There are six main Hawaiian Islands – the most developed one being O’ahu Island where the city of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach are both located along with all the big name hotels and resorts. The other main islands are Kaua’I, Moloka’i, Lana’I, Maui and Hawai’i Island- and each island is special.
O’ahu Island –
Honolulu is the State Capital and biggest city in Hawaii, located on O’ahu Island with a permanent population of around 400,000 people with greater Honolulu having another 600,000 people or thereabouts. The city has two main freeways with the city center located right next to Waikiki Beach which is lined by big hotels and resort hotels, with the International Airport around 30 minutes away.
The city of Honolulu is located on the coastal plain, with a backdrop of the Koolau Range Mountains, including the Diamond Head Cone (Leahi) – a dormant volcano with the outer rim of the crater creating a distinct horizon shape, particularly at sunset. You can head to the top of Diamond Head by hiking to the top to look back over the city and coastline, or take a bus tour to the top too.
There is also a great view from Nu’uanu Pali Lookout – about 30 minutes from Honolulu heading towards the Windward Coast side of the island.
Waikiki Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world – with its long strip of white sandy beach for sunbathing, people watching and swimming in the clear ocean waters, with a myriad of great hotels, bars, coffee places and shops making it the Number One destination for tourists coming to Hawaii to soak up the sun, laze around the pools, enjoy a massage, spa and sightsee. The beach is busy most times of day and also at night – and if you enjoy the mix of sun, surf, shopping, people and night life this is the place to stay.
All of the hotels have their own special features and attractions from bars, gardens, pools, restaurants, spas, guest artists, cocktails, shows with everything you need being walking distance away from where you are staying. Most of the hotels if not all will be able to help with advice on where to go, tours you could take and other questions you might have.
Things to see in Honolulu include –
- Shopping – there is no shortage of shops to see and visit from up-market fashion boutiques along the Waikiki Beach Walk to open-air shopping malls, the biggest being the Ala Moana Shopping Center, next to the Ala Moana Beach, just along from Waikiki Beach (See alomoanacenter.com ) Also see www.eleeleshoppingcenter.com, www.chingyoungvillage.com , www.kilohanakauai.com , www.konglungkauai.com , www.tgalleria.com, www.royalhawaiiancenter.com and there are many others. Hawaii has a big Asian population made up of Japanese, Chinese and Filipino descendants, and Chinatown is where you will find lots of restaurants as well as arts and tourist souvenirs. Also look for Aloha Tower near where the cruise ships dock, and Farmers Markets.
- Beaches – besides Waikiki Beach, there are many others too all around the Island’s coastline. Next to Waikiki are Kuhio and Queens Surf Beach and not far away is the Ala Moana Beach and Magic Island Lagoon and there are many more beaches all around the coastline – some remote beaches too as well as those close to resorts – all within an hour or so from Honolulu. The big surf beaches are on the North Shore – check out Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay and the Banzai Pipeline. On the Leeward West Coast look for Makaha Beach and Yokohama Bay and on the Windward East Coast look for Lanikai and Waimanalo Beach.
- Surfing – Surfboard riding began in Hawaii, and it is thought that the Hawaiians had been surfing on their long wooden boards for maybe thousands of years. The first Westerners to see Hawaiian board riders are thought to be Captain James Cook before he died from a spear wound and his crew in 1779 with a journal then written by Lieutenant James King recording what they saw. It was in early 1900’s that the Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku (1890-1968) brought surfing on a board to the world – or more precisely to California and Australia. He became a sporting legend both for his swimming, where he was a 5 time Olympic Swimming Champion and for his board riding, where his long board made from Koa tree timber was the pre-curser to the boards that we now see. In Hawaii surfing is an established tradition, and it is the big surfing waves on the North Shore coast where the professional board riders head when the big waves hit the North Shore coast between November and February each year. This coastline is just over an hour away from Honolulu. A statue of Duke Kahanamoku can be seen next to Kalakaua Avenue between Waikiki Beach and Kuhio Beach.
- Polynesian Cultural Center – this is a ‘must see’ attraction located at 55-370 Kamehameha Highway in Laie – where you will both learn and experience Hawaiian, Tongan, Fijiian, Samoan, Marquesas and Tahitian cultures with activities including sailing on an out-rigger canoe and other interesting and involving shows during the day. (See polynesia.com )
- Nature – O’ahu Island is just 71 kilometre long and 48 kilometre wide with the Kooao Range almost forming a backbone down the east side of the island, with a variously wide and narrow coastal plain separating it from the ocean, and another Range, the Waianae Range forming another ridge line on the western Leeward Coast. A roadway runs almost all around the coastline of the island, with a road running through the center of the island from south to north in what is called Central O’ahu. Small towns and resorts can be found next to beaches and in the center of the island – and a drive to the different parts of the island will take you just a few hours. These drives, either as a self-drive or on a tour will take you past spectacular scenery – mountains, cliff sides, rainforest, beaches, rivers and waterfalls – a tropical paradise with the small towns and isolated resorts adding to the drive and creating great memories away from the main city of Honolulu. In Honolulu itself head to the H’omaluhia Botanical Gardens, 45-680 Luluku Road, Kane’ohe – where you will see the lake, trees and plants.
- Gardens – The Harold L. Lyon Manoa Arboretum is located at 3860 Manoa Rd, Honolulu and has over 5000 plant types spread over its 193 acres of grounds. There are 7 miles of walking trails through the rainforest – so a great place to enjoy the sounds of birds and the rainforest environment. Also take a hike to Moana Falls with their 46 yard (metre) sheer drop. Right in Honolulu is the Queen Kapiolani Hibiscus and Rose Garden in Kapiolani Park entrance at the corner of Monsarrat and Paki Avenues. Hibiscus is the State Flower for Hawaii. Also for Orchids see Kawamoto Orchids at 2630 Waiomao Rd – about 6 miles from Waikiki.
- Birds, animals and sealife - Honolulu has a large Zoo (See honoluluzoo.org ) set on 42 acres of grounds in Queen Kapi’olani Park – a big park with 100 year old trees, a jogging trqck and the Shell Entertainment stage; Waikiki Aquarium is at 2777 Kalakaua Avenue near Queens Surf Beach (See www.waquarium.org) ; Sealife Park – where you can swim with dolphins, sea lions and Rays and see lots of shows is at 41-202 Kalanianaole H’wy, Waimanolo, not far from Honolulu (See www.sealifeparkhawaii.com ), Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a natural Bay where you can snorkel in the shallow waters to see tropical fish and corals just off the beach. Up north near Turtle Bay is Kahuhu Point and a lighthouse on the point overlooking the ocean. Close by is the James Campbell Wildlife Refuge and wetland area for nesting migratory birds, but access is restricted.
- Pearl Harbor – is high on the list of ‘to do’ places to visit and it is about 30 minutes from Honolulu. At 8 o’clock on the 7th of December 1941, US Naval Ships in Pearl Harbor were bombed over a 2 hour period by the Japanese with over a thousand sailors losing their lives on the USS Arizona, with a number of other ships sunk or destroyed. The Japanese Imperial Forces had set out to destroy the US Pacific Fleet including US ships and aircraft and they very nearly succeeded. The shock and destruction led the USA to declare war on the Japanese the following day, bringing the USA into World War Two. The war which began in 1939 was to last until 1945, with the Japanese Emperor officially surrendering on September 2nd, 1945 on board the USS Missouri. Today at Pearl Harbor you can see through the Visitor Centre and see the USA Arizona memorial and the USS Bonfin submarine, and on Ford Island see the USS Missouri and Pacific Aviation Museum.
- Museums – To see and appreciate Hawaiian and Polynesian history and culture – take a visit to the Bishop Museum founded in 1889 located at 1525 Bernice Street Here you will see the biggest collection of Polynesian artefacts in the world. Also here see the Amy Greenwell Ethno-botanical garden, the Jhamandas Watumull Planetarium and Pauchi Hall with its amazing insect collection. Also visit the Hawaii Maritime Museum on Pier 7 to see old sailing ships, outrigger canoes and other maritime collections.
- Galleries – there are many private galleries in Honolulu but the main public Gallery is the Honolulu Museum of Art at 900 South Beretania Street, with a great collection of Hawaiian, European and Asian paintings.
- Pineapples and Hibiscus flowers – Pineapples and Hibiscus flowers are almost synonymous with Hawaii, and one of the best places to see then is at the Dole Plantation located at 64-1550 Kamehameha H’wy in Wahiawa in central O’ahu. Here you will see thousands of pineapples on the plantation, as well as the biggest Maze in the world. There are also said to be 5000 varieties of Hibiscus flowers – and you will be able to see many of these here too. It’s a great day out. (See dole-plantation.com)
- Volcanos – All of the Hawaiian Islands are the remnants of volcanos and volcanic action, and on O’ahu there is Diamond Head that overlooks Honolulu, and also Punchbowl Crater and the Koolau and Waianae Mountain Ranges. Not far north of Hanauma Bay off the Kalamianole Highway 72 is the Halona Blowhole – where the ocean pushes up through lava tubes in the rocks to create great 30 foot ocean spray into the air above the lava tubes. On a rough sea day these can look quite spectacular.
- Ranches – If you have ever wondered where they shot the movie ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Lost’ then you will find the location at Kualoa Ranch – 49 -560 Kamehameha Highway, Kane’ohe. (See kualoa.com ) This is a 5000 acre working beef ranch with a movie location setting. If you love riding horses and seeing an amazing place, this is the place to do it – to see the mountains, valleys and even the 800 year old Moli’i fish pond. The Ranch was first started in 1850 and has been in the same Kamaaina Family ever since.
- Whale watching and dolphin spotting – there are a number of location on the island where you may spot whales or dolphins just from the coastline. If you would like to go offshore and get closer to see dolphins, turtles and humpback whales take a cruise (See oceanjoycruises.com )
- CRUISES – it is one thing to see Hawaii from the land – but also amazing to see from the air taking a close up view of the mountains and ocean from a helicopter. You can also take a cruise on an ocean liner around all of the islands and their coastlines calling at different ports along the way. (See ncl.com (Norwegian Cruise Lines), www.royalcaribbean.com (Royal Caribbean Cruises), www.celebritycruises.com (Celebrity Cruises) and www.princess.com (Princess Cruises).