I honestly hadn’t been that excited about a visit to Oahu, as I had this idea about it being a heavily developed island. While that was true about areas in the south around Honolulu, as I was about to find out over the next two days, there was plenty of magic on this island, too.
The first day had really been about making the most of a rental car, and driving around the perimeter of the coast. It seemed fun at first to have a convertible Mustang as a rental, until the heavy tropical rains battered us on a highway, with no easy way to quickly pull over to raise the roof… At least it was warm!
It wasn’t quite a circumnavigation of the island, as the western tip was inaccessible by car. So, instead it was a quick drive through the centre of the island, around the North Shore, and along the East Coast.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of early 2000s Byron Bay driving through Haleiwa, with the rows of surf clothing shops, and restaurants and bars. It was certainly developed towards tourists, but not overly developed the way Byron Bay feels now (or at least the last time I visited).
As we continued on the drive, there was traffic gridlock at one of the beaches. A quick and easy park opened up ahead of us, so grabbed it and decided to check out what the fuss was about. Turns out there was a large Green Turtle just chilling on the rocky coastline, swarmed by us curious tourists. There were others just offshore (and plenty of snorkelers checking them out). I’ve seen other smaller ones while snorkelling in the past, but this one on the beach was enormous, and it had kind of majestic air about it.
I was honestly surprised at just how beautiful, and seemingly undeveloped the northern, and eastern sections of the island were. The island was also a lot smaller than I had anticipated, too – certainly not much larger than Kauai. There were countless small towns with single story wooden beach shacks, and small sandy beaches.
It wasn’t just beaches, but there were also some enormous jagged mountain ranges, rising like walls from the interior of the island. They were as steep and as lush as any on Kauai, but with here they were people’s backyards, not part of an inaccessible coastline. I was getting heavy Lost vibes, and for a moment I considered rewatching the series (but, no one has time for the 120hrs of TV a third time).
The views from Nu’uanu Pali lookout were amazing, and with the small towns in the distance, it just made it even more amazing of a site, to think a view that to me seems so extreme and exotic, is just thousands of people’s regular background scenery.
We were staying in a hotel down on the water in Waikiki, which is about as developed as you could imagine, however thankfully it was at the very far end, near Diamond Head, and while it was an older establishment, it had its charms (and was certainly quieter).
I’m no surfer, but watching the older folks out there on their longboards, catching little rollers in the afterglow of sunset just seemed magical. I know I love mountain biking during sunset (or sunrise), but with the water also reflecting the light, I can just imagine it’s magical.
Jane was unfortunately back at work today (at least remotely), which left me to entertain myself for the day. I had started looking into renting a mountain bike for the day, but sadly the logistics of renting a bike, and getting it to a trailhead with a convertible Mustang was just unnecessarily difficult. The reviews on some of the trails also looked a bit adventurous for me to be riding on my own… so, instead I tried to squeeze in a few different hikes.
But first, I had to go stock up on Malasadas! Pretty good, but, will take a bit to outshine the love I have for Bob’s apple fritters…
Lanikai Pillbox Hike
The first hike of the day was a bit of a shitshow. It’s not an official hike/trail, and it’s in a residential neighbourhood that seems less than thrilled to have crowds of people come and park cars. I parked a little further away to avoid the stress of circling around looking for a park – but by the time I returned to the car, even these streets several blocks further away were full with cars.
It’s hard to think back on what 2021 was like, but Covid-19 was still very much in people’s minds, and there were still restrictions in place. Hawaii was taking it very seriously (just look back up above at all the testing we had to do to travel!!) and there were actually police that were issuing fines to tourists that were seen out on the streets in groups, and not wearing masks.
Anyway, the hike was more of a scramble, up some goat tracks that had been further eroded from heavy foot traffic. It was steep, loose, and a bit of a mess. Thankfully I had no real issues, but the same couldn’t be said for a lot of other tourists, that were stuck part way up in a state of paralysis from the heights and exhaustion from the steepness of it.
It eventually plateaued, and the trails eased significantly. The views also suddenly opened up, with beautiful greenery, bright blue skies, vivid ocean water, and the distant jagged walls that I’m coming to associate with Hawaii.
There were also the ‘pillboxes’ that the trail is named after – small concrete bunkers strung along the summits. I briefly walked through one of them, but it was busy with other tourists, so I continued walking and instead enjoyed the solitude and scenery.
There were trails that continued out to further hills and valleys, but I wasn’t quite certain just how long it would take – or even that the trails went where I thought they went!
The pillboxes were only getting more and more crowded, as was the dusty scramble up the first section of the trail, proving difficult to get past some people that were starting to have a difficult time with the exertion. It had warmed up much quicker than I had expected, and by the time I got back to the car, I was drenched in sweat.
Makapu’u Lighthouse Hike
The pillbox hike was quite strenuous, but it was really rather short, so there was still plenty of time left to squeeze in another hike. This came in highly recommended, and looked to be a far more developed/official hike (for better or worse) with wide bitumen walkway with a gentle uphill gradient.
But, it was proof that you don’t have to suffer in order to be blessed with fantastic views, with beautiful, beautiful blue waters, little barren islands, and rocky headlands in all directions.
I had really wanted to go and hike Diamond Head, but even though they were short hikes, and it was a small island, the day was getting away from me.
Instead, I grabbed Jane from the hotel, we ate even more malasadas, and returned to one of the beaches by Makapu’u Lighthouse to swim in those beautiful waters. It’s now nearly two years later, in late 2023 as I write this, and I think this was still the last time I swam in waters that didn’t take my breath away.
There was one final Hawaiian sunset, and a fusion Hawaiian/Japanese meal at a small izakaya in town before a red-eye flight back to work in San Francisco.
At least the scenery on the descent into SF was beautiful, making it a little more palatable to be arriving in to the office in a state of exhaustion…
There was plenty of unfinished business left with Hawaii (naturally with only 12 days spread over 3 different islands), and I’m hoping that I get to return to finish what was started, including completing the Napali Coast hike, maybe getting confident enough to attack the kayaking, and visiting the Big Island to attempt the even bigger climb of Mauna Kea on a bike.