I have longed to go to Hawaii for most of my life. As a child if you asked me what my dream vacation was, I would have said Hawaii without hesitation. I was convinced that Hawaii must be the most beautiful and magical place in the world. I wanted to know everything I could about Hawaii and loved any form of media that had to do with Hawaii. My favorite episode of any TV show I watched was any episode where the characters went on a Hawaiian vacation. I am probably one of the few people on the planet who remembers the TV show Aloha Paradise (and I can even still sing part of the theme song).
As I grew older my passion for Hawaii faded a bit. People were always telling me how overbuilt and overdeveloped it was. There were some areas that weren't too commercialized, but no one went to those. I started focusing my travel dreams more on Europe. Eventually I learned that not all of Hawaii is Oahu and not all of Oahu is Waikiki. There were plenty of places that were easy to get to that would satisfy my longing for a quiet tropical paradise and beautiful beaches. But at this point there were other practical reasons to not go to Hawaii. It's far away. Traveling to Hawaii requires time. It is also not cheap. It's expensive to get there and it's expensive to stay there.
As Kevin began talking about nature destinations he wanted to see, particularly the national parks, he often mentioned dream destinations in colder climates. He talked of Alaska cruises and nature tours to Churchill Manitoba to watch polar bears. We loved our Yellowstone and Grand Teton trip, but I was not fond of seeing snow fall the week of Memorial Day. "Why do you keep wanting to go to cold places?" I asked him. "You want to see national parks. There are national parks in Hawaii."
When our 15th anniversary began to loom on the horizon, we were talking about it with some family members at a party and they asked where we might go to celebrate. Kevin said, "Hawaii." This was news to me, but I was ready to hold him to that.
We spent our 5-year anniversary in Disney World, our 10 year anniversary in Italy, and our 15-year anniversary in Hawaii. Can we top that for 20 years?
Day 1 - Hawaii is as far away from home as I have ever been. It's far. It's really far away. It requires one to fly across a continent and then fly over part of the ocean. It's far away from any other place. That translates as a 10.5 hour plane ride going out there.
First class might be out of our league, but Kevin nabbed seats in the extra legroom rows. Hawaiian Airlines doesn't kid around when it comes to extra leg room. I have never sat on a seat with so much space in front of me - not even that time when we had a first class upgrade on our way home from Salt Lake City in 2010. We didn't get the classy meal or the seats with footrests, but we did have a selection of free movies and a complimentary glass of wine with our standard airline dinner. Best of all, we could get up and go to the bathroom without disturbing each other or other passengers.
We left at 10AM and arrived in Honolulu around 5PM. Once I was off the plane and on the road, I thought Oahu is not the most attractive island in the archipelago. We got on our shuttle bus to the hotel and drove through plenty of ugly, industrial, city scenery for much of our drive. The bus crossed one bridge and suddenly the scenery changed as we headed into downtown Honolulu, which is rather charming and clearly set up for tourists and the monied residents. Within our first hour we were already introduced to some of the local sites, because no matter what form of transportation you take in Honolulu, your driver will serve as a tour guide.
The best part about arriving was feeling the warmth as we stepped outside the airport terminal. There is nothing like getting on a plane on a cold winter day and getting off the plane and not needing a coat.
We arrived at our hotel, the Outrigger Reef on the Beach in Waikiki. When we checked in Kevin began to employ his excellent bargaining skills to get us a better room. They had tried to put us in a room on a lower floor that was set back a bit from the beach. It was a partial ocean view, but a room that far back would mean that view would be be quite partial. A full ocean view was unavailable, but we were able to get a higher floor where the ocean could be seen quite easily. It looked directly down on the pool as well as out to the beach. We watched the sunset from our room. The room itself was large and quite comfortable. It seemed we had made the right choice of hotels and room.
We explored the hotel and had dinner at one of the hotel restaurants. We stayed awake as long as possible to reset our bodies from the jet lag. Our adventure had begun.
Day 2: I scheduled an island tour of the North Shore in the afternoon to give us the morning to sleep in and explore the neighborhood a bit. I was awake early regardless so I went to the gym and explored the beach a bit before breakfast. After breakfast Kevin and I decided to walk up the boardwalk that ran along the beachfront. Beyond the property of our hotel were several parks as well as the massive property of the Hilton Hawaiian Village. When the boardwalk ended, we strolled along Kalakaua Avenue, the main drag of Waikiki. If you asked me to describe Waikiki, I would call it a combination of Fifth Avenue and Ocean City (or some of the beach towns around the Jersey Shore). There are hotels and beach bars all along the beach and then the strip has upscale malls and high-end shops. Wedged in between Chanel and Versace are about 100 ABC Stores, which are the Hawaii equivalent of Sunsations.
We met with our tour right before lunch and headed out of Waikiki with our young, chipper, guide Greg. Once away from the hustle and bustle of the city (and the congested highways) we began to see the Hawaii everyone fantasizes about. We drove along a mountain road and ended up at the Byodo-In Temple. It resembles a Japanese pagoda, but is actually meant to be non-denominational. It shares the property with a Catholic cemetery as well. The interesting aspect of Hawaiian cemeteries is they don't use headstones. There are grave marker plaques in the ground and that's it.
It looks so beautiful against the backdrop of the mountains.
Outside the temple there is a giant bell you are supposed to ring before going in to cleanse your aura. The clapper is a huge pole suspended on ropes that you pull back and let crash into the bell. The public area of the temple is rather small and taken up by a giant Buddha statue. There are also incense sticks you can light for meditation.
The grounds are lovely with waterfowl, massive goldfish ponds, and pavilions.
Our next stop was one of the best views of the North Shore, Laie Point. Hawaiian legend says that a giant lizard, once patrolled this area. The lizard, Laniloa, once battled a man named Kana. The man easily won, despite the lizards reputation for taking the lives of passerbys. Kana divided the body of Laniloa into five pieces, which are now the five off-shore islands near Laie point. The most distinctive island has a hole with a rock in it that resembles an eye. This is said to be the lizard's eye.
It was a beautiful spot for photos.
We went to another beach where giant sea turtles are known to hang out. We were able to see them flailing in the waves, but never got a really good look. Surprisingly we had much better views of turtles at my hotel beach.
Our final stop was the Dole Plantation. It's a massive tourist trap, but it was fun. I enjoyed buying pineapple wine at the gift shop in any case. We strolled the gardens a bit as well. We didn't have time to ride their little train that goes through the fields.
We returned to our hotel in the early evening. I was surprised at how much the temperature had dropped when the sun went down. I couldn't believe at this point that I had been in Hawaii two days and I hadn't been swimming yet. That was unthinkable! I decided to have a swim before dinner. The chilly (relative to the day) night air and the cool temperatures of the pool conspired against me. It was just too cold to swim.
Day 3 -We had to wake up at some ungodly hour to meet our guide, Guy, for Pearl Harbor. I guess these tours start early so there won't be any traffic. Oahu has the worst traffic in the country. Guy was one of the most laid-back tour guides I have ever heard. He always seemed to be thinking and concentrating hard about every word in every sentence. He seemed to be trying to draw the words out.
We headed first to the visitor's center and the related museums. There was one gallery dedicated to the events leading up to WWII and the attack and one dedicated to the attack itself. There were all kinds of artifacts as well as old footage.
Outside the Arizona's anchor was on display.
Then we finally boarded the boat to the Arizona Memorial. From here we could see the remains of the ship below the water. At the back of the memorial was a plaque with the names of all the victims.
Terrifying and tragic to think this is the grave for so many unfortunate sailors.
Next we went to Ford Island to see the Oklahoma memorial. This one had marble pillars with a victim's name carved into it. The pillars are meant to resemble the sailors standing on the decks in their dress whites.
The Missouri was where WWII officially ended. The Japanese surrendered to the US on one of the decks. We were able to stand on that deck and see photos of the signing of the terms of surrender.
We were back early enough in the afternoon for me to go to the beach. I rented a boogie board for a while. I found it impossible to use. The shore waves don't really break. The only way to really use a boogie board in Hawaii is to swim past the reefs (and avoid scraping your body all over them) and board and surf on the sandbars. Even when I managed to get out there, I couldn't figure out the wave patterns to understand when to best catch them for a ride. I managed to catch two or three of them at the shoreline, but it was a ride that lasted about 3 seconds. I don't think I can handle boarding if I'm not in Assateague (or the East Coast anyway).
Day 4 - This was the longest day of our vacation for sure. It was another early morning as we had to meet our tour, head to the airport and fly to Hawaii. Oahu and Hawaii are at opposite ends of the archipelago, so just getting to the Hilo airport took a chunk of the day. Once at the airport we met with our guide Jane and started our day on the Big Island. After our tour was over I asked Kevin if he thought Jane was a stoner in her youth. He said she was probably still a stoner. What can I say? She had that aging hippie vibe about her.
Our first stop was a black sand beach. We had hoped to see some turtles there, but they weren't making an appearance. The view was lovely though. It had rained in the morning and there were even faint rainbows.
Our next stop was Banyan Drive. It is a street lined on either side with banyan trees that were planted by important people (or people deemed important by the residents of the island. Each tree is marked with a plaque bearing the name of the person who planted it.
I have been told that mongooses are a nuisance species in Hawaii, but I saw very few of them on my trip. I saw three at the gardens. Two of them were having conjugal relations. How is it I manage to catch nature porn everywhere I go?
The next stop was the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm. If you like mac nuts, then belly up to the sample bar and see how many different flavors you can taste. I missed my chance to try the ice cream, but I did stroll the gardens a bit and saw what a macadamia tree looks like.
We made a short stop at Rainbow Falls. They are a beautiful sight, known to display a rainbow when the sun hits them properly. I saw no such display, but I had a good photo regardless.
Then we went to the side of the mountain where lava flows went all the way out to the ocean over the years. We were even able to view where there had once been a road that was covered by lava.
It looks like an intimidating climb when you view the summit from the bottom. The trail is mostly man-made stairs and swtichbacks and we made it up in a little over a half hour.
It was Valentine's Day that day and we had neglected to make plans. Most of the nicer restaurants in the area were booked weeks ago. We went to our hotel concierge and asked for advice. He managed to get us a late reservation at a superb Italian restaurant (see my food blog for details if you haven't done so already).
Day 5 - This was another unplanned day. Kevin wanted to see the Honolulu Zoo, so we wisely boarded the hotel trolley and checked it out.
It's a small zoo, but there were some interesting displays.
As photo ops go it's not anywhere near the Bronx Zoo, but it made for a nice morning.
We returned to the hotel and I returned to the beach. This time I rented snorkel gear. One of the best views of Hawaii is the one you see underwater. Even at the crowded Waikiki beach I was able to see the most stunning array of fish. It was breathtaking (not literally of course since that could be dangerous in snorkeling).
We had dinner at another one of Honolulu's upscale restaurants that evening and then retired for the evening. We would have to pack up and board the plane to Kauai the next day.
Day 6 - We packed our bags and said goodbye to Oahu. We had an uneventful plane ride to Kauai. Oddly enough the ride to Kauai from Oahu didn't seem to be much shorter than the ride to Hawaii from Oahu, but Oahu and Hawaii are much farther apart.
We arrived in Kauai in the rain. That was a little disappointing. The island itself was a breath of fresh air. There were no major cityscapes. We passed no ugly industrial areas on our ride to the hotel. There was far more nature and far less crowded highways.
We arrived at our hotel, The Koa Kea in the early afternoon. The rain was falling pretty steadily at this point and it was too early to check into our room, so we hung out at the bar and had lunch.
We knew we would need a car to get to some of our excursions as very few outfitters offer hotel pickups. Our hotel was in an area of Poipu that is filled with many hotels and condos along the beach, but very little in the way of other forms of civilization. We thought we could rent a car at or near our hotel. We should have rented one at the airport. There were no convenient rental places nearby. There was a large shopping center in walking distance with some food concessions and casual restaurants, but that was about it. The major shopping and dining hub was over a mile away - walkable, but not where you want to walk for dinner.
That left us eating at our hotel restaurant for dinner. It was pricey and we had been going out for pricey dinners for two nights in a row so far. We knew we had to look at other options for the rest of the week.
Day 7 - We had to see Waimea canyon of course and we were able to book a bus tour that would take us there and pick us up at the hotel. Our guide Nui was quite a character. He is originally from the mainland, but had been living in Hawaii for many years working in various jobs (he reminded me a bit of Captain Barry in Chincoteague, although a bit older). He warned us all that he tends to be politically incorrect with his guests, but he wasn't nearly as salty as he warned us he would be.
We started the day at the Spouting Horn where the ocean runs under the rock formations at the water's edge and spouts upwards. The ocean was pretty calm this day and the display wasn't at its most impressive, but it was impressive enough.
We headed down to the river for a scenic cruise.
The cruise went to Fern Grotto, a cave that naturally formed in a cliffside. A small perpetual waterfall cascades over the front of it. Hawaii is so full of waterfalls because the heavy rains seep into the lava rock and eventually flow out.
They used to conduct weddings in the cave, but it is now closed to visitors. There is a large viewing platform in front of the grotto now for events. While we were there we were entertained by Hawaiian musicians and dancers.
I had eaten a huge breakfast and then ate lunch even though I wasn't hungry. By dinner time I couldn't stomach another meal. Kevin had a burger at the hotel bar while I snitched his pickles and his french fries and told myself I wasn't overdoing it.
Day 8 - Today we spent the morning traversing jungle roads (and puddles) in a "Mud Bug". The ATV outfitter was a close enough distance to our hotel to make a taxi affordable, so it was one less day we needed to worry about transportation. The tour went through the jungle roads and ended up at a waterfall where we had a picnic. We were supposed to swim at the waterfall, but I ended up being improperly equipped. The tour description online merely said to wear long pants and closed-toe shoes. I wore my hiking boots thinking they would be the best shoes to handle the muddy trails. I noticed many of my trail companions were wearing plain water shoes. It wasn't until we were getting ready to go on the trail that our guide Eric said that I would not be allowed to go into the waterfall barefoot. Since I didn't buy water shoes (conveniently on sale at the store attached to the main office) or bring them, I would not be allowed to swim (unless I wanted to swim in my hiking boots, which didn't sound too appealing). It also didn't matter what I wore on the rest of my body. They handed out shorts and t-shirts to wear on the ride so you didn't get your own clothes too muddy.
We headed out on the trail. Kevin drove first. We made some stops along the way. One of the stops was at a large field where many movies were filmed over the years including Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark. We also went through an old transport tunnel left over from one of the defunct local sugar plantations.
I drove on our way back. It was such a blast. I told Kevin if I had known how much fun it was to drive the Mud Bug I would have driven both ways. Kevin said that was why he drove first.
We stopped inside an old WWII bunker on the return trip. It was cool. There were a few artifacts in the tunnel, including some ancient Saltines.
When we returned to our hotel the weather had warmed up immensely and the sun was shining. I rented snorkel gear and hit the hotel beach. Once again I had that dreamy underwater view.
We had hot dogs for dinner at the shopping center across the street, but returned to the hotel for cocktails and dessert - an excellent compromise.
Day 9 - We were going to cruise the Na'Pali coast in the afternoon and early evening, so I took the morning to get my beach on. I took my snorkel gear to the beach at the hotel next door (a bit bigger and deeper and continued with my fish watching. It was so peaceful out there in the water. There were times I would just float there and watch the sunlight on the ocean floor and feel like I was in my own little watery world.
The boat was large and fairly comfortable and had handholds everywhere. We found out why pretty quickly. The wind was fierce and the water was choppy. You needed to be holding on much of the time. You also ran a risk of getting soaked. Instinct told me not to take off my bathing suit after the beach that morning and wear just a light coverup dress over it. Had I not dressed that way, it could have been much worse.
The choppy water and the waves were worth it. The coast was spectacular and Drew was an excellent guide through all of it.
Captain Drew and the crew served a delicious dinner of pulled pork sandwiches (also tuna for people like Kevin) and free flowing wine, beer, and mai tais (actually, those were flowing throughout the entire cruise). Then we ate cookies and watched the spectacular sunset.
Day 10 - All good things must come to an end. Since our flight was in the afternoon I used to morning for one last dip in the ocean. Then we packed our bags and said goodbye and took the plane to Honolulu.
Everything seemed to be going fine for our flight back home to NY. The plane was right on schedule and we boarded. We were unable to get the extra legroom seats on this flight, but it was a shorter flight, so at least we had that.
We boarded the plane and waited to take off. Then we were instructed to get off the plane and wait.
It turned out there were mechanical issues with our plane. We would have to wait until the next plane came to the gate and was prepared for another flight. We were delayed almost two hours. I suppose on the bright side we didn't land at 5AM as planned, but landed at a much more reasonable hour and arrived home around 10. I had a few hours to rest and go to an audition.
Life it seemed, was going to go on as usual: work, horses, theater despite how much fun our vacation was.