I was waiting on a bench outside the car rental shop in Honolulu when an employee called my name. I looked up as she dangled some car keys and pointed to a burnt orange Mustang convertible. “We’re giving you an upgrade. Mahalo!” she says as she hands me the keys and a plumeria flower, commonly found in a Hawaiian lei. I couldn’t help but have the biggest grin on my face. The car was absolutely absurd, but easily one of the highlights of my trip to O'ahu.
The Mustang, or “The Stang” as we nicknamed it, gave me the ultimate freedom. I cruised around O'ahu with the top down, taking in the beautiful tropical views and warm sun, driving wherever my heart desired. She brought so much joy to not only myself, but friends I made along the way. Every single person that stepped foot in The Stang couldn't help but smile. The car rides along the coast and through the mountains listening to outdated top hits on the radio were surreal, like scenes from some cheesy movie.
When I first landed in O'ahu and was waiting for the rental car I was nervous, overwhelmed, and excited. This was my first trip on my own and I did not know what to expect. My first night at the hostel, The Beach Waikiki Boutique Hostel, was anything but glamorous. My dorm mates and I did not connect and the beach a few blocks away, Waikiki, is extremely crowded and touristy. After a dip in the ocean and walk along the beach at sunset, I quickly gave into my jet lag and opted to go to bed early to start fresh the next day. Thankfully I did because the next morning at the hostel’s daily breakfast I was ready to meet some fellow travelers and get away from the crowds in Waikiki!
The majority of the people I met while staying at the hostel were so friendly, kind, and laid back. Most of them were young solo travelers as well. I met young professionals from Boston and New Zealand taking solo vacations, a university student from France on a two-month long solo trip during her summer break, an Australian making his way to the mainland to work on a visa, amongst many others. Everyone was easy to talk to and even easier to travel with. With nowhere to be and nothing to worry about, I hardly felt an ounce of homesickness after that initial evening.
My first day in O'ahu, I hiked Diamond Head Crater with a girl from the Netherlands that I met on a Hawaii backpacking group on Facebook and some other girls from her hostel. Yes, I used Facebook to make my first plans in O'ahu — how Millennial of me. I am glad I did though! I met people that morning at my hostel's breakfast, but we made plans for the following days since most people already had plans for my first day. When in doubt, don't be afraid to make connections with fellow travelers online.
Diamond Head Crater is a relatively quick and easy hike in Oahu that most tourists do. It's a beautiful hike up a volcanic crater with stunning views of Honolulu and the crater itself. The hike takes about an hour and a half round trip, but we spent quite a bit of time soaking in the views from the old military pillboxes at the top.
After our hike, I drove to Pearl Harbor to see the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. Unfortunately, earlier this year the dock connecting the floating memorial to the tour boats started to crack and had to be removed. Accessing the memorial by foot is closed until they can solve the structural issue. However, they still offer free boat tours rides through the harbor to see the memorial. The tour starts with a video explanation of the United States' involvement in World War II and then the ferry ride with a voiceover explaining what occurred in the harbor during the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II. Despite not setting foot on the memorial, the tour was still moving and I am glad I went. And now I have a reason to return to O'ahu when they fix the dock! After the boat tour, I bought a ticket to visit the U.S.S. Bowfin Submarine docked nearby, which I found quite interesting since I've never been on one before. The submarine still has the same set up it did back in the 1940's.
The next morning, I got up early to drive to the North Shore to go open-water shark snorkeling with One Ocean. One Ocean is a shark research, conservation, and education diving company that is working to dispel misconceptions about sharks. We often think of them as man-eating monsters, when shark attacks are extremely rare. In reality, 90% of shark species are dying off in just the last 20 years because humans are killing them for shark fin soup, a Chinese delicacy threatening the survival of sharks and our entire marine eco-system. One Ocean's ultimate goal is to protect the sharks and teach people that they are not interested in attacking us.
As the One Ocean boat takes off for the dive site, the guides explained to us the biology of sharks and how they will interact with us in the water. Of course they also went over safety precautions to make sure both us and the sharks were safe — they have a 100% safety record after all! Once we arrived, they asked if anyone wanted to go first. Seizing the opportunity, I strapped on my snorkel and fins, sliding feet first into the water. I held onto the rope along the boat side and carefully floated over a bunch of sandbar sharks. I'm a horrendous snorkeler, so my first few minutes were a mix of me panicking about the sharks and the waves of water crashing into my snorkel tube. After getting a handle on the snorkel, I suddenly realized how peaceful the whole situation was. The sharks could not care less about me. They were more interested in the boat and the frequencies coming from the motor.
We spent the next forty-five minutes swimming above nine sandbar sharks and one Galapagos, occasionally diving down further one at a time with the supervision of our guide. The sandbar sharks are 4-6 feet in length and super nimble. Whenever we turned the motor on to draw them in closer, they swam quickly towards us and at the last second, turned away. The Galapagos sharks are 6-8 feet in length and much slower. The one we saw spent a few minutes right by our boat, which was quite intimidating. But we learned earlier that the sharks form a hierarchy and the Galapagos sharks always swim higher than their smaller, sandbar counterparts. The experience was surreal beyond words. I felt more comfortable in the water than I could have ever imagined. The sharks would occasionally come near us at the surface, but I wish they would have spent even more time closer to us!
After spending the morning with sharks, I headed to the beaches on the North Shore. I spent the majority of they day hanging out with friends from the hostel in Waimea Bay. The bay is absolutely stunning, with clear blue water, reefs of fish, and a cliff that we jumped off and swam through tunnels under. In comparison to Waikiki, the North Shore is much less crowded and more laid back. When I return to O'ahu in the future, I will stay in the North Shore at least for one night.
The next day, a bunch of us drove to the Northeast side of the island to catch the sunrise from the old military pillbox above Lanikai beach. The hike to the pillbox was quick but steep, running along the top of a small mountain near the ocean. The views were gorgeous and it was the perfect way to start our morning. After our hike, we spent the rest of the day on Lanakai beach, which is easily the best beach on O'ahu. It's a long, narrow strip of sand facing the clear blue water and some small islands in the distance. The sand feels like memory foam it was so soft.
Later in the afternoon, we made a last minute decision to hike the Lulumalu Falls Trail in the middle of the island. The hike is technically trespassing and not very well marked, but is frequented by hikers. Don't worry! We were a group of six, experienced hikers and were well prepared. The trails were terribly marked, but it was fairly easy to find the falls. When we finally reached them, my inner child was jumping for joy. I have always felt a strong connection to the woods and waterfalls, since we used to play in tiny ones in the woods by my childhood home, so this place was paradise for me. We basked in the clear waters under the golden sun, surrounded by tall walls of rock covered in green plants.
On my last day in O'ahu, we hiked the Wiliwilinui Ridge trail. We got a late start, so it was quite sunny and hot by the time we started the trail. The heat made the trail extremely difficult because the trail goes up and down the mountain's ridges, then finally ascends a steep peak for the final viewpoint. Let's just say, we were all sweating buckets by the time we reached the top. Despite the instensity of the hike, this was my favorite during my time on O'ahu. The ridge is surrounded my lush, tropical greenery and the top provides a beautiful 360 degree view of the Eastern side of O'ahu, including Honolulu and Diamond Head Crater.
To cool off, we stopped by Halona Beach Cove for a swim. The cove is a short walk down some large rocks to a small pocket of beach. We jumped off the rocky sides into the crashing waves and watched sea turtles grazing nearby. Aside from Lanikai beach, this was my favorite spot that we swam at.
After stopping for lunch at my favorite vegan spot on the Island, 'Ai Love Nalo, we made our way to Waimanalo beach, which is lined by pine trees and has beautiful mountain backdrops. We read books and slept away the afternoon, enjoying the views from all directions. We ended the day watching the sunset over Waikiki beach.
When I booked my trip to O'ahu, I thought I would enjoy the island but find it too touristy. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved the island. Yes, there were crowded areas and yes, there were definitely a lot of tourists. But the island has so much to offer and felt so alive. I have no doubt that I will return to O'ahu when I revisit Hawaii in the future.
Watch my video blog from O'ahu:
When In Rome
Two of my most cherished hobbies go hand-in-hand. Writing is my favorite way to reflect after traveling to a new country. I have kept this blog ever since I studied in Rome to share my travels with families and friends. I hope you enjoy learning about my experiences and getting a sense for my writing skills. If you have any questions, please reach out!