A Week On Oahu-Hawaii | Travel Guide
Updated: Jan 26
We love a good museum, don't get me wrong, but we're not War buffs, or military enthusiasts so I think we were in the minority when we decided not to visit Pearl Harbor on our trip to Oahu. We spent 7 day visiting Oahu recently and have listed some of our must do's for you to consider.
Day 1 - Waikiki
If your flight arrives early it may leave you with a few hours until your room is ready. We recommend walking the city. We do this pretty much every time we reach a new city. It will give you the chance to orientate yourselves and get the lay of the land. We were staying at The Surf Jack Hotel & Swim Club which was a few blocks back from the beach, so we headed straight to the sand.
If you're not planning to take a dip straight away, check out the surfboard lockups. There's a few on the beach to either side of Duke's statue, but Surfboard Alley off Kalakaua Ave between the Ourtigger Waikiki Beach Resort and the Cheesecake Factory offers some great photo opps. (above)
Duke Paoa Kahanamoku Statue at the eastern end of Waikiki Beach is another must see. The statue is a tribute to the former Olympic athlete and father of modern surfing, Duke Kahanamoku, and it welcomes visitors to Hawaii with open arms. Apparently throwing lei's onto the statue is frowned upon as the acidity of the flowers damages the bronze material, although people continue to do so. 😢😢😢
Day 2 - Hanauma Bay
Go snorkelling at Hanauma Bay By all accounts it has the best snorkeling on Oahu. Everything you read will tell you this, and the locals all agree. It's easy to get there by local bus #22, just make sure you stay on until you get to the parking lot and don't get off at the bus stop on the main road. Hanauma Bay is open daily from 6:00am~7:00pm (closed Tuesdays). If you're driving there, the car park has a limited number of spaces and you won't be admitted if it's full so go early.
There's a $7.50 admission fee (over 12yrs) and you will be shown an introductory video before you are allowed to go down to the bay. There is a tram to and from the beach below the complex ($1 down, $1.25 up) , but it's a really easy walk down and back, and the lines for the tram can get log as the day goes on.
There are toilet facilities and a food stand at the top, but there is no food for sale down at the beach. You can bring a cooler with snacks and non alcoholic beverages. There are change rooms and toilets at the beach (a bit dated), and you can rent snorkeling sets and storage lockers down there also. You can't rent life vests or floaties so you'll need to BYO these.
What did make us sad was the number of snorkeling kits that were dumped in the rubbish receptacles on the way out of the park. We hope that these are being recycled in some form, or possibly kept and used by the park for daily equipment hire.
Day 3 - Kualoa Ranch - Movie Sites Tour
Definitely do this if you are a Jurassic Park fan, or in fact a fan of any of the dozens of movies that have been filmed here. We paid extra for the Premier Movie Sites Tour which takes you to places none of the other tours get to see, and with a small group in a private air conditioned mini-van.
I can't stress enough how excellent this tour was. Our tour guide Troy had a great knowledge of the property and the block buster movies filmed on site, and had a great sense of humour which made the 3 hour tour fly by.
And if you like a good burger, try the Classic Burger at the Kualoa Ranch Cafe. The ranch is still a working cattle ranch so all the beef is home grown, and the burgers were totally delicious.
In the evening, watch the sunset over Waikiki Beach from the Hale Koa Barefoot Bar next to Duke Paoa Kahanamoku Beach Park. they do a mean Margarita.
Day 4 - Explore Chinatown
Bus 2, 13 or 19 will take from Waikiki, right into the heart of Chinatown. Get off around Smith St and start exploring. Manuakea Marketplace is a great place to start. This indoor marketplace has a fresh seafood section, meat, fruit, and vegetable vendors, as well as a 'food court' style area offering a wide array of Asian and Hawaiian dishes at affordable prices. it’s not flash but it is authentic
If it's getting towards lunch time, try one of the many Yum Cha (Dim Sum) restaurants. We ate at a very unassuming place called Yee Hong Pavilion and really enjoyed it. (Ground floor Chinatown Cultural Plaza). It was only $30 for the two of us including a tip.
After lunch, walk a few blocks to the Iolani Palace, an opulent 19th-century dwelling once the royal residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii (closed Sundays). You can explore the expansive grounds for free, and a visit inside the Palace costs $27 on a guided tour, or $20 for a self-led audio tour.
Across the road is the Aliʻiolani Hale building, currently the Hawaiian Supreme Court. In the forecourt is the gold-leaf statue of Kamehameha the Great, honoring the monarch who founded the Kingdom of Hawaii.
Bus 42 down the road will take you back to Waikiki via Ala Moana Centre, but you should also consider a stop at the Honolulu Beerworks on the way (closed Sundays). This is a hip microbrewery where you can sample their beers in taster sizes whilst you graze on their lunch or dinner menu.
TIP: The Ala Moana shopping mall is a huge complex over three levels, but the best thing we found was the Shirokiya Japanese Village Walk, which is a fabulous Japanese food court hidden downstairs entered via the car park. We almost didn't go down to see what it was as the name gives no indication that it is a food court, but it has a huge array of Japanese foods, as well as a beer bar. it's laid out to replicate a traditional Japanese town and the atmosphere is a real buzz.
Day 5 - North Shore | Valley of The Temples
Take a drive up to the North Shore. It's only 40 minutes or so from Waikiki along Highway 2 and 99. The drive takes you through quaint villages dotted with art and craft shops as well as funky local cafes, past miles of cane fields and on to Haleiwa. Check out the surf at Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach, then follow Highway 8 around the northern tip of the island, and on to Kahuku.
If you're wanting to check out the surf at Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach you're going to have to park and walk down to the beach, and parking is limited. We were lucky enough to be there between the Pipeline Masters and the World Cup Surfing comp's (early Dec) so there were plenty of surfers in the water, although the cloudy weather didn't make for great photo opps.
Stop along the way for lunch at one of the many food trucks - a true Hawaiian institution. We had a great feed from Da Bald Guy. The blackened Ahi with rice was mouthwatering, and the garlic butter shrimp (prawns) were firm and meaty. They're located behind the gas station to the right of the Kahuku Sugar Miill. There's plenty of other trucks there also if nothing on their menu board takes your fancy.
Visit the Valley of the Temples, a lush green memorial park with grave sites on hillsides overlooking Kaneohe Bay. At the rear of the park is the magnificent Byodo-In Temple (A$4, Ch$2) nestled at the base of the towering Ko'olau Mountains. The temple was established in 1968, to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. The day we visited the mountains were shrouded in cloud, and as we walked across the bridge to the temple grounds we almost felt like we were back in Japan. The moat around the temple is teeming with colourful koi (carp) which you can feed, and wild peacocks roam around the grounds.
NOTE: For someone who drives on the left side of the road, actually driving a vehicle on the right side was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I've never felt this in a taxi or a vehicle being driven on the right, so I'm not in a hurry to drive ourselves again any time soon. Also the lanes on Hawaiian roads are very narrow and other traffic feels like it's going to bump into you at any moment.
Day 6 - Waikiki Beach | Kuhio Beach Hula Show
Spend a chill day on Waikiki Beach. Head to Koa Beach Service and hire a float mat for $10 for an hour and spend time on top of the water. Koa also have aqua-cycles, surf boards, stand up paddle boards, snorkel gear, sun umbrellas, beach chair hire as well as lockers for your valuables.
And you simply must watch the excellent Hula Show at the Kūhiō Beach Hula Mound at least once. Tue, Thur and Sat (weather permitting) from 6:30 pm to 7:30 pm (6 pm to 7 pm Nov~Jan).
The show was really well put together, the Hawaiian musicians (elders) were skilled and humorous, and the hula dancer extremelt talented. The elders tell stories of old Hawaii and at one point had us all singing together. The audience (and ourselves) were captivated and the one hour show was over before we knew it.
Day 7 - Diamond Head Hike
Don't miss hiking the Diamond Head Trail. We were concerned that it may be tough, but it's not a difficult hike, and the spectacular 360° views from the top are well worth the effort. Definitely go early, not only to beat the heat, but to beat the crowds. (Open daily 6am to 6pm). We've posted a separate piece on our Diamond Head Hike if you are interested in the details.
Spend the afternoon at Waikiki Beach, this time maybe try stand-up paddling. Hiro paddled above a giant sea turtle for a while that afternoon, however when it was my turn I couldn't find him/her. 🐢
Getting Around Oahu
The Bus (yep, the public bus services is called "THE BUS") is a great way to get around if you're not keen on driving. The routes cover most of the locations that you'll want to visit on the Island (including Hanauma Bay and the North Shore ) and the services are really regular throughout the day and night. A one day pass is only $5.50 (one way ticket $2.75) however the bus drivers don't give change so you do need to carry the exact amount in cash.