Considering the fact that I have travelled overseas a number of times recently, I thought it would be worth-while writing a couple of reviews. My friends often ask me for advice on planning their own trips to the places I have visited – particularly Hawaii. I have travelled to the Hawaiian island of Oahu twice within twelve months. When I visited the first time in January 2012, I instantly fell in love with it and found myself quickly booking a trip back. While I would love to visit the other Hawaiian islands at some stage, Oahu certainly has enough on offer to keep anyone entertained for at least a week-long stay!
Firstly, for any Australian readers, I want to immediately dispel the myth that Hawaii is just a bigger version of the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. This is absolutely not the case and let me explain why – here are my highlights and tips for visiting Oahu…
Sure, if you only visit Waikiki Beach on Oahu, you might begin to draw similarities between Hawaii and the Gold Coast on face value. They both encompass masses of high-rise hotels on a beachfront with an abundance of tourists and tacky souvenir shops. To be honest, in terms of actual ‘beach’ quality, the Gold Coast far exceeds Waikiki Beach. It is difficult to swim at Waikiki Beach due to a high number of rocks underwater and the beachfront is quite short. However, this is not a reflection of the other beaches on the island of Oahu. That said, stunning mountain ranges (much more beautiful than the Gold Coast Hinterland!) and the extinct volcano crater of Diamond Head serve as a breath-taking backdrop for Waikiki Beach. Overall, it is a picturesque location. I would definitely recommend staying at a hotel in Waikiki Beach, considering that basically all tours leave from here, it is reasonably close to Honolulu Airport and the shopping is second-to-none (I will explain this more later!).
It is hard to consider visiting Oahu without paying a trip to Pearl Harbor. The memorials at Pearl Harbor are perfectly executed and pay appropriate respect to the attacks that occurred in World War II. While many tours only offer a visit to the USS Arizona memorial, I would strongly suggest booking one that includes both the USS Arizona and USS Missouri memorials. Both memorials are incredibly interesting, even for those who may not be keen on wartime history. Keep in mind that the food facilities are lacking and only snacks are available for purchase. This is surprising, considering the staggeringly high number of visitors to the site each year.
This bay is simply spectacular. In my most recent trip to Oahu, I visited Hanauma Bay three times because I love it so much. The bay is renown for its snorkelling and it certainly does not disappoint. Snorkelling gear can be hired at the site for a reasonable price. There are several recommendations I would make when visiting Hanauma Bay. Firstly, go early! If you are going by bus, the buses only run sporadically and fill up very quickly later in the day (I missed out on a bus because of this!). If you are driving, the car park fills up quickly as well. Secondly, the food facilities are located a fair walk from the beach area of the bay, so I would recommend bringing your own snacks. Thirdly, allocate a whole day to visit the bay if possible… and bring an underwater camera! Keep in mind that Hanauma Bay is closed on Tuesdays.
I haved saved the best location until last! Visiting the Kualoa Ranch was, by far, the highlight of both of my trips to Oahu. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. The scenery at the ranch is simply unparalleled – it literally brought me to tears. Even the drive to the ranch was spectacular. There are many activities available at the ranch. I paid for a half-day tour to the ranch and I participated in the 1-hour ATV ride and the catamaran ride. Both were fantastic experiences. However, my one piece of advice would be to book a full-day tour, as you will fall in love with the ranch and spending half the day there is just not enough! I wish I had known this in advance! Seriously, I cannot recommend Kualoa Ranch highly enough!
I booked this tour, but would recommend the full-day version.
From a young female adult’s perspective, shopping in Oahu is the best I have ever experienced! I know this is probably surprising, considering I have done the ‘cheap shopping’ holiday in Bali and have also visited fashion capitals like Paris and New York. However, Oahu simply has something for everyone. Waikiki Beach is overloaded with both high-end designers (Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior etc) and much more affordable shops like Forever21, Sephora and Bebe. Ala Moana Shopping Centre, just a very short shuttle ride from Waikiki Beach, is the world’s largest open-air shopping centre. Be sure to visit the Waikele Premium Outlets for designer bargains. If you are willing to spend considerable time searching through very untidy racks, Ross For Less is a great option for general bargains too. And the strong Australian dollar makes everything that much better!
Cage-diving with sharks – This is an experience like no other! The sharks are very placid and do not look scary, but it is still a lot of fun. As a lot of other reviews recommend, go early before the water gets much rougher. If you are inclined to get sea sickness, definitely take some tablets. There are two companies that run the tours. I booked with this one and would recommend it. While the companies offer transportation from Waikiki Beach, I would suggest hiring a car so you can go driving around the North Shore area.
Parasailing – If you want to get a truly spectacular view of Honolulu, you can’t go past parasailing. I was truly petrified at the idea, but the experience is not scary at all. In fact, I’ve booked another parasailing trip close to my home. There are several options available. I booked through this company and would recommend it.
Hiking Diamond Head – If I can do it, anyone can! If you do not have a car, I would recommend catching a cab, as it can work out cheaper than the bus in a group and saves the hassle of having to walk the extra distance from the bus stop outside the crater. Oh, and go early in the morning before it gets too hot.
The weather in Oahu is ideal all year long! Air and sea temperatures barely change in most of the tourist hotspots, regardless of the season. Both of my trips took place during the Hawaiian winter and the weather was fantastic.
So, there you have it – my review of the magnificent Hawaiian island of Oahu! I urge you to jump on a travel website right now and book a trip for yourself… You won’t regret it!
And if you have any questions, please feel free to let me know in the comments below.