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O'ahu - where to go, what to do

by Jeffrey Petri, Kalamalama Archives


So! You’re a new student at Hawaii Pacific University? Welcome to Hawai’i You’re probably feeling a little bit overwhelmed by all the new sights, the details of finding a place to live, processing through university orientation and registration, buying books and then facing the reality of the first week of classes.

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So! You’re a new student at Hawaii Pacific University? Welcome to Hawai’i You’re probably feeling a little bit overwhelmed by all the new sights, the details of finding a place to live, processing through university orientation and registration, buying books and then facing the reality of the first week of classes.

Never fear, all this too shall pass, and before you know it, you’re going to have time on your hands, you will even be looking around for things to see and do. Well here is a brief guide to some worthwhile sights to see and places to visit on this wonderful island of Oahu, called “the gathering place” by Hawaiians of old.

The Polynesian ultural Center
Some of those who have gathered here are Polynesian peoples from throughout the Pacific, and if you have found your brief tastes of Hawai’i’s culture to be tantalizing, you will be delighted to experience the sounds and colors and aromas and tastes of the rest of Polynesia, of which Hawai’i is only one sub-culture.

All of Polynesia is brought together at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie on Oahu’s windward coast. Here you can visit separate enclaves for each of the major island groups of the Polynesian triangle, from Hawai’i and the Marquessas in the north through Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and Maori New Zealand in the south. Here islanders from each of these cultures have created and maintain a series of living museums to entertain and educate the peoples of the world about the varied culture of Polynesia. You will see how the peoples of each island group live through recreations of their houses and public buildings, costumes, foods and crafts, and stories, songs, and dance that bring to life their traditions.

A full day trip includes a tour, by foot or outrigger canoe, of all the Polynesian islands and their people and culminates in a luau and an entertainment extravaganza that one writer has called “the most exciting show” in the islands.

The Polynesian Cultural Center maintains ticket offices in Waikiki. You can call for transportation information, you can take any circle island bus, or you can just go west on Kamehameha Highway through Wahiawa and Haleiwa.

On the beach

If cultural tours aren’t as important to you as going to a beach and just hanging out, O’ahu also has a plenitude of beautiful spots to swim, surf, or sunbathe—just remember to bring a lot of sunblock.. Waikiki and Ala Moana, while they are close to the downtown campus, are usually the most crowded beaches on the island, and they offer little more than opportunities to sunbathe and wade in the water.

Go a little further, toward Hawaii Kai and around the “corner” of the island to its southeast shores, and the beaches are more open and a little more exciting. Sandy Beach, just past the famous “Blow Hole,” and Makapu’u beaches, at the southern end of the windward coast, are ever popular spots for surfing, body-boarding, and just hanging out enjoying the sun and surf. Watch the flags: green means the water conditions are OK for everyone; yellow is for experienced swimmers only—and they mean experienced here, in these waters. If the flag is red, conditions are dangerous. Pass it up and live to swim another day.

Hanauma Bay
If you want to swim with the fishes, Hanauma Bay is the spot for you. Located on Kalanianaole Highway just past Hawaii Kai, it is heaven on earth for snorkelers. From the cliff top above the bay, you will have breathtaking view down into the crater of a volcano; the ocean side has eroded and it has filled with sea water. A coral reef built up very close to the beach provides an underwater garden for thousands of tropical fish, in hundreds of colorful species. All you need to enjoy them is a snorkel, a mask, and a little something to feed them. (All of which are available at rental concession on the beach.) You will have fish literally eating out of your hand.

However, Hanauma Bay is also one of the most popular visitor attractions on the island, so be prepared to pay an admission fee for its use. Also, since the number of people allowed on the beach at anyone time is controlled, you may have to wait some time in line.

The North Shore
A drive up to the north end of the island leads to surfers heaven on the North Shore: Sunset Beach and Waimea Bay. These are places people all over the world see and hear about in the movies, and they are within a mile of each other. Waimea Bay and Waimea Beach Park has a nice strip of sand, so sun worshippers can just lay out or kick back while enjoying one of the island’s most breathtaking views of ocean coastline. Swimming is good, but the bottom is nearly all sand, which makes it a little uninteresting for snorkeling but great for surfing. But keep your eyes open: the water may seem calm and peaceful, but swells can come up without warning and drop 14-foot waves right on the beach.

And Waimea is said to have the largest waves in the world, if the conditions are right, as they often are during the winter. Year round the North Shore is a hot spot for surfers, but during the winter it can be awesome. Mother nature, during winter, has churned out 20-25 foot sets on quiet little Waimea Beach, as it has on her sister beaches, less than a mile down the road, the Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach, also world-famous surfing spots. This spectacle of power needs to be seen to be believed. Watch the paper, listen to the radio: If you have a chance, check out the power of nature generated by 20-25 foot swells. But don’t try to swim or surf in them. Only the best of the best dare even challenge the power of her winter waves at Waimea and the other North Shore beaches.

And since nearly the whole population of the island heads north to see the same waves, be prepared to face heavy traffic: take your time and make a day of it.

Waimea Valley
Just inland of Waimea Bay is Waimea Valley and Waimea Falls Park, a regular attraction for island visitors and well worth the effort (and the admission). In addition to rafting, kayaking, and canoeing, the park is criss-crossed with a network of trails that allow visitors to experience the flora and fauna of the island: over 6,000 species of them. There are also historical exhibits and demonstrations of the way the pre-European Hawaiians lived, Hawaiian games, and hula presentations—all especially appropriate since Waimea was one of the oldest and largest of the Hawaiian settlements.

The Park includes a restaurant, snack bar and gift ship, but its main attraction is Waimea falls and the lagoon at its base. Visitors can enjoy a swim in fresh water and can watch the amazing performances of young men and women as they dive—Acapulco style—off the cliff behind the falls, tumbling and somersaulting over 80 feet into the water below.

Whenever you go to the north shore, be sure to visit the historic and picturesque little town of Haleiwa. Recent highway construction has bypassed it, but it still has a nice variety of interesting little shops, art galleries, and eateries.

Hiking Trails
If you enjoy hiking, O’ahu is criss-crossed with hiking trails of varied difficulty. Two trails are especially sure to please. One is in Hauula, on the windward side of the island, just before the Polynesian Cultural Center, at Sacred Falls State park. This popular trail is 4.5 miles round-trip and leads to the 80 foot Kaliuwa’a waterfall and swimming hole. The trail follows an old cane road and crosses the Kaluanui stream twice as proceeds up the narrow valley, so be prepared to get wet. (In fact, if it is raining in the mountains, do this hike another day; lots of visitors every year are stranded when the stream becomes too swollen to cross.) The hike is only medium difficulty, but the temperature can drop the higher one gets in the valley. Along with your swimming gear, take a sweater, and a lunch: there are great places to eat with spectacular views of lush tropical vegetation and beautiful waterfalls and streams.

The Maunawili trail is located on the windward side of Pali tunnels, at the first hairpin turn off the Kailua bound lanes. This trail is nine miles long and winds through some fairly untouched natural wilderness. If you go the whole nine miles, you will end up in Waimanalo, so consider going only half way. In either case, this trail offers rare and breathtaking views of an unspoiled part of the natural environment of our island.

O’ahu is an island which offers much to see and do, and a drive around the island will likely reveal even more places of interest. So find a friend with a car and hit the road checking out the sights as you go. And ask your classmates here at HPU. After all, these are only suggestions, appetizers, if you will, to pique your curiosity about the island and its people, sights, sounds, and flavors. Enjoy Paradise.


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