Oahu, Hawaii (March 2015)
The wide blue watery expanse of the Pacific Oceans appeared ahead as I descended from Oahu’s hilly center to the North Shore. The water was beautiful, sparkling in the late afternoon light. To the left, behind a volcanic plain, was the Waiʻanae Range, which looks right out of the background of the show Lost. The scenery was a welcome respite from the hectic southern end of Oahu, with its traffic stalled highways and sprawl.
Work brings me to Hawaii once in a while, which is pretty cool, even with the 10-hour flight and time away from home. I don’t have much free time while on the island, but I take advantage of any sliver of time to explore what I can.
I got in early on a Sunday so had a few hours to see the island of Oahu. I looked at my phone and realized that I’d be able to catch a Hawaiian sunset on the North Shore if I hurried. I jumped in the car and drove out of Honolulu.
I was enjoying my drive until I ran into a huge traffic jam at the intersection of H1 and H2. I finally got through this snag and was on my way up the long hill up towards the center of the island around Schofield Barracks, the Army base where, almost 17 years ago, I spent a month as a cadet learning to be a lieutenant. I drove past the base and was surprised to realize that I had no recollection of the base’s surroundings. I don’t know how much that was a factor of my poor memory or that the area has changed over the years.
The North Shore of Oahu is a land apart from the southern coast where most of the island’s population lives. There are no highways, just one two-lane road (Route 88) that skirts the coast beginning at Haleiwa, the north’s biggest settlement, a little beach town with an undefined center and lined with tourist shops, mini-shopping centers, and food trucks. The North Shore has resisted development over the years—in fact, it looked little different than I remembered it from 17 years before. I think there is one hotel on the entire northern coast, the Turtle Bay Resort on the northeastern corner of Oahu. The local governments have also done a good job of maintaining height restrictions on buildings; no building on the coast was taller than one or two stories.
I used Yelp to find a highly rated restaurant in Halewai that is known for its roast chicken. It turned out to be nothing more than a stand in the parking lot of a grocery store, but the food was seriously awesome, and it slaked my appetite enough to last me to real dinner later on. I also used the opportunity to buy some pure (not blend) Kona coffee in the grocery store ($11 for 7 oz). I tried it when I got back to DC and have to admit that I couldn’t tell the difference between Kona and other Arabica coffees. I even ground it right before I drank it, and used filtered water in my coffee pot. Don’t get me wrong– it was good, but not worth the extra money.
The North Shore is the world capital for surfing and beach bumming. No where else, in my opinion, besides maybe Santa Cruz, do you see so a bigger collection of blonde and tanned surfer dudes wearing mesh baseball caps with flat brims, surfboards in hand. When not on the waves, they can be found in the parking lots and turn-offs of Route 83 preparing to go out on the water.
The world famous Banzai Pipeline, with its enormous break, is a few miles north of Waimea Bay, a beautiful natural bay immortalized in the Beach Boys song Surfin’ USA. There’s no sign for the Pipeline—I think the surfers like it that way. Otherwise there would be tourist buses lined up and down the road. The Pipeline was so well hidden in plain sight that I think I missed it.
I then headed up to Sunset Beach, a half mile or so past Banzai Pipeline, to–you guessed it–watch the sunset. There aren’t too many places in the USA where you can catch a sunset like the North Shore. I sat down in the sand and watched the surfers riding the big waves as the sun inched towards the horizon. There were two sets of surfers; some were out like 500 yards away and others were closer, about 200 yards out. The waves weren’t that huge, but they were definitely bigger than the ones I’m used to seeing on the East Coast. I think the weather was too good to generate the big ones that would have attracted even more surfers.
After watching the sunset I headed back across Oahu to my hotel in Waikiki. I spent the next few days working but was able to sneak out one late afternoon to go over to the southeast coast of Oahu, a little past Diamond Head crater on Route 72. While there’s a lot of traffic and tons of development, there are some turnoffs off the road that provide access to some beautiful beaches and parks. If you go a little further you reach Hanauma Bay, a cove with great snorkeling. I visited there a long time ago and loved it. I have no idea if it’s still good.
I’m going out to Hawaii again in May I believe, so will try to arrive a day or two earlier so I can see some other things on Oahu, or even fly to Maui. Stay tuned!
Hotels and Restaurants
Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa (Honolulu) If you want to be on the beach in Waikiki, you could do worse than stay at Marriott. It’s right across the street from the boardwalk and near all the buzz. If I were paying for the trip on my own I would not stay in Waikiki as I think it’s too touristy. But if you are, I don’t think the Marriott is a bad option. It’s got a great gym and a nice pool, and has a bar overlooking the main srip. I also like how for the exorbitant resort fee, you get a free Seattle’s Best coffee, a mai tai, access to the gym and pool, DVD rental (who watches DVDs anymore) and a free photo with a fake backdrop. Woah, that’s definitely worth $30.
Tokkuri-Tei (Honolulu) This Japanese restaurant was just what I was looking for after being disappointed by two straight meals on Waikiki, which is so overloaded with tourists that most restaurants, especially the Asian ones, have long lines, even on Mondays. Tokkuri Tei is a 10 minute walk from the Marriott away from the tourist hordes of Waikiki. It’s in a bit of a run-down area, a good sign. The menu was extensive and in both English and Japanese, and many of the patrons were Japanese–good signs. We tried a ton of stuff on the menu including sashimi, sushi rolls, and poke, a Hawaiian dish that can best be described as a sort of fish salad. Everything on the menu was excellent and it was fairly priced.
Rays Kiawe Broiled Chicken (Haleiwa, North Shore) I found this place due to its high ratings on Yelp, and will add another 5 star review to the mix. The site is not even a food truck like I was expecting, but a food stand in the corner of a grocery store parking lot. The chicken was really tasty—so good, that I can’t recall ever having better chicken, even at fancy restaurants. For a half chicken plate it was about $7.50 or so, fairly priced given its quality. The people behind the table were really nice.