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Hawaii is one of my dearest loves. My first visit to Oahu - let's see what you've got!

Hawaii - Oahu, Part 1

Hawaiian Instagram-ready picture and quote borrowed from

Hawaii, the Aloha (Hawaiian way to say hello and goodbye) state, Paradise of the Pacific, holds a special place in my heart, and the mention of this name intrinsically brings a heartfelt smile to my lips and immeasurable happiness to my being. While I was growing up, I acutely recall my dad, who hardly traveled anywhere outside of Salem (my hometown), Tamilnadu, India, and who was profoundly knowledgeable in World History and World Geography, sharing delightful stories about Hawaiian beauty, its temperate weather, peace and tranquility in this archipelago (a group of islands) among other things, all without being a traveler of any sorts. I believe this childhood memory was one of the reasons I was magnetically drawn to this gorgeous archipelago even before I visited it for the first time in November 2010. For starters - Oahu, Maui, Big Island and Kauai are 4 of the commonly visited islands in the Hawaiian archipelago.

Maps of Hawaii - Where in the world is Hawaii? (Hawaii in a partial world map) and the map of Hawaiian islands

Physical map of Oahu

Visitors to Hawaii - let's embed this infographic in our minds

I feel fortunate to have visited these islands a few times so far, with my recent visit in the spring of 2023 to Oahu, which is the core of the stories for this blog and the next one. From my travels to the beach cities or islands, I believe Hawaii stands out among the islands because of a few of the below reasons.

  • The Hawaiian archipelago is formed from volcanic eruptions, which is the primary reason for the ecological diversity in this state.

  • The Hawaiian landscape such as the mountain ranges with ridges is a sight to die for, lush rainforests/lush greenery, a spectacular variety of beaches – white sand/green sand/black sand beaches with turquoise/blue waters, diversity of sea wildlife not limited to the giant sea turtles, dolphins, humpback whales, manta rays, school of colorful fish, etc.

  • The Hawaiian culture – though it was the 50th state to be added to the United States of America, Hawaii has rich culture and history that are unique only to these Pacific Islanders unrelated to the mainland U.S.A. With the exception of its capital city Honolulu and a few other major cities, Hawaii doesn’t depict American influence in most of its islands.

  • Hawaii is an all-encompassing adventure-laden state, alluring for an active vacation for adventure and non-adventure seekers alike because spectacular beaches co-exist with giant mountains (several of these mountains are extinct inactive volcanoes), thereby facilitating both water activities, such as snorkeling, and scuba diving, surfing, shark-cage diving, etc., and mountain adventures, such as hiking, ziplining, etc.

  • Visits to one or both the active volcanoes – Kilauea and Maunaloa volcanoes in the aloha state make the vacation all the more worthwhile because of the ethereal experiences from these visits. Such experiences can only be felt; words and visual media cannot completely corroborate the incredible experiences of visiting these volcanoes, inclusive of activities not limited to hiking on the volcanic crater, hiking around the crater, and watching the oozing lava, etc. Check out this link Hawaiian Volcanoes for further details.

Because I anticipate my Oahu travel content to be elaborate, I have organized this content into two parts,

Hawaii - Oahu, Part 1: Oahu is a treasure trove of gorgeous hiking trails suitable for beginner to advanced hikers, each with its unique breathtaking views. I will describe my experiences with hiking and other activities I did around the island in part 1 of my blog.

Hawaii - Oahu, Part 2: Beaches, sunsets, water activities, and places of eats, in Oahu will be in part 2 of my blog.

Without further adieu, let's dive into my part 1 story. I stayed at an Airbnb-type studio accommodation located on the 27th level of the condominium complex in the Waikiki area of Honolulu, and I rented a car from the airport for the entire length of my stay (Discount Hawaii car rental). For starters, Waikiki is a vibrant neighborhood in Honolulu known for the world-famous Waikiki beach, fashion stores, fine dining, etc. The views from the balcony of my rental studio were amazing, with encompassing views of the Waikiki skyline, Ala Wai canal, and partial views of the Diamond Head monument.

Dazzling Waikiki skyline in the dark

Lanikai Pillbox hike (Kaiwa Ridge Trail, 1.8 miles):

World War II (WWII) colorful concrete bunkers, also called pillboxes, are scattered around the island of Oahu, perched on mountains often overlooking the Pacific Ocean, making these perfect hiking destinations in Oahu (Pillbox Hikes). Lanikai pillbox or Kaiwa Ridge trail, located near Kailua, Oahu, on the Windward/East side of the island, is one of the popular pillbox hikes. Its namesake is also because it overlooks the Lanikai beach, which is one of the best spots on the island to view a beautiful sunrise. Supposedly, per my research about the popular hikes in Oahu, the Lanikai pillbox hike was one of the easier hikes to do; on the contrary, this was the most challenging of all the hikes I had gone on this trip. This could likely be because of the very steep incline, unpaved path all the way through from the get-go, no guardrails even on the steeper sections of the hike (so don’t be shy to use the branches of the shrubs when available along the path) and little to no shade on the trail.

But oh man, the gorgeous views of the coastline, mountains, and the two Mokes on various points of this trail made the grueling effort all the more worthwhile. The Mokes, as affectionately called by locals, are a pair of tiny isles roughly a mile and a half off of Kailua beach park. These were formed over a million years ago and are parts of extinct volcanoes (see this is why I love Hawaii so much; this island is born from volcanoes, and there are numerous natural wonders to view and learn from).

I will be honest, I only went until the point on the trail where the two Mokes were clearly visible, which was more than 3/4th of the way up to the pillbox. By the time I reached this spot on the trail, I was burnt out, had a few more things planned for the day for which I needed to be fully present mentally and physically, and hence decided to return to the starting point. Would I recommend this hike to a first-timer on this trail? For sure, yes, because of the rewarding views, but please wear a good pair of hiking shoes with traction, carry hiking poles (this will be especially useful to novice hikers), and lots of drinking water plus snack bars to fuel you up.

Did you see the steep and rugged trail in the collage above?

A short unedited video clip capturing the sights of the Lanikai beach and the Mokes from the trail

Makapu’u Lighthouse trail (2.5 miles):

This is an easy-to-moderate 2.5-mile paved, winding trail ideal for families with children, strollers and for hikers of all levels. It is a mellow climb to the Makapu’u Lighthouse and an overlook of the southeast part of the island. This hike was definitely my favorite among the few hikes I did on this island because of the gorgeous views of Makapu’u and Waimanalo Bay on one side and the Ka’lwi Channel on the other side (Makapu'u Point). Makapu’u Point is also another popular spot on the island for sunrise viewing.

Living the memory of the absolutely stunning views of the Makapu’u Point trail

Diamond Head/Le’ahi trail (1.6 miles):

Hawaii’s most recognized landmark sits near the Eastern edge of Waikiki’s coastline; this is known for its historic hiking trail, stunning coastal views, and military history (Diamond Head), which stands at an elevation of 762 feet above sea level. Personally, I felt this was an easier hike because most of the trail was paved, and it was a gradual incline to the top with only fewer steep inclines towards the end of the trail. Views of the Waikiki coastline, as you ascend to the top, were hands down spellbound which makes this hike a must-visit during an Oahu vacation, not to miss to mention the 360° views of the Waikiki neighborhood and the Waikiki coastline at the very top of the monument.

Note: this was also one of the most crowded hikes on the island, so the hiker should be prepared for zero solitude on this hike.

Diamond Head Trail captures

Manathakkali or Black nightshade green on the Diamond Head trail - nostalgic memories rekindled, a popular green in our home garden while growing up in India

View of the Waikiki coastline from the top of the Diamond Head

Manoa Falls trail (1.6 miles):

This is an easy out-and-back trail that ends at the 150-foot Manoa Falls waterfall in the heart of the lush Manoa Valley. Located just a 20-minute drive from the hustle and bustle of urban Honolulu, this easy-to-moderate trail transports the hiker to a different world because of the lush, verdant views of Manoa Valley with the sights and smells from eucalyptus trees at the start of the trail, followed by banyan trees and eventually a bamboo grove (Manoa Falls Trail). Hawaii is known for its microclimates (a microclimate is defined as the climate of a very small or restricted area, especially when it differs from the climate of the surrounding area), and Manoa Valley is a great example of the same – it is considered a rainforest, as it is drizzly or rainy while it is just a few miles away from the sunny and bone-dry Waikiki.

I often encounter interesting people, conversations, and experiences during my travels that leave behind a lifelong memory. One such memory was created during my hike on this trail. I stumbled upon a senior couple from Canada in their late seventies whose active lifestyle astounded me. We hit it off right away after a brief conversation near the waterfall, during which I learned about their active lifestyle that was not limited to hiking, snorkeling, camping, road trips, etc. Needless to say, we hiked together on our way back from the waterfall, and I couldn't help but observe the speed and pace of the wife, who led the three of us back to the start of the trail. This lovely couple and their active travel stories were yet another example that mindset and movement were critical for a successful and healthy life, and age is only a number.

Captures from the lush Manoa Falls trail, note the active senior couple who were my companions during the hike (their photograph with me is being shared with their complete permission).

With this, my hiking stories in Oahu come to an end. I had barely scratched the surface during this visit in exploring the fabulous hikes that this island has to offer. Koko Crater Railroad Trailhead (1.8 miles) in East Oahu was a hike that I was really anticipating to hike on this trip but didn't get around hiking the same due to time constraints. Koko Crater hike is a StairMaster workout, a steep incline with 1,050 steps each way to get to the top for sweeping panoramic views of the east Honolulu shoreline, Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head, etc. It is supposedly one of the high-endurance hikes on the island that people of all fitness levels attempt to climb successfully. It is further interesting because of its historical significance, as this trail was originally a railway track for railways during WWII for hauling cargo and supplies up to the top, where pillbox bunkers were situated for the military (Koko Crater Hike).

The formidable Koko Crater trail which I didn't get to hike during this trip- image borrowed from

Tip: Don't forget to sunscreen with a reef-safe sunscreen on all the exposed parts of your body while in Hawaii, sometimes every few hours, depending on the length of time exposed to the sun when you are steep in activities. Definitely carry lots of water, snack bars and bug spray on these hikes. I carried a water bladder (a hydration reservoir) at all times during sight-seeing and highly recommend one of these for an efficient water source.

Water bladder - my constant reusable companion on the trip

Activities and day trips around the island:

The next part of this blog would summarize a few of my activities and day trips on the island.

Grand Circle Island Tour of Oahu:

This tour (Grand Circle Island Tour) came highly recommended by a popular YouTube Channel on Hawaii This was a small group, 10-hr, 120-mile day trip around the island, capturing glimpses of the acclaimed highlights of the island, some of which are explained below.

  • Halona Blowhole lookout The Halona Blowhole is one of Hawaii’s popular natural wonders, created thousands of years ago when molten lava tubes were formed from volcanic eruptions (Halona Blowhole). The scenic drive to this spot and the views of miles of pristine coastline waters from the lookout makes this a must-see scenic spot on the island.

Note: A blowhole is a hole in the ground that connects to an underground, partially submerged ocean cave, when the ocean rises, or waves crash into it, a jet of water and air are violently forced out through the hole.

Did you catch the jet of water forcing out through the blowhole at the end of the video clip?

  • Nu’uanu Pali lookout - Perched over 1000 feet above the Oahu coastline, the Pali (meaning ‘cliff’ in the Hawaiian language) lookout offers panoramic views of the lush Windward Coast amidst the mountain peaks. This is a site of deep historical significance, where in 1975, King Kamehameha I won the Battle of Nu’uanu that finally united Oahu under his rule where hundreds of soldiers' lives were claimed by forcing them off the Pali’s sheer cliffs

Pali lookout

  • Byodo-In Temple – This Japanese Buddhist temple, I must say, was my favorite spot on this day trip. Its location in a lush Valley of Temples against the backdrop of the 2,000-foot Ko’olau Range makes the visit to the Byodo-In Temple (translated to “Temple of Equality”) enriching with utmost tranquility and harmony with Nature and the Higher Power. This temple is a replica of a temple in Uji, Japan, dedicated in 1968 for the centennial commemoration of the first Japanese immigrants in Hawaii. Outside the temple are the giant brass bell, gorgeous gardens, and a colorful school of giant fish in a pond, while an 18-foot gold leaf-covered Buddha sits inside the temple where visitors are welcomed to light incense and offer a prayer (Byodo-In Temple).

  • North Shore food trucks and Haleiwa – North Shore is located in the northern part of Oahu and known for hosting the world’s premier surfing competitions because of the massive waves, which sometimes swell up to as high as 30 feet on the North Shore, read up more details here North Shore.

Physical map of North Shore region of Oahu

I felt North Shore was more authentic Hawaiian by nature – untouched by the hustle and bustle of Waikiki, home to some of the beautiful beaches on the island, rural, less populated than Honolulu, home to a few cute little towns such as Haleiwa, and of course not to miss the myriad of food trucks and the most popular Matsumoto Shave Ice. After relishing sumptuous Thai lunch from one of the food trucks, I strolled in Haleiwa a bit, checking out the roadside shops.

Two other stops not described here were the Macademia nut farm and the Dole plantation both of these were worth checking out, but they were more commercial by nature. If you are going to stop at the Dole plantation, give their delicious Dole whip a try, their homemade pineapple ice cream.

Note about Grand Circle Island Tour of Oahu: Even though I was promised a visit to the Waimea Valley botanical gardens and the Waimea waterfall while making my reservation for this trip, my tour guide didn’t make stops here and claimed that these were not part of the itinerary. This misleading itinerary definitely bothered me, and after a conversation about this with the tour company, I was partially refunded some of my original payment for their lapse. Additionally, the tour guide also made a few personal negative comments about my solo traveling status during the course of this trip which didn't sit well with me. Time is of the essence during such travels, and because of their lapse, I couldn't check out Waimea Valley botanical gardens because my schedule didn’t allow a separate visit for the same.

Pearl Harbor – U.S.S. Arizona Memorial:

A gist of the Pearl Harbor history – during WWII, this was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service upon the U.S. against its naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, just before 8:00 AM on Sunday, December 7, 1941. While the U.S. was a neutral country until the time of this attack, this attack led to its formal entry into WWII the next day. Hundreds of Japanese fighter planes descended on the base and managed to destroy nearly 20 American naval vessels killing more than 2,400 Americans, including civilians. You can read up all about Pearl Harbor and WWII history online, and hence I won't go into further details about it.

A collage of the Pearl Harbor visit pictures

I knew that Pearl Harbor was a must-see place in Oahu, but I am not a history buff and hence wasn't on top of WWII happenings. However, when I visited the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, I was definitely educated by the details of the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval bases, and since the memorial is in the remains of the ship that was attacked, it was easier to get into the learning mode because of its authenticity. One story about the forewarning of this attack by a 20-foot shark (Ka’ahupahau, a guardian shark in the Hawaiian language) really moved me, which is shared in the pictures below. I think the rich culture and traditions of native Hawaiians are relayed in this story which may be why this is strongly embedded in my soul.

A touching and moving story about the Pearl Harbor attack forewarning from Ka'ahupahau

Tip: Visit to the U.S.S.Arizona Memorial is the only free tour in the Pearl Harbor museum and reservations must be made in advance as they get sold out quickly. Please visit their website for further details about their paid and free tours Pearl Harbor.

Kualoa Ranch:

Kualoa is a 4,000-acre private nature reserve and working cattle ranch, and a popular tourist attraction, a widespread filming location on the windward coast of Oahu. It is a well-known filming location for many movies not limited to the Jurassic Park series, 50 First Dates, etc. The breathtaking scenery of expansive valleys with jagged peaks, tumbling waterfalls, and thick jungles and a variety of guided tours offered in the ranch, such as an e-bike tour, bus tour, ATV tour, etc., are a few of the forces of attractions for the consistent and continuous flow of visitors to this tourist attraction.

I went on a guided 2-hour novice mountain e-bike adventuretour that cruised through Kualoa’s valley roads, pastures, and trails amidst a backdrop of stunning jagged mountains. This was one of my last explorations on the island, and as they say, save the best for the last, my visit to this ranch happened to be one of my best experiences on the island, where I forged a lovely connection with Mother Nature in all its glories (as described above) while riding a mountain bike with the companionship of an affable guide and a small group of fellow bikers. Be prepared, though, to get muddy when you elect to explore the ranch through one of its different types of tours. Will I do this tour again? For sure, I would, barring the cost of the tour.

This brings us to the end of my Hawaii – Oahu, Part 1 story. Hawaii – Oahu, Part 2 story will follow suit featuring remaining of my experiences around water activities, sunsets, recommended foods, restaurants, etc. Stay tuned for the same!

Some helpful tips and suggestions pertaining to this post are below.

Travel tips:

1. Hawaiian sunlight is powerful, so wear reef-safe sunscreen at all times spent outdoors.

2. Hiking great pair of hiking shoes that has traction, hiking poles (at least 1 pole, these poles are super useful, especially for steeper climbs), water bladder or water bottles, snack bars, good pair of sunglasses (a must), hats if you are a hat person and oh the bug spray. Don't venture on these hikes without a bug spray applied on your skin, mosquitoes and all kinds of bugs will be drawn to your blood on thse hikes.

3. Please do your due diligence before you make a reservation for the Grand Circle Island tour by getting their absolute assurance for the itinerary, read in this blog about my experience with them.

4. Hawaii travel is hands down an expensive affair, particluarly if one is traveling from the East Coast of the U.S. Accommodation and the daily resort/hotel parking fees (average nightly parking rate is $30-$40) in the Waikiki area definitely create a dent in the pocket. Flights are NOT cheap (so save up your SkyMiles or sign up for a really good credit card that has travel benefits which may aid in your flight tickets/accommodation reservations), it is likely a tad bit cheaper to travel to Europe from the East Coast than it is to travel to Hawaii in my experience.

5. I pored over a number of blog posts and YouTube videos, joined Facebook groups, purchased an Oahu Wayfind Itinerary, and not to forget the travel tips I received from a good friend of mine who is an expert traveler for planning my Oahu trip. My favorite YouTube channels that are,

  • - they live in Hawaii and have excellent recommendations for sight-seeing for all the major Hawaiian islands.

    1. I followed some of their recommendations on this trip, and the most useful one was reserving my car rental through which had the best dicsounted rental rates at that time.

    2. I also purchased their Oahu Wayfinder Itinerary neatly curated for 7 excursion days on the island inclusing recommendations for sight-seeing, places of eats, etc. I found this useful.

  • - Loved the Oahu videos on this channel, check it out.



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