We’d always planned to visit Hawai’i. And last spring, we finally decided to make it happen. For months I poured over every detail from the resort to the excursions to our self-drive Circle Tour. And even after multiple protocol changes and having to delay our trip by a month, it was worth every minute of angst.
Hawai’i is an archipelago consisting of eight main islands, seven of which are inhabited. For this trip, we focused on O’ahu. If the DH and I were traveling sans kids, I would have probably chosen Maui or Kauai. But I knew in O’ahu there would be plenty to keep everyone engaged. This trip was everything we hoped it would be and more. I hope you enjoy this recap of our activities.
Tennessee is four hours ahead of Hawai’i and jet lag is real. But we used that in our favor. On our second day, we scheduled an early morning Turtle Snorkel, which offered spectacular views of the island, as well as a few turtle friends.
USS Arizona Memorial (Pearl Harbor)
This was quite a sobering visit. We prepared the kids about what to expect and reinforced the importance of conducting themselves appropriately. As the Park Ranger pointed out, this is not an attraction, but a national cemetery much like Arlington National Cemetery.
December 7, 2021, will mark the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that sank the USS Arizona, many other ships in the Pacific Fleet, and killed more than 2,400 people. Officially known as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, I encourage you to think about those who lost their lives during the attack by the Japanese armed forces. As unfortunate as this was, had the US not intervened in World War II, life as we know it would not exist.
Self-guided audio tours are available and you can move at your own pace. We spent two and a half hours there, but you could certainly spend hours more.
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Nu’uani Pali Lookout
Pali Lookout – as it is commonly known – offers sweeping views of the island. On the day we visited, we were blessed with clear skies and could see for miles around. I am still in awe!
Halona Blowhole Lookout
This one made me chuckle. I’d seen pictures and videos of water gushing 10 feet in the air, so had high expectations when we visited. After waiting for what seemed like forever, with other families doing the same, we did see some sea spray which doesn’t even show up in the photos below. lol!
You may not have ever visited Kualoa Ranch, but I guarantee you’ve seen it. It is a 4,000-acre private nature reserve and working cattle ranch, and the filming location of a number of Hollywood blockbusters and tv shows including Jurassic World, Jumanji, and Lost. We spent an entire day here and thoroughly enjoyed every minute.
On the Jungle Expedition Tour, Uncle Leonard took us on a tour of the Hakipu`u “Jurassic” rain forest while recapping the ranch’s history. The tour included stops at popular filming sites, and one of the highest peaks for a scenic view.
On the Ocean Voyager Tour, we had to cross Secret Island – formed hundreds of years ago when the Native Hawaiian people walled off a section of the ocean to create a fishing pond – to board a catamaran. We sailed right into a squall which made for a pretty rough ride. The captain had a great sense of humor, which the teen enjoyed tremendously and rode it out on the upper deck with him. In spite of being soaked and cold, we spotted turtles in the open ocean, and received a crash course in the fish and oysters raised in the fish pond.
Our ATV Raptor Tour was a great way to end the day. The guides took us to the remote areas of Ka’a’awa “Jurassic” Valley as well as the lush Hakipu’u rainforests with more stops at popular filming locations. We were told the ancient stories about how the Kualoa and Ka’a’awa mountain ranges were formed.
At the very end of this tour, the ATV immediately in front of us flipped over. The driver turned the corner with too much speed. It was like we watched this happen in slow motion without the ability to prevent it. The guides swooped in swiftly to release and evaluate the driver and passenger. Thankfully they were OK, just minor bruises. Scary as this was, I was very impressed with how efficiently the guides handled this incident. With the utmost care, they were able to get the information they needed for documentation while showing compassion to the passengers.
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Green World Coffee Farm
Green World Coffee Farm and its retail coffee shop sits on 7 acres on O’ahu’s North Shore. The farm is home to more than 3,000 arabica coffee trees. We toured the garden, sampled the coffee, and brought home a bag of freshly ground Macadamia Nut coffee beans. YUM!
Hawai’i produces approximately 10% of the world’s pineapples, many of which are grown at the Dole Plantation.
Fun Fact: The Bahamas has several pineapple farms on the island of Eleuthera, and as part of Social Studies classes, every elementary student learns how pineapples are grown. So visiting the Dole Plantation was a special experience. The grounds are immaculate, encompassing a large fish pond and seating areas for relaxation.
There is a trolley ride through the plantation, the world’s largest pineapple garden maze, food counter, and gift shop. A little touristy, very crowded, but definitely worth the visit. Especially if you’re on the hunt for authentic, handmade Hawaiian Christmas ornaments. 😉
If there’s an adrenaline-fueled activity, the teen is all over it! The China Walls are a lava rock formation at Koko Kai Mini Beach Park. To say this is off the beaten path is an understatement. The entrance is in the middle of a neighborhood, but is nevertheless a popular spot with locals and visitors.
The waves were fairly calm when we visited both times. However, sea swells can be very intense, washing swimmers away when they try to climb back up. Visit with caution.
The sunrises and sunsets on the island were all spectacular, but especially at China Walls. The reflection on the water was breathtaking and cast greenish hues on the rocks thanks to the presence of a semi-precious stone called Olivine.
We made quite a few friends on the rocks, cheering the brave ones on, and encouraging those having to dig deep for courage. As for me, I was the videographer. 🙂
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Polynesian Cultural Center
The Polynesian Cultural Center on O’ahu’s North Shore is a living museum on 42 breathtaking acres. The center is divided into the Hukilau Marketplace for shopping and dining, and the six islands that tell the story of the Polynesian people through traditional hands-on activities: Hawai’i, Tonga, Samoa, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Fiji, and Tahiti. Our favorite activities included choosing Fijian tribal tattoos, watching a cultural presentation in Samoa, spear throwing in Tonga, paddling a Tongan-inspired outrigger canoe, and learning to use poi balls in Aotearoa.
Visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center requires a full day. By the time you’ve explored the six islands, it’s time for the luau. There are various ticket tiers, and we had the Ali’i Luau, which provided seats fairly close and center to the stage. As we enjoyed a traditional Hawaiian feast complete with roast pig from the imu, Auntie Sia told the story of Hawai’i and Queen Lili’uokalani. The Hula dancers and sweet Hawaiian melodies were captivating. At the end, children were invited onstage to learn a simple Hula dance and empowered to hold steadfast in an ever-changing world.
The evening culminates with the the show HA: Breath of Life. It tells the story of Mana’s birth, his journey into manhood, and the realization that the breath of life goes on forever. Scores of hula dancers, warriors, and fire dancers converge on stage in a magnificent display. Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed.
My biggest tip regarding the Polynesian Cultural Center is to plan this day toward the end of your trip when jetlag has subsided. While enjoyable, it is a very long day. The activities are very family-oriented and would be ideal for kids of all ages.
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We ended our trip with a 111′ dive on the Atlantis XIV, O’ahu’s only submarine adventure, and the world’s largest recreational submarine. The boat ride to the sub provided unobstructed views of Diamond Head Crater. We saw turtles and an abundance of fish at the dive site. You’ll note the subdued colors which are a result of UV rays not being able to penetrate this deeply.
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I cannot say enough good things about our visit, the warmth of the Hawaiian people, the natural beauty of the land, and the Spirit of Aloha that surrounded us everywhere we went. If Hawai’i is on your radar, I encourage you to go for it! I promise, you won’t regret it.
Stay tuned for a recap of where we stayed.
How we spent one week on O’ahu / Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort
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