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OAHU - The Gathering Place
Aloha! Let’s talk Hawaii. I never really felt drawn to it for some reason. Sure, it looked gorgeous and exotic on TV and film but there always seemed to be somewhere better to go when it came time to travel. Somewhere I would need my passport. Somewhere more exotic than a U.S. state, for sure! There are beautiful beaches within driving distance of where I live now so seeking that out in Hawaii just seemed too far to go. Volcanoes? I could find those in Central America, if I wanted. Good food? Well, that’s just about everywhere. When I was offered the opportunity to experience the islands, I hesitantly said yes, not knowing that I would soon be very much taken aback by the beauty and culture of our 50th state. Flash forward two Hawaiian Islands later, Oahu & Kauai, and I am happy to report that I am now a believer. And a newly certified Hawaii Specialist and Oahu Master Specialist, to boot!
For a blissful five days, Delta Vacations and the Oahu Visitors Bureau (OVB) showed a group of 10 other consultants and myself exactly why Oahu is so much more than Waikiki and Pearl Harbor. It was easy to convince us to extend our client stays in Hawaii to include this dynamic and energetic island. You could visit for a week or more and still not see everything it has to offer. I really was pleasantly surprised and beginning to realize just how different the islands are and why each one is seen as a destination within a destination.
We started our grand tour in one of the most iconic spots on the island of Oahu – Waikiki Beach. Never a sleepy surfer haven by any means, Waikiki Beach has been revitalized in the last couple years and I have been told that it is better than ever. With tons of restaurants and plenty of unique shopping opportunities, it is a modern, contemporary city with an incredible view of Le Ahi, more commonly known as Diamond Head. I will never forget entering the room at our first hotel, the chic and new Alohilani Resort, and seeing the perfectly framed Diamondhead through the glass balcony doors. Knowing that this was also one of the first things that the Polynesian settlers saw upon their own arrival to the islands centuries ago made it seem even more special.
With dozens of beach side resorts (no beach front here, but it is right across the street!), there is something for every travel style and budget. You will find that it is easy getting around on foot. Unlike the other islands, renting a car is not absolutely necessary here but it is recommended for a day or two so that you can get out and see the sights on the rest of the island. It is a great way to see the contrast between each side of the island, too – the Leeward (west) Coast vs. the Windward (east) Coast. Dry versus temperate, both have incredibly impressive scenery. I felt like I was on another planet at times. There are many parts of the island that are still undeveloped, so it has pristine landscape for those looking for the untouched. You should also plan to visit the very popular North Shore, where surfers come to test their abilities against some of the largest waves in the world. All in all, Oahu is extremely photogenic!
For first time visitors, I suggest the “Town & Country” approach to an itinerary. Spend a few days in “town” or Waikiki and then venture out to a place like the Ko’olina resort area on the Leeward side of the island for a more rural experience. You can enjoy the vibrant and energetic city life and then lose yourself in the natural beauty and quiet beaches of Hawaii. No matter where you are, however, you will always encounter the “Aloha spirit.” This concept of treating everyone like family was exemplified everywhere we went and the level of service and courtesy extended to us was both amazing and infectious. Smiles abound.
Now, Hawaii is not just for those looking for a beach chair in the sand. There are so many activities to keep you moving. We only enjoyed a small taste of what is available, but I can tell you that I was afraid to blink and miss out on something fantastic! We snorkeled with dolphins and sea turtles on a catamaran excursion one day and the next we were rolling through the ranch where they filmed Jurassic Park, Hunger Games, LOST and King Kong (plus many others!) in a big old school bus. Outdoor enthusiasts will also find fishing, horseback riding, ATV excursions, ziplining, and surfing to keep them busy. Of course, food is plentiful and the culinary scene in Honolulu and other parts of the island is quite unique. Lots of Asian inspired seafood dishes in addition to the local cuisine such as poi, lau lau, fish stew and so much more. For a sweet treat, be sure to visit the famous Leonard’s bakery in Honolulu for their fried malasadas topped with cinnamon and sugar…Hawaii’s own version of a beignet. Delicious!
Our base for the “country” part of our itinerary was Disney’s Aulani Resort, which is right next door to the Four Seasons in the developed resort area of Ko Olina. I have to say, at first glance, I did not feel like I was at a Disney property. And I loved that! Sure, there were children running around everywhere and once in a while it would feel a bit kitschy but overall, the classic Hawaiian décor easily masked the fact that I was indeed at a Disney property. This resort was quite literally a destination within a destination within a destination. With a huge water park, complete with a lazy river, and lots of dining and entertainment options, you could stay several nights and never have to leave! Activities are available throughout the day or you can get out and explore. It is the perfect base due to its central location about an 45 minutes north of Honolulu & Waikiki.
We ended our adventure back on the south shore of the island at the infamous Kahala Hotel & Resort, located on the far side of Diamond Head, about a 10 minute drive from bustling Waikiki. This property is perfect for guests looking for a quiet, relaxing and exclusive experience. The Kahala is well known for being THE place to stay by movie stars, government officials – including past Presidents, and musical artists. It was very “lifestyles of the rich and famous.” The resort has one of the best beaches around, too. All the beaches in Hawaii are public but the one here had an almost private feel to it because of the lack of pedestrian traffic. The amazing sun rise views cannot be beat, either.
By the end of my visit, the island had definitely won me over with its dramatic landscape, the diversity of its people in an East meets West dynamic, and the endless opportunities to explore - historically, culturally and physically. The highlights of my trip were snorkeling with sea turtles, Waikiki beach and all the delicious food. Hawaii was exotically familiar and perfect for those wanting a comfortable escape. Oahu was such a fantastic introduction to the Hawaiian Islands and I regret not visiting sooner! I look forward to returning to continue my exploration of this amazing state!