Oahu is the third largest Hawaiian Island, after Hawaii and Maui, and is home to the state capital Honolulu. Oahu is categorised into five regions: Honolulu, Central Oahu, Leeward Coast, Winward Coast and the North Shore. Each region has a different character – from laidback surf towns, to cosmopolitan city life, fine dining and diverse shopping options.
Arriving in Oahu
Travelling around on Oahu is easy, and you can choose from car rental, taxi, shuttle or just take the public transport system – simply called “The Bus”. After taking a shuttle service from Honolulu airport to our accommodation, we mainly used “The Bus” with the exception of a car rental for a day when we drove to the North Shore.
Arriving on an early morning flight meant that we couldn’t check in to our accommodation until the afternoon. We had arranged with the hotel to mind our suitcases, and we had a beach bag packed ready to pull out and head off to the beach for a few hours. Nothing beats the fatigue of a long haul flight like a swim in the ocean!
After our swim, we went to the Ala Moana shopping centre for some lunch at the food court, and then it was time to go back to our accommodation and check in. We were staying on Kuhio Ave right in the middle between the canal and Waikiki Beach.
We were really pleased with this location and found it to be the best street for catching The Bus, as the bus goes in both directions on this street. (Other streets it is only one way) After check in, we headed down to Waikiki Beach to walk along the famous beach, and have cocktails and dinner by the ocean. The next few days were spent travelling around and seeing the sights of Oahu.
The Bus is a fantastic service and takes you pretty much everywhere you could want to go, for a very reasonable price. I downloaded the app on my phone which is also a journey planner to help you work out the connections you need for getting around from one place to another. I enjoyed hearing all those gorgeous Hawaiian multi-syllable words being announced at every stop along the way! Take a look at The Bus Honolulu Area Transit Map and then decide where you want to go by using the bus route numbers. All the bus routes and timetables can be viewed individually on the website.
While The Bus does go to the airport, you can only ride The Bus with small luggage that can either fit under your seat or on your lap. So as not to inconvenience other passengers. Also, make sure you check the last return bus from your destination on the timetable so you don’t get stuck. Different routes have different services and times.
Several buses will drop you at or near the Honolulu Zoo. We enjoyed spending a few hours in the zoo, which is set amongst lovely gardens. The giraffes have an amazing view of Diamond Head!
Travel tip: Take your own lunch / snacks and water. Zoo food is very pricey.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
One of the most beautiful places you will find for a snorkelling experience on Oahu is Hanauma Bay. The bay lies at the bottom of a volcanic crater and all that is left is the crescent moon shaped beach that you see today. As you float above the shallow coral reefs you will enjoy the company of over 300 species of Hawaiian fish, in crystal clear waters. Before you are allowed to enter the nature preserve you have to watch a short induction video, aimed at educating guests about the importance of preservation of the coral reefs, and there is an entry fee of $7.50.
My travel tip on this place: Skip the tour! – Just take The Bus – route # 22 and you will be there in about half an hour from Waikiki. Buy your own snorkel gear at a local ABC shop in the Honolulu region, and head out on the public transport system for a fraction of the cost of a tour. Just remember that the park is closed on Tuesdays, Christmas Day and New Years Day, or in adverse weather conditions. Check the Hanauma Bay State Park website before you go.
Kahala Mall Shopping centre with many boutique shops as well as Macy’s, Ross, a food court and a Chili’s Grill and Bar. (We used to have Chili’s in Australia, but they closed down, so we were really happy to be able to go again when we were in Hawaii! ) Mall directory.
Waikiki is an up-scale neighbourhood filed with designer fashion stores, waterside beach bars and restaurants for fine dining. We had Mai Tais at Dukes beach bar, and also at the Tropics Bar & Grill (legacy of the original Hawaii Five-O fans) – I think the Mai Tais at the Tropics Bar & Grill are the best I have ever tasted.
Waikiki Beach is one of the world’s most recognised beaches. The stretch of white sand is made up of different sections which suit different activities. Some of the sections are marked by solid barriers and others just run in together. Some sections of the beach are protected by sea walls or natural reefs. Whether you are relaxing on the sand under a palm tree, snorkelling in a protected reef area, swimming in the waves, learning to surf, or out on a catamaran, you will enjoy soaking in the beauty of this iconic beach.
More details on the different sections of Waikiki Beach can be found in this article.
Ala Moana Shopping Centre
A large shopping centre with food courts and near the Ala Moana beach park. The centre is also a bus route exchange, so most buses will take you here.
Pearl Harbour Historic Sites Visitor Centre
The USS Arizona Memorial marks the site where World War II began for the United States. The Memorial is built over the sunken remains of the USS Arizona, an underwater final resting place for 1,102 of the crew on board when the Arizona went down. The National Parks Service gives out 1,300 free walk up tickets each day on a first come, first serve basis, so get there early. The tickets include a short documentary film, and then a boat takes visitors out to the memorial. The Pearl Harbour Visitor Centre opens at 7am.
After taking the tour out to the memorial, you can go and see the USS Missouri Battleship Memorial. The surrender of the Japanese on the deck of the Missouri bought World War II to an end. The Missouri stands watch over the sunken remains of the Arizona in Pearl Harbour. It is an absolutely immense vessel and the sheer size and scale of the battleship and its guns can’t be appreciated until you walk over it for yourself.
Inside the ship the crew quarters, recreation areas, and work areas are all maintained as they were when the battle ship was in service. It is certainly an unforgettable experience to visit this amazing place.
Travel tip: Take “The Bus” (it’s about an hour trip from Waikiki) and get there early for one of the free walk up tickets to the Arizona Memorial. To go and see the battleship is a separate tour and you can purchase your tickets at the Pearl Harbour Visitor Centre. A bus will take you around to the battleship.
Another great shopping mall with department stores, food courts, and Chili’s! (Yes – we did the Chili’s tour of Oahu!)
The North Shore Region
The North Shore of Oahu is famous for its towering winter waves that attract surfers from all around the world. It is also known for its beautiful beaches which attract Honu that come out of the surf to rest on the shore. We hired a car to take a day trip across to the North Shore so that we could enjoy the sights at our own pace, and were hoping for a sighting of one of the Honu.
A known area for Honu sightings, Laniakea Beach is only a one hour drive from Waikiki, and was on our list of must-see places on the North Shore. The Honu are Green Sea Turtles, protected by law in Hawaii. Honu Guardian volunteers attend the beaches to watch over the basking turtles, reminding visitors to enjoy the turtles from a distance.
The turtles like to eat the algae on the rocks – you can see the algae growing abundantly in this photo.
The turtles at Laniakea Beach are tracked and have names. When one of the turtles comes ashore to bask in the sun, the Honu Guardians set up a sign with the name, age and known details of that turtle so that visitors can be informed. I was privileged to see Kekoa on the beach when we visited.
Further up the coast, just past Waimea Bay, is a cute little snorkelling bay with the unsettling name of Sharks Cove. We didn’t see any sharks (thankfully) but we did enjoy a few hours snorkelling in the cove.
The area around the cove is all rocky and sharp, as a result, you will need some aqua shoes to make it comfortable to get in and out of the water there.
After working up an appetite with all that snorkelling, we made our way back to the infamous food trucks near Haleiwa. Just what we needed!
What will your Hawaiian experience be?
Oahu allows you to choose your own holiday experience, whether that be a hike to the top of the Diamond Head Crater for 360-degree views, learning to surf, catamaran tours, snorkelling, shopping, or just plain relaxing on the beach. What will you make of your next visit? Aloha.
Please visit my Instagram gallery for more of my favourite travel photos.
Follow along with me by email and I will let you know when the next travel story is published, usually once a week.