Honolulu is the airport everybody flies in when coming to Hawaii.
Here is what’s confusing about it – the largest of the 8 main Hawaiian Islands is the Big Island, but Honolulu, the state capital and biggest city, is located on Oahu, the 3rd largest. And although six times smaller than the Big Island, most of Hawaii’s 1.4 million population (almost 1 million people) live on Oahu – no wonder people think they need a passport to come here because it’s a foreign country!
Apart from 3 weeks on Oahu, we’re spending a week on Maui and a week on Kauai; we’re leaving the Big Island out this time since we need an excuse to return.
Today is Sunday, and by the look of it, the perfect Sunday for a photo walk – the sky is clear and sunny, though hanging menacingly above the city mountains are rain clouds. They gonna stay where they are, they always do – they’re strange like that. It rains a lot in the mountains but never on the beach.
Merging into it from the other side is the Ala Moana Belvedere that starts in the downtown and runs past the yacht harbor and Ala Moana Center, the largest shopping mall in Hawaii.
That’s where I’m heading.
In Hawaiian, Honolulu means ‘calm harbor,’ and the Ala Wai yacht harbor, the largest yacht marina in Hawaii, fits the description fully. Though not a place without its problems (homeless people, plastic garbage, revolting bathrooms), mirroring in the marina’s calm waters are dozens of tall, slender masts below white, fluffy clouds. I take about 135 pictures.
Walking past huge resort complexes that are now closed and oddly empty, I feel like inside an eerie ghost town. Even when operating normally, I wouldn’t swap their designer style suites for our cozy studio, that sports Hawaiian-style, exotic-leaves rattan furniture and has just the right amount of mold in the bathroom (all that for a meagre $82 a night as compared to the usual $245!). That’s the kind of prices you pay for the privilege of catching a glimpse of the beach from your balcony.
The $200 a night high-rises surround a small public lagoon, a shallow water separated from the ocean by sand. It’s a perfect Instagram picture but would I swim in it?
Do I need frogs for swimming companions?
Surf is high this morning and many locals are out on the beach next to the lagoon, lounging, surfing and bodyboarding on the waves. They couldn’t ignore me more with my camera out.
Since it’s Sunday, there’s an open-air Christian service with live music going on – ‘are you ready to change your life forever with real Aloha?’ The half-naked sun-worshippers sprawled out in fold-up beach chairs look really tempted.
I find a perfect spot on the beach, that overlooks the entire Waikiki Bay with Diamond Head at its end, and get the camera ready; the best job in the world? Being a photographer in Hawaii!
Waikiki Beach is over two miles long and mostly sandy. In Hawaiian, Waikiki means ‘spouting fresh water’ and the name refers to springs and streams that once fed the wetlands of today’s Honolulu.
The best way to see it is from the open-air promenade, called the Waikiki Beach Walk. Lined with restaurants, shops, luxury boutiques, resorts and other tourist facilities (now largely boarded up), it is a nice walk with views of the ocean, beaches and parks.
Are there homeless people everywhere and does it smell here like one big marijuana pot?
Yes – the public showers and bathrooms are a big draw – but the contrast of colors, lights and fragrances make up more than enough for that.
The trees that stand out most in Hawaii are the towering banyan trees. Banyan or Ficus tree is native to India where it is also the national tree. What’s so eye-catching about them is that they grow so large and wide they look like temples. Dropping aerial roots to the ground, that form new trunks, they spread laterally over large areas and resemble groves of trees rather than individual trees. They can be hundreds of years old.
Then there are all the blooming trees and shrubs everywhere – the plumeria with white flowers, the bougainvillea with clusters of purple flowers, the jasmine with tiny yellow flowers and the gardenia with pale yellow flowers. No, hold on, it’s plumeria with yellow flowers, oleander with pink flowers and bougainvillea with red flowers … No, no, the other way around …
Anyway, the flowers used to make the traditional Hawaiian lei garlands are mostly plumerias, also known as frangipani. At the same time, monoi oil, a popular tourist souvenir, is a scented oil made by soaking gardenia petals in coconut oil and used as a skin moisturizer.
A useful piece of information to have before you actually get to the islands (and not after you’re gone like me).
Enjoying the palm-tree promenade, I come across a 9-foot bronze statue of a guy with spread out arms and a lei garland around his neck, standing in front of his surfboard. The statue belongs to Duke Kahanamoku, a Native Hawaiian and a 5-time Olympic winner in swimming, who popularized the sport of surfing.
I try to take a picture of him; it’s not an easy task since his fans among local homeless are just too many.
There’s more statues further down the beachfront. One of them is of a surfer on a wave that nicely captures the Hawaiian beach spirit with the sand, ocean and sky in the background.
And the wind – it’s so strong here you have to screw your umbrella 5 feet deep into the sand, if you don’t want to be chasing it around, or, worse even, paying for getting people scalped with it.
Satisfying all tastes and beach preferences, Waikiki has tiny shallow lagoons with no waves for families to relax and swim, concrete piers for teens with boards to jump off and surf, beach volley courts, picnic parks, areas packed with people as well as quiet spots for fishermen.
What does it matter that Waikiki, one of the most famous beaches in the world, is almost entirely man-made?
I’d jump right into its turquoise waters if it weren’t for all the sun-kissed surfers’ bods around!
Is this really America? All these lean, highly sculpted, chiseled physiques?
Staring, I bump into crowds filling the road and sidewalk. Where did all these folks spring up from?
Turns out, today, the beach road is closed to traffic and reserved for walkers, joggers, in-liners, roller-skaters and bicyclist only.
Advised to practice distancing, wear masks and not congregate, everybody is practicing proximity, mask-free and congregating – I’m liking the Hawaiian spirit more and more!
The Kapi’olani Park at the end of the Waikiki Beach Walk is the largest public park in Hawaii. It holds the ZOO, Aquarium and Waikiki Shell, a venue for outdoor concerts. I have two options now: I can either turn and walk back the way I came, or take a public bus.
Yeah, this island has a public transport system, too!
(Again, is this really America?)
Called TheBus, it is convenient, clean, inexpensive and covers the entire island.
After weighing all the pros and cons, I decide to walk back – with 5 miles in my legs, what a better justification there is for taking a break or two in some of Honolulu’s high-end joints?
Good ol’ Waikiki is hard to beat!
More on Oahu read https://bohemianhag.com/hawaii/oahu/