If you’ve never been to Hawaii, then the Hawaii that you’d know (that is, through movies, music and pictures), is most probably of the Oahu Island. Hawaii is an archipelago of islands, and Oahu is perhaps the most famous one yet, home to Honolulu, the capital city of Hawaii. A popular vacation spot for famous people and the usual filming location for various Hollywood movies has blossomed the island into a busy, well-developed and touristy place for everyone to enjoy. Contrary to Big Island, Hawaii that you could read about here, Oahu is a much more modern take on what it means to have an island adventure.
Here are some of the things you can look forward to if/when you visit Oahu, Hawaii.
1. Hang out at Waikiki Beach and its beach city strip
Look, if you didn’t check out Waikiki, were you even in Oahu? If the Beach Boys sang about it, then there has to be a reason for its hype. The beach city strip has everything to offer, from the hotels, restaurants, shopping, yoga studios and bars, all set along the wide, surfing-friendly Waikiki beach. There’s even a Tesla showroom, guys. Certainly overcrowded with tourists, but the upside is you can pretty much everything in one place. I particularly enjoyed the late evenings here, as you get to chill by the beach while watching surfers emerge around the large rolling waves, and as the sun set you get the feel of the city in a whole different light.
Waikiki - A surfer's paradise, but you can also go to the North Shore to see more surfing action
The beachside city strip is well developed and has something for everyone
2. Check out famous movie sets
Jurassic Park. 50 First Dates. Lost. Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Hawaii Five-O. These are only some of the few of our beloved movies and shows shot here in Oahu. Most of these are around the Northern area of the island near Kauai Ranch, where the landscape is much more scenic, giving a faraway-in-a-distant-island vibe. I particularly enjoyed a visit to Hukilau Cafe from 50 First Dates, arguably one my favourite rom-coms. Some of the locations require an entrance fee, but if you ask me, you’d enjoy the free ones just as much.
Hukilau Cafe, 50 First Dates
Forgetting Sarah Marshall filming location
Perhaps my real glimpse into Oahu is from the TV show 'Lost'
3. Go for a hike at its many, many nature trails
There are no less than 20 official hiking trails in Oahu, thanks to its rugged, volcanic terrains. They are not as vast as the ones you’d find in the Volcano National Park in Big Island, but they’ll provide sweeping views of the island. One of the more popular ones is the Diamond Head trail, and easy climb that will reward you with a beautiful view of Waikiki. There is even an old lighthouse at the top.
Aside from hikes, the island also has various other physical activities, such as diving, paragliding, surfing, sky diving and lots more. A quick visit to one of the island’s many information centers will give you more than enough reference for the things you would like to do.
The Diamond Head hiking trail
4. Have a Hawaiian gastronomic experience
Now we’re talking! Brace yourself for some good old American food fiesta, with a dash of tropical zest of Hawaii. Something that is rather popular here and seems to have garnered a cult of its own is the garlic shrimp movement. Sold in food trucks everywhere, they are basically garlicky, juice fat shrimps cooked in butter and served with either fries or rice. The most famous of them all is Giovanni’s Garlic Shrimp, located near the North Shore. You’ll find it easily by spotting the truck with the longest queue. They are certainly worth the hype for me.
Aside from this, other delicacies you should not miss is Hawaiian Haupia pie, a delicious coconut-based cream pie, pancakes at iHop (everywhere in the US actually, but hey, the pancakes make this place worth a mention), and the Hula chicken, which is a roast chicken variation marinated in pineapple juice. I would also like to make a special shout out to a place called Grylt, where I had the best Tuna wrap in my life. The tuna was perfectly seared so it was still juicy and red in the middle, and the whole combo was just something I would remember in a long, long time.
Giovanni's garlic shrimp - we sampled a couple of food trucks, and this is probably the best
The Haupia Cream Pie can be found in a lot of places, but this is the most popular
Perfect seared tuna wrap with chimchurri in a wrap sprinkled with salt flakes
5. Bask in some Hawaiian history
Hey, have you heard of Pearl Harbour? It’s here on this island, and you’d miss out if you don’t check it out and enjoy the free boat tour around the place of the infamous Japanese attack during the height of the World War. You might also catch a distant sound of Faith Hill’s ‘There You’ll Be’ playing somewhere in the background (ok I’m kidding).
But the island’s history is so much more than just the World War 2. The Hawaiian history dates back way beyond that, and during the height of the Polynesian civilisation, there were civil wars between the tribes and the rise and fall of Hawaiian royalties to immerse yourself in. Be sure to get to know some of them, as they would give you a much better appreciation of the archipelago and the story of its people.
You can find a lot of historical sites around the island
It's a different feel without Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett
6. Shop at Waikele Premium Outlets
Shopping is my least favourite thing to do when travelling. But I suppose if there is giant factory outlet with a 70% discount on all items, you’d be a fool to not take advantage of it. Waikele Premium Outlets is so huge that it is impossible to cover in a single day, so much so that it has a map so you won’t get lost or pee on yourself from not being able to locate the nearest lavatory.
Hanging out here is a great option especially if it's raining outside, as much of everything else to do around the island is outdoorsy.
What do you think of when you think of Hawaii? I’ll start – I think of surfer dudes. Incessant music from the Beach Boys playing at every corner of the beach city. Coconut bras. Overtanned tourists walking about in ridiculous colourful outfits that are supposed to make them look ‘tropical’ (and coming from a tropical country myself, this is NOT how we dress). Majestic volcanic eruptions. Endless flows of seafood in every restaurant you go to.
Well, some of them are true.
The National Park, a must-go if you're in Big Island
It turns out that a good number of people do not know that ‘Hawaii’ is actually a cluster of islands. That is to say, you’d need to be specific to which island you’re going if you’re going there. Most airlines would go to Oahu, arguably the most famous island of the whole lot. You can take inter-island flights to move to the rest of the islands. Ferries seem like an invalid option.
View at Highway 250
So which island should you go to? In this particular post I would be writing about the Big Island, the largest of the chain of Hawaiian archipelago. It is the Hawai’i. It’s pretty safe to say that a common main reason one would choose this island as opposed to the more popular Honolulu is for the Volcano National Park. The island still has active volcanoes, and the last eruption occurred in May 2018. If you’re dying to see lava flows as far as your eyes could see (and beyond!), this is the place to be.
A different planet? Kalapana Lava Field, last eruption in 2018
There are many spots that you could go to and see volcanic fields (after all, it’s an island made from volcanic eruptions, so the remnants are literally everywhere), but a particular spot worth mentioning would be the Kilauea Lava Field. It’s a large, vast grey space of frozen basaltic flows, and you can spend ages there marvelling at the frozen pillowy structures and the curves of the uneven surface of shiny, hardened magma, that would make you feel as though you’re on a different planet. Is it Earth? Is it Mars? It’s an exhilarating feeling to be right in the middle of it. It would be nice if you could take an aerial shot of the whole deposit using a drone, but it gets very windy around here so be warned.
Waterfalls drape through the uneven structures of volcanic deposits
The Big Island is a properly planned tourist attraction, so there are plenty of routes and trails and stops for you to enjoy the most out of this beautiful volcanic island – Waipio Valley lookout, Palolo Valley lookout, and so many others especially if you’re within the National Park area. However, as always, I’d say that some of the gems are not as loudly advertised as others. For example, the drive along Highway 250 of the island might actually be one of the most scenic drives you would ever have had. You’ll pass volcanic landscapes from a high viewpoint (great for pictures), gorgeous private homes set among the lush greens growing from the fertile soil, sakura trees (yes! Sakura trees) lining the pavement that walks up to a gorgeous old church, rainbows at the edge of fields, and vast green landscapes that spreads out until the sea meets the earth. I’d recommend driving around here in the late evening, when the sunshine is the right colour and the clouds hang low so that you could see the top of Mount Mauna Kea.
So many volcanic craters, Mauna Kea
Sunset At Mauna Kea
Speaking of Mauna Kea, did you know that it snows on the island? Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano, but with its peak at more than 4200 meters (which you can hike up to, by the way), it’s common to snow around the mountain during the colder seasons. That being said, you’d be smart to visit the Big Island with a proper jacket if you plan to visit high elevation sites such as this. Mauna Kea is also considered to be one of the best spots in the world for astronomical evaluation, due to its stable airflow and location. There are about eleven telescopes housed here, and there is even a center owned by NASA where you could go and check out or purchase cool astronomical merchandise which also includes space food that real astronomers consume when in space (alright, fine. I might have bought a bunch to take home. So what? We all know I won’t be going to space any time soon, and I want a taste of it).
Pohoiki Beach, a young beach of 8 months old (formed during lava flow)
Road completely blocked by a recent lava flow
But of course let’s not forget the beaches. This is Hawaii after all. It would be a crime to not speak about the seaside where the volcanic sands meet the Pacific Ocean. It isn’t hard to find a private beach where no one is bothering you, with only the sounds of waves and the wind rustling through the trees. I wouldn’t need to describe this at all – we all know the paradise that is the sandy haven with the sun in your face and the frothy seawater bubbling around your feet. But an interesting beach here would be the youngest one of all. The Pohoiki Beach, formed only 7 months ago today, is a black sand beach, and here you would see how the lava flow completely covered the old beach and formed a new one, at the same time trapping some pools of sea water into little natural swimming pools. At the parking lot of the beach you’ll see something just as fascinating – a lava flow had crossed a large road, and just like that, the road is blocked and no longer in use. In a weird way, it kind of paints the façade that everything on the island is temporary. Forever changing. Forever shifting according to eruptions that are frequent.
Local avo, halved, salted, drizzled with Hawaiian lemon juice (sweeter), enjoyed.
In the spirit of honesty, I wish I could say that dining on the Big Island is a major gastronomic affair. However, it seems like not even a place like Hawaii was able to escape the junk/fast food avalanche that it America. The popular food around the island are mostly the fast food chains, with these spots being jam packed with people during lunch and dinner hours. ‘Local’ food comprises of immigrant food – Chinese takeouts, Mexican taco joints, maseladas (Portuguese donuts) and Italian restaurants. For a country that seemed to be constantly on the verge of immigrant-rights issues, it sure does take a lot from these different cultures to make it its own.
The local produce are, however, wonderful to sample. The island has its own local macadamia farms, and in return macadamia milk is something you should definitely try here. I daresay that it rivals as perhaps the best nut-based milk I’ve ever tasted. If you visit the morning markets you’d see an array of avocados of all shapes and sizes. Enjoy one simply dashed with some salt and a good drizzle of olive oil to really taste its difference from your usual, generic imported avocados in grocery stores.
So is the Big Island more than just a beach paradise? You bet it is. If you’re looking to go, be prepared with more than just your pair of coconut bra and stereotyped Bermuda pants.