One of my favorite hidden gems on Oahu is the Manoa Chocolate Factory Tour. Located in Kailua in the upstairs of a nondescript building, this fun and informative chocolate tour will teach you about sustainable bean-to-bar chocolate and also treat your tastebuds to the exotic world of custom chocolate.
Started in 2010 by Dylan and Tammy Butterbaugh, Manoa chocolate takes it’s name from the University of Hawaii at Manoa – where they were both college students at the time. Their philosophy is simple – create great chocolate from great cacao and make sure that every step of the way is sustainable to farmers and producers. It all starts in Hawaii, the only state that can actually grow cacao commercially. The two started with home made equipment and a love of chocolate. Today they are in the top ten of bean to bar makers in the U.S. and the largest in the state of Hawaii.
Manoa Chocolate is located above Cinnamon’s Restaurant in Kailua at 315 Uluniu Ave. It’s not an intuitive location which is great because if you can find it, you can usually walk in and get the free 30 minute tour which starts with cacao and how it is grown and then moves on to how chocolate is made before ending with chocolate tea and a sampling of their amazing offerings – made from fair trade cacao they purchase from around the world – as well as Hawaii. Chocolate is a lot like wine and there are many different factors that go into creating the complex tastes.
They have recently opened a tasting room in the Hyatt Regency in Waikiki. Private tours and tastings can be booked through their website at the Manoa Chocolate website
There are songs and dreams of Waikiki. All over the world there are cafes, restaurants, streets, and shops named for this little slice of paradise on the southern end of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Waikiki is properly written Waikīkī if you use the script that German missionaries created for the Hawaiian people – but mostly it’s really a word and a name you should say. The Hawaiians went for more than a thousand years without a written language and to be honest, written language seems to have brought more problems than solutions – so I don’t get too uptight about the punctuation – but some people do.
Waikiki might be the most famous tropical beach in the world. It is not the only beach in the Waikiki neighborhood though. There are actually seven of them. Queens, Kuhio, Kaimana, Gray’s, Fort DeRussy, and Duke’s (also known as Kahanumoku Beach and named for Duke Kahanamoku .) The name Waikiki means spouting fresh water and while it’s hard to believe today, it was once a swamp – but one without mosquitos (introduced by ship about 1840), snakes, gators, or other unpleasantness. Instead it was a paradise. The beach portion was pretty minor back then…and actually, the beach is almost entirely man made with sand brought from a variety of locations to make it.
The Ala Wai Canal on the ‘back side’ of Waikiki, was built to ‘drain the swamp’ and the emptied wetlands were filled with the dredgings. Prior to that, this was a retreat for Hawaiian Royalty – the literal Kings and Queens of Surf would lounge about in little more than their birthday suits among wetland agriculture, swimming ponds, and some small beaches . In the 1800s there were a couple of guest houses but the first ‘resort’ was at Sans Souci beach (now Kaimana). Many more would follow. And of course the resorts wanted beaches so they built them with sand from the North Shore, California, Maui, Fiji, Australia…an astounding number of places – but the truth is, Mother Nature doesn’t want a beach in Waikiki and she erodes the sand away constantly. If the beach were not ‘replenished’ or ‘nourished’ or more accurately restocked with foreign sand – it would not exist. The sand which washed out has also impacted the reef and changed the surf breaks.
Seawalls, piers, pillows, groins, and sand bags have all done their part to try to protect the commercialy important beach, but you can’t stop Mother Ocean. Still with scores of hotels that charge $500 per night for rooms – there is plenty of money to spend keeping the tide at bay. The first big hotels were the Moana Surf Rider and the Royal Hawaiian – built by the Matson Shipping company but the age of jet travel brought a lot more tourists and the cabanas at Halekulani were upgraded to Hawaii’s poshest hotel, the Hilton Hawaiian Village was born, and others have kept growing to match the ever increasing number of tourists who fulfill their dreams by coming here. You would think the resorts would pay for all of the beach ‘nourishment’ but actually, that falls on the people who live and work here for the low wages tourism offers. Tax dollars foot the bill and corporate dollars buy the politicians that distribute it.
Still, no one blames the tourists, the hotels, or the government because quite frankly, the beach is nice and even if most locals don’t get to enjoy the beach as much as they would like – we all get down there from time to time. There are surf competitions, a nightly free hula show, the lighting of the torches, and every high end shop or restaurant you can imagine all competing for those coveted tourist vacation dollars.
Waikiki is essentially the neighborhood from the Ala Wai Canal to the beach to the Diamond Head Lighthouse including Kapiolani Park, bequethed by and named for Queen Kapiolani, the wife of King Kalakaua (see statue of her above). The main roads in Waikiki are Kalakaua Avenue (named for King Kalakaua), Kuhio Avenue, and Ala Wai running parallel with the beach along with Kapahulu running inland (which will lead you to Leonard’s Bakery). There are also a large number of smaller cross roads. Kalakaua is the main drag for high end shopping. Kapahulu takes you out of Waikiki and to some great restaurants. Ala Wai takes you back to Ala Moana – and Kuhio is a little bit of a red light district – though not as bad as it used to be.
Waikiki is primarily a place known for surfing with a wide variety of breaks and waves. The statue of Duke Kahanamoku draws admirers and each year there are numerous competitions held there. If you want to learn how to surf, it is possibly the best place in the world to do so. Other attractions here are the Honolulu Zoo, the Waikiki Aquarium, and the International Marketplace .It is also where most people start and finish their Hawaii vacations…which is a bit of a shame – because with a great guide, it’s easy to realize that Waikiki is just another manufactured tourist destination next to the beach – but Honolulu, Oahu, the Big Island, Kauai, Maui, Lanai, and Molokai are where you will actually discover Hawaii. I’m not saying that Waikiki isn’t great, because it is great, but it’s not the best that Hawaii has to offer – though it is the best place to start and finish your trip here.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Kings
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.
Most 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.
One 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.
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.
I’ve always thought that the Halona Blowhole, and blowholes in general, are very unfortunately named. They should instead be called ocean geysers or lava tube spouts – but blowhole? Really? Oh well, there’s nothing I can do about it. The unfortunate name doesn’t change the fact that the Halona Blowhole is one of Oahu’s most exciting natural wonders. Like Diamond Head– people come to Hawaii with seeing ‘the blowhole’ on their bucket list – often without knowing what to expect.
Halona is a stretch of rocky and wild coastline on the South shore of Oahu. The word Halona means overlook in Hawaiian language and as descriptions go, it’s pretty apt. Sitting between Breakneck Beach (Sandys) and Hanauma Bay – this rocky overlook provides views of whales, Maui, multi-colored water, and of course, the aforementioned blowhole. So, just what is the blowhole?
Several hundred thousand years ago, the Koko Head volcano was active and lava flowed from it to the ocean below. Surface lava cooled quickly and hardened into stone, but under the surface rivers and streams of molten rock made their way to the ocean. As the streams dried up, they left tubes behind – sometimes large, other times small. Most of them collapsed from the weight of the rock above but some of them (in particular smaller ones) remained as small tunnels. One such lava tube formed at Halona and was left just below the high water mark. Tens of thousands of years of wave action eventually broke the surface of the tube so that incoming waves would burst through the rock after traveling some distance in the lava tube – if the pressure was (or is) strong enough based on direction of the waves, volume of water, and tidal conditions – the water spouts skywards and sometimes causes visitors to get wet!
On the right day, at the right time, in the right conditions – the Halona Blowhole goes as high as 30 feet! Other days you are lucky to see a little mist coming out. Nearly every visitor to Oahu makes the trek to Halona – the parking lot can be crowded – but on the right days – you won’t even notice the people. Don’t forget to look behind you at the Kokohead Volcano.
There are strict rules in place and visitors are not allowed to go down to where the blowhole erupts. In the past there were no fences or barriers and adventure seekers would get close to the blowhole to feel the power of nature…and some of them died. There have been a handful of fatalities from people making bad decisions and the result is that no one is allowed to go near the blowhole. On one tragic day, a teenager got blasted by the spray and then sucked into the blowhole and died in front of visitors.
The Halona Blowhole parking lot is also where you park if you want to visit Eternity Beach – but I’ll tell you about that in another post.
As a guide, one of the top requests I get is to ‘see Diamond Head’ – which is funny, because often when I get the request – it’s in Waikiki where Diamond Head is most visible! Diamond Head is just one of those monuments that people have heard of but don’t really know what it is – sometimes they know it’s a volcano, sometimes they know it’s a hike, sometime’s they know it’s a surf break – but Diamond Head is that and more. It’s also a neigborhood, a road, a direction, a crater, a park, a National Guard base, a historic military lookout, a lighthouse – and quite frankly – an experience and feeling – a sense of actually being in Waikiki.
Geologically speaking, Diamond Head is a tuff cone volcano that last erupted about 400,000 years ago. The Hawaiians called it Le’ahi which means ‘forehead of the tuna’ and from Waikiki – that’s exactly what it looks like. Western sailors gave it the current name because it was a visible landmark from sea – also known as a ‘head’. The shape of the top is roughly diamond shape which makes sense to me but there are other stories about sailors finding calcite crystals they thought were diamonds and even about the way the light refracted off of it at sunset. At it’s tallest point, it is 762 feet tall (232 m). Diamond Head was the last gasp of the Oahu volcanos and took place millions of years after the main island-forming eruptions of the Ko’olau and Waianae Volcanos. The Pali Lookout sits at the top of the Ko’olau Volcano rim – sometimes people get the lookouts confused.
In modern times, the crater and nearby areas outside the crater were part of the U.S. Army’s Fort Ruger. Today there is still a National Guard Unit and Hawaii Civil Defense inside the crater. It was used as a lookout point for the U.S. Military in Hawaii during both world wars and the pillboxes at the top of the popular interior hike are the remnants of those bygone days.
Diamond Head is a U.S. National Monument and Natural Landmark – so it is protected. In the 1960s and 70s there were huge Woodstock style concerts in the crater with the likes of Jimmy Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, and more. I would have loved seeing the Grateful Dead in there.
Today, most people who come to Diamond Head want to do the hike. It is less than a mile each direction but with some serious elevation gain (about 560 feet). Bring plenty of water, wear sunscreen, and take breaks if you need to. The trail was built in 1908 by the U.S. Army. In ancient times, there was a Heiau (temple) dedicated to the God of Winds up near where tourists take in the view today. You’ll see why – so hold onto your hat! Admission is $5 per car if driving or $1 per person if walking. It is open every day of the year from 6am to 6pm with last entrance at 4:30 pm daily.
Parking is cheap but you may have to wait for a few minutes. To get there just drive up Diamond Head Road to Kapiolani Community College and turn right at the sign, drive through the tunnel into the crater, and pay for parking at the gate.
After you take the hike, drive back out through the tunnel and continue on around Diamond Head’s exterior. You will find several pullouts where you can take in the view of the surf on one side and the exterior of the Volcano on the other. Between the lookouts and the Diamond Head Lighthouse which is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard – you will see a trail that leads down to the surf break. Diamond Head is one of the most consistant and popular surf breaks on the island of Oahu. You will have to hike your board down (and back up) but it will be worth it. If you just want to watch the surfers, the lookout with the Amelia Earhardt memorial is the best spot.
Further down the road, you will enter the Diamond Head neighborhood, one of Oahu’s most exclusive and expensive places to live. Just a bit further and you will be back in Waikiki at Kapiolani Community Park. Don’t forget to turn around and enjoy the beauty and grace of Diamond Head as you enjoy Waikiki.
One of the most spectacular viewpoints in the world lies just a few miles from Honolulu and Waikiki. The word ‘pali’ in Hawaiian language means cliff – and the Pali Lookout won’t disappoint you as you get an amazing view up the Windward Side of Oahu and down into the beautiful towns of Kailua and Kaneohe. The lookout itself is a magnificent section of cliff which sits at the top of the Nu’uanu Valley and just on the town-side of the Nu’uanu tunnels (Route 61) which go straight through the walls of the ancient Ko’olau volcano. The tunnels date back to 1958, before that the road went up and over the lookout.
From the lookout you can see Kualoa Mountain, Chinaman’s Hat, Coconut Island, and Kaneohe and Kailua Bays.
Driving from Honolulu, you will take the Nu’uanu Pali Highway and turn off at the Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside – don’t forget to pay for parking- the attendants are vigilent! If you wear a hat, hold onto it because there are often strongtrade winds barrelling through the pass. Before the tunnels, this was the main road across the Ko’olau connecting town-side with windward side. The road up from the town side has always been important and today there are consulates, church headquarters, Buddhist missions, a synagogue, and nice neighborhoods. The Nu’uanu valley has been inhabited for more than a thousand years. Hawaiian royalty built their summer homes in the valley to avoid the higher temperatures from June through September.
Historically, the lookout is celebrated as the site of the unifying battle of the Hawaiian Islands where King Kamehameha the First brought ten thousand warriors and slaughtered the defenders of Oahu – who were mostly conquering Maui warriors. He forced Kalanikupule to the edge of the cliff and then threw him from the edge along with four hundred of his soldiers. This happened in 1795.
Fifty years later, the first road crossed the Pali. Hawaiian legends abound about the Pali – there are ghosts and goddesses and magical dogs and enchanted lizards – but mostly you will see chickens and cats.
One of my favorite of the stories goes that you should never have pork in your car when you cross the Pali – mainly this is because Pele, the goddess of the Volcano had a terrible relationship and bad breakup with Kamapua’a – the pig god. Since that time, she won’t let any pork or pigs come across the Pali and if you try…your car will break down until you remove the pork from the vehicle. So you better not pack ham sandwiches for lunch!