So the time had come to say goodbye to New Zealand. As we awoke on our last morning in Auckland, a little Tui was singing his heart out in the tree outside our bedroom window, it felt like he was saying goodbye to us. I won’t lie, I was feeling devastated to be leaving the place. It really says something when Hawai’i is your next stop and you’re not feeling too excited about catching your flight there! As we headed along the motorway towards the airport, a family of Pukekos (Emma’s favourites) were picking around in the grass beside the busy road, they wanted to say goodbye too.
As our plane took off, through the window we looked out on our last view of that beautiful coastline, a tiny piece of dust must have got in my eye as it seemed to be watering a little. We were now heading for Sydney once more where we’d catch a connecting flight back on ourselves to Honolulu. It was great to see the city again from our small window on the plane, we could recognise the roads and could just about make out the harbour. Soon we were on another plane heading over the equator back into the northern hemisphere and excitingly for us, over the international date line. For that reason, today was due to be the longest day of our lives. We’d got up at 7:30am that day on the 6th of March in Auckland and after 16 hours of travelling, arrived in Hawai’i at 10:00am on the same day! Yes, pretty hard to get your head around. We’d each eaten 6 meals in one day!
So after some Back to the Future time-travelling, but without a flux capacitor in sight, our plane started its descent to Honolulu airport and we were treated to our first glimpses of mountainous and green Oahu. Just in case you don’t know, Hawai’i is comprised of many islands, the most famous and populous being Oahu. Hawai’i is an American state too remember, so technically we were visiting the USA. As we walked through the airport the legendary Aloha spirit was everywhere, in the smiles and “Alohas!” of the airport staff and in the crazy patterns of their Aloha shirts. Being the hardcore travellers we are, we jumped straight into the deep end and took The Bus (Da Bus if you live here) to our hotel, no taxis or shuttles on our budget, we were going local style for $2.50 each. After 30 minutes on The Bus we’d moved a mile down the road, yes Honolulu traffic is crazy, it’s up there with Saigon, only fewer mopeds! After many more minutes we’d left the big concrete city and were now among the many hotels of Waikiki, home to Oahu’s most famous beach. We had arrived, time to dig out the speedos!
Dumping our bags in our grimy hostel, we headed straight out to get some lunch in us and happened upon a shop called the ABC Store. What a handy little shop we remarked to each other as we tucked into a dirty $1.60 hot dog each and browsed through their extensive collection of souvenirs for sale. Little did we realise that these places are spaced 25 metres apart everywhere in Waikiki! The Limns and the ABC Store were going to get to know each other very well over the next three weeks. With hot dogs in hand we walked down to the beach and sat out on the pristine grass in the shade of a palm tree and munched down on our backpacker-friendly hot dogs. With ketchup, mustard and relish around our mouths we observed that the view was quite incredible. Pristine sand and calm clear water arcing around in a huge bay. Behind us were the many hotels, generally all being quite nice on the eye and out in the distance the giant volcanic mound that is Diamond Head. This is one of those views that everybody is familiar with and it felt very special to be seeing it with my own eyes. I must be honest, I was expecting the place to be a dump, ruined by excessive development and teeming with white sock-wearing tourists in high-waisted shorts with bright white trainers, but despite those tourists and the associated shops and hotels everywhere, I was impressed.
Over the next few days when we weren’t chilling out in the sun we were out exploring the area. We found a quiet beach on one occasion that looked perfect for snorkelling, Emma then noticed the huge Hawaiian dude laid out on the grass being straddled by a muscular midget, oh dear we were on the gay beach, we moved on! Later that day I hired a longboard and made the whole of Waikiki think that Kelly Slater was in town. In my hour in the water fighting through the millions of other newbies trying to catch a wave, I only managed to catch two, I got to my feet though and for the first time started to steer the board (you should be worried Pete Burnett).
With aching muscles, that night we headed to Ono Hawaiian Foods for some traditional grub. You know a place is going to be special when a sign on the door bluntly tells customers to wait out on the street before being invited in to be seated. When the food’s good you don’t have to pamper the punters. We ordered a single combo plate on the waiter’s advice and were glad we did when the generous portions of food came out. It was all brought to the table at once, including the dessert! We had a big bowl of sticky rice, lomi salmon (diced salsa with finely diced raw salmon), pipikaula (“pi-pi-ka-ula”, lightly cured beef that’s still tender and quite spicy), kalua pig (pork slow cooked in an underground oven, absolutely delicious with a smokey aroma), lau lau pig (pork wrapped in taro leaves and steamed until tender, again, delicious). To finish off you get a couple of slices of the divine haupia (“how-pee-a”, a smooth and refreshing coconut jelly). I’m salivating just thinking about the place! Check out this link to get an eyeball of the beautiful food and unassuming restaurant. The walls are adorned with many awards and signatures of celebrities who’ve filled their faces there. A must visit for any adventurous palettes on holiday in Waikiki. It’s seriously ‘broke da mouth’ as the Hawaiians would say!
In the evenings after having watched the sun set over the ocean, Emma liked nothing more than to pretend we were staying in the beautiful and incredibly expensive Royal Hawaiian Hotel, so we’d sit in their peaceful grounds and truly feel like we were in paradise. We’d then head out back into crazy Waikiki, dodging some of the more unsavoury characters that seemed to appear at this time of night and the droves of lost-looking Japanese tourists. I’ve got to be honest here, Waikiki is a lovely place don’t get me wrong, but there’s a serious homeless issue here, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Parks here and in Honolulu are often full of tents, sometimes with whole families living there, quite shocking to see. So there are the innocent homeless (native Hawaiians priced out of homes in their own country), but also those ghost-like figures addicted to crystal-meth walking around and it’s them that frightened the sh*t out of us. Drug dealers are sat about on the back streets offering “Maui wowie” to everyone passing by as though it isn’t illegal and after 10pm the prostitutes all seemed to appear from nowhere. Do the police overlook all of this for the tourist’s enjoyment? I can honestly say that in 10 months of traveling, nowhere has been more intimidating to walk through at night than here. One afternoon when walking back to our hostel, a guy passing us pulled out a flickknife showing us the blade, we thought we were about to be robbed, though he just kept walking straight past us. He must have taken one look at us both and decided that these two skanky backpackers wouldn’t have had anything worth stealing anyway!
To take in some native culture we headed to the Bishop museum to find out about the Hawaiian’s past. It was quite a sad story and as usual old Cook had his role to play, though they got their own back when they quite deservedly killed him! As with the Aboriginals, the Māori, many other Polynesian islands and Hawai’i, Cook’s ‘discovery’ of them brought very little benefit to the native populations. Ultimately the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown and eventually the islands became a US state. We got to find out about the Hawaiian’s traditional way of life, their religion and saw some awesome examples of their art. It was incredible to see the similarities between them and the Māori from New Zealand, ultimately they were the same people just thousands of miles apart. The incredible Polynesians had managed to spread themselves all over the Pacific. A really interesting show at the planetarium there gave an insight into how the early Polynesian explorers navigated the seas using the stars to guide them. It blew my mind how they memorised the night’s sky, noting what stars were in what position and observing how this changed when they sailed to new locations. They literally used the stars as pointers to where they needed to be and with their incredible skill could sail between Tahiti (from where the Hawaiians came) and Hawai’i in just 10 days.
It was now time to see some more of Hawai’i, so on a very rainy day we threw on our backpacks and fought our way onto ‘da bus’ for a convoluted but very scenic journey up to Oahu’s North Shore. Whilst passing through lush green rainforest and some spectacular coastline we were treated to three random conversations with fellow passengers. Each was quick to guess our nationality after we’d spoken and all three said the same thing, “Australian right?”, doh! One guy refused to believe that England was an island and the other said lot’s of stuff I couldn’t understand because he had no teeth. But hey, the journey only cost us $2.50 each. You’ve got to love the characters you meet on public transport.
Oahu’s North Shore is one of the world’s most famous surfing spots and is home of the legendary Pipeline, a surf break that during the winter can see huge and consistently perfect barrel waves form. Despite my abilities on a surfboard being what you might describe as astonishing, or even near-professional (ha ha), there was no way on earth I’d be setting foot in the water here. The waves were absolutely incredible, we’d often sit drinking a lovely macadamia nut flavoured coffee looking out at them, occasionally seeing crazy sea turtles swimming through them. I’ve no idea how any creature could survive being in that water. Out at sea, humpback whales were everywhere, breaching and crashing back down onto the surface all day long, the North Shore is certainly quite special. It’s also like a different world to Waikiki since there are no large hotels, only a handful of places to stay. The locals oppose every new development proposal in their effort to “keep the country country”.
We hired some crappy and very rusty bikes to get around and explored the area as best we could. We stopped at Waimea bay (remember the Beach Boys singing about this place in Surfin’ USA?) to see insane bodyboarders taking on the deadly shorebreak, famous for snapping necks. 10 foot+ waves were coming pounding down onto the beach with nutters swimming into them, the full weight of the water dropping on them and smashing them onto the sand. We were only to happy to watch and the regular announcements from the lifeguards insisting everyone stay well back confirmed that was all we should be doing.
One day we rode a little further out to the biggest town on the North Shore called Hale’iwa (pronounced “Ha-ley-ee-va”). In addition to various shops it’s also home to the Clark Little Gallery. We’d been admiring Clark Little’s pictures on instagram before leaving the UK, his photos are all taken within the barrels of waves, giving an incredible perspective on something you normally wouldn’t dare to go near, be sure to check that link out if you haven’t heard of him, you’ll be amazed! When looking at the pictures remember that’s a human-being taking that photo and bearing the brunt of the wave’s force. We called into the gallery and bought one of his calendars that Emma will chop up and frame the images when we get back (sorry Clark, but we’re backpackers). The waves he’s usually photographing are those at Waimea and some near the Pipeline right where we were staying. He walked past us one night in his wetsuit on his way to the water with some very ineffective camouflage, he had a big rectangle of suncream over his eyes (he’s pretty famous in this neck of the woods), busted! He’s a very cool guy and even thanked Emma on instagram for buying the calendar!
As our time on the North Shore ran out, we became quite nervous of our next stop that we had planned on the west coast in Waianae. The owner of our hostel had advised us not to stay there since it was too dangerous, surprisingly he would be able to accommodate us instead. We declined since we wanted to experience it ourselves, despite being told we would likely be robbed and that the mainly native Hawaiian population would not welcome us. Even the guidebooks were saying similar things, but still the Limns were going to see through their plans despite the crazy 3 hour bus journey needed to get there. But I’ll have to leave it here and Emma can let you know if those terrifying locals did us any harm 🙂
Aloha guys, that’s hello, goodbye and I love you (no homo) and mahalo, thanks for reading.