Now for a more tropical view of Hawaii. My last post featured the more city-oriented experience around Honolulu and Waikiki. But, after flying thousands of miles to get to a tropical paradise, you are probably looking for pristine beaches, clear blue water, palm trees, mountains, and perfect weather. Great beaches can be found many places on Hawaii. Part 1 of this Hawaii postscript mentioned the beaches of Waikiki, made famous by Elvis Presley. I also included a photo from Makapuu Point looking north along the Windward Shore toward Kailua, where you can find several more great beaches.
Let’s move to the Leeward and North Shores of Oahu for different experiences. First, to the Leeward Shore and the Ko Olina resorts where my wife and I make our base camp, so to speak.
The leeward shores of the Hawaiian islands are the western shores, and this is where many resorts gravitate, at least on the islands we have visited. With the wind blowing seaward from the land, the ocean is calmer for beach activities. On Oahu, the Leeward Shore runs northward from Barbers Point. (Waikiki, on the eastern end of the island’s South Shore, is also leeward, due to the geography of the island, which is one reason why it also has great beaches. But, when people talk of the “Leeward Shore” they are referring to the western side of the island which, while well-populated, is not nearly as dense as Honolulu and Waikiki).
Built around four man-made lagoons (Nai’a Lagoon pictured above) Ko Olina is the resort area where we stay. The setting provides the serene tropical experience that we’ve come to expect from Hawaii. The location is great for access to ocean and land-bound activities on both the Leeward and North Shores without going through Honolulu. I’ll tell you about a few of them, but realize that I am only scratching the surface – perhaps enough to whet your appetite.
Many resorts host a weekly luau, the traditional Hawaiian feast accompanied by traditional singing and dancing. The Marriott Ko Olina Beach Club’s luau, “Fia Fia”, is hosted by Chief Sielu Avea from Samoa (pictured right). He and his troop deliver and excellent presentation. You can learn more about it at the Chief’s website.
Of course there other luaus on the island. At the entry to Ko Olina is Paradise Cove which offers nightly luaus. And, if you are up for an hour to an hour-and-a-half drive from most anywhere on the island, you can visit the Polynesian Cultural Center on the Windward Coast for a wide range of cultural activities, plus dinner and a luau.
The Leeward Shore
Once you leave the manicured world of Ko Olina and move northward along the Leeward Shore, the beaches are interspersed with more rugged terrain as mountains come close to the shore road. As you drive north along the Farrington Highway, which becomes a two-lane road after a few miles, businesses and residences are left behind. Because this road is off the beaten path, the beaches are less crowded and you can relax with great views of the surrounding mountains.
The road heads toward Kaena Point, then stops two or three miles short of the point. You can hike to the point, take a right turn and you’ll be on the North Shore, something that has been on my to-do list for several years. In the winter surfing season, waves at the point reach 40′, and sometimes even 50′, considered the consistently highest waves in the world. Alas, they land on a rocky shore that makes them un-surfable even as surfers drool at the possibility. Never fear, though, great surfing beaches lie on the North Shore – more about those in a bit.
The hike is on an old jeep trail that is on the original roadbed of the Oahu railway, so it is not a strenuous hike. Still, the shore is rugged and offers many great views and photo ops.
Where the road ends, you are at Yokohama Bay (pictured right). Look back and you see Yokohama Beach (on left), Makua Beach in the distance (on right), and the Waianae Mountains as a backdrop. All along the way you are likely to see locals shorecasting from the rocks.
The North Shore
Route 99 cuts south to north from interstate H-1 near Pearl Harbor, through the pineapple and sugar cane fields of the Central Plateau, and onward to the historic North Shore town of Haleiwa, said to be Oahu’s quintessential beach town. Outdoor dining, famous surf shops, Matsumoto’s original shave ice store (think large sno-cone with tropical fruit flavors), and beautiful sunsets are in the
offing at Haleiwa.
Beyond the barracks, you come to the Dole pineapple plantation, which is now a tourist trap selling souvenirs, food, and a train ride through the pineapple fields. For me and my family, the highlight is the pineapple whip – soft-serve ice cream with pineapple topping. We took the train ride and learned a few things, but not sure it was worth the time. My elderly in-laws enjoyed it, though. The souvenirs are expensive, which reminds me to tell you that the best place to buy souvenirs (and liquor) is Longs Drugs. If nothing else, stop for the pineapple whip.
The North Shore is famous for its surfing. Great conditions November through February create waves up to 30 feet high, so the North Shore is host to multiple surfing
competitions. Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, and the Banzai Pipeline are hot spots among others scattered along the Kamehameha Highway. I’m usually in Hawaii after the surfing season, so I perpetually miss the opportunity to photograph the great waves, but I get a few fun shots like the one on the right, or the surf in an earlier post, or the more modest waves that the beginners learn from.
I’ll mention one last popular spot on the North Shore to explore, Waimea Falls. After turning down a short road inland from Waimea Bay, you come to a few park buildings. From there, an easy fifteen- or twenty-minute hike takes you back through a botanical garden to a modest waterfall which is also a popular swimming hole. Along the way, you’ll run across peacocks, Brazilian cardinals, sharma thrushes, and other birds.
So, now you have a taste of Oahu, and a very small taste, at that. After six visits, our must-see list is growing longer, not shorter. I’ve discuss only the tip of the iceberg- or should I say, “the tip of the volcano”.
Now, for the brief hotel and flying tips that I promised at the introduction to Part 1 of this postscript. I’ll reserve observations on Maui and Hawaii (the Big Island), for the third and final post in this series.
Staying in Hawaii
Because of my business travel, Marriott latched on to me and offered a low-cost 5-night preview stay at the Marriott Ko Olina Beach Club resort, provided that my wife and I listened to their time-share pitch. That was the most expensive vacation we’ve ever taken! We became owners six years ago and haven’t regretted it a bit. For you, the downside is that I can’t offer a lot of first-hand hotel tips, but I’ll do my best.
First, decide whether you are looking for a resort experience, and then whether you want to be in Waikiki in the hustle and bustle of the city or more remote, such as at Ko Olina There have got to be great places to stay besides the city and Ko Olina – I just don’t know where they are; however, you won’t go wrong with these two locations.
We extended our trip one year by arriving a few days early and staying at a Hilton that was four or five blocks inland from Waikiki Beach. The price was reasonable and we still managed an ocean view. If we felt freer with the dollars, we would have stayed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel right on the beach, where we sometimes meet for a drink on their beach-side patio. Another good choice is the Moana Surfrider. Both are excellent, historical hotels.
In Waikiki there are both resort and hotel accommodations with a wide range of amenities and prices. I recommend scoping them out on tripadvisor.com.
Ko Olina has both resorts and a hotel, which you can check out here. The Marriott Beach Club and JW Marriott Hotel are more laid-back properties. The Disney Aulani is a very active place and looks fun if you have children. One of the advantages of many resorts is that their units come with kitchens and laundry right in the suite. Resorts may offer 1-, 2-, or 3-bedroom suites. A 2-bedroom suite may sleep as many as 8 people, which is great for large families or guests. Resorts also price by view, which may be ocean-view or mountain-view. Would you really want to travel all the way to Hawaii for a mountain-view room? Maybe if the price difference was significant…
For resorts, there are several ways to get reservations.
- Many people find they can’t use their timeshare weeks, so they rent them through sites like redweek.com or myresortnetwork.com. I’ve had friends who say they have found great deals this way. This is the most affordable way for most people, unless you find specials at sites like tripadvisor.com.
- You can pay cash, but this is the most expensive of the options.
- In some cases, you can use hotel rewards points. If you travel al lot and accumulate hotel points, this could be the least expensive route.
- Or, you could latch on to a 5- or 6-night promotional package like we did for less than $800. This is an area I can help you – if you write a comment to this post I’ll get in touch with the details.
However you choose to reserve a resort, before you pull the trigger be sure to check out the amenities in the room or suite, the guest capacity, and the view.
Getting to Hawaii
Flying to any of the islands is a half-day or longer affair from eastern US, crossing five or six time zones depending upon time of year (Hawaii does not use daylight savings time, which extends the difference to six hours in the mainland’s warm months). It takes longer than flying to Europe, also six time zones away, because you are also flying south (to the southern-most part of the United States) and there are few, if any non-stop flights from Boston, and none from Detroit, near my home. Decide whether you’d like to split your trip roughly in half with a layover on the west coast, or have one long leg such as via NYC, Atlanta, or Chicago to Honolulu, depending upon your origin. We’d prefer the latter, but have not been excited by the choices. Next year, we’ll investigate the Detroit-Chicago-Honolulu route so that on the return trip we can settle in for a longer red-eye nap. The good news for travelers from the Americas and Europe is that your red-eye flight will be at the end of your journey, so you’ll find it easier to adapt to the time change when you arrive, without having to spend a day catching up on sleep.
OK. That does it for this post. Next up, a few thoughts about Maui and Hawaii (the Big Island).