Hawaii is always celebrating but, with the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbour on the horizon, Oahu has extra special reason to sing and dance - as JAT journo, Kaye Holland, discovers
The sun-lashed islands of Hawaii are a bit of a ball-ache to reach (getting there involves folding yourself into a plane for 19 plus hours) but life is too short to keep visiting the same destinations.
And trust JAT when we say that you won’t regret the jet lag for a second once you land and are adorned with leis (gorgeous garlands of plumeria flowers) - yes the Hawaiian experience begins as soon as you touch down at Honolulu International Airport.
Hawaii is best known for its beaches (Hawaii does beaches better than pretty much anywhere else on the planet). Waikiki is the most famous, with Hanauma Bay – a protected marine life park which has a reputation for the best snorkelling – also hogging the headlines. The latter is the place to swim with Hawaii’s colourful state fish - the Humuhumunukunukuapua'a (humuhumu for short) - but the beloved bowl shaped bay was recently named America's best beach on an annual top 10 list compiled by coastal science professor Stephen Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach, and everybody knows it.
As such, it's packed with tourists so escape the hustle and head to Kailua on Oahu’s Windward coast. This unsung spot has the lot - read white sand, azure waters and wave conditions for just about every water sport imaginable - while remaining mercifully free of the crowds that throng Waikiki. Make no mistake: you’ll be dreaming of Kailua for months.
Yet while Oahu’s biggest draw is arguably its insta-perfect beaches, the island is also famous for being the birthplace of surfing. Hawaii has a total obsession with surfing: while the rest of the world might consider surfing a sport, here it’s about much more than merely catching and riding waves. Instead surfing is considered a social activity and time honoured ritual (in ancient Hawaii, boards were carved from fallen trees and rode by ali aka chiefs).
All of which means that if you're looking to hang low, you’ve come to the right place. There’s a wave to match every skill on Oahu but beginners will want to make a beeline for Kaisers (where legendary waterman Duke Kahanamoku cultivated his surfing skills) - whose slow breaking waves make it an ideal playground for surfing novices.
Should you favour lessons, Hawaii Hot Spot Surf School - run by Oahu native, Errol Kane - has been around long enough to know what they’re doing… We’re not going to lie, the ‘sport of kings’ is hard, but it’s also utterly exhilarating and sure to make you feel alive.
A seasoned pro? Oahu’s north shore boasts some of Hawaii’s biggest swells - we’re talking epic two foot waves that show even the even the Kelly Slaters and Pancho Sullivans of the world who is boss.
And should you suffer from surfer’s aches and pains the following morning, simply book yourself in for a lomi lomi massage. (In Hawaii, massages aren’t a luxury. Rather regular lomi lomi - meaning “to knead, to rub, or soothe” - massages are a way of life.)
Yet Hawaii has many dimensions beyond the beach and water. While the sand, surf (and palm trees) are fab, there’s more to do here than catch a wave. Hawaii offers incredible hikes - don’t miss Diamond Head Park, arguably the most famous site in all of Hawaii.
The trail to the summit of this 475-acre crater, formed by a violent explosion long after other volcanic activity on the island had ceased, was built in 1908 as part of the US Army Coastal Artillery Defense System. The network of tunnels, bunkers and observation posts was strengthened again during the Second World War, but to date no guns have ever been fired. Allow around an hour to hike to the top of the crater rim and back and don’t forget to bring your camera for, if it’s epic views you’re after, Diamond Head does those too. Expect to see as far as the Waianae Range (to the west) and Koko Head (to the east).
Want more of the great outdoors? Lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails at Manoa Falls - which never fails to draw a gasp on first sight owing to its magnificent mountain views, rocky stream-beds, bamboo forests and banyan trees, wildflowers and 150ft tall water fall. I took more photos in one day at Manoa Falls, than I typically do in a month - it’s that kind of place.
Little wonder then US president, Barack Obama - who spent part of his childhood on Oahu - once wrote: “When I’m heading out to a hard day of meetings and negotiations, I let my mind wander back to […] Manoa Falls […] It helps me, somehow, knowing that such wonderful places exist and, that at some level, I’ll always be able to return to them.”
But don’t even think about beating the Manoa heat by plunging into water: leptospirosis (a bacterial infection caused by exposure to water) and falling rocks makes swimming off limits...
More about history than hiking? Only a philistine would visit Oahu and not make a pilgrimage to Pearl Harbor - the target of a Japanese attack that thrust Hawaii into America’s history. You’ll need to wake up early (the day’s allotment of tickets is offen gone by 9am) but the early start will be forgotten as you pay your respects at the USS Arizona Memorial, to those who lost their life on the 8 December 1941. After sailing undetected for 4,000 miles, including difficult at sea refuelling, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor pushing America into WW11. Destruction was massive – five battleships were sunk and 2,500 American lives were lost – but could have been worse. The Japanese failed to damage the harbour’s submarine base, huge stocks of oil, naval piers and dry docks. More importantly none of the Pacific fleets and three aircraft carriers were in port on that fateful day, leaving the US with its most potent weapon in the Pacific. Today Pearl Harbor is home to an active US naval base.
To read the second part of Paradise found, don't forget to log onto Just About Travel tomorrow!