After leaving Australia recently, we decided to head even more eastwards and cross the international date line. We hopped on a direct Melbourne-Honolulu flight on a Sunday afternoon and landed straight in Oahu, Hawaii (U.S.A.), on the same Sunday morning! Yes, we basically travelled in time back to the past!
Finally our first international trip after the global pandemic that kept us in Australia for over two years.
We spent one week in beautiful Oahu, Hawaii’s most populated island.
WHERE IS HAWAII?
Hawaii is one of the 50 American states. It’s located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about 2,000 miles west of USA. The archipelago of Hawaii, or Hawaiian Islands, is constituted by over 100 volcanic islets, of which 8 are major islands.
Oahu is the busiest one, with over 1 million residents living in the capital city Honolulu and surroundings. However the largest island by size is Hawaii, also nicknamed Big Island to avoid confusion with the state’s name.
Hawaii is known worldwide as a heavenly destination. This is also thanks to many movies and the gorgeous images that showcase its natural beauty and its important history as well.
So here’s our itinerary guide to the essential places to visit and things to do in Oahu, Hawaii, in one week.
Waikiki is the busiest neighbourhood in Honolulu and home to the most photographed beach in town, Waikiki’s Beach. Dozens of high rise hotels and residential buildings run along the beach here, where visitors can see locals take on the waves and perform the n.1 sport in the state, surfing!
Tourists are spoilt for choice around Waikiki when it comes to dining, shopping or partying. But if you have been following our travels for a while now, you’ll know that we didn’t come all the way to Hawaii to stay in a shopping mall, and neither should you!
Having said that you’ll surely visit Waikiki a couple of times, the vibe is particularly nice at sunset time and in the evenings.
But let’s move on to more authentic sides of Oahu.
Just past the eastern end of Waikiki, you’ll get closer to Diamond Head, a massive volcanic tuff cone which dominates Honolulu, offering fantastic 360° views. Being officially a state monument, Diamond Head has opening/closing times and fees. If you want to drive and hike up to the viewpoint, remember that gates close at 4 pm and all visitors have to be out by 6 pm. More info here.
Diamond Head Beach Park and various green areas encircle the area, and the beaches are less crowded here.
We were glad to find a hotel in this side of Honolulu, we stayed at beautiful Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head. Tucked quietly away between Diamond Head and Kaimana Beach, we enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere at Lotus Honolulu. We loved the location close to the city but also ideal to leave from and explore the island.
Another perk were the hotel’s amenities like yoga in the park, beach cruiser bikes and complimentary wine tasting at their TBD restaurant, and we loved our morning walks along the beach. We wish we could have stayed longer in our beautiful oceanview room, the sights of Diamond Head and the palm trees from our balcony will be stuck in our mind for a long long time!
Check Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head website for more info, flash sale deals and long stay offers.
HIKING + WATERFALLS
When the time came to go and explore Oahu, our minds immediately went to the epic Hawaiian hikes and waterfalls we’d seen many times on the big screen. Being fans of TV series Lost, which was mainly filmed in Oahu’s north shore and Kualoa Ranch’s Ka’a’awa Valley (see below), we were keen to see the lush jungle walks with our own eyes. But be warned and come prepared, hikes in Hawaii are not for beginners.
OLOMANA RIDGE TRAILHEAD
We opted for the Olomana Ridge Trailhead. It’s a strenuous 4.8 km-long hike with many up and downs and some boulders to climb with ropes (provided). The hike is also known as Three Peaks, as there are three different viewpoints that can be reached, for a total of 7.1 km return, and an elevation gain of 566 m. We stopped at the first peak, as we were already pretty worn out by the time we got there.
Luckily we did so, because the way down is perhaps even more challenging in some sections.
Overall the hike is as hard as the views are amazing from the peak! It’s well worth it but be mindful, bring appropriate shoes and lots of water, and leave as early as you can to avoid extreme heat.
Deeper info here.
We enjoyed better our next hike to Waimano Falls. It was fairly hard and steep again in some points, with a 4.7 km length, but a lower elevation gain of 247 m. Plus, getting to relax and cool down by the waterfall was a much needed pleasure!
Waimano Falls info here.
If hiking isn’t your thing but you’re still up for some action, then Kualoa Ranch is your place to go. The name may not sound familiar, but this is where mesmerizing Ka’a’awa Valley is located, movie set of hundreds of films and TV series, above all the epic Jurassic Park movies.
Several tours are available, such as the Jurassic Adventure Tour, the Raptor Tour, or the Hollywood Movies Set Tour. Make sure that booking the activities you’d like to experience is the first thing you’ll do right after securing your flight tickets to Hawaii. You read that right, the best tours sell out weeks in advance! Sadly we weren’t able to take any tour since we weren’t even sure we’d make it to Oahu, due to the everchanging Covid related restrictions.
Book your tickets for Kualoa Ranch here.
Renting your own vehicle is the best way to get around Oahu. This way you can combine your visit to Kualoa Ranch with some of the best Hawaiian beaches on the east and north shore of the island. Try Kaiona Beach Park or Sherwood Beach (drone video below) for crystal clear waters in the east, and Banzai Pipeline or Waimea Bay for sandy beaches and great surf in the north. The north shore is more exposed to winds and currents, indeed it’s here that the WSL Word Surf League is held in wintertime.
A visit to Hawaii wouldn’t be complete without stopping at Pearl Harbour. The infamous American naval base was attacked by the Japanese army at the very beginning of what would become World War II.
The base has been partly transformed into a museum today, but it still is an active military headquarters due to its strategic position in the Pacific Ocean.
There are 4 main attractions: the Arizona Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine, the National Aviation Museum and the USS Missouri. All of which provide very interesting information on what happened during and after December 7, 1941. A combined ticket called “passport to Pearl Harbour” will set you back 89$ and will grant you access to all of the above including audioguides. Single tickets range between 23 and 35$.
Book your tickets to Pearl Harbour here.
TIP: The Arizona Memorial is free, however tickets need to be booked 6 weeks in advance for the first release (100 tickets), or the day before your planned visit for the second release (50 tickets only). As you can imagine these tickets sell out everyday too, so best of luck with your hunt.
Your last hope is reaching Pearl Harbour as soon as gate opens (7 am), and getting in line to claim any no-show bookings. Bear in mind that the limited 150 tickets to the Arizona Memorial is a provisional requirement due to social distancing restrictions, and things might change in the near future.
POLYNESIAN CULTURE IN OAHU, HAWAII
Another fundamental aspect not to be omitted when in Oahu is the Hawaiian culture and history. Hawaii has a long history dating back way before it was annexed to the USA in 1893. As a matter of fact it was once an independent kingdom for almost a century during the 1800’s, and it is believed that early polynesian migrants settled in the archipelago around the 11th-12th centuries. The most notable historic buildings in Oahu are Iolani Palace, the former royal residence, and the Polynesian Cultural Center, dedicated to the traditional customs of the Pacific islands.
Here you can enjoy different activities throughout the whole day, such as arts and crafts demonstrations, traditional entertainment and dinner banquets. Luau is the most loved feast, which always includes foods, live music and dances. The hula, one of the dances performed during Luau, can also be appreciated for free every night at Kuhio Beach in Waikiki.
Finally, a quick mention of two of the most popular types of food in Hawaii:
- Poké, which has become a massive thing worldwide recently, is a bowl of rice served with diced raw fish like salmon, octopus, tuna or similar. Poké is usually seasoned with sea salt, seaweed, sesame oil, soy sauce. Delicious, definitely worth a try or more!
- Shave ice is a local favourite refreshment, a portion of ice covered in sweet syrup, sometimes served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the bottom. After trying it twice in Oahu, unfortunately we have to say that we aren’t big fans of shave ice, for us it tasted more like a very sugary dessert for kids! Still, it’s part of the fascinating Hawaiian culture that we couldn’t help but love.
The local people we met in Hawaii were always kind and smiling, and how not to pick up their beautiful greetings “Aloha” (for welcome, love and compassion) and “Mahalo” (for gratitude and appreciation)!
This wraps our itinerary guide to the essential places to see and things to do in Oahu, Hawaii.
We hope we’ll go back in the near future to explore the other islands around the archipelago and wish you to do the same soon!
HOTEL FEATURE IN OAHU, HAWAII
Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head: located on the southeastern end of Waikiki, just few steps away from Kaimana Beach. Superior balcony rooms with ocean view. All guests receive complimentary daily wine tasting at on site TBD restaurant. We particularly loved the relaxed vibe and the very friendly and professional staff.
HOW TO GET AROUND
Renting a car is your best option when in Hawaii. Roads and highways serve every area in Oahu.
Check for car deals here.
Alternatively, you can join tours with pick up and drop off at your hotel. Oahu tours info here.
WHEN TO GO TO OAHU, HAWAII
Hawaii weather is constantly warm for most of the year, and especially good from March to September when rain is less frequent and temperatures stay between 23° and 29°C.
Christmas season is quite busy too, as North Americans escape the cold and reach the island state, however it gets more wet and windy (great surfing conditions).
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