honolulu with locals and visitors since 1974.
I took this as my opportunity to order a traditional Hawaiian breakfast dish, a Loco Moco. Traditionally it’s rice, a meat patty with gravy and an egg on top. The version I went for was a “Hawaiian Loco Moco” special which was piled high and topped with sautéed mushrooms, onions & diced Island Portuguese sausage, two island fresh eggs and gravy.
Duke’s Beach Bar was our final meal of the holiday before an early Uber to the airport the next morning. Duke’s is a must on O’ahu and we had a tasty meal overlooking the beach with a bit of live music. We didn’t stay late enough for fireworks but apparently they are set off every Friday.
One lazy morning we decided to get an iHop (International House of Pancakes) for breakfast in bed. A place known for selling pancakes was always going to be a hit with me, however I ended up waiting close to an hour for the food to arrive due to a staff mix-up. I’m known for my love of a complaint letter/tweet when service isn’t up to scratch but they were so apologetic in the end and the manager offered to refund the whole meal – meaning our breakfast was free. Can’t complain!
I also grabbed a (normal-sized) pancake stack from a 24-hour restaurant called MAC’s 24/7 which is in the Hilton. It’s an American Diner-style restaurant famed for its pancake challenge that even beat Adam Richman of Man vs. Food. Eat three GIANT pancakes in 90 minutes and receive them free or pay around $25 if you fail. Winners make the wall of fame and get a free t-shirt.
Top Tips for O’ahu
- Try other beaches before settling for Waikiki beach – it’s overrun with tourists and is not very relaxing. The North Shore is a good alternative!
- If you are using public transport, the buses can be unreliable so leave plenty of extra time to make it to places. Traffic can also be bad on the island.
- Be prepared for tourists everywhere!
- Deals can be found by booking in advance and checking websites like Groupon.
Mahalo for reading!