Hawai`i Travelogue: Part 1
Two Nights in O`ahu (The Gathering Place)
– Back in 2014, when Sankha and I were living continents apart in Australia and United States, we once thought of meeting in a Hawai`ian island to celebrate Christmas together. Somehow that plan didn’t materialize, but since then we have been eagerly waiting to tick ‘vacation in Hawai`i’ off our bucket list.
This year, we finally set out for a “10-day-9-night” long vacation in Hawai`i on 30th June. For our first trip to Hawai`i, we chose three islands from the Hawai`ian archipelago (Ka Pae `Aina O Hawai`i Nei): O`ahu (The Gathering Place), Maui (The Valley Isle) and Hawai`i (The Big Island). Our first destination was Honolulu, the capital of Hawai`i on the island of O`ahu.
By the time we kicked off Hawai`i trip planning (end of March), it was a bit late and flights to Honolulu became exorbitantly expensive during the 4th of July long weekend. So we utilized points from Delta Skymiles (37.5K for each of us) to fly from San Jose (SJC) to Honolulu (HNL), the gateway of O`ahu, with a stopover at Los Angeles (LAX). On 30th June, our flight landed at HNL around 9:30 pm, right on time. Warm, gentle breeze kissed our face as we walked out of the airport, and plethora of bright red Hawai`ian Anthurium plants near the terminal exit welcomed us to the paradise of tropical islands. “Aloha O`ahu!” I uttered to myself inhaling the fresh air, as we headed towards the Enterprise shuttle stop for rental car pick-up. Unlike our umpteen past experiences of ‘rental pick up in a jiffy’ in U.S. mainland, it took us almost an hour and a half of waiting at the rental office though, before we could finally pick up the car and drive to our hotel near Waikiki Beach. For our 2-day-3-night stay in Honolulu, we booked Holiday Inn Resort (IHG) Waikiki Beachcomber (using 80k IHG points + one anniversary night certificate), conveniently located on Kalakaua Avenue at the heart of Waikiki downtown. It was past midnight when we finally reached the hotel after nearly half-a-day of journey, somewhat exhausted but at the same time, super excited to finally begin our long-waited Hawai`i trip!
In the morning (July 1st), we woke up way before cockcrow and headed towards the Sandy Beach (also known infamously as break-neck beach due to the maximum toll of casualties caused every year by its notorious shorebreaks). Located on the south shore of O`ahu along the scenic Kalaniana’ole Highway, this fine sand beach is a popular destination for sunrise photography, besides being a bodysurfing hotspot owing to its natural, powerful surf breaks close to the shore. We arrived at the beach parking lot around 4:30 am, more than an hour before the sunrise and there were already few cars (mostly of bodysurfers’) parked in the lot. With photography gears and flashlights, we climbed down all the way to the shoreline where jagged reefs and boulders were sprawling off the coast.
We kept walking towards west along the rocky shoreline until we reached a wide-open area, from where we could see the famous Hālona blowhole lookout at a distance.
Driving down Kamehameha Hwy, we shortly stopped at Sunset Beach (a famous sunset spot, as evident from the name), Banzai Pipeline (iconic surf spot of North Shore with notorious waves in winter) and Shark’s Cove (popular snorkeling spot) on our way to Haleiwa town. When we arrived at Haleiwa Beach Park, the sky was leaden and thick. Though the beach was serene and far from the jostling crowd, the gloomy sky didn’t look promising. We checked the weather forecast for next few hours and the chance of western horizon getting clearer by dusk appeared very slim. At this point, we both were exhausted and going back to Waikiki seemed a wiser choice than waiting here for a beclouded sunset.
Sankha got up before the daybreak and went to Sandy Beach again for sunrise shooting. The south beach weather was more photography-friendly the next day, with no rain and clearer sky. He was finally happy to get to capture the awe-inspiring O`ahu sunrise. I was too lazy to wake up back-to-back two days before sunup and didn’t accompany Sankha this time. But looking through his shots later made me realize why Sandy Beach is one of the most popular sunrise destinations for photographers in the southeastern shore of O`ahu.
Late afternoon, we set out for our second day-trip, with the first stop at Nu’uanu Pali Lookout off Pali highway, a 10-mile getaway from the downtown Waikiki. Well known for being extremely windy due to strong and howling trade winds blowing year around, this stone terrace lookout point overlooks steep cliffs of Koʻolau Mountain sprawling along lush green Nuʻuanu Valley. The panoramic view of O`ahu’s windward coast, with sweeping vista of Kāneʻohe, Kāneʻohe Bay and Kailua was breathtaking.
Instead of heading out straight from Pali lookout to Haleiwa for North Shore sunset, we made a small detour to round top drive, leading to Tantalus lookout. This overlook atop Mount Tantalus offers a bird’s eye view of Diamond Head Crater on the left, through downtown Waikiki, and to Punch Bowl Crater on the right. On a clear day, this lookout offers a magnificent view of Manoa valley and dazzling Waikiki skyscrapers at a distance.
View from Tantalus lookout
Next morning, we bid adieu to O`ahu and headed off to Maui (the next Hawai`ian island to be explored), vowing to come back to “The Gathering Place” again in near future.
A hui hou O`ahu!
A hui hou O’ahu
Trip summary at a glance:
- Flight: SJC to HNL (1 stopover at LAX) with Delta Economy using 37.5k/pp Skymiles.
- Hotel: 3 nights at Holiday Inn Resort (IHG) Waikiki Beachcomber (One anniversary night certificate + 80K IHG points).
- Places of interest (visited in this trip): Sandy Beach, Hālona Blowhole, Makapu’u Point Lookout and Makapu’u Beach, Waimanalo beach, Kualoa Regional Park, Polynesian Cultural Center, Sunset Beach, Shark’s Cove, Banzai Pipeline, Haleiwa Beach Park, Diamond Head Trail, Nu’uanu Pali Lookout, Tantalus lookout, Waikiki Beach.
- Eateries: Moena Café, Ponders, Cheesecake Factory (Waikiki) and Maui Brewing Co.
Few suggestions based on our experience:
- Rental car: We got a Fiat 500x subcompact crossover from Enterprise-rent-a-car, and it was like rock on wheels and literally crying while the accelerator is pressed, be it on flat road or climbing uphill. It might be quite frustrating at times, especially for long drives.
- Check-in luggage fee: We paid $25 for one check-in luggage in Delta. This could have been waived if Lopa’s SPG platinum status was linked with Delta. For SPG platinum members flying Delta, this is a handy perk!
- Valet parking: Parking in Waikiki is quite expensive. Most of the hotels on Kalakaua Avenue offer only valet parking. IHG Beachcomber falls into this category and charges up to a whopping $50/day for hotel guests. This was subsidized to $35/day for us for being IHG platinum elite member (a perk that comes with IHG Chase Credit Card). So it’s better to look up for the parking rates while booking the hotel in Waikiki and having a hotel card might save a few extra bucks in O`ahu.