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
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
Highway through Wahiawa and Haleiwa.
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
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
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
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
your time and make a day of it.
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
has bypassed it, but it still has a nice variety of interesting
little shops, art galleries, and eateries.
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
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
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.