This is an article in the 36 Hours In… series. To find more in the series, head here.
My job as a Climate Scientist has taken me to some pretty interesting places, mostly within New Zealand. So when an opportunity came up to travel across the Pacific, was I going to turn it down? Nope, definitely not. Especially when this opportunity came with a three day stopover in Honolulu, en route from Samoa to the Marshall Islands.
I managed to make the most of my time on O’ahu, Hawaii’s most populous island and home to the state capital of Honolulu and the famous Waikiki Beach. I took my scientist hat off and put my blogger hat on, and did some exploring. Here’s the result: what to do in 36 hours in Hawaii (O’ahu edition)!
Hawaii has a huge Japanese population, and as a result many fantastic Japanese restaurants call the state home. We ate at Tokkuri-Tei, a bit off the beaten track near Waikiki, but it was delicious and not overly expensive. Hawaii is surrounded by the enormous Pacific Ocean, so the fish around these parts is to die for.
Feeling like some exercise? Diamond Head, the volcanic crater at the southern end of Waikiki, beckons. It’s not too far to walk to from Waikiki, and you can visit the excellent Kapi’olani Community College Farmers Market on a Saturday morning for breakfast. There’s a multitude of organic produce, locally sourced food and drink, and a buzzing atmosphere. Well worth a meander through on the way to Diamond Head.
Diamond Head (Le’ahi) erupted 300,000 years ago. It takes its name from explorers in the 1700s mistaking calcite crystals in the rocks on the slope of the crater for diamonds. Diamond Head was used by the US Military due to its strategic location – the trail to the summit was actually built in 1908 by the military, and you can still see the bunkers and so on from that time.
The hike to the summit is hot and sweaty, and is about 3 km return. On the day I did it, it was super busy – so be prepared to be walking in a long line of people the whole way! Take water and good walking shoes – you’ll need them. The view at the top is pretty spectacular, and well worth the climb!
Head back to Waikiki for lunch – I recommend eating at Bill’s on Beach Walk. The iced espresso is to die for and the food is delicious and healthy.
If you’re into retail therapy then you’ve come to the right place. A 30 minute walk or 10 minute trolley ride ($2) takes you to Ala Moana Mall, which has everything you may ever need. Otherwise, the shops along Kalakaua Ave in Waikiki are good too – although many are of the Louis Vuitton variety.
If you’re not into shopping, embrace Waikiki Beach, one of the world’s most famous beaches. Get out on the water for a surfing or canoe lesson, or just frolic in the tepid shallows.
Duke’s is one of Waikiki’s landmark restaurants. Set right on the beach in front of the Outrigger Resort, it serves excellent American-style fare. I had excellent fish tacos and a yummy cheeseburger (not on the same visit, mind you! The portion sizes are massive). They also serve local craft beers – the Maui Brewing Big Swell IPA is highly recommended.
Let’s get out of Waikiki – O’ahu has so much more to offer! One of the best things to do on the island is to rent a convertible (yes!) and drive around the coast road.
Hanauma Bay, about 20 minutes east of Waikiki, is touted as having excellent snorkelling (you’ll see posters everywhere). A word of warning – the snorkelling is rubbish! There are so many people, and although the bay is a marine reserve, the coral is all dead and there are bugger all fish. It’s really not worth the $7.50 entrance fee – I’m sure there are better places to don your mask and snorkel than Hanauma.
A little further on from Hanauma Bay is Sandy Bay (apparently Barack Obama’s favourite beach!). This beach is frequented by local bodyboarders – it was such fun watching these daredevils ride the waves and get pummelled by the dumpers.
There’s also an impressive blowhole at the southern end of Sandy Bay – Halona Blowhole. If it’s a rough day you’ll be treated to a spectacle – have the camera ready!
Keep driving north along the eastern coast of O’ahu, and you’ll come to a food truck on the side of the road, aptly named the ‘Shrimp Shack’. Get the spicy garlic shrimp – it’s super garlicky but oh so delicious. Get your fingers dirty and have some breath mints on hand for the garlic aftertaste!
After lunch, keep on driving around the island. The landscape is amazing and you won’t be disappointed! You’ll eventually make it to the famous North Shore, and if you’re there in the winter there will be huge barrel waves rolling in. It was as flat as a pancake when I visited (late September) but there were still some surfers out there trying their luck!
Sunset Beach is worth stopping at – it’s gorgeous and a great place to lay the towel down for a sunbathe before continuing around the coast.
Haleiwa is a quaint little town just inland from the coast on the North Shore. I didn’t stop there, but it looks very cute with lots of cafes and boutique stores.
From Haleiwa, head back to Waikiki through the middle of the island – there’s not much to see on the way but it doesn’t take long to get back.
There are many more things to do in O’ahu – I didn’t even begin to explore the historical component of Hawaii, apparently there are some amazing museums and memorials from World War II. I’ll have to save that for another time!
Do you have any recommendations for things to do and see in O’ahu? What’s your favourite Hawaiian island? Give us some suggestions in the comments!
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