Travel: Hawaii in one - Oahu

By David Smith

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If you're considering your first trip to Hawaii and have a week or less available, keep it simple - stick to Oahu.

The main island of Hawaii has more than enough features, both man-made and natural, to keep all ages happily entertained for at least seven days, and longer.

While you could quite easily squeeze in a visit to one of the "quieter" islands, it would be at the expense of at least two half-days of your holiday, taking into account time for packing/unpacking, connections, airport protocol and flights. It would also mean adding considerably to your holiday bill.

There is no disputing the neighbour islands are stunningly beautiful, with Maui, Kauai and The Big Island all boasting unique landscapes, magnificent beaches and exotic resorts. However, first-time visitors to Hawaii are better to delay island-hopping for a subsequent holiday when they have more time.

Travellers should be assured they can enjoy a genuine Hawaiian experience on Oahu, despite what those on the neighbouring islands may say.

Oahu is an island of extreme contrasts - from big-city US in Honolulu to backwater beach hideaway at places along the North Shore; ritzy coastal neighbourhoods in Kahala to the working naval port at Pearl City Harbour.

It is also an island with a lot to brag about. It has arguably the most well-known stretch of beach in the world in Waikiki, one of the most famous surf breaks in Banzai Pipeline and Pearl Harbor, one of the most visited World War II memorial sites in the Arizona Memorial. Add to that bountiful shopping outlets and you have a fantastic holiday location.

This was our third visit to Hawaii, but the first time we had considered water sports on Oahu - beyond swimming and surfing.

It was two great snorkelling experiences on the island on the latest visit which reinforced my opinion that Oahu can satisfy the vast majority of holidaymakers, without the need to seek out the waters of say Maui or The Big Island.

Admittedly, Oahu would probably not rate tops for snorkelling, but that's a bit like saying Conrad Smith would not rate the best All Black - he's still blink'n good.

The second and most impressive of our snorkelling tours was on the West Coast with a group aboard the catamaran Kai'Oli'Oli. The tour was primarily marketed for dolphin watching. Unfortunately, the dolphins were swimming somewhere else that day, but a more-than-satisfying consolation was getting to see a humpback whale and her calf mere metres from the boat.

The snorkelling was brilliant - clear water about 8m deep with a group of turtles and an abundance of fish on show. The location was what locals call the Turtle Cleaning Station, where the turtles visit to let fish clean their backs.

SWIMMING up close with turtles was incredible . A bonus was the stability of the catamaran, which handled the small swell extremely well.

The half-day tour, which started with hotel pickup at 6.30am and ended with the drop-off at 1pm, also included breakfast, lunch and drinks (including alcoholic beverages). The cost was US$133 ($165) a person.

For those looking for something a lot cheaper, our earlier snorkelling trip to Hanauma Bay would be ideal.

For US$22 a person (plus US$7.50 entry), we were picked up from our hotel at 7pm and were at Hanauma Bay within 20 minutes. Access is tightly controlled and all visitors are required to go through a short briefing, covering safety and rules, for those swimming and snorkelling at the bay. The bay is shut each Tuesday to give the sea life a break from visitors.

The early start was worthwhile, as we were greeted by clear water and enjoyed an hour and a half of great fun. There was a great range of fish (we didn't see any turtles) and the bay, which was calm and shallow, was ideal for novice snorkellers.

The tour cost included our mask, snorkel and flipper hire, while a bonus was the commentary from our driver Marcio. He was able to point out the private road on Diamond Head (complete with guard house at the foot of it) on which many stars have houses, including Keanu Reeves, whose white house is nicknamed The Wedding Cake. Luxury homes in the area start at about US$2.5 million!

Apparently, according to Marcio (who was told by his cousin, also a driver), Jackie Chan also has a home on the hill and spends about half the year there.

We were back at the hotel by 10.30am, which meant we had plenty of the day left for further exploring, so next up was a trip out to Pearl Harbor. The bell desk at the Outrigger Reef was able to organise a shuttle to pick us up at noon - US$14 return door-to-door.

We could have used local buses for about US$2 but the shuttle meant saving on time, getting us to Pearl in about 35 minutes.

I have been to the Pearl Harbor area three times and each time the improvements have been impressive. The Memorial Museum & Visitor Center serves as the central entrance and ticketing location for all visitors to the four Pearl Harbor historic sites: World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, USS Missouri Memorial, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. We were too late to secure tickets for the Arizona Memorial tour so focused on visiting the Missouri Memorial and the Aviation Museum.

It was my third tour through the USS Missouri and the massive retired battleship still has me in awe. The 271m-long ship was launched in January 1944, starting service in World War II and the following year becoming the site of Japan's surrender to the Allies. She went on to serve in Korea and, after a lengthy time mothballed before a massive refit, in the first Gulf War. Most impressive among her claims to fame: over 22,000 men served on her without one casualty.

THE AVIATION Museum features two World War II-era hangars, 37 and 79, full of magnificent warbirds. Hangar 37 has World War II aircraft, including a North American B-25B Mitchell - famous for being used in the Doolittle retaliatory raids on Japan after the Pearl Harbor attack.

The two hangars hold 22 aircraft and two are in the process of being restored.

Admission to the Missouri is US$22 an adult and US$11 a child (4-12) and entry to the Aviation Museum is US$20 an adult, with children US$10. Under 4s are free.

Both are good value - my first pick would be Mighty Mo.

Our return pickup was at 3pm, which had us back at our hotel in time to soak up the last of the day's sun and enjoy a swim in the sea and the Outrigger Reef's inviting pool. It was a very enjoyable day, with a fun mix of activities.

That's the beauty of Oahu - its diverse range of attractions.

One of its biggest would have to be shopping outlets - with the Waikele Outlet stores (a 30-minute/US$10 return shuttle ride from Waikiki) and Ala Moana Shopping Center boasting enough retail therapy to satisfy any wannabe Paris Hilton.

There are plenty of bargains to be had at Waikele, even accounting for exchange rate fluctuations, with my best buys this time being two pairs of Levis for US$83 and a pair of Nike tennis shoes for US$44.

Ala Moana (a 10min/US$2 tram ride or 25-minute walk from Waikiki) is massive - the largest open-air shopping centre in the world - with more than 290 shops and restaurants open from 9.30am-9pm, Monday to Saturday, and 9am-7pm on Sundays. Just a block away is a large Walmart store, like a Red Shed on steroids. A great place to get cheap cosmetics, according to my "retail analysts".

There's no doubt Honolulu is big city US, but visitors to Oahu can just as easily find peace and tranquillity. Just an hour and-a-half drive away is the North Shore, with its beautiful beaches and quiet little towns. We stayed in a Kiwi-style bach at Sunset Beach five years ago and loved the laid-back atmosphere.

On this trip, I spoke to a San Francisco family who split their week-long Hawaii trip between Waikiki and several nights at Turtle Bay, the North Shore's only major resort. They loved their "relaxed days" on the North Shore, with the Turtle Bay Resort's adjacent lagoon perfect for families with young children.

And for those wanting to get acquainted with the local culture, the Polynesian Cultural Center is just down the road (15 minutes' drive) near the town of Laie.

I have heard comments from people on the neighbour islands describing Oahu as "fake Hawaii", but I've never detected anything phony about the people of the main island.

Those I have met in the tourism industry work extremely hard to make visitors welcome and well accommodated.

Oahu is simply a great place to holiday.

So there you have it - Hawaii in one.

- Hamilton News

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