Squinting in the early afternoon sun, AK Kid peered through the window of our bright red Jeep at the glittering shoreline. The dereliction of our parental duty became obvious soon after as he tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “That’s not snow, right?” Oops. Guess we’ve been in the 49th state a little too long…
AK Fam is fully entrenched in Hawaii this week, exploring and soaking up as much sunshine we possibly can while our cohorts shiver in their Sorels at home. In true AK Fam fashion, however, we’re not staying along the shores of popular Waikiki beach, where the majority of resorts and hotels stand in testament to Oahu’s tourism track record. Instead, we found a charming flat via Vacation Rentals By Owner (really, really in the hills) above southeast Honolulu, where first light brings out a chorus of birds and whispers of the famous tradewinds as they shake palm fronds and papya trees. Yes, paradise comes in different forms for everyone, and for us it arrived in the form of solitude.
Our adventures are a little on the unique side, too. While we certainly will utilize opportunities to visit such places as the Waikiki Aquarium and Honolulu Zoo, and of course reverent Pearl Harbor, our favorite vacation agenda is the one set each morning as we are climbing into our sporty little SUV with map, coffee, and laundry basket full of towels, swim fins, and local foods. Oahu’s charm lies within the sidebars of its byways, where people provide color and texture to this lush landscape, and we found it.
Road trippin’? That’s us, so follow along as we hit a few of our favs so far:
Hanauma Bay. Yes, not so off-the-beaten-path, but, for an Alaska kid who has never before taken a swim with fish (other than unintentionally), Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a blessing. This protected area, located south of Waikiki along Hwy 72, is a snorkeler’s dream, where ‘Finding Nemo’ fish cruise and nibble at coral reefs, and the occasional sea turtle paddles by with a solemn expression. We’ve been once, and we’ll go back before we head home. The epitome of what most of us believe when we think “swimming in Hawaii”, Hanauma Bay is full of educational opportunities that are hands-on in the truest sense. An admission fee for adults ($7.50 – kids 12 and under are free) goes toward further protection of this fragile environment, as does the mandatory viewing of a 9-minute movie explaining the do’s and don’ts of the bay. Don’t miss this place. Bring a picnic, drinks, sunscreen, and goggles/masks/fins (or rent at the shack on the beach) and stay all day, taking a fast hike to the overlook, too. The views are worth the short climb.
Koko Crater Botanical Garden. Located just past Hanauma Bay, seldom-visited but beautiful Koko Crater places visitors into another world. No kidding; from tropics to desert in five minutes. The crater itself was formed about 100,000 years ago as one of the last volcanic activities on Oahu, but not with lava. No, ash instead infiltrated the landscape, causing a cone to form, and creating a “tuff” environment that eventually hardened into sedimentary rock (fun to compare with our Alaskan volcanoes). In 1958, a few smart Oahu’ians set aside the crater for development into a botanical garden, and today 60 acres of the 200-acre site are covered with collections of Hawaii’s most interesting and unique dryland plants. Admission is free, and do bring water, it’s hot up there. Don’t touch specimins, either, you never know where they’ve been, or what they might do to you, but do sniff the Plumeria flowers! Volunteers and an adorable security guard are on hand to answer questions along the 2-mile loop.
North Shore Surfing. No, not you, unless you absolutely, positively know what you’re doing. This is home to the Big Waves, where locals and pros rip into pipelines and breakers with surfboards, body boards, or just their bodies. Ouch. The sound of thundering waves is enough to make anyone stand around with his or her mouth hanging open, as we certainly did – AK Kid was mesmerized for at least an hour. Try Waimea Bay Beach Park near the top of the North Shore; the views are great, and the photo ops are awesome, or head further north to famous Pipeline near Ehukai Beach Park near Pupukea. Surfers love to talk about themselves, too, we found. Chat one up and see if you don’t learn something. Dude. Note: Keep kids out of the water, except where lifeguards direct you, and never let go of their little hands.
Are Highway 83, North and East. Continue on the back side of the island (windward side) from the North Shore, where banana trees and coconut palms hang along the roadway, and chickens run amok at every park or pull out. This is rural Oahu, where beaches are populated with picnicking families, fishermen, and more surfers. Some of the best local food groups are found here, too, like shrimp trucks and coconuts, so fresh you just know they were plucked from their respective homes right before you bought them. What a thrill for AK Kid to receive a whole coconut (for a mere $4) at one of these trucks, top sawed off to reveal icy cold, fresh coconut milk and meat inside. Bliss. Take those goodies and head to one of the many state or regional parks lining the roadway; you’ll skip the tour buses and achieve true Hawaiian infusion.
Pali Highway. On the way back to Honolulu, take Highway 61 from the east side across the rugged, gorgeous Honolulu Watershed Forest Preserve. Do not miss the Pali State Waside at the summit, where stunning ocean and mountain views await at the overlook. If you’re up for a little tropical hiking, take the Nuuanu Pali Drive turn off and trek the Nuuanu Trail across the ridgeline. Hiking boots and water are a must here, fyi. Check at any visitor center for a complete listing of other awesome hikes in the mountain regions.
Don’t forget to tune into the Alaska Travelgram Show TODAY from 2-3 AST on KOAN 95.5 FM, or streamed live at 1020koan.com. I’ll be calling in to chat more about these and other awesome Hawaii hot spots for your family!