Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport – Hawaii’is Gateway to the World

Honolulu International Airport The first place that most people step onto the Hawaiian Islands is the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. The airport is named for Daniel K. Inouye, one of Hawaii’s deceased U.S. Senators and a World War II medal of Honor winner. Located on the western edge of Honolulu, the airport was known as Honolulu International Airport for much of its life. The theee letter airport identifier is HNL.  We get nearly 22 million visitors and residents stepping onto Hawaiian soil each year through HNL brought by more than 278,000 flights! This makes it one of the busiest airports in the United States. One thing for sure – it’s the busiest airport on Oahu

HNL is the home hub for Hawaii-based Hawaiian Airlines and it serves all of the Hawaiian Islands (Hawaii, Kauai, Maui, Lanai, Molokai) and has flights to the mainland USA as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Tahiti, American Samoa, Guam, and several other Pacific Rim destinations.

Honolulu International Airport

HNL opened first in 1927 as John Rodgers Airport. Keehi Lagoon was where the majority of planes landed in those days and most of the traffic was seaplanes. As the lagoon was dredged the dredgings were used to fill in what is now the reef runway as well as some of the land that modern day HNL sits upon. During WWII (after the bombing of Pearl Harbor) it was one of the largests airports in the USA with a land area of 4019 acres and a total of seven runways (4 on land and 3 on sea). In 1947, the airport was renamed Honolulu International Airport – poor John Rodgers was lost to history and very few Hawaii residents today have ever even heard of him. This is unfortunate since Rodgers and his story are absolutely awesome. He was the first aviator to try to fly to Hawaii from California. His aircraft was a flying boat and when it ran out of fuel, he and his crew were forced to improvise sails and after a week without  food – finally managed to make it to Honolulu Harbor. It’s an absolutely epic story. 

Honolulu International Airport

In any event, HNL became the third busiest airport in the USA by 1950 and had the longest runway in the world in 1953. With the age of jet travel, flights started coming from abroad. Over the course of many years the terminals have been changed and upgraded – though the airport still feels quite dated. Poor John Rodgers lost the terminal named for him too.  HNL was the transpacific hub for Pan Am (Pan American Airways) until the airline ceased operations. Pan Am is an amazing story in itself from the founding and innovations of transport to the glamourization of the Asian flight attendants – then called stewardesses.

Honolulu International Airport



Through the years, a series of fare wars and airline rivalries have left Hawaiian Airlines the only survivor in Hawaii. It has defeated Aloha, Pan Am, Go, Mokulele, Interisland and many others. While it’s always great to see the fare wars…the inevitable defeat of other airlines and then the rise of interisland fares is never fun. 

There are currently three terminals with a fourth terminal being built. Quite honestly, the airport is a mess and it feels like it is stuck in the 1970s with terrible concrete architecture and a dull and boring mix of high end tourist shops, duty free shopping, and mediocre restaurants. There is a nice garden in the center – but beyond that – not much to entertain, educate, or amuse those who are stuck there for any length of time. 

Honolulu International Airport

The majority of flights are to the USA mainland with a majority of those going to the West Coast cities of Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, and San Diego. Las Vegas is not far behind. About two thirds of international flights are to Japan but Chinese flights are growing in importance. Vancouver and Sydney are also important international flights. 

Honolulu International Airport

There have been an amazingly low number of fatalities or incidents involving HNL or flights coming to or going from here. In 1962 a Canadian Pacific flight crashed and killed 27 passengers. On August 11, 1982 a small bomb went off on a Pan Am flight from Tokyo as it approached Honolulu – it killed one person. The most interesting incident is the Bojinka plot which was foiled in 1995  in the Philippines but ultimately developed into the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the USA. If you are interested, the whole thing reads like an epic adventure story. Through the years there have been small incidents and hopefully that is all there will ever be. 

In any event – I hope you aren’t trapped in the airport for long. Almost all of the fun stuff is outside. There are city buses, taxis, Uber and Lyft, as well as car rental opportunities. If you really want to, you can walk from the airport to Honolulu or Waikiki but it will take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours to get anywhere you want to go on foot. 

Nico’s at Pier 38 and in Kailua

Nico's Pier 38

I’m a big fan of Nico’s at Fishmarket at Pier 38 in Honolulu and of Nico’s in Kailua – just not as big a fan as I used to be.. This is a restaurant that I’ve been eating at since a friend introduced me to it back in 2004. At that time, it was a tiny little plate lunch joint right near the fish auction. Nico, a French chef and his two fishermen friends decided to showcase some of the amazing fish coming out of the auction and ‘Voila!”

It looked like this back then…and frankly…I miss it. There were rarely lines. The poke was the best in town at a really reasonable price and the food was something we describe in Hawaii as ‘Onolicious!” Which means as delicious as it gets.

Nico's Pier 38

The food and poke are still top rated, but, today, it’s grown to at least four times the original size. There is always a crowd. The poke is a bit pricey for a guy like me to enjoy it on a regular basis, and the whole thing feels … well, for lack of a better word … touristy.  That’s the thing. Nico’s used to be a little hole in the wall plate lunch place for locals who knew about it, but these days…it’s mostly for the tourists. Yes, you still get your food in a styrofoam pack. Yes, you still order at the counter when you go in, but it’s by design…not by necessity. this is the Furikake Crusted Ahi Tuna with Nalo Greens…oh man. Yum. Still ono.

Nico's Pier 38

The original Nico’s is still located at Pier 38 off of Nimitz Highway – though it moved to a larger building from the one in the old picture right below – several years ago. It now has an enclosed outdoor seating area and a bar with an upscale feel despite the styrofoam packs. They’ve opened a second location in Kailua on the Windward side. I heard recently they closed down the poke bar there…but I’ve been for the Sunday Brunch and it was good – the thing was…it didn’t feel like Nico’s over there. It felt like a decent little restaurant.

Nico's Pier 38

I’m happy for their success…but a little bit sad that we lost what you see above. Below is a picture from a recent trip to the Pier 38 location – I still go, but it’s not like before when I’d decide to go and feel like doing the happy dance…

Nico's Pier 38


Oahu – Hawaii’s Capital Island – The Gathering Place

The name Oahu has no meaning in the Hawaiian language except for the place itself. The island is nicknamed ‘The Gathering Place’ and for over a millenium, this small 596 squrare mile patch of land in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean has been exactly that. A gathering place. Oahu is the third largest but the most densely populated of the Hawaiian Islands. Oahu is my home. I love Oahu. And I love sharing Oahu.


The highest mountain on this island is Mt. Ka’ala at 4003 feet and the coastline stretches about 227 miles. Oahu is not a circle, it has more of a diamond shape at 44 miles by 30 miles at the longest and widest points. There are roughly a million people living here but as many as a quarter million visitors at any given time.

Oahu was formed by two ancient and massive shield volcanos which have eroded away over millions of years leaving two towering and dramatic mountain ranges – The Wai’anaie and the Ko’olau. There are amazing waterfalls, hikes, and other treasures hidden in the mountains.

The largest city on Oahu is the largest city in the state as well – Honolulu. Over 80% of the population of Oahu lives in the Honolulu urban area – and everyone on this island is within both the city and the county limits since we are administrated by the City and County of Honolulu. If you live in Honolulu or on Oahu, you are not an Oahuan or a Honoluluite – you are simply a ‘local’ – although if you are white, you are a haole no matter what – so deal with it. Honolulu though, is only a small portion of the total island.


Even if you’ve never been to Oahu or heard of it – you have probably heard of Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline,  and the North Shore. These are a couple of the very well known places, but this island has many towns (even though they are all technically Honolulu). Looking at the map, Oahu is divided into five distinct regions. North Shore, South Shore, Windward (East) Side, West Side, and Central Oahu. Another distinction is ‘Town Side’ which indicates Honolulu itself if you are anywhere on the island but also includes Kaneohe and Kailua if you are on the less populated parts of the Windward Coast. Other distinct towns are Kapolei, Waianae, Makaha, Ewa, Makaha, Kahuku, Laie, Hale’iwa, Waialua, Milalani, Wahiawa, Waipahu, and more. Honolulu also has many distinct neighborhoods such as Kaka’ako, Waikiki, Salt Lake, Chinatown, Downtown, Historic District, and Kaimuki.


Directions can be confusing – Ewa means West but only if you are East of Ewa – and Diamond Head means East unless you are East of Diamond Head. Mauka means towards the mountains. Makai means towards the ocean.

It rains somehwere on Oahu every day. This is the land of rainbows. In fact, the longest rainshower in the world happened on this island from August 27, 1993 to April 30, 1994 – 247 days of rain. Take that and smoke it in your ark, Noah. Even when it rains the weather is pleasant ranging from 68 F – 92 F. It is hotter and dryer in summer and a bit cooler and definitely wetter in winter.

Oahu has been inhabited for around 1600 years but Europeans didn’t come here until 1779 – a year after Captain Cook first visited Hawaii. The first haole here was Captain Charles Clerke. Europeans brought disease, mosquitos, capitalism, missionaries, and invasive species – all of which still have a large influence today.


Oahu has been attacked only a handful of times – mostly by Hawaiians from other islands prior to unification of the Hawaiian Kingdom by Kamehameha the Great. In modern times it was attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. There are massive numbers of U.S. Military here at all times as well as over five million tourists per year.


Oahu is a visual delight and has been used as many different places in the world by countless films and TV shows.  The island has ten of fourteen global microclimates which makes it an ideal film location. Some noteable people who are from Oahu are Barack Obama, Bruno Mars, Bette Midler, Nicole Kidman, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Theroux, Duke Kahanamoku, Jack Lord, Marcus Mariotta,  Jack Johnson, Daniel Inouye, Michele Wie, Don Ho, and Jake Shimabukuru.


Koko Head Stairs – Oahu’s #1 Fitness Hike – Climb a Hawaiian Volcano!

Koko Head Stairs

If you’ve ever dreamed of hiking to the top of an extinct Hawaiian volcano – this hike is for you.  Sure, you can join the thousands of other tourists climbing up the inside of Diamond Head – but if you want to climb the outside of a volcano, get away from the entrance fees, experience sweeping wild views of the rocky South Shore of Oahu the Pacific Ocean, and even the neighbor islands of Molokai, Lanai, and Maui – then climbing the Koko Head Stairs is for you.

Koko Head Stairs

It’s a funny name…but there is nothing funny about this hike. 1042 stairs up the vertical face of a volcano on Oahu. Koko Head is 1208 feet tall (368m). That’s the tall part with the stairs. There is a bit of confusion around the name because in fact, the stairs go up Koko Crater – Koko Head is actually the headland on the other side of Hanauama Bay – the peak (where the stairs go) is actually named Kohelepelepe. Confused yet? Don’t be – just do like everyone else and call the hike Koko Head Stairs.


Koko Head Stairs

Koko Head last erupted about 35,000 years ago. So you don’t have to worry about that happening while you hike. You just have to worry about finding your way to Koko Head Regional Park. Once there, park past the baseball diamond. The pop pop pop you hear is the Kokohead shooting range. It’s contained and no danger to hikers. You’ll see exhausted hikers strewn all around the parking area.

Koko Head Stairs

Follow the path past the baseball diamond to the base of the stairs. You’ll see hundreds of pairs of hiking shoes thrown onto the power lines as you approach the base of the stairs. I don’t know why people do that. Shoes are expensive.

Koko Head Stairs

The stairs are the remains of a funicular built by the U.S. military during World War II. A small train pulled troops and equipment up to pillboxes and bunkers on the top. You don’t get that option because the train is long gone. The railway ties, howeever, remain. Get ready for over a thousand lunges…big steps. Halfway up you will have to overcome any fear of heights as you cross the crumbling railway bridge and then you will go up the last near vertical section just as you think you can’t go any further.

Koko Head Stairs

Finally, you will reach the top and share smiles and congratulations for your amazing achievement – don’t let the fitness freaks who have run past you four times on your journey up take away from the moment (they went up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down – freaks.) It’s not an easy hike. Many turn back. Many look up the stairs and don’t even try.

Koko Head Stairs

From the top you can find different views. The communities of Hawaii Kai and Portlock with Diamond Head in the distance. Hanauma Bay below you. The neighbor islands. And the interior of the Koko Crater which is filled with a desert botanical garden.

Koko Head Stairs

Hike up to the metal grate and take epic photos. Hydrate. And get ready for the hike down when your legs will turn to jelly.

Don’t forget to wear sunscreen, bring water, wear breathable clothes, wear good shoes – this is not a flip flop or barefoot hike. Also take breaks if you need to and don’t be afraid to call it quits if it is too much. A hat isn’t a bad idea either.

Byodo-In Temple on Windward Oahu – Peacefully Celebrating Hawaii’s Japanese Heritage

Oahu buddhist temple. One of the most visually striking tourist attractions on the Windward side of Oahu, is the Byodo-in Temple. While it looks like it has been peacefully sitting there for a thousand years, the temple is actually just fifty years old. Built in 1968, it was commissioned and designed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Japanese residents to Hawai’i.

Oahu buddhist temple.

Part of the reason the temple looks 1000 years old is that it is a half-scale replica of one of Japan’s most famous temples, the 900 year old Uji Temple in Kyoto Prefecture. So, your eyes and sense of time are not deceiving you. The temple is a non-denominational Buddhist temple and houses a golden Buddha nearly twenty feet tall.

Oahu buddhist temple.

At the entrance of the temple is a large brass bell (fun fact #1 , I close all of my Vagobond podcasts with a gong sound that is actually this bell ringing). Ringing the bell is a way to clear bad karma and quell negative energies. The beautiful manicured grounds, tranquil koi ponds, and the staggering beauty of the inner wall of the ancient Ko’olau volcano in the background all come together with the 11,000 square foot temple to create a powerful monument.

Oahu buddhist temple.

Byodo-in is not a working monastery (though it often plays one on television). It is a non-denominational Buddhist temple. The entrance fee has risen over the years but is still a very reasonable $5 per adult as of 2019.

Oahu buddhist temple

Fun fact #2: Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos was entombed at Byodo-in until 2016 when his body was moved back to the Philippines where it is currently buried (and strangely to my mind) refrigerated.

Oahu buddhist temple.

Duke Kahanamoku and the History of Surfing in Hawai’i.

 There are many reasons to love Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing. Watch here as he breaks his own Olympic swimming record in Antwerp, Belgium. Or maybe you’ve seen him in one of his starring Hollywood roles back in the 1930s. Maybe you’ve eaten at Duke’s restaurant, or surfed at Duke’s beach? Maybe you know that he was the Sheriff of Waikiki or that he was the guy who gave surfing to the world!

Or maybe you don’t know all that.

Surfing: The Ancient Sport of Hawaiian KingsDuke surfing

Ancient Hawaiians perfected board riding. Tahitians did it in a way, but the Hawaiian people, who descended and became very distinct from the Tahitian people changed it. They made longer boards, they developed style and technique, and they made it the exclusive sport of the ali’i. The high ranking or royal people of ancient Hawaii. For nearly a thousand years, this amazing sport belonged to the Hawaiian people alone. When Captain Cook came to Hawai’i in 1793, he and his men witnessed it and wrote about it. When missionaries came and gained too much control in the next century – they tried to ban surfing all together – but with no success. The main reason seems to have been that they were scandalized by nude Hawaiian surfers (they also created mumus to cover the Hawaiian women). In the 1870s, King Kalakaua made a determined effort to bring back surfing, hula, and other Hawaiian traditions that the uptight missionaries had tried to ban.

Surfing Gets Some Fans – Duke Goes Olympic


In the early 1900s, a few visitors would try their hand at board riding. It’s said that both Mark Twain and Jack London gave it a try. It’s also probable that King Kalakaua got Robert Louis Stevenson to give it a try a bit earlier. In the early territorial days, the visitors who came to Waikiki would mostly watch the locals ride the waves. One of the best surfers at this time was also one of the best swimmers – Duke Kahanamoku. His full name was Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku, and Duke wasn’t a title. Duke surfed Waikiki on a 16 foot board that weighed 114 pounds. He qualified for the U.S. Olympic Swim team in 1912 and proceeded to break nearly every world record for events he competed in. There was only one swimmer who ever beat him – Tarzan – the actor Johnny Weismuller.

Duke Gives Surfing to the World

From this time until his passing, Duke traveled the world for swim meets and surfing exhibitions. He introduced surfing to California and the Gold Coast of Australia. It took off in both spots. Duke moved to Newport Beach, California where he worked as a lifeguard and popularized the sport further. While he was there, he acted in film and television. He didn’t have big speaking roles, but he was a heart throb none the less.

Sheriff of Waikiki


We like to say that Duke was the Sheriff of Waikiki – but actually, he was the Sheriff of Honolulu. He served 13 consecutive terms in the elected role.  He died in 1968 but his memory lives on forever. Surfers today still pay homage to him at statues and monuments dedicated to him around the world. In Waikiki, his statue on Duke’s Beach off of Kalakaua Avenue is nearly constantly draped in leis put there by admirers.

Anyone who has ever been lucky enough to ride a surfboard, owe’s a debt of gratitude to Duke Kahanamoku.

Duke kahanamoku

Green World Coffee Plantation on Central Oahu in Wahiawa

Coffee farm oahuMost people head to central Oahu with one thing in mind – Pineapples and the Dole Plantation. Personally, there’s a better destination that I like to stop at – it’s not as old, not as touristy, and is all about one of life’s essentials – COFFEE!

Hawaiian Coffee is kind of a big deal. Everyone has heard of Kona Coffee. Kona is famous around the world for being a deep, rich, and tasty coffee. What makes it so are the perfect growing conditions on the island of Hawaii. Well guess what? We have perfect growing conditions on Oahu too. Our climate is ideal on the central Oahu plateau. Our soil is rich volcanic soil filled with nutrients (though mellowed by a few million years from the Big Island. Also, we have old, great coffee stock.

Green World Coffee opened up about a decade ago with the idea of creating a small family run operation that would give Oahu coffee some exposure to the world. It was started by Howard Green. The Waialua Estate coffee sold by the Dole company is pretty well known, but Green World decided to go small business style. They planted their coffee, they began their roasting operation, and they opened their doors.

Green World offers a small coffee garden on site, a great little cafe where they know how to make a good cappucino, and an absolutely lovely little gift shop. You can sample a half dozen coffees from different islands and blends from the world over. They also have their famous ‘Sex and Chocolate Tea’ which is delicious but a little disturbing if you stop to wonder what is in it. Green World roasts all of their own coffees on site so when you walk in, you will feel like you have entered coffee heaven.

Ask the people working about the coffee! They love to share information about the roasting, growing, harvesting, the various stages of the coffee and much more. You’ll find these are all incredibly friendly folks who truly embody the aloha spirit.

Green World Farm is just seven acres and about three thousand coffee trees.  Open daily from 7am to 5pm with extended hours on weekends. The farm is located at 71-101 Kamehameha Hwy in Wahiawa.

If you are heading North afterwards – choose now whether to get a Dole Whip at the Dole Planation or to head on up to Haleiwa and get a shave ice at Matsumotos…or just get both…nobody is going to judge you for it.


North Shore Soap Factory in the Waialua Sugar Mill on Oahu

North Shore Soap FactoryOne of my favorite places to take guests and visitors on Oahu is to the world famous North Shore of Oahu. A day up there usually includes visiting the famous surfing beaches like Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay – but it also includes stops such as a Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa and a trip to the old Wailua Sugar Mill which for more than a decade now has been home to the North Shore Soap Factory.

My friends Jerry and Deb saw that sugar was never coming back and when there was talk about tearing down the historic old sugar mill (the last to close on Oahu) – they knew they had to do something – so they moved their home-grown soap and botanicals operation into the old drying cone. Jerry is a surfer, builder, and tinkerer and over time he converted the old rust bucket building into a full blown soap factory.

North Shore Sugar Mill

Since that time, other businesses have moved in. Some of the best surfboard shapers, glassers, and designers in the world occupy the run down buildings around the property. A coffee roaster moved in. A surf shop moved in next door. Eventually, the Waialua Farmers Market started operating on the grounds.

The great thing about the North Shore Soap Factory is that it is so much more than a soap factory. It’s a museum, because during the course of building the soap works, Jerry and Deb saved all the memorabilia they found from the old sugar mill. It’s also a place to rest and have a free cup of coffee. You can try out the soaps and rubs in the showroom – and it’s one of the best places on the island to find the miracle kukui nut oil – which will help you recover from a sunburn…and which, by the way, is the basis for all their soaps. No nasty chemicals or pig fats used in these soaps.

People have fun at the North Shore Soap Factory – even if they don’t think they will. Sometimes when I have a group of married couples – the women (or the men) might get excited but the rest of them roll their eyes or talk about how they want to see the ‘real’ Hawaii and not take some factory tour. The funny thing is that you can’t really get any more authentic than the Waialua Sugar Mill and once you get there you realize this was a place where men and women worked and supported their families. This was the lifeblood of these islands. Sugar was king.

I grew up watching television and one of the most iconic commercials was always the C&H Pure Cane Sugar from Hawaii commercials. This is where some of that happened. Even better – today it is where something is still happening. This isn’t one those tours of places where people used to work but now tourists are the only work…Deb, Jerry, and their crew are actually creating something

And I don’t mind telling you – I’m a big fan of their products. After you buy a bar (or six) don’t forget to stamp your soaps with the old canoe paddle stamps Jerry created in his workshop. And by all means…take some photos.


Leonard’s Malasadas on Oahu, Hawaii – Delicious Portuguese Donuts

There are certain foods that you have to eat when you come to Honolulu. One of them, is the famous Malasada from Leonard’s Bakery.

A malasada is a doughnut without a hole – a little bit crispy and a little bit chewy. They’ve been in Hawaii since the late 1800s when the Portuguese emigrated in large numbers to work in the sugar cane industry. Leonard’s Bakery opened in 1952 on Kapahulu avenue where they still sit today.

The bakery was opened by Margaret and Frank Leonard Rego Sr. It was Frank’s mother’s recipe that started them out but they adapted to the Hawaiian taste and soon were making pao doce – typically a meat stuffed pastry in Portugal – with chocolate, coconut, guava, and more. The bakery is still owned by the same family and run today by Leonard Rego Jr. and his adult children.

Leonard’s is a household name in Hawaii and neighbor islanders come and head straight for the bakery. You are always welcome when you bring the pink Leonard’s box or bag with you.  They’ve sold nearly 200 million malasadas since opening…so they are doing something very right. 

Like Dole Whip, Shave Ice, and Macadamia nuts. Malasada’s are a must try experience when you are in Hawaii. There are trucks at various points around the island which pick up the malasada dough from the main bakery in the morning and then make malasadas until they run out in the late morning.

It’s not rocket science…but there is definitely something magical about Leonard’s Malasadas. Whle Leonard’s does offer other baked goods – the malasadas are where it’s at. There are plain sugar, cinnamon sugar, and Li-hing (a dried chinese plum powder – sugar, salt taste), and then the filled ones. Dobash (chocolate), haupia (coconut), and a variety of fruit flavors such as lilikoi, mango, and guava. The coffee – …mmm…it tastes like it has been there since 1952. Definitely FBI coffee…stick to the malasadas.



Saturday Slideshow: Tropical Flowers on Oahu

I’m going to start using the Saturday Slideshow to showcase some of my travels to different places around the world and around the USA – but that will be next week. This week – I’m going to share some splashes of amazing tropical flower power to brighten up the cold and rain that I know are hitting most of the United States and much of Europe. This is how I share a little Aloha before the holidays!

Come to Hawai’i and visit Oahu – the flowers are for everyone – just remember the secret code of the flower – behind the left ear means you are taken, behind the right ear means you are available, behind both ears means that you are taken but willing to consider upgrading…:)

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