Thoughts of a Suicidal Diver – Skydiving On Oahu’s North Shore

This was my first post on Vagobond back in 2005. Hard to believe how long it’s already been. I’ve added the short story I wrote to the end of the post but I can’t seem to find the picture of me and my friend Lena who took the dive together on Oahu’s North Shore. This day has been on my mind a lot recently because of the tragic plane crash a few days ago that took the lives of eleven people.

Man…that was so cool. It hardly feels real. The climb to altitude in the Cessna. The moment of going out the door of the plane. The freefall..man oh man…the freefall was awesome. Below is the link to the company I went with. Totally fukn cool man. I highly recommend it and I will definitely go again. Hawaii Sky Diving. 

Skydive Oahu
I wrote the little blurb below about the experience but I didn’t include it in the original post….my tandem diver told me how depressed he was before we jumped. I’ve never figured out if he was just messing with me or if I narrowly dodged a bullet. The night before had been his 50th birthday and he was unhappy at the turns of his life. Still single, no kids, and generally unhappy. He smelled like alcohol still. We were the last out of the plane and the first on the ground – meaning we pulled the rip cord way after everyone else….

 

 

A Suicidal Skydive Instructor’s Stream of Consciousness

That’s crazy. I would never do that. Somewhat disturbing to think about what it would be like to do it though. It wouldn’t really be hard. I mean, it wouldn’t haunt me because I would be dead. Right? I mean, that’s what it is.

But to not pull the cord. The strength it will take to not pull the ripcord. To not choose life at the last moment. There really can’t be much more difficult than that. I have my doubts about whether I could really do it.

Fuck, I’m late. Fuck it, today will be my 1000th dive. Cool. Shit. Gotta go. I’m sick of working. Sick of having to be anywhere. I’m fifty and I don’t have anyone who gives a shit about me. No wife, no family, no kids. My life will only get worse from here on .

It’s a cool job though. I do have that going. I’ve got to be there, but it’s pretty cool. I just hate strapping myself to strangers and pretending to feel the thrill of their first airplane jump as if it is my first time too. Life is most difficult when you are insincere. Suddenly the world begins to appear as full of shit as you are. I really wonder if I could do it.

Banzai Pipeline – The World’s Most Famous Wave

Surfing OahuHidden just beyond the tiny sign that announces ‘Ehukai Beach Park’ is one of the world’s most iconic and undoubtedly the most famous surfing break in the world – Banzai Pipeline, variously known as ‘Pipeline’ or ‘The Pipe’. The wave itself is ancient but the name only goes back to 1961 when three California surfers stopped to film Phil Edwards riding a magnificent wave next to an underground pipeline construction project. The name stuck and in 1963 surf rock band, The Chantays, titled their pumping tune ‘Pipeline’ which cemented the name in place forever.

The beach had been known as Ehukai which means ‘sea-spray’ in Hawaiian for a long time. After World War II, locals began referring to the beach there as  Banzai Beach – Banzai was the word that Japanese kamikaze pilots shouted before crashing their zero fighters into enemy targets.  Both names come because of the fact that during winter, waves can reach as high as 30 feet (nearly 10 meters) high.

Banzai PipelinePipeline is a reef break. It’s a flat table top reef that has jagged spires and canyons. Waves travel thousands of miles from where they are generated by storms in Alaska or Japan and the first land they hit is the gently sloping undersea mountains of the Hawaii-Meiji Seamount Chain – which, hen it breaks the surface – becomes the Islands of Hawaii. The water is already being pushed upward when it hits the reef at Pipeline, but the sudden presence of the reef causes a dramatic upswell which is often preserved to amazing heights by the offshore winds blowing from land.

There are actually four surf breaks at Pipeline. There is Pipeline itself which is a left, then there is Backdoors which is a right – and when big water is coming in – there are the second and third reefs outside (further out). Pipeline is one of the most deadly waves in the world and there have been many deaths and injuries there. Imagine the damage from being in a swimming pool where the bottom is covered with broken glass – and then having another swimming pool dumped on top of you. That is roughly equivalent to being crushed by a huge wave at Pipeline.

Banzai PipelineThere have been many movies shot at Pipeline – perhaps the most famous was Blue Crush. Each one of the jewels of the Triple Crown of surf happens here – The Pipeline Masters.

The craziest thing about Pipeline is that in summer, it can be as smooth and calm as a lake and a perfect place to swim and relax in the water – jus watch out for the currents.

 

 

 

 

Saturday Farmer’s Market at Kapiolani Community College on Oahu

KCC Farmer's MarketKapiolani Community College on Oahu has a weekly farmer’s market that is a world class destination. It’s crazy, it’s crowded, it’s fun and it is DELICIOUS!  This weekly event is sponsored by the Hawai’i Farm Bureau and goes on rain or shine. If you are a Farm Bureau member, you get in early from 7:00-7:30 and can avoid the crowds. 

First of all – there is plenty of farm fresh produce – but don’t make the mistake of thinking that is all there is. There are food stalls that serve plenty of delicious foods from crepes to burgers to ‘Loco Moco’ to jumbo wild shrimp. The prices for produce are reasonable and for everything else – about what you would expect in Hawai’i, meaning you aren’t going to fill your belly for five bucks.

KCC Farmer's MarketStrolling through the market provides plenty of opportunities for people watching. In fact, you can see people from pretty much all over the world. China, Japan, Australia, Europe, North America, South America, India – it’s a global marketplace. There are usually local musicians out and plenty of culinary wonders that do a great job of demonstrating just how diverse and eclectic Oahu’s food scene is.

Give yourself a couple of hours to explore and eat and enjoy and while you are there, don’t miss the desert botanical garden nearby. It’s filled with some beauties!

Getting to KCC is easy, it’s on the back side of Diamond Head near the entrance to the crater, right across the street in fact. You can get a taxi, a bus, an Uber or a Lyft from Waikiki for just a couple of bucks. There is plenty of parking so if you have a car, driving is an option. Don’t forget to bring your own reusable shopping bags!

The KCC Farmers Market takes place in Parking Lot C at Kapiʻolani Community College  (4303 Diamond Head Rd.) every Saturday morning from 7:30-11:30. It’s free and has no entrance fee. 

Chinaman’s Hat – Oahu’s Politically Incorrect but Scenic Micro Island

Chinaman's HatAs you head up to the North Shore of Oahu on the Windward Side of the island, you will come to one of Hawaii’s most iconic landmarks. The little ‘sorting hat’ shaped island offshore from Kualoa Ranch has one of the least politically correct names in the U.S.A – Chinaman’s Hat. Okay, it’s not that bad and truth be told, there is a valid reason for the name.

The Windward Side of Oahu was heavily settled by Chinese immigrants who came to work in the sugar cane industry but then chose to stay and start their own farms. When the Chinese arrived, the island had a different name, but the locals who were already in place, noticed right away that their little island looked an awful lot like the wide conical sun hats the Chinese brought with them.

Rather than starting to call the hats ‘Mokoli’i hats’ – which may have happened at some point – the locals instead started referring to Mokoli’i as Chinaman’s Hat. There are some lovely stories and plenty of artwork that show a giant Chinese farmer living under the hat – with big catfish like Fu Manchu whiskers.

Chinaman's HatThe Hawaiian name for the island, Mokoli’i, means little lizard. There are some great folktales about it as well. My favorite of them has the sister of Madam Pele, being harassed by the lizard, who fell in love with her and wouldn’t leave her alone. Unable to get her suitor to leave her alone, she killed him and then picked him up and threw him up to Kualoa where he landed. His head and back are formed by the Kualoa Mountain and the tail falls into the water where just the tip of it pokes out.

Chinaman’s Hat is a popular destination for pictures. The water is nice but there is a lot of reef and coral and not much sand. Visiting the island is best done by kayak but it can be swam or snorkeled to. One word of caution if you plan to do that – this is a tiger shark breeding area – so pay attention to the signs and conditions.

Once you reach the island, there is a short 20 minute hike that will take you to the tip of the hat.

Waimea Valley Botanical Garden and Waimea Falls Hike on Oahu’s North Shore

Waimea Valley Waterfall Hike Oahu North ShoreIf you are coming to Oahu in the hopes of swimming in a waterfall, learning about the ancient Hawaiian culture, and seeing unique and beautiful endemic and indigenous plants and animals – plus doing a bit of hiking and enjoying beautiful gardens and tropical flowers – then you should probably head straight to Waimea Valley and Waimea Falls on the North Shore of Oahu.

This stunning 1800 acre park has one of Oahu’s most beautiful waterfall hikes, historical sites, reconstructed and preserved archaeological sites, botanical gardens filled with indigenous plants and native birds, as well as a wealth of friendly and knowledgable employees and educational displays.

At $16 per person – this is probably one of the most affordable and enjoyable activities on Oahu. There is a 1.5 mile round trip hike on a gently sloping paved path that leads to the falls. At the falls, swimmers are required to wear provided life vests and there are life guards stationed to assist if you get in trouble. Along the path there are plenty of side trails that will take you to hidden parts of the valley – or you can stick to the trail and explore the many educational displays along the way.

Waimea Valley Waterfall Hike Oahu North ShoreIn the visitor center there are frequent educational activities, a lovely gift shop, a good restaurant and always clean restrooms (as well as free wi-fi which you may need since there is no cell service in the valley). On Saturdays, the Pupukea farmers market is a fun and lively event with live music, plenty of great food, and a beautiful open lawn to picnic on.  The visitor center also hosts weddings and parties as well as concerts.

There is a great luau which takes place in Waimea Valley.

This valley was one of the main settlements of Oahu in ancient times and it is filled with rich archaeological sites. It was evacuated in 1893 due to heavy flooding and never recovered. The valley is a sacred ahupua’a to the Hawaiian people – that’s a land division.

Waimea Valley Waterfall Hike Oahu North ShoreThere are 41 different gardens in the valley containing more than 5000 different plants. For many of my visitors, this is the most fulfilling and memorable part of their journey to Oahu. In addition, it may look familiar because there were quite a few movies and TV Shows shot in Waimea Valley including Lost, Hawaii 5-0, 50 First Dates, Joe vs. The Volcano – and many more.

Details

Adults: $16
Children (4-12 years): 8
Seniors (60 years and older): $12
Kama’aina/Military Adults (ID required): $10
Kama’aina/Military Children: $6
Kama’aina/Military Seniors: $8
Annual Pass Individual: $50
Annual Pass Family (2 adults and up to 4 children under the age of 12): $100

Hours:
Open daily from
Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Sharks Cove at Pupukea on Oahu, Hawaii – a Beautiful Snorkel Spot

Sharks Cove Pupukea Oahu HawaiiSnorkeling is one of the activities that visitors coming to Oahu, Hawaii or other tropical island destinations want to experience.  There’s nothing quite like stripping down to the bare essentials and lowering your body into water that feels just right and then swimming around with ease while marveling at the beauty and diversity of the undersea world.

Most visitors end up either snorkeling in Waikiki – which has some decent spots but in general isn’t all that great in most places, or they join the busloads of tourists and head to Hanauma Bay – which is a spectacular place to snorkel but has an entry fee, is always busy, and is closed on Tuesdays.

Personally, I prefer heading up to the North Shore and checking out Sharks Cove. Open daily every day (though sometimes closed due to high surf in winter), has a wide variety of fish and different levels of snorkeling suitable for beginner through expert, and finally – has great food trucks and a grocery store just across the street.

Sharks Cove Pupukea Oahu HawaiiThe protected areas inside the tall reef are a perfect place for beginner to intermediate snorkelers and for those with more experience you can go to the deeper portions where you will find caves, a wider variety of corals and fish, and more. Please be aware of the conditions and watch out for the ‘salt water waterfalls’ where big surf hits the exposed reef and washes down the inside.

Sharks Cove is part of a Marine Life Conservation District and so there is no fishing or spear fishing allowed. You’ll also see scuba divers going 15-25 feet deep to explore the many underwater caves in the area.

There are also many tide pools in the vicinity and a lovely, but small beach for those who don’t want to snorkel. A few notes –

  • Entering can be a bit tricky as there is sharp lava/reef throughout, you may want to wear water booties or reef shoes.
  • Reef extends up to and above the surface in areas – careful not to scrape your chest/belly
  • Kids need to be supervised – there are some tricky areas and places where the reef opens up to the open ocean, so don’t just turn them loose – this ain’t the hotel pool, Martha
  • Parking is limited, so it’s best to come early or late
  • If the surf is up, the visibility will be terrible and the conditions can be dangerous

Finally, I’ve never heard of anyone seeing a dangerous shark inside sharks cove, but there are some outside – so be aware. You might see some small white tipped sharks – but they are harmless, if thrilling. The reason it’s called Sharks Cove though is because the outline of the reef is said to resemble a shark – plus, it scares away some of the visitors!

Sharks Cove Pupukea Oahu Hawaii

The Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu – World’s Largest Open Air Shopping Mall

Ala MoanaWhether you live in Hawaii or you are visiting – one destination that you have to go to is the mall! I know that sounds funny in the age of brick and mortar retail dying out – but Ala Moana Shopping Center is much more than just a mall. It’s actually the largest open air shopping center in the world and it’s a place that both residents and visitors to Oahu love to go.

Ala Moana Shopping CenterIt’s hard to believe, but the land that Ala Moana now sits on was once a swamp. It was purchased from the Bishop Estate in 1912 by Walter Dillingham, a dredger with a dream. He filled the land with the dredgings from the Ala Wai Canal and Pearl Harbor.  His son, Lowell, took the next step – getting the ball rolling on construction of the mall in 1957 and opening in 1959 – the same year Hawaii became a state. At the time it was the largest shopping mall in the United States. Today it is still the ninth largest in the USA and the largest open air mall in the world with nearly 2.4 million square feet of retail space. There are well over 300 stores, restaurants, and vendors in Ala Moana – among them Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and all of the many luxury brands you can think of as well as Target, Ross, and other discount stores. Food courts, stages, entertainment venues, and the Shirokiya Japanese marketplace – a large Japanese street food themed food court with cheap beer and delicious food.

Ala Moana Shopping Center

Getting to Ala Moana is easy – it’s between downtown Honolulu and Waikiki and sits between Ala Moana Boulevard and Kapiolani Boulevard. It is mauka (mountain direction) from Ala Moana beach park. Parking is plentiful. Ala Moana is a huge part of local life here in Honolulu – malls may be dying everywhere else, but not in Hawaii.

Ala Moana Shopping Center

Visiting the Battleship Missouri at Pearl Harbor

Battleship Missouri High on the list of many visitors to Honolulu, Hawaii is the chance to visit the USS Missouri, the last of the great American battleships – which is permanently anchored as an attraction at Pearl Harbor as part of the Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

The ‘Mighty Mo’  was the last American battleship commissioned (1944) and the last of the great ships to be decommissioned (1992). The ship still serves, but now it is as a monument to those who have served on American Navy ships.

To get to the Missouri, you will first need to go to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center where you can purchase a ticket if you haven’t already bought one online. The entire complex contains the Missouri,  USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Bowfin, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. From the visitor center you will take a military operated bus to Ford Island.

Don’t be surprised by the size of the ship. It is huge! At more than 18 stories tall from top to bottom and over three football fields long, be ready to climb lots of stairs and do lots of walking- there are elevators available for those who are mobility challenged.

Battleship Missouri

The ship is kept in a state of what seems perpetual readiness and the smell of diesel fuel and paint is strong wherever you go. The passageways, galleys, and chambers on the ship feel ghostly alive with the sounds of the crew that no longer serves on board, recorded in the past and piped in on speakers in the present. Most of the ship feels as if you have arrived just as the crew is taking a break and has gone elsewhere – it’s eerie to look into the empty medical offices, machine shops, galleys, berths, mess halls, and quarters and not find a soul there (except for other tourists)

The Missouri is most famous as the site where the formal Japanese surrender happened. That and the site where  Japanese kamikaze pilot smashed into the ship are both memorialized. The kamikaze display below decks, where the faces and final letters of the young men who committed suicide by smashing their planes into American ships is perhaps the most disturbing of the many museum displays on board the ship. It’s important to remember the high cost of war while you visit this huge machine of death – World War II killed an estimated 88 million people of which as many as 55 million were children, women, senior citizens and other civilians and non-combatents.

Battleship Missouri

Battleship Missouri

If you are not a patriotic American or a true fan of war machines or history, the first part of the tour can be a bit rough. You are required to take a docent guided tour where patriotism and gushing anthropomorphic descriptions of the ship are shared from a well memorized script. This portion can run from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the tour you book and your guide’s enthusiasm The guides always refer to the big ship as ‘her’ or ‘she’. After the guided portion, you can wander through the ship at your leisure – watch your head and don’t trip as you crouch through the hatchways.

There are two tours available – the standard guided tour (Mighty Mo) – which shows you the main decks and the nearly three times as long ‘Heart of the Missouri’ which takes you to below decks and through some of the museums and displays.

 

Battleship Missouri

As with most attractions in Hawaii, Kamaʻāina and military members with photo I.D. get discounted prices. Visitors cannot bring purses, backpacks or bags into the entire complex. There is bag storage available or just leave it behind.

Battleship Missouri

 

The Valor in the Pacific Memorial and Pearl Harbor Historic Sites are located at

1 Arizona Memorial Place Honolulu, HI 96818

Open daily. 8 am- 4 pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day

There are many ver official looking sites that offer tours and tickets, but this is the only truly official website for the sites. https://ussmissouri.org/buy-tickets

City and County of Honolulu – Many Neighborhoods, Towns, and Cities As One

Honolulu, Hawaii is an incredibly diverse place to live. With more than a dozen languages spoken by significant communities, a wide diversity of religions, and a culture that spans the globe. When you consider the fact that Honolulu is not just a city but actually a combined entity of the City and County of Honolulu all run from as jurisdiction with one mayor, one city council, and one police force – it really changes the way Honolulu looks both geographically and demographically.

Neighborhoods and towns on OahuOver the past year, I’ve written a large number of posts that detail the different neighborhoods, cities and towns of Honolulu – which includes the entire island of Oahu. I have not included the outer islands that are part of Honolulu City and County which stretch all the way up to Midway Island but not including it (or Johnston Atoll). Thousands of uninhabited little islands, atolls, reefs, etc are included but since they have no people, they have no neighborhoods. This post is an attempt to share all of those neighborhood articles in a bit of an orderly way. My purpose in writing these articles has been so that I can share more than just the names when I write about places, activities, attractions, restaurants, or beaches on Oahu.

Neighborhoods in ‘Town’ include those places formally inside the metro city limits. East Honolulu goes from Diamond Head to Koko Head. Windward Side stretches from Waimanalo up to Kahuku on the east side of Oahu. North Shore is from Kuhuku to Mokuleia. Leeward is the ‘West Side’ and goes from Yokohama Bay down to Ko’olina. Central Oahu includes areas from Ko’olina to Salt Lake and all the towns upwards to Wahiawa in the center of Oahu between the two mountain ranges of Ko’olau and Waianae.

I’ve combined some areas that made sense to me and have yet to write about some neighborhoods like Chinatown, Ala Moana, Black Point, Portlock, Kalihi, Moili’ili, Waipio, Barber’s Point, Nu’uanu and the many many many Military Bases and Housing Complexes on the Island.

Neighborhoods in ‘Town’

Downtown Honolulu Financial District and Fort Street Mall

Historic District

Chinatown

Makikiki, Punchbowl, and Tantalus

Waikiki

Diamond Head

Kaimuki

Kaka’ako

Salt Lake and Moanalua

Honolulu International Airport

University of Hawaii and Manoa

East Honolulu

Kahala

Aina Haina and Hawaii Kai

Kokohead

Windward Side

Waimanalo Beach

Waimanalo Town

Kailua

Lanikai

Kaneohe

Kahalu’u, Ka’a’awa, Punalu’u

Laie

Kuhuku and Hau’ula

Central Oahu

Pearl City, Aiea, Waimalu

Wahiawa and Mililani

Waipahu

Kapolei and Ewa

North Shore

Waialua

Haleiwa

Waimea, Pupukea, Sunset Beach

West Side (Leeward Coast)

Ko’olina and Makakilo

Waianae, Makaha and Nanakuli

Central Oahu Neighborhoods of Wahiawa and Mililani

Wahiawa and MillaniTowards the center of Oahu you have two communities that sit higher than anywhere else on Oahu because they are on the central plain between the Ko’olau and Waianae Mountain Ranges. Mililani which is mauka (mountain direction from beach) of Pearl City and Waipahu and Wahiawa which sits in just about the exact middle of Oahu.

Mililani Town

Mililani has about 50,000 residents split between Mililani Town and Mililani Mauka – split by the H-2 freeway. It is a planned residential community that sits on former plantation lands. It was designed by famed architect Al Boeke and the first homes were sold relatively recently in 1968. You won’t find any historic landmarks in Mililani from the colonial or territorial periods. Mililani is literally an ‘all American’ suburb town that is the only place in Hawaii to ever win the official designation of ‘All American Town’. In 2005 it was designated as one of the best places to live in the USA by Money magazine. Tourists and visitors will find little to no reason to visit Mililani.

In Hawaiian, Mililani means beloved place of chiefs and that may be true because as the third wealthiest town/neighborhood on Oahu – there are definitely some chiefs living there. Wahiawa, on the other hand, means ‘place of noise’ which is funny because it is one of the quietest places on the island – which might actually be the point because in Wahiawa, you don’t hear the roar of the ocean and so the noise of the wind, birds, and the land itself is probably the loudest.

Wahiawa sits closest to the middle of Oahu. For Hawaiians, this made it a place of power. It is the ‘piko’ or bellybutton of this island. The town was a sacred place for Hawaiian people it is where healers trained in pre-European contact Hawaii. It is where high ranking women would choose to give birth. It is a sacred and powerful place where there was a significant population of Hawaii’s third gender, the ‘mahu’ were centered.

Wahiawa, Hawaii

Today, Wahiawa is a bit of a pit – a typical military town surrounded by bases and military housing. You will find no shortage of fast food, pawnshops, payday loans, furniture rentals, and tattoo shops there along the main strip through town – though – in recent years, residents have made an attempt to clean the town up and are finding some success. Surfer’s Coffee Bar and the surrounding businesses are clean, interesting, and make a nice stop on the trip from North Shore to Oahu. Some decent restaurants have set up shop in Wahiawa. And if you get off the main drag – you will find the free, beautiful, and very well kept Wahiawa Botanical Gardens.

Wahiawa Botanical Garden

Wahiawa has a population of about 18,000 people. The surrounding military bases of Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Field both have significantly larger populations than the town. South of Wahiawa you find Mililani and north of it you find Hale’iwa. Just to the North of Wahia’wa are the Kukaniloko Birth Stones, Green World Coffee Plantation, and the Dole Plantation.

Ko Olina and Makakilo – Disney Resort and the ‘other Waikiki’

Makakilo means ‘observing eyes’ in the Hawaiian Language. This is a small community of about 15,000 people that is really a neighborhood of Kapolei. Sitting on the slopes of the hillsides moving away from the beach – there isn’t really anything to draw visitors here. Like nearly everywhere on Oahu, the really nice neighborhoods are generally military housing. To the West is the manufactured resort neighborhood of Ko Olina.

Makakilo

Ko Olina has a golf course, four beautiful man-made lagoons that would be private in a different state where beach access wasn’t guaranteed. There are four high end resorts on the property along with an unusually large number of wedding chapels and a sort of tourist village with shops and restaurants. The resorts include the Disney Aulani as well as the Four Seasons.

Ko Olina Resort

Ko Olina is largely focused on timeshares and short term condominium rentals though there are a small number of full time residents. Ko Olina is made up of about 642 acres comprised of the four resorts, the golf course, and six ‘villages’ of mostly condos. The population is listed as about 1800 people but I doubt that many of these are full time residents – though if you go to the lagoons early in the morning – there is a group of mostly white senior citizens who gather to play ukulele and sing together on some days.

Ko Olina

As you can see from the photo below – taken from the Ko Olina information site – Ko Olina is working very hard to create a fantasy version of Hawaii – and with the Paradise Cove Luau, the Disney Aulani Resort, the four lagoons, and the creation (in progress now) of an Atlantis Hotel (the one in Dubai) – it is succeeding. If you want to see the Hawaii of your imagination and you can afford it – Ko Olina is the place to go – but make sure you close your eyes while you are driving there from the airport because all around Ko Olina you will see the real modern Hawaii complete with traffic, homelessness, people struggling to survive economically, and since Ko Olina is on the dry side of Oahu – a lot of brown…because all that water used to make Ko Olina green has to be brought there.

Ko Olina Fantasy

Ewa and Kapolei Neighborhoods – Oahu’s Second City

Ewa Sugar PlantationKapolei is primarily built on the old sugar and pineapple lands that were serviced by the little planation town of ‘Ewa back in the territorial days. From about the 1950s onwards, Kapolei has been the focus of a whole lot of government efforts to create a second major urban center on Oahu. The population today is in excess of 100,000 making it the second largest town on Oahu – and in actuality, making it Oahu’s second city – though because of the governmental structure  of City and County of Honolulu covering the entire island – technically, Kapolei and everywhere else on Oahu are actually neighborhoods in the city of Honolulu. It’s a little weird.

Ewa Sugar Plantation‘Ewa means crooked though most locals think it means ‘in a westward direction’. The ‘Ewa Sugar Plantation which ran from 1890 to 1970 played a significant role in the history of Hawaii in the 20th Century. It was one of the most prosperous plantations on Oahu and had a major role in shaping policy and governance of the state.  Today there is a small rustic plantation town and a nice little beach park but for the most part ‘Ewa runs into Kapolei and Waipahu. There are about 15,000 people who call ‘Ewa home. There is a significant military population as well as a number of manufactured ‘neighborhoods’ like Ewa Gentry, Ocean Point, and ‘Ewa Villages. The nearby military resort housing base at Iroquois Point is lovely but off limits to civilians.

Kapolei has government offices, an FBI field office, a water park (Hawaiian Waters), plenty of restaurants, shops, and well ordered streets, parks, and festivals. What it doesn’t have is much in the way of tourist infrastructure. There is a hotel there now and nearby at Ko Olina there are plenty of tourist resorts including Disney’s Aulani, Four Seasons, and Marriot. A large portion of the future growth of Oahu is slated to take place in Kapolei and nearby Waipahu and Millilani.

Oahu Second City Kapolei is the home of the University of Hawaii, West Oahu campus and Hawaii Tokai International College as well as a local high schools and grade schools.

The Honolulu Area Rapid Transit Rail project is going to make a big impact on Kapolei – once it’s all done and figured out. Many of the stores and restaurants in Kapolei are franchise locations of local Oahu businesses from Kailua, Waikiki and more – so don’t be surprised to find Lanikai Juice or Kalapawai Deli on both sides of the island.

So here’s the thing – Kapolei – right now – has many of the same restaurants and shops as you find in areas where there are a lot of tourists – but without the tourists. I’m sure this will change before too long. The outlet malls, the resorts at Ko Olina, and the new Makana Ali’i Mall are all starting to draw people. Mostly though – this is all just getting ready for when the rail opens up this part of the island to all the tourists who have been so far, mostly contained in Waikiki and Honolulu.

Captain John Rodgers and his Failed Flight to Hawaii from California.

Captain John Rodgers HawaiiJohn Rodgers International Airport used to be the name of the Danial K Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. Today, there is still a John Rodgers Airport – but it is not the big one you fly into here in Hawaii – instead it is the little training and tourist airport located in Kalaeloa on Oahu.  So, who was John Rodgers and why are these airports named after him?

First of all, it wasn’t just airports that were named after him. There were also six U.S. Naval Ships named after Rodgers, his father, and his grandfather. They were all important Naval officers. But let’s just focus on John Rodgers the aviator for now. In 1911, Rodgers became the 2nd Naval officer to fly for the U.S. Navy. The first plane he flew was actually delivered by Orville Wright…

Captain John Rodgers Hawaii

While all of that is impressive, it’s not why I’m writing about him. In 1925, Rodgers decided to push aviation technology to the limits and attempt a flight from California to Hawaii. If successful, he would have been the first – but – he wasn’t successful and that left the success to Amelia Earhardt. So, why am I writing about a failed attempt and why were airports named after a guy who didn’t succeed?

Because it is an epic story. Rodgers and his crew ran out of fuel half way to Hawaii. They were supposed to be able to land the plane on the water and refuel from a Navy ship but due to communication and navigation errors – they never found the ship. So they were stuck in a plane with no fuel in the middle of the Pacific. Did they give up and die? No way.

Captain John Rodgers Hawaii

Rodgers took fabric from one of the aircraft wings and created a sail for his plane. Then, he and his crew sailed the plane the rest of the way to Hawaii! They ran out of food and had limited water for a week of the journey and despite the failure they set the record for non-stop air distance for a seaplane. They were welcomed to Hawaii as heroes.

Captain John Rodgers Hawaii

Rodgers died in a plane crash just a year later. He was 45 years old.

Leeward Neighborhoods of Waianae, Makaha, and Nanakuli

Leeward OahuThe Leeward Coast also known as the Wai’anae Coast is one of the most interesting places on Oahu – if you aren’t interested in resort hotels, manufactured tourist attractions, and over-developed promotion of a phony Hawai’i that has never really existed anywhere but in people’s imaginations.

Wai’anae” means “Water of the Mullet.”  These rich fishing grounds were important to the Hawaiian people and the fierce and sometimes inhospitable landscape made it worth the efforts it took to survive here even when other areas on Oahu offered an easier way of living. 

Long before Captain Cook arrived in Hawaii, there were thriving villages on the Leeward coast. After contact, populations tended to grow faster where the living was easier – parts of the beautiful valleys of the Waianae Mountains were used for garbage dumps and bomb practice. Which, by the way – are both atrocious and awful ways to treat a stunning landscape that is host to many endangered species and sacred cultural sites.

In the North there is Makaha and Yokohama Bay – south of there you will find Waianae and Nanakuli – both communities with more than 10,000 residents each. Makaha means fierce or savage in Hawaiian language – and it is likely in reference to the pounding winter surf, jagged reefs, and extremely hot temperatures. There are some beautiful beaches and bays on the Leeward Coast – but most visitors will never see them.

Leeward OahuMost locals think of the Leeward Coast as being a predominantly ‘local’ area – and they are correct. There is a much higher concentration of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders living in this area than the North Shore or Honolulu. In general, there are fewer people of European descent on the Leeward Coast – but – there is actually still a significant military presence – like everywhere on Oahu.

The U.S. Army has a recreation center at Pokai Bay, there is still a military presence in the Makua Valley where sacred landscape has been bombed into uninhabitability, and Kolekole Pass – the shortest way to get from the Leeward Side to another part of Oahu is accessible only to military members and their families  – which, if you ask me – is some serious bullshit.

The largest homeless camp in Hawaii is located on the Waianae Coast. It’s a 20 acre shantytown called Pu’uhonua o Waianae. There are many homeless on the Leeward Coast – a result of gentrification on other parts of Oahu, skyrocketing housing costs, and policies which sweep the homeless from other areas but allow them to stay on the West Side. Civil Beat has done an excellent series on the camp.

Leeward OahuNanakuli is home to one of the oldest Hawaiian Homesteads areas. The name Nanakuli means ‘look at knee’ in the Hawaiian language.  The Hawaiian Homesteads Act was the brainchild of Prince Johan Kuhio and enacted in 1921.

Fighter Max Holloway (MMA champion) and actor Jason Mamoa (Aquaman) both come from the Leeward Coast. Both men are a good example of why you should treat the land and the people of Leeward Oahu with respect if you do choose to visit.

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