Josiah's Hawaii Travelogue 4
|Friday (Dec 13th): Returning to Oahu|
It seems I've been coming to Hawaii quite a lot lately. This is the third year in a row that I've spent at least part of my winter break in Honolulu and I was here for six weeks the summer before last. Not that that's a bad thing, I quite like it here. Anyway, I'll once again be keeping a travelogue, though entries may be a bit sporadic to avoid repeating things I've already said in my previous Hawaii travelogues.
|Wednesday (Dec 18th): Sharks by the North Shore|
|The past few days, while enjoyable, didn't really contain anything worth writing about. Today though, was a different story. Hannah, my brother's fiance, wanted to try swimming with sharks, so we signed up with North Shore Shark Adventures. Today was the day, so we got up early and headed out.
The fact that they didn't have us sign waivers before getting on the boat means that they must either be pretty confident in the safety of their passengers, or pretty ignorant about the legal system these days. On the way to the dive spot, I got some nice pictures of the island. But, before long, it was time. The area was obviously a pretty popular spot for sharks, and we could see lots of them swimming around beneath the water. Naturally, you don't just jump in with them, you go down in a cage. So long as you aren't overwhelmed with a desire to stick your arms and legs outside the bars, there really isn't any danger. And even then, Galapagos sharks and sandbar sharks aren't very likely to attack humans. They pretty much just ignored us and swam around the cage. My brother, Hannah, and I decided to go in together for a video of our swim. Here's a short clip (the three of us are in there, along with a couple of other people on the excursion). The guides were good, and each group got about 20 minutes in the water to watch the sharks. Probably not as much fun as swimming with dolphins (though I haven't done that, so I can't say), but watching the sharks swim around was pretty cool.
After the shark tour was finished, we headed off to do some other north shore stuff. The first stop was a small coffee and chocolate farm. They give little mini tours and we got to see the coffee and cocoa beans drying, try a fresh cocoa pod, and sample various stuff. Simple, but nice. They naturally had a store where you could buy their coffee and chocolate, along with various other souvenirs, but the highlight was the shave ice stand. As you can tell from the pic, they had all natural shave ice (using actual fruit juice and the lie rather than the usual chemical mixes). Kind of expensive, but easily the best shave ice I've ever had.
After that, we drove around for a bit and stopped at a fruit stand before eventually making it to Waimea Beach (you might remember that I visited the beautiful Waimea Valley last year (see the December 23rd entry). Well, the beach is right across the street and it's a really nice one. While it's not overly long, it's scenic and has some of the most perfect sand you can imagine (soft, deep, and without any uncomfortable shells or rocks). The waves weren't too far from shore, but they were a good height to splash around in. We even found a little reef a short ways out, along with a sea turtle. And then there's the rock. A nice big rock you can climb up and then jump into the ocean. It's fun and, so long as you get a decent jump, the water depth and soft sand make it pretty safe. Here's a video of one of my jumps. All in all, it's easily one of my favorite beaches, I'll have to go back sometime.
After that, we drove around a bit more and stopped at a fairly famous fish taco restaurant before heading back to Honolulu to take it easy for the rest of the day.
|Thursday (Dec 19th): Koko Head|
|One of the more famous hikes on Oahu, after Diamond Head, is Koko Head. I'd never been on it and had been wanting to go and it fit today's schedule pretty nicely, despite all the clouds, so my family and I decided to give it a shot.
Koko Head is a hill/mountain on the east side of the island. It's actually a rather short hike, but it's straight up, making it fairly strenuous. You're actually walking up an old railroad track the entire way, which really begs the question, why did they build a rail line all the way up such a steep slope? Especially considering that the tracks just stop at the top without continuing on anywhere. The cloud cover was pretty welcome, keeping the temperature comfortable, though I could have done without the sudden rainstorm that hit when we were a bit past the half way point. Fortunately, it didn't last all that long, but it was pretty hard for a bit and there's really no shelter to be found on the trail. The views from the top, however, were worth it.
On the way back, we took a detour in a high end housing development on a hillside to look at the fancy houses (kind of a hobby for my parents). There's also a hiking trail at the back end of the development, so we followed it for a short ways. It also had great views, and looks like it could be a fun hike.
After a couple hours back in Honolulu, we then headed to the town of Kailua (another place I've visited and talked about before). The beach there was as scenic as ever (if a bit chilly due to the wind). We hung out there for a bit, but our main goal was to visit Kailua's weekly farmers' market. For the record, it's a pretty nice one. There's quite a lot of overlap (in terms of booths) with the Blaisdell Farmers' Market, with has always been a favorite of mine due the wide variety of food stands, which makes it a great place to grab a meal. Unfortunately, the Blaisdell market is taking a few weeks off due to construction, so it was nice to be able to get a similar experience in Kailua.
|Friday (Dec 20th): Surfing|
My mom, brother, his fiance, and I rented a surfboard and a paddleboard for a few hours and took them out at Waikiki Beach. While I've done some surfing before, this is my first time going without an instructor. I didn't really need one after the first lesson, but having someone to choose a good location and push you into the waves is nice. This time, I had to try catching them myself. It's not easy. Picking the right location is tricky and you need to paddle pretty hard to make sure you're caught by the wave. Angle is important too. I did start to get the hang of it after a while, and managed to ride a few waves though, which was fun. Too bad I don't live somewhere I can practice regularly. As for the paddleboard (an extra large surfboard that you stand on and move using a paddle), it was a relaxing way to move around the water. At least once I learned the correct way to stand (it's not the same as on a regular surfboard). Though it works best on flat water. There are some people who use them to ride waves, but that would take a bit more practice.
Random Hawaii Comment: Farewell International Marketplace
|Saturday (Dec 21st): A Bit More Hiking|
|My family and I did a bit more hiking on Saturday. Nothing too intense (we were all still a bit sore from Koko Head), but pretty. First was what my dad calls the bamboo hike (I'm not sure what the real name is), since you spend much of the time walking through a large bamboo forest. It's a really nice little hike (especially if you're a fan of Asian comics and movies with their sprawling bamboo forests), though it tends to attract mosquitoes. Aside from bugs, we also came across a Jackson's Chameleon. These cool lizards aren't native to Hawaii, but were brought here a while back and took to the area. Though they're not all that common and this is the first time I've seen one in the wild. This one was a whole lot less high strung than your average lizard, and didn't seem to mind us watching as it slowly made its way around.
Due to all the mosquitoes, we left that area a bit early and headed over to one of Oahu's more famous hikes, Manoa Falls. It's a fairly short and simple walk though the forest, ending at the falls themselves. As you can tell from the picture, Manoa Falls is pretty tall, if not all that wide, though it's supposed to swell quite a lot when there's enough rain. It's not one of the most spectacular waterfalls I've seen, but both it and the surrounding forest are pretty and the hike is short and simple enough that just about anyone can do it, making it a good choice for tourists regardless of age and fitness. Though I'll note that parking there is difficult unless you want to pay.
After that, a brief look around the Honolulu Night Market (a collection of food and art stalls) and kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) wrapped up a pleasant day.
|Monday (Dec 23rd): The Polynesian Cultural Center|
|Monday morning, my mom, brother, and Hannah (his fiance) headed up to the north shore of the island. Our first stop was Turtle Bay, the area's only resort (nearly all the hotels on Oahu are either in Honolulu or Ko'olina). The beach there is partially enclosed by rocks and known for snorkeling. It does seem to be one of the best snorkeling spots that doesn't require a boat. I saw a number of fish (including a lion fish), an eel, and even a sea turtle. Plus, unlike Hanauma Bay (another well known snorkeling area), it's free.
After spending some time there, we split up. Noah and Hannah went off to do their own thing while my mother and I got dropped off at the Polynesian Cultural Center. It's a theme park of sorts, dedicated to the different island groups of Polynesia (kind of like a mini Epcot). It's divided into sections for the various islands. Each one has some assorted structures, some sort of activities you can take part in (I tried throwing a Tongan spear and learned an Aotearoan stick game), and a show of some kind. The shows are really the main attraction. Samoa had a pretty awesome one which showed how the native people pick and prepare coconuts. Tonga focused more on native music, while Tahiti and Fiji were all about dance. There was also a parade of sorts, with the groups from all the islands performing on canoes, and a pretty cool IMax movie about Hawaii. The park isn't all that big, but there are enough shows and other things to fill up the six or so hours it's open. My mom and I got there a little late, so we didn't see every show, but all the ones we did see were fun and I learned a bit about Polynesia in the process. While I didn't see them, for those with a bit more time and money, they also have daily luaus and a bit play/performance in the evenings. All in all, The Polynesian Cultural Center is a fun and somewhat educational place to visit. If you don't mind spending most of your time watching shows, it makes for an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
|Tuesday (Dec 24th): Hiking on the West Coast|
|Other than a stop at Ko'olina last winter for a snorkeling tour, I haven't really visited Oahu's west side. Well, today my whole family went there for a hike. The west side has its beaches and mountains, like the rest of the island, but it's the desert side, meaning that it's a lot more dry than other areas and therefor has a rather distinct look to it. The trail were took followed the coast. The scenery wasn't especially diverse but, between the mountains and the ocean, it was nice. We even spotted a number of whales as we went. No pictures of those, unfortunately. They were pretty far out plus you can never tell when or where a whale will surface, making it really difficult to get a decent picture. It's too bad though, one even breached.
The trail ended in a sandy area set aside for wildlife. Specifically albatross and monk seals. The seals were kind of hard to spot, since they blend in well with the rocks and like to just lay out on the sand and sleep. They're similar in size to the sealions I see in San Francisco and Seaworld, but their flippers are shorter so they have to wriggle across the ground on their bellies instead of waddling on their flippers.
After watching the animals for a while we walked back and got lunch at an organic farm which also runs a restaurant. Then back to Honolulu just in time to catch a really nice rainbow. Later in the day, I spotted a mongoose while at a farmers' market. They're not native to Hawaii, they were brought here as a counter to the rat population (another nonnative species, though they came here accidentally. Unfortunately, they're mostly active at different times of the day so that never really worked out. That aside, I think this is the first one I've seen in the wild
Finally, while walking around Waikiki a bit later, we saw this extremely awesome gingerbread village in one of the hotel lobbies. Impressive, huh? The sign said it took the guy three months and a rather ridiculous amount of graham cracker, chocolate, and frosting to make. Very cool. And that pretty much wrapped things up for the day.
|Saturday (Dec 28th): Hiking in the Clouds|
|There wasn't much to write about over the last few days due to the holiday, iffy weather, and the like. I did go to the north shore at one point, but spent most of the time watching some big waves at Waimea Beach, where the water was closed off to everyone but strong swimmers with experience with those kind of conditions.
This afternoon, my family and I decided to take a hike. I've been wanting to do the one we got rained out on last year, but my dad has already done it (multiple times, apparently), and wanted to do something different. So we went on the Wililinui Ridge hike not too far from there which was supposed to have similar views. It started out nicely enough, and there were some excellent views of the valley below. Here's a shot of my mom, brother, and I near that same viewpoint. Later on, the hike started to get a lot more intense, featuring quite a lot of stairs and one place where you need to use a rope to get up a particularly steep part. Unfortunately, around that point we ended up in some really heavy cloud coverage, knocking visibility down to a few yards and blocking any and all views we might have had. So no view of the other islands. Not a bad hike though.
While the clouds mostly cleared up on our way back down, the sky did stay somewhat overcast for the rest of the day, leading to a rather cloudy sunset.
I finished out the day at the little movie theater in back of the Honolulu Museum of Art, which was doing a screening of the third Madoka Magika movie (Rebellion). It was pretty awesome, but also dark, shocking, and completely mind-blowing, while not going at all where I expected (from a story perspective). In other words, it's extremely true to the style and standards set by the Madoka anime and I'm glad I got to see it in an actual theater (one of the perks of being in an area with a large Japanese population).
|Tuesday (Dec 31st): New Year's Eve|
|There was a bit of debate about what to do on my last day in Hawaii but, in the end, we decided to go on another hike. Specifically the Kuaokala Loop. It's actually near that other west coast hike we did, except that it's up on top of the mountains instead of on the coast itself. Getting there also requires going through an air force base, so you need to get a permit and go through a checkpoint.
The scenery up there is quite a bit different than the other hikes I've done on Oahu. In fact, some sections reminded me quite a bit of Colorado. Though Colorado doesn't have snails like this. The trail wasn't all that steep, but it was long and there are some confusing intersections. We took a wrong turn at one point before eventually backtracking, probably adding at least a mile to the route. The views were impressive though, both of the coasts and the mountains. It was actually a pretty enjoyable trail overall, though getting lost and the fact that it seemed to go on for a lot longer than it was supposed to detracted from that a bit.
That evening, we went to Shokudo (a popular Japanese restaurant) to celebrate my birthday. While I wouldn't rank it quite as highly as the Japanese place we went to for my birthday last year, the food was great and it was a nice evening.
To wrap things up, since I was actually leaving on the morning of the 1st this time around, I wanted to see the New Year's fireworks this time. So my mom and I went down the beach to watch the show (the others were lazy, slept until just before midnight, and tried to watch from the apartment). While it wasn't one of the most intense fireworks shows I've see, it was very well done and they had some fireworks with unusual shapes and colors, which is always cool.
After that, there was time to grab a few hours of sleep and then it was off the airport. Here's one last pictures of Oahu, taken from the plane. As always, I really enjoyed my time there and hope I'll get to go back in the not too distant future. Which, so long as my parents' have that condo, seems pretty likely.
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