Pono: the Hawaiian word for the feeling of contentment when all is good and all is right. A perfect explanation of the moment we reached the peak of Diamond Head Volcano.
What brought us to Honolulu, Hawaii you ask? Andrew had a presentation that was accepted for a counseling conference that was being hosted at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort (uh, can all conferences be hosted in tropical paradises!?) and there was no way he was going to Hawaii without me! We decided to make a vacation out of it! Note: oftentimes conferences take us to random cities around the US (more posts to come!) which affords us the opportunity to turn conferences into little get-aways.
Early in my travel years not much planning occurred, maybe a list of activities, local things to eat, or places to see but nothing too detailed: just a simple list. Then Honolulu was in sight. This trip laid the foundation for all future trips. This was my first long flight, crossing time-zones, jet-lag-kind-of-trip: super exciting and nerve-wracking! When planning trips, since you usually do not know when you will return to a place, I aim to pack in all the things into the itinerary! So with a trip of this magnitude, what did I need to do? Research! I started looking into detailed and efficient packing lists, how to combat jet lag, along with all the Honolulu must-dos. Our trip to Honolulu was just the first big trip where I created an itinerary, since then I have increased the details and investment into my itineraries that have proven extremely beneficial! To start my planning, I jump on Pinterest as it is one of the best sites, in my opinion, to learn and explore almost anything, but especially travel ideas. A majority of the basis of my travel plans are sparked by a few hours on Pinterest, followed by a detailed search on the places, attractions, historical sites, and food initially seen on blogs and other sites. My favorite things to do in new places is to see the city from the highest point whether this is seen by a hike up a mountain, or the top floor of a building, and to see the skyline from a boat (if the city is on the water). Both of which were accomplished in Honolulu. For most of the trip we were able to walk, use shuttle transportation offered by the resort, or local transportation, however we did rent a car for a couple of days to see some of the places that were a bit outside Waikiki.
So what should I do in Honolulu?
Snorkel? Of course!
Eat Poi? Uh, what’s that? So, the answer has to be yes!
See and Do…
On one of the days we had the rental car we drove to two hiking locations, Diamond Head and Manoa Falls and on the second day we drove to visit the Dole Plantation, Pearl Harbor, and North Shore.
Diamond Head Volcano looks really intimidating from the beach, I was sure I would not be able to make it up! Then I saw a bunch of children and old people- that is always reassuring! As it turns out, it was super easy! The grade is at a very low and steady incline which makes the walk up very low impact.
Manoa Falls was another relatively easy hike that was a 20 minute drive from the resort through a residential area to the beautiful waterfall in the mountains. The hike is not steep, however a bit slippery in some places. It rained the entire hike up, so I left my camera in my bag, I unfortunately only have one blurry picture of this waterfall. The hike through the rain was totally worth it!
We woke up early the next day to drive to the Dole Plantation, which started as a fruit stand, and now brings in over a million visitors each year! Visitors can take tours of the facility and pineapple plantation, take a train ride around the property, take a picture in a giant pineapple, and most importantly eat a refreshing dole whip (more info on this treat below)!
After our tasty Dole Whip snack, we drove up to the Pearl Harbor memorial. Prior to leaving for Honolulu I watched the 2001 movie Pearl Harbor in preparation for our trip (note: another way I prepare for our trips is by watching movies or shows that are about or set in the place we are traveling.) History is one of our favorite subjects, and much of our travels surround historical sites and museum visits. We did not pay the admission fees to board the Battleship Missouri, but we were able to see it from the Arizona Memorial and read about the history in the visitor center. There are several tour options from around the Hawaiian Islands that you can check out if you are staying on Oahu or another Island.
We then ventured up to the North Shore to check out the famous surfing location. We just drove around aimlessly looking at the beaches until we found one that looked like a nice place to relax for a bit. Andrew had bought a little djembe drum earlier in the trip and a friend we were traveling with had brought her ukelele, so an impromptu concert broke out on the beach. We felt super hawaiian, however I am sure we screamed tourists. We then stopped by “Giovanni’s Shrimp” truck for a bite before heading back to the resort.
To check off my other favorite thing to do, seeing the skyline from the water, we went on an evening whale watching tour where we floated along the coastline. It was the end of season, and one of the last days the tours were being offered so there were only a couple whales off the coast before they began their migrations. It was amazing to see (and hear!) the whales. I look forward to going on another whale watching tour during peak season one day!
You cannot go to Hawaii without snorkeling! We took public transportation up to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve which was about a 30 minute bus ride. When you first arrive you will complete a liability form and watch a short video on the history and importance of preserving the reef. When we went to Honolulu it was March, with very mild weather, so the water was much colder than I expected! The reef and fish were beautiful, the tide was low so we were swimming directly on top of the reefs- which proves daunting when you are bit claustrophobic like myself! After swimming a bit, I relaxed on the beach while Andrew continued snorkeling and was able to spot a sea turtle and a Moray Eel! When visiting Honolulu, snorkeling Hanauma Bay is a must!
Shopping and Souvenirs:
Hilo Hattie’s is an adorable store with all things Hawaii: souvenirs, tikis, leis, floral shirts, macadamia nuts, Kona coffee and the World’s Largest Aloha shirt! There was a shuttle that picked us up in the Hilton Waikiki Village Resort, which made it convenient for my three visits in just over a week! You can also purchase Dole Whip here if you are unable to make it out to the plantation. There are also a ton of ABC Convenience Stores. We went to these stores almost everyday for snacks, water, and chocolate covered macadamia nuts- a souvenir that is great to bring back for family and friends!
Stuff to Eat…
When traveling, we have a rule: we eat all the local cuisine, especially anything unique to that particular place, and we do not eat at chain restaurants. However, we do have our exceptions. Mine: an occasional stop at Starbucks if there are not local coffee shops. Andrew’s exception: McDonald’s for items that are not available at home. We let these slide. In Hawaii they offer spam, rice, and eggs at McDonald’s so we made a stop in to give this a try.
If you know me, you know that bakeries are always on the itinerary. It is a requirement that I try the local baked treat everywhere I go- no excuses! In Hawaii, Malasadas are on the menu. We stopped by Leonard’s Bakery: on the way to Manoa Falls to carb up before our hike. Malasadas are a lightly fried hole-less Portuguese doughnut. You can get them with different fillings and coated in a variety of toppings. They were so light and fresh- I wish I had like four right now!
Much of the local cuisine in Honolulu has Asian inspiration. We walked about 20 minutes to Ramen Nakamura, a traditional, casual ramen shop. We sat next to a couple that claimed to be ramen enthusiasts, and have eaten ramen all of the world- they said they continue to come to this place every time they visit Honolulu. This restaurant is also in a great location near the International Market Place which is lined with shops that sell local and international goods, clothes, and food.
As mentioned earlier, we had the famous Dole Whip at the Dole Plantation. This frozen concoction is a super light and frozen pineapple slushy-type dessert that is topped with fresh pineapple. It is by far one of the lightest and creamiest (despite it being dairy-free) desserts I’ve had. I have heard they are now selling these at Disney World too? I haven’t tried one there yet, I will have to try it for myself to see if Mickey knows what he is doing!
Luau: A Special Experience…
On one of the last nights in Honolulu we participated in the Paradise Cove Luau. This specific luau has consistently been rated as number one for the past several years. You are greeted with hula dancers, traditional music, a lei and Mai Tai to get the party started. The first activities include walking around a village where you can participate in playing drums and various games, making leis and other crafts. I made an adorable crown from palm frond leaves and flowers. After exploring the village is was time to eat! This luau prepares a buffet of traditional food such as pork, rice, vegetables, and various salads. Remember I mentioned Poi earlier? Poi was also on the menu, which was a great opportunity to give it a try! Poi, for those who do not know what it is, is a native purple-ish paste-like dish made by pounding and crushing the stem of the Taro plant into the desired consistency. Sounds delish, right? It was definitely worth a try for the experience, but let’s just say it would never be in my regular diet. During dinner there is a Hawaiian and Polynesian show that displays the songs and dances of the local culture. The audience was involved throughout the night, and I even learned to hula dance on the stage! This was truly and unforgettable night.
Overall, we had an amazing visit on the Island of Oahu, we had the opportunity to visit various parts of the island that provided a beautiful overview of the history, culture and traditions of Hawaii. I cannot wait to visit the other diverse Islands of Hawaii, the Big Island and Maui are two on my list! Have you visited Honolulu, what was your favorite memory? If you haven’t visited, what is your dream Hawaiian destination?
Mahalo for reading,