I didn’t mean to end up in Hawaii. I was headed to Spain when I found myself on the phone with a friend who lives in Honolulu, and he made a strong case — free place to stay, free car, sunny skies, warm climate, beautiful beaches, etc. — for spending nearly two weeks in his adopted home state
So, I booked a ticket and off I went to hike up volcanic cliffs, gaze at deep blue seas, and generally futz about in a place where the coastline never ends. Given the last minute nature of the trip, I did very little planning. Correction. I did none. So where I went and what I did were reliant on a few suggestions from my friend Jake, Google Search, my phone’s GPS system, and an unwavering desire to know what was around the next bend.
This approach led to many dead ends and several hours getting lost, but if one is going to get lost anywhere, it should be Hawaii. It doesn’t really matter where you turn, you’re likely to run into a stunning view, one comprised of volcanic mountain ridges and/or vibrant hues of blue. While getting lost, I stumbled upon many places I would love to go back and visit.
Here are a few:
Kailua. Forget Honolulu and the tourist Mecca of Waikiki. Next time I go to Hawaii, Kailua will be my first stop. A small town on the windward, or eastern, side of Oahu, it has one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen, one where the jagged peaks of the Ko’olau mountain range dip into the water’s edge. With a population of 52,000, Kailua is one of the larger towns on the windward side. If you take the coastal road from Honolulu, and you should, it takes about 40 to 45 minutes to get there. Kailua has become somewhat of a yuppified bedroom community, but one where an eclectic mix of local shops and eateries retain their place next to the Whole Foods, the Pier One Imports, and other chains that are now part of the city’s downtown crossroads. Fortunately, the incursion of chain stores hasn’t detracted from the low-key, flip-floppy nature of being in a small, beachside community. Plus, it serves as a great starting point for driving up the windward side of the island, where one’s head is in a constant swivel from stunning mountain view on the left to stunning waterside view on the right.
Makapu’u Tide Pools. The trail leading to the Makapu’u tide pools is an offshoot of the trail that leads up to the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse, located along the coastal road between Honolulu and Kailua. While the lighthouse view is well worth the trek, it doesn’t come with the same sense of adventure (and fear) as the precipitous drop to the tide pools — a steep, rocky descent that requires a lot of clinging to well-embedded rocks and a certain degree of scooting. Others with more goat-like qualities seemed to get down and back up again with greater ease than I did, but I’m accustomed to evenly-surfaced, urban trails, so the fact that I made it down and up that gargantuan wall of rocks was a major coup. And the tide pools were nice, too.
The pier at the end of Kapahulu Avenue in Honolulu. I don’t know if this pier has a formal name. It’s one of many that juts out along the Waikiki coastline. This one happens to separate the high-rise, trendy hotel portion of Waikiki from Sans Souci Recreational Park and Diamond Head crater. Late afternoon/early evening is the best time to go. Look one way, and you see the vast expanse of the park and Diamond Head jutting out into the sea. Look the other way, and you see a spectacular sunset. Once night falls, look a little farther inland, and you see the light show that Waikiki becomes at night. It’s the perfect place to be at the end of the day.
Nico’s Pier 38 Restaurant & Fish Market. Once upon a time, Nico’s was a small takeout counter located on Pier 38. It catered to dock workers, downtown employees, and a few tourists. Word got out, however, about the fresh seafood platters, and Nico’s expanded into a much larger space on Pier 38, which is about 4 miles from Waikiki on the Nimitz Highway. I had the fish & chips, which were lip-smacking good. In my opinion, most fried food tastes like fried batter and maybe a little like an onion, or a fish, or whatever is inside the batter. Not at Nico’s. The fish was delicious, and the fried part was more of an adornment. In short, it was delicious!
Manoa Falls. Tucked away in the hills of Honolulu, one can easily disappear into what feels like the depths of the jungle while walking along the nearly mile-long trail that leads up to the waterfall. Parts of “LOST” and “Jurassic Park” were filmed along the trail, and I could easily imagine Jack, Hurley, or one of the Others emerging from behind the trees and dense vegetation that line the trail. In short, it was a great way to get some exercise and get LOST for an afternoon.