So you’re going to Hawaii. Perhaps for the first time? Well, here’s a word of advice: holo-holo.
Holo-holo is Hawaiian for “around and about,” and that’s just where you should be going.
If you’ve been to Hawaii’s principal island of Oahu before, you may well realize there’s a lot to do throughout the island. But if you’re a malihini - a first-timer - the temptation might be to spend all your time baking on the beach in Waikiki. And that would be too bad.
I’m not a Waikiki basher - I’ll leave that to the sophisticates, actual and pseudo. Sure, the area is T-shirty and touristy - what else could it be with an average of 90,000 visitors a day? But in the 10 years that I’ve been coming to Hawaii, I’ve found Waikiki more pleasant with every visit. Its streets are cleaner and more flower-filled, its traffic pattern more sensible and its signs are more legible.
Waikiki can be a delight for shoppers, diners and entertainment lovers, and it has fine hotels in all price ranges. It also has Waikiki Beach (a series of beaches, actually), which didn’t gain international fame for nothing. But Waikiki is less than 1 of Oahu’s 608 square miles, so when the tourism people boast that “the beach is just the beginning,” they’re not just whistling “Aloha Oe.”
On Oahu, you can go up in the air or down into the sea. You can view spectacular scenery from a car, a van, a tour bus or a just-plain bus. You can ride a trolley to some of the island’s most popular destinations and get a narrated tour while you’re at it. You can climb a historic crater or hike through a lush landscape. You can ride a horse. You can swim and snorkel while viewing brilliantly colored fish. And you can be introduced to a variety of Polynesian cultures while having a memorable feast.
Here then, distilled from my decade of visits to Hawaii every other year or so, is a sampling of ways to go holo-holo on Oahu. (Costs are for adult admissions. Many attractions have a range of prices, from few frills to luxury.)
‘Round and ‘round
I never visit Oahu without circling the island, usually in a rental car but sometimes on a tour (cost: about $20 to $55). Frankly, I get a kick out of the patter of the tour directors and the reactions of fellow passengers. I do prefer a tour van to a bus, though, because while it may cost more, you can see more, hear more and do more during the 5-8 hours that a good tour takes. (One of my trips, from E Noa, added a picnic lunch, snorkeling lessons at Turtle Bay and admission to Waimea Valley, where nature and cliff divers show off a little.) You won’t see a lot of hotels and souvenir shops - oh, you’ll find some; tourism, after all, is Hawaii’s bread and poi - but you will see the kind of Oahu scenery I never tire of:
Lovely-to-look-at Hanauma Bay (which now severely restricts tour vehicles; you’d best get there by car or public bus), where by snorkeling, or just sticking your face just a few inches into the water, you can see dozens upon dozens of magnificently colored and patterned fish.
Tiny isles such as Rabbit Island, where by straining your imagination, you can make the land mass resemble a rabbit’s head. Better known is Chinaman’s Hat, which clearly resembles a conical Chinese hat of old.
Curiosities of nature such as The Halona Blowhole, where the ocean surges through a lava tube and ends up in a tidal basin, resulting in a mini-geyser.
The Koolau and Wainae mountains, with their green tops often shrouded in swirls of mist.
Sugar cane fields, and fields of pineapples growing in deep red soil. They’re still there for the seeing, even though the pineapple business is diminishing in Hawaii (it’s cheaper to have them grown and picked in countries such as the Philippines) and pineapple giant Dole has gotten deeply into the Oahu tourism business with shopping-dining complexes called Dole Cannery Square and Dole Plantation.
Golf courses. The island has 26.
The North Shore. Here are the surfing beaches of legend, Sunset Beach and the Bonzai Pipeline. Here, too, are little towns such as Haliewa - a combination of Old Hawaii and Surf City, with its little Japanese grocery and variety stores and its surfing culture, mostly starring young men and women who seem to glow with vitality.
Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial, which is Hawaii’s most-visited attraction for reasons that go far beyond the fact that it’s free. A moving film about the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941, is followed by a boat ride to the memorial, which spans the sunken ship Arizona, where more than 1,000 servicemen are still entombed and where drops of oil, called “rainbow tears,” still float to the surface.
Just across the parking lot from the Arizona Memorial is the USS Bowfin Museum & Park, a $7 attraction that includes a walk through the submarine that was nicknamed the Pearl Harbor Avenger.
Seeing the sea
You don’t have to go deep-sea fishing - although you certainly can, at about $100 a person for a full day - to enjoy the waters that surround Oahu. There are:
Glass-bottomed boats, which allow a look at the undersea creatures and give you a chance to feed them.
Lunch and sunset cruises (about $25 to $150) on a variety of vessels ranging from the twin-hulled Navatek to the Windjammer, a onetime cargo vessel converted to look like a ship of old. Some of these cruises are more upscale, but on almost all you can count on food, entertainment and a look at Honolulu from the sea.
For lovers of the lore of the sea, there is the Hawaii Maritime Center ($7), with exhibits ranging from the kind of canoe that the Polynesians first came to Hawaii in to the Falls of Clyde, the world’s only four-masted sailing tanker.
Snorkeling and diving expeditions, at $25-$75. (Atlantis Reef Divers stresses a commitment to the environment; divers pick up any rubbish found underwater).
And for those who want to go even deeper, a ride in a 96-foot, 64-passenger Atlantis submarine. The sub goes to a depth of about 100 feet, and you’re certain to see exotic fish. (About $80-$100.)
Sea Life Park Hawaii ($19.95). The park has performing dolphin and sea lion shows of the type that you may have seen elsewhere. But it also is home to more than 4,000 forms of marine life.
Beaches other than Waikiki. There are plenty of them, such as the aforementioned North Shore beaches. Ala Moana Beach Park, just a mile or so from Waikiki Beach, is a favorite of many Oahu residents, and of mine, too.
Up and away
Many visitors who have taken helicopter rides on neighbor islands haven’t considered taking one on Oahu. But there are spectacular sights here, too. (Cost: $79-$187.) My ride in a six-passenger copter provided fresh perspectives on Diamond Head, The National Military Cemetery of the Pacific and the Arizona Memorial, among other spots. And it felt pretty special to be riding among the rainbows.
Another option is a glider excursion from Dillingham Field on the North Shore. The three-seater sailplane gives a good look at the northern coastline, and the ride is fully narrated ($60 for one passenger and $90 for two). Or, a short flight gets you to a neighbor island, where you can see volcanoes (on the Big Island), an old shipping town (on Maui) or a fern grotto (Kauai). Fly-drive packages for a day begin at about $100.
Cityscapes. Honolulu holds a lot of history. Iolani Palace ($4 for a tour) is the only royal palace on American soil. The Aloha Tower (currently being renovated) stands as a proud reminder of the days when the sight of it told Matson Liner passengers that they had almost reached these enchanted islands. The Foster Botanic Garden (just $1) has 20 acres of tropical plants and flowers. Chinatown is no longer just Chinese, and holds a colorful collection of markets, lei stands and restaurants run by Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Hawaiian and Caucasian (or haole, in local parlance). And the Honolulu Academy of Arts ($4 donation) has 30 galleries of Asian, European, American and Pacific art from various eras.
If you’re akamai (savvy) you can take a city bus to just about anywhere on the island, for 85 cents - exact change, please. A popular method for tourists to get to these places is the Waikiki Trolley. For $15, an allday pass lets you get on and off at any or all of its 20 stops, or you can just stay on for a 2-hour narrated tour.
Take a hike. With foliage and flowers and mountains just minutes from Waikiki, Hawaii is definitely hiking territory, with groups such as the Hawaii Nature Center, Audubon Society and Sierra Club conducting many walks. The Mauka Trail System offers 17 hikes ranging from the quarter-mile Tantalus Arboretum Trail to the 3.4-mile Manoa Cliff Trail.
And if you’re not a hiker but a walker, there are on-foot tours of Chinatown ($4), Old Honolulu ($5) and Old Waikiki (free to $7).
Culture can be fun (and tasty, too): For a newcomer, the Polynesian Cultural Center is a “must see.” On display are the arts, crafts and traditions of seven Polynesian cultures. There are games and boat rides and, in the evening, a luau and show that includes the kind of fire dancing you definitely shouldn’t try at home. (From $25 for all-day admission to $87 for a package that includes choice of meal and VIP show seating.
Even luaus (about $45-$65), which every first-time visitor seems to want to attend, can be cultural as well as filling. There is history along with the hoke.
You won’t get epicurean delights with your culture at the Bishop Museum ($7.95). But you will find exhibits on all things Hawaiian - from feather leis to a collection of 6 million seashells - along with rotating exhibits and hands-on displays for youngsters.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: IF YOU GO Flight-hotel packages for a week in Hawaii begin at around $700 and can go up to three times that amount or more for an ocean-view room in a luxury hotel on the beach. Even the basic packages usually include a comfortable room (but probably a small one) in a hotel a short walk from the beach, a lei greeting and transportation to and from the airport. Prices for attractions are, of course, lower for children and often for seniors, and can cost less when bought in combination packages such as a dinner cruise and a Waikiki show. And discount coupons are often readily available. For more information, write to the Waikiki and Oahu Visitors Association, 1001 Bishop St., Suite 477, Pauahi Tower, Honolulu, HI 96813 or call (800) OAHU-678 or (808) 524-0722.