Snorkeling 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.
The 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!
Waimanalo Town on the Windward Side of Oahu is a little town about three miles long that stretches from Makapu’u Point to Kailua. There’s not a whole lot in Waimanalo Town but you’ll see many Hawaiian flags there because it is one of the few places on Oahu where roughly half the population is of Native Hawaiian descent. Some of the flags will be upside down which indicates that the Hawaiian Nation is in distress. There are a little more than 10,000 residents in Waimanalo Town.
Waimanalo Beach is probably the biggest draw to the area – it’s a long white beach with stunning views of the Koolau Mountains behind.The telveision show. Baywatch Hawaii was shot there. Another draw is Bellow’s Beach which is only open on weekends because it is part of an Airforce and Marine military complex.
Across from the entrance to Waimanalo Beach Park is a polo field. The Hawaiian Royalty loved polo and the tradition continues to this day. In terms of other activities – there isn’t really much…Sea Life Park is just down the road along with the walk to the Makapu’u Light House. There are many agricultural properties and a lot of greenhouses in Waimanalo – but they aren’t tourist attractions. The little red and white checked restauarant across from 7-11 is a bizarre religious plate lunch place called Keneke’s Divine Grinds. There are also a couple of fast food restaurants including the popular L&L Drive Inn.
Here are my three favorite hidden treats in Waimanalo.
1) Shima’s Market has amazing poke!
2) Ono Steak and Shrimp (behind Kenekes’s) has great food, big servings and reasonable prices
3) The Waimanalo Co-op next to McDonalds has a variety of fresh products and locally produced artisanal craft work.
Also, this is a great place to stop at McDonalds for Spam, Eggs, and Rice or some pineapple or taro pies – Hawaii specialties you won’t find on the mainland. Also, don’t be afraid to stop for the roadside food in Waimanalo – ice cold coconuts, plate lunches, and much more from tents by the road. As for Keneke’s – it’s okay – not expensive but not the greatest food by any stretch.
There used to be a statue of the Sumo Wrestler Akebono in the Waimanalo shopping center. He was a local Hawaiian boy who went on to become the tallest and one of the greatest Yakuzuna (grand master) in sumo history. I’m not sure what happened to the statue but I heard that it was knocked over and is being repaired.
I’ve heard one legend of Waimanalo which is fun and shares a bit of the deep meanings that Hawaiian tales often offer. The legend says that a fisherman once decided to taunt the shark god because his catch was frequently stolen by sharks. The fisherman killed as many sharks as he could find and dumped their bodies into Waimanalo Bay. The shark god was angered and decided to eat the fisherman. He knocked over the fisherman’s boat and preceded to eat the legs of the fisherman. As he worked his way up, the stinky ass of the fisherman was too much for him and he couldn’t continue. He spit the legless fisherman on the shore and vowed never to eat another human from Waimanalo. This is why the locals don’t worry about shark attacks in Waimanalo Bay. It’s also why they respect sharks and don’t kill them when they are found in their nets.
Oahu is an island in Hawaii, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are amazing beaches here – but even knowing that Hawaii is paradise and exists in this perfect tropical zone, people are still often surprised by the beauty of our beaches. Here are five of the most beautiful beaches on Oahu – not just the most beautiful on this island, but in the world. None of them is more than a forty minute drive from Waikiki.
Voted as the most beautiful beach in America over and over again – this sweet little Windward Oahu community beach in Kailua literally means “Heavenly Water” in the Hawaiian language. Powdered sugar sand, the view of the Moku Lua Islands, calm waters filled with fish for snorkeling and the color blue in that incredible tone that is nothing short of, well, heavenly. Go to Lanikai Beach.
It’s only separated from Lanikai by a point of land and a military base on Oahu, but it might as well be a hundred miles for the difference in crowds and conditions. Where Lanikai is filled with Japanese tourists and haole people, Waimanalo is filled with local people – if there is anyone there at all. It still has the views of the Mokes, but the surf can pound at Waimanalo Beach and the sand is a bit less powdery but still pretty divine. Waimanalo Beach is great for body surfing, getting away from the crowds, and enjoying paradise.
A whole different world awaits you at Sandy’s on the South Shore of Oahu. Also known as ‘Breakneck Beach’, this is where President Obama likes to go to bodysurf when he’s in town. Sandy’s has much larger sand particles that tend towards the color we think of sand being – tan. It’s filled with local body boarders, surfers, bikini beauties, and adventure lovers. The sun can pound down on you at Sandy’s and there isn’t anyplace to hide from it. Also, don’t snake a wave or ‘drop in’ onthe locals or you might get a different kind of pounding.
Waikiki Beach is one of the best beaches in the world. It’s actually made up of five different beaches and stretches from near the Waikiki Acqaurium all the way down to Hilton Hawaiian Village. It’s awesome. Yes, it’s almost always filled with people but never in the way that beaches in California, Florida, New Jersey, Italy or other beachy destinations are. Waikikik has thick, course sand and waves that range from beginner to pro. What could be more jaw droppingly beautiful than sitting on Waikiki watching the sunset with Diamond Head on your left, the pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel on your right, and a strong Maitai in your hand? Not much.
I almost didn’t include this beach on the list, because I hate sharing my favorite spots with the internet, but the truth on this one is out and frankly, I’m not the one spilling the beans here. Just across from Sea Life Park – at the point where the South Shore and the Windward Side are still sort of merged – you will find Makapu’u Beach Park. Great body surfing, great surf, nice sand, and plenty of beauty with Rabbit Island and the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse and the jagged cliffs above. This is a very local place, so be respectful. Also, as everywhere, don’t leave any valuables in your car.
Hawaii is filled with great spots to surf and snorkel, dive and hike. In fact, there are so many great snorkel spots on Oahu that it’s easy to miss the best ones – and, unfortunately – it’s also easy to wander into areas where the water isn’t safe, the snorkeling isn’t that good, or you are putting yourself in some other kind of danger. With that in mind – I want to share my three favorite snorkel spots on the island of Oahu. One of them is in Waikiki, one of them is on the North Shore, and one of them is on the wild South Shore. All three are generally safe and depending on conditions, are almost certainly awesome places to see lots of fish. As with anywhere you are going to get in the water – check with lifeguards or locals to find out the conditions, make sure someone knows where you are going, and make sure you know how your equipment works before you head out of the shallow water. One last note – do not feed the fish and make sure that you are wearing reef safe sunscreen – both things help preserve our beautiful ocean so that many generations can continue to enjoy it.
I’ve never seen a shark at Shark’s Cove, but I’ve seen many other kinds of fish. This is a reef protected inlet with some amazing fish viewing and a variety of snorkel areas that are suitable for everyone from brand new beginners to seasoned scuba divers. To get there, go to the North Shore and drive until you see the Foodland shopping center at Pupukea – Shark’s Cove is right across the street. I recommend Sharks Cove during spring, summer, and autumn…though it can get a little crowded during summer weekends.
During the winter months, Sharks Cove isn’t usually a great place to go – not because of sharks but because of something that has caused many more deaths…big surf. The North Shore gets anywhere from 10′ to 60′ waves in the winter and this can not only cause crushing death…but also create dangerous currents, riptides, and undertows…as such during the winter, I usually keep my snorkeling at either Hanauma Bay or the Waikiki Fish Preserve
A volcanic crater filled with coral reefs and fish…what’s not to like about that? Even though it is one of the best known tourist attractions in Hawaii, Hanauma Bay is still worth visiting. Bring your own gear or rent it before you go because if you choose to rent it at Hanauma Bay…it will cost you almost as much as if you were buying it new at Costco or Target. Closed on Tuesdays. Here are more details on Hanauma Bay
Waikiki Fish Preserve
I generally don’t like to give away my secret spots – but this one should be okay. If you go towards Diamond Head on Waikiki Beach and pass the statue of the surfer across from the Honolulu Zoo – you will walk along an area where there isn’t really a beach – just a walkway next to the water. You will reach the Waikiki Aquarium and the Natatorium, the crumbling WWI memorial and then Kaimana Beach. If you are in the water, that entire stretch is known as the Waikiki Fish Preserve and it is absolutely teeming with marine life. You can enter the water at Kaimana’s or at Queen’s Beach. There are no lifeguards here and you are on your own, so make sure you can swim and know how to use your equipment. Be sure not to harass the fish.
No trip to Oahu is complete without a visit to Hanauma Bay on the south shore of this beautiful Hawaiian Island. Whether you are going to snorkel or simply look down at one of nature’s wonders from the lookout point above – this is a definite must see natural attraction in Hawaii.
To get there, head south from Honolulu and Waikiki. You will go around Diamond Head, through the neighborhood of Kahala, and on through the neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawaii Kai before reaching the turn just as you are passing Koko Head. Hanauma means ‘curved bay’ in Hawaiian languange and this is a beautiful coral filled bay in the remains of a tuff cone volcano. Not your average snorkel spot.
Hanauma Bay is a Nature Preserve and Marine Life Conservation District. It is open to the public six days per week with the seventh day reserved for park maintenance – or as we say in Hawaii – to let the fish rest. To enter the bay, you will need to attend a short environmental presentation that teaches you how to respect and appreciate the beauty of nature in the bay. Visitors are not allowed to touch fish, marine life, or walk on the corals in Hanauma.
Hanauma Bay is home to Hawaiian green sea turtles and over 400 species of fish including parrotfish, rasses, and even the famous humuhumunukunukuapua’a. Global warming has exacted a terrible cost on the bay and nearly half of the corals in it have died as a result.
Hanauma Bay itself was born about 32,000 years ago. It was one of the last eruptions on this island. A crater was formed and eventually waves broke through and flooded it creating the perfect environment for corals and fish. Hawaiian Kings and Queens frequented the bay and one possible interpretation of the name is that there were a variety of sporting and wrestling events held there each year at makahiki. The bay belonged to the Bishop Estate until the 1930s when it was purchased by the City and County of Honolulu. It became a protected area in 1967. In the 1970s white sand was brought in from the North Shore to create the beach you see there today.
The area was overused and suffering greatly up until the early 2000’s when the city enacted an entrance fee, closed the park on Tuesdays, and began requiring visitors to attend the educational presentation. The city has also restricted how many vehicles and how visitors can come to the bay. Commercial vehicles are strictly regulated.
Hanauma Bay can still be crowded with nearly 3000 visitors each day. If you are going, bring reef friendly sunscreen, water, and it is recommeneded that you bring your own snorkel gear as the rentals on site will cost you almost as much as buying a new set of gear.
I’m not going to write much about this since I’ve already given you most of the words and some of the pictures from my old Nokia phone in the Flashback Friday Post about my 2008 Perimeter of Oahu Walk. This post is mostly to show some of the people I met and the beautiful scenery of this island from the perspective that almost no one ever gets – walking around the entire coastline (albeit having to go around some controlled military bases in Hawaii). Without further ado…here are some of the photos from my adventure. Enjoy the beauty.
In 2008, I decided to walk all the way around the island of Oahu. Here is my record of that. I’ll add a Saturday Slideshow tomorrow with more pictures from my walk. It was awesome. Maybe I’ll do it again. (It’s funny to note how much I took with me – today, I would go with about 1/3 of the equipment/clothing I took then – no wonder my bag was so heavy).
So okay, I think I’m ready for this…today I made an aluminum can backpacker stove. I’ve got my gear list and I have made sure it all fits in one bag. It’s a little more gear than I wanted, but I can always get rid of stuff on the way. Here is the full list of everything:
3 pairs of socks
3 pairs of boardshorts
1 pair of pants
Sarong (for use as towel, etc)
Thermarest ground pad
light sleeping bag
mess kit including knife, spoon, mini can opener
homemade tin can stove and heet for fuel
2 glow sticks
notepad and two pens
camera and extra batteries
cup (plus screen and press for coffee which fit inside the cup)
toothbrush and toothpaste
light first aid kit including sunscreen, chapstick, and some moleskin
hand crank radio/cellphone charger
trusty old nokia phone
matches and lighter
plus not pictured:
A little bit of cash and my ID
nuts and raisons
I can set off tomorrow at 9am and update on the left sidebar of this site by cellphone. I’m trying to work out how to post pics from the phone but so far, I can’t quite get it. Now, I just have to walk 130 miles or so. No problem.
Oahu is the least appreciated of all the Hawaiian Islands, but as far as I’m concerned it is the most wonderful. Not just because it has Honolulu, Waikiki, and the North Shore but because it holds so many beautiful secrets for those who care to look for them. I decided to walk the perimeter of Oahu, a 130 mile trek that I could find no reference of having been done in modern times. (Note actually 227 when walking the shoreline)
Reflecting on my travels.
Well, nothing goes off without a hitch. It’s one of the first rules of vagabonding. So let’s start with the learning experiences. 1) I forgot that this backpack isn’t so great for long trips. I knew this, but I forgot it. Now I remember it. I’ve shifted the load so it’s bearable and am taking breaks as needed to quell the sharp pains in the right side of my neck.
2) My homemade stove works great for boiling water, but the capacity to cook for longer than that is troubling, plus it causes a huge amount of soot…solution eat things that require no cooking or only boiling. Wash frequently.
3) Most troubling, the gizmo I was planning on charging my cellphone with isn’t really doing the job, solution, tweet and text less until I can find one of those AA battery zap chargers.
4) My right ankle apparenttly is lower than my left and its been aching on the edge of my shoe- I just got some Dr. Scholls insoles and used them to raise my right foot a little higher. Problem solved I think.
5) I had planned on uploading my digital pics from the library but the computers are far too slow…so I’ll have to wait. One other thing…ball chaffing…ouch. Not real sure to do about that one except grimace and bear it. Oh yeah, and my pohne labels all my pictures as Xmas! haha.
Okay, now for the good stuff.
Started yesterday at 9:05 from Manoa Sinclair Library. Walked to Waikiki, through Waikiki, past Diamond Head by beach only, through Kahala, Aina Haina, and Hawaii Kai and then camped in a stellar spot with incredible moonlit views. Light rain woke me at midnight and I walked to Sandy’s where I laid on the sand and star gazed at that gorgeous moon some more. Woke up, made coffee and oatmeal, then walked to Waimanalo where I found amazing hidden beaches, met cool tatoo covered people and beautiful local girls, then walked onwards to Kailua…
I’m spending the day at the Malakahana campground and it is totally freaking cool. Walked up to Kahuku high school and public library to use the computers and check email.
Looks like I’m not missing anything though I did get to find out that I recieved a scholarship for fall and passed all my classes for spring. I got a C in 4th level arabic, so I can add that to my other two C’s in Karate and Drawing (I can draw, really, just not the way that teacher wanted me to…as to Karate…well, I’m more of a multi-style guy). So that’s two big reliefs.
I’ve been giving some thought to this walk as I walk. At first I was really in a hurry to get through it so I could get to work for Oahu Nature Tours, but as I walk, I realize, I may never do this again so it is a total shame to hurry through it. That’s partly why I am taking a day to get a little R and R at Malakahana.
The second reason is that the past couple of days really kicked my ass. My feet are angry, the chafing is even worse, and man did I need to let my clothes dry out, wash my shirts, and just kind of enjoy where I’m at for a bit.
I admit, it’s hard not hitting the road right away. A big part of me is like ”’go-go-go”, but I think this is the way to do it. It also gives anyone out there who has considered walking with me a chance to start on Saturday and enjoy Oahu’s beautiful North Shore.
Also, I would be totally stoked if friends came and camped with me tonight- even if they don’t want to walk.
People keep asking me what my cause is or why I’m not doing this for a cause. Does everything have to be for a cause these days? Maybe the cause is more profound than a disease or a charity. Maybe my cause is sublime. Maybe the universe has a cause for me doing this that I’m not privy too. In any event, I’m meeting a ton of people, enjoying this amazing aina, and learning a new respect and love for this place I live. I think that’s cause enough.
The Walk Around Oahu is Completed
Since the last time I sat at a computer here is a brief summary of what went down with my walk around Oahu. I twittered most of it but I suppose that is lost in the twitterverse. Here also are a few photos that I took during the last portions of my walk when the camera on my phone failed.
On Day 5, my friends came up to Malakahana and camped with me. It was relzxing, fun, and interesting. I have to admit that being on the road and spending a lot of time in my own head probably affects me more than I often realize. Did a little nighttime swimming and really enjoyed the camp and the company.
DAY 6 I left at about noon and walked fairly constantly until I reached Pupukea and Sharks Cove. When I was there I grabbed a beer and a bottle of gatorade and rested my feet for a while. Then I began to walk towards Haleiwa to get some dinner.
The Lost incident. This was the only unpleasant encounter I had with another human being on the entire trip. I knew the Lost beach was somewhere around Haleiwa but wasn’t sure and I wanted to get off the road so I walked around a gate and onto a dirt road that looked like it led to the water. Within a minute or so a very stoned looking guy in a white car comes up the road and asks me to stop. He was smoking a cigarette and by all appearances as stoned as I sometimes like to be. This was a young haole guy. He starts to question me in a fairly mellow way while talking on his radio to someone who seemed not so mellow. I asked him, “Did I stumble onto a CIA base or something?” “No,” he said “This is the set of Lost and you are on private property.”
“Sorry, ” I told him, ” I’ll leave”. I was about 100 feet into the property.
“Don’t go anywhere” he told me, ” My boss is coming and he wants to talk to you right here.”
I thought about that for a second and realized that he had no power to detain me and that if I stayed where I was the likelihood of getting trespassing ticket was higher. So after a moment or two of thinking, I turned and walked away, left the property and began to walk on the road to Haleiwa.
That was when Uncle Nasty showed up with his ugly attitude. This guy comes tearing up to me and jumps out of his truck like he is some kind of fat TJ Hooker wannabe and starts accusing me of calling him because I wanted to see the set, I told him he was crazy because I hadn’t called anyone, I tried to apologize and walk away with my heavy pack, blistered feet, and weary legs and he threatened to ‘throw me on the ground and stomp me to shit.’ “You think I won’t” he asked me “You think I won’t beat the crap out of you right now?”
“No,” I replied, “I’m sure you would, I’ve been walking for five days and I’m sure you wouldn’t have any problem. Look, sorry I trespassed, my mistake, I left, I won’t go back, it’s done.”
But he wouldn’t let go, I don’t know if he was smoking ice or what but the guy was crazy, he insisted on seeing my cellphone, tried to call me on the number he claimed had called him, and continued threatening to kill me while telling me how much he loved his job. Whenever I would try to explain he would get in my face and say “Don’t tell me no stupid stories…I know you are one of them..”
“One of who?” I asked him.
“The fucking fans, I know you are one of those fucking fans.” As he said it spit flew from his mouth to my face. This guy seriously hates the fans of the show he works for.
He pulled out a pad and demanded my name, I told him and when he asked me to spell it I spelled it Christ. I swear he mellowed out a little as he wrote Christ.
Finally, I just began to walk away when another car came towards us.
“Hey, there’s your friends”, he said as he moved towards the car filled with nice Canadian looking people. “They’re not my friends, I’m by myself” I told him as he moved over to them, I heard him start yelling immediately and a few minutes later he drove by me with a confused and slightly baffled look on his face. My assumption is that he realized he had been wrong and I hadn’t been lying. The stoned guy stood there smirking while all this went on.
Anyway, he has a direct number to call Christ now.
From there to Haleiwa and a bowl of spaghetti followed by crashing on the beach. Woke up and Shane, a really cool local guy, brought me a cup of coffee.
Beautiful long walk along the deserted North Shore to Ka’ena Point. Stopped and refilled my water at Camp Erdman. Met great people along the trail and as soon as I reached the West Side I met a great family that gave me a soda and some crackers. Ian and Dell and their kids. Continued trekking to Makaha where I bought a beer and a nori wrap at 7-11 and began to make friends with the homeless folks on the beach. They invited me to crash near their camp and I was going to but then Mike Peterson arrived and we drank a bit more and trekked down to Waianai where he bought me dinner.
Slept near camping families on Maili beach, woke, made coffee, ditched my cooking gear, some clothing, the hand crank radio, and more so as to be light and lean. I wanted to cover milage.
People on the West Side are perhaps the friendliest and most open people on Oahu.
I felt lots of Aloha as I walked here until I got to Ko Olina where the homeless camps disappeared and the resorts began. I followed the railroad tracks through the golf courses and eventually ended up in Kapolei where I gorged on food at Wendy’s. I hopped a fence and crossed a huge ditch and followed the tracks further to Ewa. At Ewa I was faced with a choice, a guy at Longs I met named Peter, told me that the only way forward was to go back 4 or 5 miles since ahead lay Iroqouis Point. I chose to trust fate and my wits.
As stated before, the events that took place will be discussed over beers only for security purposes.
As I stepped out towards the Nimitz Highway on the town side of Pearl Harbor/Hickam, I knew I could make it. I threw out my shoes and put on slippers. The walk along the highway showed shantytowns hidden in the nearby bushes. Not as many as were on the West side, but a lot.
I convinced myself that I would end the walk at Aloha Tower but I knew I would have to push on to where I had begun, my little place in Manoa. So I met up with Kate, Hunter, David, Alex, and Lee and drank a few beers at the Tower (a sight for sore feet) and then I walked very quickly back to my place in Manoa. Between the beers and the fact that Hunter had taken my bag to my place in his truck, I was moving. It took me 15 minutes longer to get to Manoa than it took him driving. I had to restrain myself from running.
Lanikai Beach gets all the glory, but if you ask me, the most beautiful beach in the world is just down the road in the town of Waimanalo. Waimanalo is a little cowboy town on the windward side of Oahu. Less than five thousand people, a large number of them Native Hawaiian. The name Waimanalo means ‘good drinking water’.
If you go across the Pali Lookout and into the town of Kailua but then head south, you will come to Waimanalo. If you are coming from the south side of Oahu you will go past Sea Life Park and then Waimanalo will be the next town you come to. Waimanalo is the longest stretch of sandy beach on Oahu and it would connect to Lanikai if it weren’t broken up by Bellows Air Force Station.
Waimanalo is famous for the cowboys (paniolo) and for Akebono (aka Chad Rowan). Akebono was the first non-Japanese to ever achieve the title of yakuzuna, which translates as Grand Master in the Sumo wrestling world. On the south end is the remains of the Anderson Estate which was used in the original Magnum P.I. series. Waimanalo was also where the first prisoner of war taken by U.S. forces was captured during World War II (after the attack on Pearl Harbor).
Waimanalo is a laid back and good natured place. Don’t be shocked to see a lot of homeless camping in certain areas – Waimanalo is one of the few majority Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander areas on Oahu and they are among the hardest hit with being priced out of paradise. Where do you go when you can’t afford to live on the island in the middle of the Pacific where your ancestors lived for thousands of years? Well, you go to Waimanalo or Waianae and you do what you can to survive. It’s a raw deal. The aloha spirit is alive and well in Waimanalo – but I’m sure that plenty of residents wish that the world had never come knocking on Hawaii’s door – or that they could have kept the door closed. In any event, it’s too late now.
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.
I lived in Lanikai once. It’s a bit of a heavenly dream combined with a heavy sadness.
Lanikai is consistently ranked among the top beaches in the world. It’s the only beach in the USA that makes those lists. It’s powdery white sand, the view of the Mokulua Islands, the calm and protected waters sitting like a piece of blue sik encrusted with turquoise jewels. Lanikai is a bit of heaven. The name means Heavenly Sea – but rather than having been named by Hawaiians, this beach was named by savvy haole developer Charles Frazier when he bought the land from Harold Castle and created the Lanikai Subdivision in 1924.
The beach itself is a relatively small strip of sand in a pocket of Kailua town on the windward side of Oahu – while it used to be more than a mile long, erosion and climate change have reduced it to just 1/2 mile of heaven and social media and internet coverage have made it one of the most crowded beaches on Oahu during weekends and holidays – despite efforts by residents and the City and County of Honolulu to discourage people from going there. Those efforts include draconian parking restrictions, fines of $200 and more for illegal parking, and no restrooms, showers, or lifeguards.
Living in Lanikai more than a decade ago was amazing. I’d walk to the beach in the morning or sometimes climb to the famous Lanikai Pillbox before my morning swim. Then home for a shower. Today, the crowds, the parking, the uptight neighbors venting their frustrations at the crowds and the parking – I wouldn’t live there today – even if I coudl afford the $4000/month rent or had the ability to buy one of the median average of nearly $2 million dollar houses in the neighborhood.
The people who live in Lanikai would like nothing better than to make Lanikai a private, residents only, beach. Who can blame them? But Hawaii state law guarantees that all beaches in Hawaii are public access (with a few military exceptions) – so instead they have passed laws that prohibit commercial vehicles or tour companies from dropping off visitors in Lanikai or even stopping on the street for visitors to take pictures of the residence where Barack Obama frequently stays on his vacations to Oahu.
Obama’s stays in Lanikai were at about the same time that Japanese guide books started listing Lanikai as one of the must-see places to visit in the Hawaiian Islands. It wasn’t long before big tour buses began dropping of literal busloads of tourists in the neighborhood. Prior to this, small tour companies and private guides used to bring small groups to Lanikai – companies like Oahu Nature Tours which I used to work for. The small tour groups didn’t bother anyone very much – but the buses and the Obama seeking tourists – it lit a fire under the neighborhood association and since Lanikai is more than a little bit affluent, it wasn’t long before all commercial activity in Lanikai was banned. Not long after, all public parking during holidays and long weekends was banned.
Today, if you want to visit Lanikai – your best bet is to park at Kailua Beach Park and then walk up the hill to the Lanikai Marker (no, it’s not the entrance to the Penis Park) where you get great views of the Mokulua Islands (the Mokes) and Flat Island on the Kailua Beach side. You can also take ‘Da Bus’ into Lanikai from either Honolulu or Kailua.