June 12, 2019
Our 2019 family holidays had arrived pretty early which are usually planned for the end of the calendar year. In the second half of January, we made a trip to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, visiting a beautiful chain of islands known as Hawaii. The location of these majestic islands is considered the most isolated population centre on the face of the earth. This archipelago, the only one out of the mainland, is the youngest State of the United States of America, gaining Statehood in 1959 following a vote by residents.
Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii is about 8,874 kms (approx. 5,514 miles) from Melbourne. While flying from Melbourne to Honolulu, as you cross the International Date Line you gain a day. In the land where former US President Barack Obama and Australian actress Nicole Kidman were born - we spent a good fifteen days criss-crossing two of the six islands out of the total eight where tourists have access to and at the end of it all, left us with a desire wanting for more …
Hawaii (named after the biggest island) emerged from the sea millions of years ago, forged by the power of volcanoes. Each island was formed by the erupting volcanoes over the hotspot on the earth's crust under the Ocean. Over a period of time, as the pacific tectonic plate moved carrying the island that was formed, at the next eruption over the hotspot, another island was formed. In case of the major Hawaiian Islands, Kauai is the oldest and the Big Island is the youngest. In the map above, you can see the island chain - starting in the north-west, it is Kauai and then down and to the east, is Oahu and Maui and at the bottom right is Hawaii. Their geological age follows the same sequence. These islands are one of the few places in the world where visitors can come face to face with an active volcano. In the case of the youngest one - the Big Island, the volcanoes are still active and ever so slowly it is adding new land mass. A few of my friends visiting there in May 2018 had the privilege of witnessing a volcanic eruption throughout their stay.
Oahu, Honolulu and Wakiki
Oahu, often referred to as ‘the gathering place’ is considered as the heart of Hawaii and is the third largest island in a place of intriguing contrasts. It is home to about 80% of Hawaii’s diverse population, a fusion of Eastern and Western cultures rooted in the values and traditions of the native Hawaiian people. From historic landmarks to modern amenities and beautiful beaches to bustling towns, Oahu was a delight that we discovered. If Oahu is the heart of Hawaii, then Honolulu is its racing pulse. The capital city of Hawaii apart from its commercialism has carved a niche of its own. The first time I had heard about Honolulu was in the history books apart from the Bollywood movies of the twentieth century. A sister city of Mumbai (since 1970, then Bombay) Honolulu which means ‘sheltered harbour’ is famous the world over for its spectacular Waikiki Beach, where surfing supposedly became a worldwide sport. Located on the south shore of Honolulu, the world-famous neighbourhood of Waikiki was once a playground for Hawaiian royalty. It boasts of a vibrant night life with hotels, resorts, fine shopping and dining facilities and an extinct volcanic crater towering at its one end. Once the sun sets, few sights are as beautiful and breathtaking as Waikiki skyline. The city lights illuminate life throughout the night.
Oahu is full of attractions and we made use of our time here to explore as much as we could. The top three that garnered the highest votes amongst us has been explained in brief that interestingly covered diverse areas like history, culture and geology. The other places of interest we visited have been jotted down in photographic captions and a mention is made of the remaining.
USS Arizona Memorial Monument
The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Air Force of Japanese Emperor Hirohito on the morning of December 7, 1941 was the key event that committed United States and its army fully into fighting in World War II. More than half of the United States Pacific Fleet, approx. 150 vessels and service craft, lay at anchor or alongside piers in Pearl Harbor. On that one surprise attack, 21 vessels lay sunk or damaged - the fighting backbone of the fleet apparently broken with over 2,400 Americans killed and 1,178 wounded. More than half of the casualties occurred when the USS Arizona blew up after taking a direct hit entombing more than 1,177 sailors to their watery grave. We took a tour of the Memorial which is built on top of the actual sunken battleship USS Arizona with the oil tank on the side which is still very slowly leaking. The names of the people who lost their lives on that day and on the ship are all engraved and preserved. USS Missouri (BB-63) is anchored on the same harbor, not too far from here. It was on the deck of battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Gen. MacArthur, General of the US Army and Commander of the Allied Forces in the Pacific Theater, took unconditional surrender of the imperial Japanese military on September 2, 1945. This momentous day in history officially ended the Second World War. The two battle ships now placed so close to each other signifies the beginning and the ending of World War II in the Pacific.
Visiting the 29 locations with a detailed map as our guide and simultaneously following the excellent commentary on our headsets we covered numerous Museums, Ships, Submarines and Memorials that made us wade through history and be a part of it.
Polynesian Cultural Center
A trip to Hawaii wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center. The Islands represented here are:
Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, Hawaii, Fiji, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Marquesas. Of course, this is no substitute or equal to actually visiting those remote islands and studying the people and cultures in their actual locations. But, for a general understanding and appreciation of these wonderful cultures, a leisurely visit to this park was an enriching experience. We watched a colourful choreographed pageantry on the river, known as the “Rainbows of Paradise Canoe Pageant.’
To cap it all, in the evening at dusk, there was a tremendous, multidimensional, powerful show of Polynesian extravaganza. With a cast of over 100 performers, dazzling fire dances, waterfalls, heart pounding drums of Tonga, this show was a perfect finale for a day in Polynesia. We had the honour of having a family photo clicked with the main characters after the show.
The wide saucer-like crater of Diamond Head was created by a single volcanic eruption around 300,000 years ago and is Hawaii’s most recognisable natural landmark. The trail to the Summit of Le’ahi was built in 1908 as part of the US Army Coastal Artillery Defense System. The realisation that you are hiking on a dormant volcano about 760 feet above sea level is hard to believe. With just a bottle of water in hand, it was a perfect day for the hike that took us nearly an hour and a half each way, as not all in our family are hiking experts. The steep ascent and descent, crossing the narrow tunnels, climbing up and down those innumerable stairs made it very challenging. Nevertheless, we were treated to beautiful views from vantage points, stunning shoreline sights that were a cynosure to our eyes. The spectacular city
view of Waikiki on the top of the Volcano affirmed the ‘mission was accomplished.’
Other places of interest
Waikiki Beach sunset: People watch the gorgeous sunset across the Pacific Ocean on the Waikiki Beach against the backdrop of palm trees
Hula dance: ‘It’s more than just a dance, more than just a way of life … Hula is life itself.’ After the sunset, the fun continues with amazing nightlife and live music.
Weekend fireworks: The Friday night fireworks at quarter to eight at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on the Waikiki Beach lights up the night sky. Picture captured from our room in Trump International Hotel.
Rent a car shot: Modes of Transport in Hawaii is excellent. But for 3 days of our visit, we hired a car to explore the length and breadth of the Island where my gulfy days of left-hand-driving came in pretty handy
Dining room in Iolani Palace: Completed in 1882, the Palace is the only royal residence in the United States, this omate mansion was built for King Kalakaua in order to enhance Hawaii’s international standing
Hawaii state legislature: Hawaii State Capitol Building pictured from the South is located at Beretania Street in downtown Honolulu
St Augustine’s Church by the sea: Resisting the multi-million dollar offers to give up the land, this century Old Catholic Church across the Waikiki Beach stands as a testimony that faith still rules in the midst of all that the Island has to offer
Canoe adventure: Water based tour on a fiberglass double-hulled-canoe at the Polynesian Cultural Center with the canoe being pushed through the water with a pole
Submarine adventure: The Submarine tour was once in a lifetime experience with the Submarine sweeping the ocean bed where we saw exotic fish, colourful sea gardens, coral formations and other marine creatures.
Helicopter island tour: The doors off (no doors to the helicopter) tour of the Island of Oahu was breathtaking with stunning views from the top. Our pilot Steve smiling for the Camera
Everyday’s delight: The marvellous sunset across the Pacific Ocean day in and day out viewed from the balcony of the thirty-fifth floor of Trump International Hotel where we stayed
The road to Hana: Maui’s Hana Highway is a winding, coastal road with jaw-dropping vistas, miles upon miles of lush rainforest and magnificent waterfalls around almost every turn.
In the fourth, fifth and sixths positions were the Submarine Tour, Helicopter Island Tour and our Road Trip to Oahu’s East Coast. The other attractions we covered included the Honolulu Zoo, home to 905 different animals spread across its 42 acres; Bishop Museum which is considered to have the best collection of Polynesian culture in the world; Dole Plantation where the kids had an amazing experience running through the huge three-acre shrub maze; Kualoa Ranch where several movies and TV shows such as the ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Jurassic World’ have been filmed which boasts the rolling hills and valleys seen on screen; Japanese Buddhist Temple; Chinaman’s Hat; Makapu’u Point Lighthouse; Waikiki Aquarium; Hawaii Pacific University; Aloha Stadium; Polynesian magic show; Sea Life Park and the US Army Museum.
Hawaii’s exotic mix of ethnicities, including Polynesian, Asian and Portuguese, has led to a cuisine all of its own. Hawaii Regional Cuisine culinary movement that started 25 years ago blends Hawaii’s diverse, ethnic flavours with the cuisine of the world, using fresh local produce. Oahu is an excellent place to find creative and delicious food representing diverse cultures with its vibrant dining scene. There are over 2000 restaurants in the Waikiki area itself.
We savoured authentic Hawaiian meal that resembled our own coastal food with dishes like kalua pork, chicken long rice, squid luau, poi, laulau and lomi lomi salmon that introduced us to the true tastes of the islands. Rice is still the staple food as the islands have rich Polynesian influence. A Hawaiian described his visit to the mainland where he found rice as hard as ‘rock’ (as he put it) where potatoes are the staple food. Spam - or ham in a can - is the state’s most iconic dish. Often fried and served with rice, it was a delicacy and was easily available. Fish tacos, shrimp trucks (food trucks whose menu offers a variety of shrimp-centric plates) were our favourite.
It’s a Pineapple State and you find Pineapples everywhere - sprawling pineapple fields, pineapple drink on sale and pineapple flavour in almost everything you savour. My mystery why Hawaiian pizzas have pineapple pieces added was now solved. I am a coffee lover and I went gaga with the Hawaiian brand Kona coffee, known as ‘black gold’ that had a distinct flavour.
There is no denying - Hawaii is a shopper’s paradise, with an abundance of bargains to be had. One would be surprised if I say many of our friends here fly to Hawaii often only for shopping. The world’s largest open-air shopping area ‘Ala Moana Center’ just outside Waikiki has over 350 shops and restaurants, high-fashion retailers and beachwear outlets. However, our favourite was Waikele Premium Outlets at Waipahu, about 40-minute drive from Honolulu. There are over 55 designers and brand name outlet stores here with brands upto 65% off. The main Avenue in Waikiki ‘Kalakaua Avenue’ has varieties of shops catering to all needs with discounts on offer. Kaka’ako is home to two major shopping areas, War Warehouse and Ward Centre.
With high temperatures and humidity there is a vast tropical influence on the climate. Temperatures vary little throughout the months with average highs of 27-32 degree Celsius and average lows of 18-24 degree Celsius throughout the year. Hawaii’s proximity to the equator means that the weather is tropically warm and consistent throughout the year. Hence, any time during the year would be a perfect time to visit Hawaii. Typically December, January and February are the coolest months while July, August and September are the warmest months. At any given time, it will be raining somewhere in the Islands and we experienced it as well.
We stayed in Waikiki’s top rated Trump International Hotel, the hotel chain of current US President Donald Trump. A gorgeous exquisitely designed suite with glass rooms having triple views - City, Ocean and Mountain, it offered a perfect setting to watch - the Pacific’s emerald waters with people surfing/swimming on the iconic Waikiki beach, plenty of boats out at the sea, Honolulu’s spectacular skyline, magnificent Ko`olau Mountains, the beauty of the setting sun, the fireworks on weekends or the skyscrapers coming alive at night.
I leave you with an incredible photo of the sun rising across the Pacific Ocean in the island of Maui at the end of our visit to Hawaii.
‘Aloha’ is more than a mere traditional greeting and farewell used throughout the State. It denotes - love, hello, good-bye and always welcome. The spirit of the word includes affection, peace, compassion and mercy.
Palm trees dancing on the beach
Hawaiian ladies hulaing in the wind
The fish in the Ocean kissing the corals
The mouth-watering cuisine of the royals
If you decide to go that way some day …
Be assured that Aloha will govern your stay!
If your budget permits, it would be prudent to include Hawaii in your ‘bucket list’ of places to visit and make it there once in your lifetime for you will dearly cherish it for the rest of your life.
White sand beaches, turquoise water, swaying palm trees, blazing orange sunsets… Hawaii is without a doubt one of the world’s most unique holiday destinations. We have experienced it and frankly, now I am able to comprehend why people want to return to this paradise time and again.
I wish each of you much ‘Aloha’.
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