Ancestral home of the Hawaiian kings, the Hawaiian island Oahu lives up to its nickname. With a population of 836,00 people, it holds three-quarters of the population of the entire chain of islands. Most of them live in Honolulu, the state capital, which sprawls across the valley east of the infamous Pearl Harbour.
During its history, the islands of Hawaii, and Oahu in particular, have been forced to import labour from abroad. This has resulted in a unique blend of races, in which none has a majority. Although there are occasional flare ups1, these people get along in a harmony that is an example to the rest of the world.
Being a tropical island, Oahu's weather is, well, tropical. There are only two seasons. Kona is the rainy season, which runs approximately from November to March. The rest of the year doesn't have a name, and it is very nearly as rainy. There is a saying among the locals - 'If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes, or go to another side of the island.' A twenty-minute drive over the Pali Highway can potentially take you through three distinctively different types of weather. Locals joke about the 365-day forecast: Highs in the mid 80's, partly cloudy, windward and mauka2 showers, trade winds from the north east at 10-20 mph.
This is not to discourage the casual traveller, in fact just the opposite. It rains frequently, but rarely lasts for more than 15 minutes, and it is generally a warm, drizzly, refreshing type of rain. Then it passes on, the clouds break, the suns comes out, and the famous Hawaiian rainbows fill the sky.
Things to Do and See
Travellers to this fair island should be forewarned, there is nothing cheap here3. Prices and cost of living are very high, so bring plenty of money for this trip.
As with any urban environment, there are all the comforts of home here. Ample shopping and dining faculties are available. Hotels are plentiful, and there are tons of resources for vacationers to delve into some of the features of the island. Some of the things to see:
A dead crater located at the south east corner of the island. It's a long, hot, tiring climb to the top, but the view from there is spectacular. Don't forget your camera, and bring a flashlight.
Also on the south east side, this secluded bay abounds with fish life, drawn in by the promise of free food from tourists. Rent a snorkel and mask, and swim out beyond the rocks 4, and you will find yourself immersed in a gorgeous scene of rich sea corals and reef animals. Sea turtles sometimes wander in as well, and these affectionate beasts will come right up to you for a closer look. It is illegal to actually touch the turtles, since they are a protected species, but somebody forgot to inform the turtles, and the scuba police have been rather lazy of late.
Still used as a naval facility, two monuments located here are open to the public. They represent the Alpha and the Omega of World War II for the US. The Alpha is the USS Arizona Memorial. This once mighty battleship was left at the bottom of the harbour, just as it fell on 7 December, 1941, during the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbour. The bodies of the sailors trapped inside lie there still, as a silent reminder of the horrors of war. Thousands of Japanese tourists visit this memorial every year.
The Omega is the USS Missouri, moored a stone's throw away at Ford Island. It was on the decks of the Missouri that the Japanese surrender was signed, thus bringing World War II to an end. The Missouri was only recently towed to Pearl Harbour to begin duty as a tourist attraction. The weather decks were opened for tourism in December 1998, and the interior will be opened once preservation efforts are complete. A small dent in the ship's hull is visible on the starboard side if you lean way over the rails. A kamikaze pilot vainly threw his life away to cause that little dent.
Polynesian Cultural Center
There are tons of luaus, a traditional Hawaiian party, on the island, but this is the one to see.
Fabled home of incredible waves, but this only occurs for about three months of the year... and even then your chances are somewhat iffy. During the rest of the year, the shore is very placid, and is an excellent spot for beach goers who want to avoid Waikiki beach (for good reason) and scuba divers. Waimea Bay is the place to go for tanning and playing around in the surf. There's also a huge 30-foot rock that serves as an excellent dive platform, if you're up to the danger. Shark's Cove is an excellent scuba or snorkel spot, with lots of tiny caves to explore.
Scuba divers looking for a unique experience should check out this well kept secret on the western shore. A swim of about 200 metres will bring you to the enormous hot water exhaust vents provided by the electric plant just inland of the beach. The turbulence and heat disgorged by the vents creates a circus environment for both the diver and the local fish population.
Much harder to find than the better known Waimea Falls, and this is their charm. The hike is a bit more than a mile of scenic rainforest, culminating with the small, yet attractive waterfall. The best thing about it is that there will be hardly a soul around, unlike the overpopulated Waimea trek.