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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Never, never land

If all you’ve seen on the island of Oahu are traffic jams, high rises and the airport, the time has come to get out and explore

John Dodge I The Olympian

A recent trip to the Hawaiian island of Oahu served as a reminder of why I should never say “never.” This marked my third visit to the Aloha State, but the first time I’ve ever seen more of Oahu than Honolulu International Airport.

In 1978, I immediately hopped over to the big island of Hawaii and spent 10 glorious days exploring the island in a Toyota pickup camper equipped with a bed, cook stove and refrigerator. With a bed on wheels, I roamed the island freely, from the sunny Kona Coast to the lava-oozing Kilauea volcano.

I returned a year later, this time to explore Kauai, including a three-day hike of the 11-mile Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali coastline. We hiked this slender thread of a trail that clings to cliffs soaring up to 4,000 feet above the ocean during the rainy season – a risky way to avoid company on this spectacular trail to Kalalau Beach.

Behind each visit stood my steadfast belief that an Oahu experience was synonymous with big-city traffic jams in Honolulu, high-rise hotels and the tourist trappings of Waikiki Beach. Why come to paradise to inhale vehicle exhaust or visit beaches teeming with gawky tourists?

“I’ll never stay on Oahu,” I used to say to myself with conviction. But after a week’s stay on Oahu, I can’t say that anymore.

Oahu was the destination of my travel companion, who was born on the island before Hawaii was a state and returns as often as she can to visit her 93-year-old mother, who lives in a nursing home in a suburb of Honolulu. I tagged along, and I’m glad I did.

We rented a daylight basement apartment in a home in the East Oahu neighborhood of Lanikai, about 15 miles as the myna bird flies from Honolulu and just two blocks from Lanikai Beach.

The tropical white-sand beach and turquoise blue waters, framed by the two offshore Mokulua Islands on the island’s windward side, are a sight for sore eyes and a great place to watch the sun rise.

Lanikai is right next door to Kailua, a scenic oceanfront community. Kailua is blessed with a beautiful beach available to all at Kailua Beach Park and a stunning backdrop provided by the Koolau Mountains, a 37-mile-long range of jagged, lush green peaks that spear the cloud formations and typically bring a bit of afternoon rain to the windward side of the island.

The views of Koolau, Lanikai, Kailua and the ocean stretching to Molokai Island in the distance is there for all to see from the 500-foot Kaiwa Ridge above Lanikai Beach. The trail is steep and rocky and surrounded by Koa Haole trees, an invasive plant that looked like Hawaii’s version of scotch broom.

Armed with binoculars, we could see humpback whales breaching in the waters beyond the Mokulua Islands.

Kaiwa Ridge is punctuated with two pill boxes that were strafed by Japanese war planes the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. Today they are covered with graffiti and appear to be used for teen parties.

Another day was spent on the island’s infamous North Shore, mecca to surfers and home to many Hawaii natives fighting to keep the creep of development from overrunning their piece of the island.

We snorkeled amid the rocks and coral in Sharks Cove, observing several species of tropical fish, but none of the white tipped reef sharks that sometimes call on the cove.

I played golf three times, including a round at Olamana Golf Links, a public course played by President Barack Obama during his family vacation on Oahu in December.

As one memorable experience piled on top of another – seemingly a world removed from Honolulu – Hawaii’s most populated island began to grow on me.

We carried around a copy of the Hawaii Audubon Society’s “Hawaii’s Birds” to familiarize ourselves with endemic, indigenous and alien species that frequent Oahu.

My vote for most unusual bird seen goes to the common moorhen, a wetlands bird endemic, or native, only to Hawaii. Its frontal shield and base of the bill are red, the tip of the bill is yellow, the body is olive brown and its large, greenish feet aren’t webbed, which allows it to walk across floating vegetation.

The bird is credited with bringing fire to the Hawaiian people, according to legend.

Falling in the too-common-to-count category were the myna, golden plover, Java sparrow and red-crested cardinal.

We breakfasted each day on papayas and apple bananas and dined at night on ahi, mahi-mahi and other tropical fish. I might have exceeded my mercury dosage for the week.

The February edition of Conde Nast’s travel magazine had a two-page spread that features a map of Oahu locating the places where Obama and his family play, eat, visit and stay when he returns to Oahu, home for him from his youth through high school years. Turns out I visited five of Obama’s favorite haunts on my first visit.

My new Oahu mantra goes like this: If it’s good enough for Obama, it’s good enough for me.

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