08.04.2013 - 14.04.2013 27 °C
So I landed in Hawaii at 6.30am following an extremely turbulent 6hr flight from Papeete's Faa'a airport. After having my apple confiscated by customs, I waited just a few minutes before Sophie came out of arrivals having landed from Brisbane. After knowing each other just a few days in New Zealand's South Island she'd decided to join me for a week in Hawaii on her way back to Montreal. And I was glad to have a friend to spend my time there with too.
The bus journey into 'town' cost us nothing as we didn't have the correct change. Staying in different hostels due to availability, we met up again later that afternoon having taken care of general admin such as cleaning ourselves, checking in and doing laundry (a necessity that had seen me sport some rather questionable outfits the last two days), stocked up on suncream and headed to the beach.
Waikiki's beach was busy and crowded but with beautifully white sand and clear turquoise waters. In stark contrast to Tahitian 'beaches', the warm, clear water hosted swimmers, surfers, and paddle boarders and there was not a snorkel in sight. It was pretty resort-y but in a clean, moderate fresh way. In fact, upon first impressions, Hawaii was everything I'd expected it to be - there were Hawaiian shirts aplenty, everyone said aloha, and in the evening as we watched the sun go down, we caught ourselves in the middle of a free hula show.
I didn't know much about Hawaii before going there but it turns our Hawaii is made up of eight islands - Honolulu can be found on Oahu, the third biggest (and where 75% of the 1.3million Hawaiians live), whilst the largest, Hawaii is more commonly known as The Big Island. There there is the worlds most active volcano however unfortunately, from Oahu, it is only accessible by plane (unless you have a lot of time) so we would spend our week just on Oahu, an island with a circumference of just 230 miles.
Day two was spent much in the same way as day one - topping up our tans and drinking a lot of water. But on day three, needing to get away from the crowds of Waikiki's beaches, we spent the early morning booking a couple of activities for later in the week before walking (as opposed to the easier taking the bus option) to Diamond Head and, along with many others, hiking to the top of the crater for views over Honolulu and the ocean on two sides. It was a rather sweaty climb so, after descending and walking back to town, I ate some mid-afternoon sushi before renting a surf board for a couple of hours.
I'd almost forgotten how much fun surfing could be, but fortunately I didn't seem to have forgotten how to surf and I was pleased that there were plenty of days left where I'd have little else to do but rent a board and head out.
Sophie and I had originally planned to spend a few days in Waikiki before relocating for a few days on the quieter northern shore of the island. However, after little research, we discovered that our accommodation options outside of Waikiki were limited to various vacation rentals long the east and north sides, a reportedly bed-bug infested hostel on the north shore or a fancy resort, Turtle Bay (the resort where the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall was filmed. So we gave up, booked more nights in Waikiki and instead rented a car for just a day. We had come across a helpful 'tour-booker' called Michael who's Shaka Tours office was a tiny box just off the main street. He bombarded us with information about the island and the best activities and with his help, we planned the remainder of our trip and managed to get a very reasonably priced car.
We set off to explore the island with a couple if new recruits to split the cost - Lena, a nineteen-year old from Austria who was struggling with being under the US drinking age, Heather from New York and Lee, a thirty-year-old from Southampton who Sophie had recruited from her hostel.
As the only over twenty-five year old with a driving licence, I was designated driver. The car (complete with rainbow number plate) was bigger than anything I'd ever driven before (having learned to drive in a Yaris and normally opting for the smallest (i.e. cheapest) rental car (once leading to a rather dramatic moment on a steep hill in the Lake District). Heather found this hilarious - being American, she'd learned to drive in an SUV. But after some minor instruction on how to turn the car on (don't put the key in, just press the start button!) we were on our way.
Sophie was in charge of navigation and, after a small detour through the suburbs, we made our way to Hanauma Bay, a popular snorkelling spot at the south easterly corner of the island. It was extremely busy but they had a cool visitor centre with lots if information about the various sea life there. I learned that the things that Ciara and I had though looked like inflatable travel pillows on the bottom of the ocean were actually a form of sea cucumber, as were the plant/snake looking things we'd been mildly afraid of. I also discovered that the blue things Adriana and I had seen washed up on shore in Miami's South Beach the previous year, were actually not some weird sort of spring break balloon as I'd thought, but were in fact Portuguese Man o'War! I didn't like the though of snorkelling with them it he water but the water was full enough that we braved it. The water was shallow and the coral high, at times we were practically slithering over the top of it on our bellies keeping a careful eye out for urchins. The water wasn't too clear, perhaps a result of the number of flippers around kicking up the sand, but the fish that we did see were much bigger than those I'd encountered in Tahiti. And fortunately we saw no jellyfish - apparently they're most common after the full moon.
We continued up the coast stopping for lunch and a quintessentially American style 'pub' (which Obama ate at just a couple of months earlier). Similar to my time in Ko Lanta, most meals I'd eaten so far in Hawaii had revolved around shrimp and here they were huge, fresh and occasionally coated in coconut.... amazing!
Our next stop was Sunset Beach on the north shore, home to the beautiful turtle bay (where Forgetting Sarah Marshall was filmed). This beach was much quieter than Waikiki's with grainy yellow sand, waves, wonky palm trees and clear water - it was just like I'd imagined Hawaii would be. We spent a long time there sunbathing, watching the surfers and dipping in and out of the water. As the sun went down we sat on rocks trying (unsuccessfully) to spot sea turtles and watching another sunset.
Sandy and salty, we ate dinner at a rather nice restaurant where, despite being the worst dressed customers, we were given the best table in the house, out on the terrace with views over the harbour. As designated driver I watched the others enjoy wine whilst sipping on one beer over my meal. The food was excellent and it was a nice way to end what had been a pretty fun day. We drove back in the dark through the centre of the island - apparently we weren't missing much of a view, the islands centre according to Michael was full of pineapple plantations. From what I could see however, it was mainly full of a six lane (in each direction!) highway. And we were certainly going in the right direction - leaving Honolulu there were thousands of stationary headlights as the six lanes of traffic stood still.
On Thursday, Sophie and I had another early start. We returned the rental car before going on a boat trip, also booked by Michael, to swim with wild dolphins. It could be a strong contender for the best €110 dollars I'd ever spent.
We piled on to a catamaran with about twenty others and sailed up the west coast of the island. The west coast war drier than the east side we'd visited the previous day and mountains rose up from the sea. The boats crew (a father and his three sons) kept an eye out for dolphins as we sailed and, when we paused to watch some fins pass slowly by, the sea was a dazzling clear royal blue - although the water was deep, we could see all the way down to the rippled sand at the bottom.
After about thirty minutes of sailing, the boat stopped and we were kitted out with snorkels, masks, flippers and obligatory unflattering yellow buoyancy aids before being rushed off the boat into the water. As putting our heads under the surface we could see tens of dolphins gliding calmly and gracefully through the clear water meters below us. It was an incredible sight and, with the exception of popping up to make wow faces at each other, we couldn't stop watching.
They swam back and forth, or maybe they were different ones, for over ten minutes before we returned to the boat, just as we were getting back on however, one of the crew spotted more and everyone rushed back into the water again. It was almost as if they were putting on a show for us as a baby dolphin leapt out of the water, spinning in the air and returning with a splash.
Next stop for the boat was over corral (although it was far below us making for a far more pleasant experience than the previous day's snorkelling) and there, alongside the fish, a couple of giant (and presumably ancient) sea turtles floated below us. They didn't move a whole lot and there were fish nibbling from them - it was all very Finding Nemo. We ate lunch on the boat, snorkelled some more and attempted to paddle board (trickier than it looks on the ocean!) before sailing back to the harbour, all mesmerised by what we had seen that day.
The next day was our third early start in a row - after debating for a while whether or not to go, as now car-less it would be a bit of a public transport expedition, we caught the public bus to Pearl Harbour. As with many things, it seemed rude to be so close by and not to visit.
The bus journey there took around an hour and a half as we stopped at almost every bus stop along the route. Eventually, arriving we collected a ticket to visit the USS Arizona memorial some two and a half hours later leaving us more than enough time to walk around the free exhibits and museums . I was glad we'd made the trek as, despite having studied (both in education and subsequently out of interest) an awful lot of WW2 history, it was interesting to be learning from a US perspective.
Our visit to the Arizona memorial was preceded by a 30minute film explaining the background to the events of December 1941 essentially summarising what we'd learned in the preceding couple of hours in more digestible manner. The memorial itself was a white open air 'building' constructed over the sunken remains of the battleship USS Arizona, one of only three of the over twenty ships sunk that day that was not raised and repaired. Many parts if the ship were still visible from the memorial and, having been underwater for over seventy years, they were now covered in coral and nibbling fish. Serving not only as a memorial but also as a tomb to over a thousand sailors who'd died on board their ship that day, it was an incredibly moving experience.
The journey back into Waikiki on the bus was something else - as we were jostled by Japanese tourists and locals alike for over ninety minutes, I began to think that it was less bearable than some of the much longer Asian bus journeys I'd undertaken. Fortunately however we arrived back in time for a late lunch and a couple of hours of sunshine and the beach where I was getting through books at quite a pace.
Having done everything we'd wanted to do and seen everything we'd wanted to see on Oahu that left two days for chilling and reading by the beach. I was keen to surf however the waves at Waikiki on Saturday were negligible so Sophie and I contented ourselves with buying lilos (or floaters as they're apparently called in American) and lolling around in the ocean.
That evening we had our last planned activity - a luau. We dressed up in maxi-dresses, put on make-up for the first time in weeks and flowers in our hair before boarding a bus full of old people destined for a traditional Hawaiian party. We spent the evening drinking, watching hula dancers and eating slow roasted pork (roasted underground for twelve hours!) and, in my case, making 'friends' with some strange Americans.
Sunday morning saw in my last day in Hawaii and I was pretty gutted to be leaving. But fortunately the sun was shining and so we headed to the beach where, waves or no waves, I was determined to surf. Unfortunately there wasn't a whole lot of decent swell and despite taking a longer board than I'd ever used before, I was pretty disappointed. Whilst we'd been eating lunch, it had also begun to rain. Whilst surfing is a perfect rainy day beach activity, the walk back was unpleasant to say the least and we spent the late aft noon sheltering from the downpour (I used the opportunity to, aided by a box of black dye, rid my hair of the nasty blondish streaks it had acquired after five months of almost non-stop sunshine). My last Hawaiian meal was with Sophie and another Quebecois in a Thai restaurant that we ran to under the shelter of ponchos and raincoats.
The rain said it all - it was time to leave Hawaii. But what a week it had been. Were the US as free to dole out working visas as the Australians, I'd probably be back there in a heartbeat. But, as it was, I was on the way home. Saying goodbye to Sophie wasn't easy - having spent just a few days together in New Zealand, we'd now essentially been 'on holiday' together and it had worked perfectly. Finding such a compatible travel buddy seems to be pretty rare but I'd lucked out a few times now and, just a couple of stops from home, I felt really appreciative of all the wonderful people I'd met over the last few months.