Waikiki has so many tourist and resort attractions that many visitors spend their entire time in Hawaii there (except for the trip to and from the airport). That makes it easy to get the impression that all of Oahu is paved over and densely packed with high-rises. But once you get away from the urban sprawl of Honolulu and Waikiki, you’ll see that Oahu has as much splendid scenery as any of the other islands.
Click on any picture to see a larger version.
About 15 kilometers past Diamond Head (the eastern boundary of Waikiki)
is Hanauma Bay (“Ha-now-ma,” meaning curved bay).
The bay is a coral reef, where snorkelers can view abundant fish. The
shallow water creates clear turquoise and aquamarine colors. Get there
early, since the bay also has a nice beach that’s quite popular.
Further up the coast are several lookouts over Makapuu Beach
(“Ma-ka-poo-oo”). The beach itself is famous for body-surfing,
with waves reaching 4 meters and higher during the winter. That might
explain the name of the beach, which means bulging eyes. But it’s
a nice calm swimming beach during the summer. It’s also a popular place
for hang gliding. Offshore is an old volcanic crater formally called
(“Ma-na-na,” meaning buoyant), but popularly known as
Rabbit Island. An entrepreneur brought rabbits to the island in 1890.
Since Hawaiians were not particularly fond of rabbit stew, the business
rapidly failed. But the lagomorphs multiplied until 1994, when
biologists removed the rascally rabbits to create a sea bird sanctuary.
There are several other beach parks north of Makapuu, which provide
different views of the ocean, Rabbit Island, and the adjacent island
known only by its tongue-twisting Hawaiian name, Kaohikaipu
Another scenic beach park on the windward (east) coast is Kualoa
(“Koo-ah-low-ah,” meaning long back). It has been featured
in numerous advertising photos. Its distinctive off-shore island is
officially called Mokolii (“Moe-ko-lee-ee,” meaning little
lizard). But it’s more often called by its politically-incorrect
popular name, the Chinaman’s Hat.
The Pali Highway is an inland route from Honolulu to the Windward Coast.
The main attraction (for which the highway is named) is the Nuuanu
Pali (“New-oo-ah-new Pah-lee”) Lookout. The name means
cool high cliff, and it’s exactly that: 361 meters above sea
level and very windy. The constant winds can be brutal, but the
panoramic view of much of the Windward coast is worth risking the loss
of your hat. Looking the other way, it also offers a very nice view of
the mountainous interior of Oahu. Nuuanu Pali was where the defenders of
Oahu made their last stand against Kamehameha in 1795. Kamehameha’s
warriors threw hundreds of Oahu warriors over the cliff in a decisive
victory that completed his conquest of all the islands.
A bit inland from the Windward coast is an exact replica of the Byodo-In Buddhist Temple in Uji, Japan. The temple represents the Amida sect, which regards the Buddha as the deified bringer of enlightenment to mankind. Like its Japanese counterpart, the temple is built of precisely-fitting wood without the use of nails. Metal nails symbolize industry and war, and are thus inimical to meditation. Inside is a 3-meter-tall gold Buddha sitting in meditation on a lotus flower. Outside is a Japanese garden, complete with a pond full of carp (basically overgrown gluttonous goldfish) that swarm when visitors feed them bread crumbs.
Malaekahana Beach (“Ma-lye-ka-ha-na”) is near the northern end of the Windward coast. About 300 meters offshore is an islet called Mokuauia (“Moe-koo-ow-ya,” meaning island to one side), or Goat Island. Like most of the islets off the Oahu shore, it’s an uninhabited bird sanctuary.
Continuing up the Windward coast leads past the northern tip of Oahu to the north shore and Haleiwa (“Ha-lay-ee-vah,” meaning home of attractive people). In the winter the big waves make the beaches there among the world’s best places for surfing. Even in the off-season the waves can be impressive; the vigilant lifeguards certainly earn their money.
Although Oahu is the most developed and urbanized of the Hawaiian
islands, much of its land is either agricultural or undeveloped. All
kinds of strange and interesting plants and trees from all over the
world grow throughout Hawaii. You can see them growing wild along the
road, cultivated as crops, or in a pickup truck on their way to
someone’s dinner table.
Visit other Island pages: