Oahu

Oahu, Hawaii © Cristo Vlahos
Oahu is only the third largest of the inhabited Hawaiian islands, but it is home to nearly three quarters of the state's residents, most of them living in the modern capital city, Honolulu, and its adjacent beach resort suburb of Waikiki, on the south coast of the island. Far more than simply resorts and beaches, Honolulu is a cosmopolitan city with vibrant nightlife, plenty of excellent restaurants, and a thriving arts community.

Beyond the urban bustle of the south, Oahu is quiet and enchanting; flaunting 23 state parks and punctuated by ancient stone heiau (temples). The island's most recognisable landmark is the 761-foot (232m) tall Diamond Head to the east of Waikiki. This mountain is a 'tuff cone' formed 100,000 years ago when an eruption of volcanic ash hardened into solid rock. The extinct volcano is traditionally believed to be the home of Pele, the fire goddess.

Oahu means 'gathering place', and the island certainly lives up to its name in its ethnic diversity, which becomes evident at a glance at the annual festival calendar. From the Chinese New Year in late January to King Kamehameha Day in June and the Aloha Festivals in September there is barely a dull moment and always a reason for celebration.



Attractions

Iolani Palace
Iolani Palace © WPPilot

Iolani Palace

The only royal residence in the United States, the Iolani Palace, stands on the corner of King and Richard Streets in Honolulu, its opulent interior giving a glimpse into the lives of Hawaii's last reigning monarchs between 1882 and 1893. It was originally home to King Kalakaua and his Queen, until he died in 1891. His successor, Queen Lili'uokalani, then took up residence until the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893 by the US Marines in a palace coup. The palace has been fully restored. Visitors on guided tours can see the portraits of Hawaiian kings and queens, valuable vases and statuary, the grand staircase, the throne room decorated in crimson and gold, the state dining room and the royal family's private quarters.

Address: 364 South King Street, Honolulu; Website: www.iolanipalace.org; Telephone: (808) 522 0822; Opening time: Monday to Saturday 9.30am-4pm. Closed Sunday. Guided tour groups enter the palace every 15 minutes between 9am and 10am (Tuesdays and Thursdays), and between 9am and 11:15am (Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays). ; Admission: Guided Tour: $21.75 adults, $6 children 5-12. Note that reservations are required. Other tour options are also available.


Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach © Hakilon

Oahu Beaches

The main attraction for visitors to Oahu are the range of 139 beaches which, from the pounding waves of the north shore to the gentle swells of Waikiki in the south, offer the chance to bathe and soak up the sun, or tackle a variety of watersports in water temperatures that never fall below 75ºF (24ºC) all year round. The south shore is favoured by families, offering picnic spots and opportunities for snorkelling, tide-pooling and swimming. Magic Island near Waikiki is a peninsula where the beach is protected by a man-made breakwater offering safe bathing and a stretch of shady, grassy areas on which to picnic. At Ala Moana Beach a half-mile of white sand is protected by a reef, washed by calm shallow waters. Hanauma Bay marine sanctuary is located in the crater of an extinct volcano and is an ideal snorkelling spot while Waikiki Beach, the most famous stretch of sand in the world, draws about four million visitors a year to its sands where sun worshippers can buy fast food, snacks and cocktails to enjoy under their rented umbrellas. The North shore is favoured by surfers, particularly during the winter months when waves can reach heights of 25 feet (8m) at beaches like Ehukai with its famed Pipeline, Sunset Beach and Waimea Beach. The East shore boasts lush tropical beach settings with conditions ideal for windsurfing and sailing. Kailua Beach Park is picturesque and usually in the 'top ten beaches in the United States' lists. Lanikai is even better. Sandy Beach is popular for kite-flying, and Waimanalo offers four miles of uninterrupted white sand framed by palm trees. On the West coast the Ko Olina Resort and Marina offers seven crescent shaped sandy beaches with palm trees and views of the Waianae Mountains, and Yokohama Bay is a quiet, beautiful spot away from the madding crowds.


Polynesian Cultural Center
Polynesian Cultural Center © coconut wireless

Polynesian Cultural Centre

Hawaii's top tourist attraction, the Polynesian Cultural Centre, is situated on the Kamehameha Highway in Laie on the scenic north shore of Oahu island. This remarkable venue, visited by more than one million people a year, consists of seven Polynesian 'islands' in a beautifully landscaped 42-acre setting, representing Samoa, New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, Tahiti, the Marquesas and Tonga, all situated in a freshwater lagoon. The centre gives visitors a holistic insight into the culture of the different Polynesian communities, employing students from the nearby Brigham Young University-Hawaii campus to bring various activities, from pageants and ceremonies to tribal tattooing demonstrations, to life. A highlight of a visit to the Centre is the evening show spectacular, 'Horizons', presented in the 2,770 seat Pacific Theatre with its multi-level stages allowing for fiery volcanoes and brilliant fountains to erupt as special effects in this huge Polynesian song and dance revue.

Address: 55-370 Kamehameha Highway (83), Laie, HI; Website: www.polynesia.com; Telephone: (808) 293 3333; Transport: Most visitors purchase a ticket package that includes various types of ground transportation; Opening time: Monday to Saturday 12pm-9pm. Closed Sunday. The box office is open 9am-8pm. ; Admission: General admission: $89.95 adults, $71.96 children (5-11). Visitors can select either a single component of the Polynesian Cultural Center experience, or a packaged combination of several options.


Oahu North Shore Surfer
Oahu North Shore Surfer © Stan Shebs

Surfing in Oahu

Synonymous with surf, sand and sun, Hawaii is a place where South African and Australian surf legends Shaun Tomson, Mark Richards and Wayne 'Rabbit' Bartholomew pioneered the surfing scene, turning it into the professional sport it is today. Hawaii's surfing beaches are internationally famous, as immortalised in the surfing documentary Riding Giants. The most famous surfing beach in Hawaii is Oahu's North Shore, featuring the classic point break of Waimea Bay as well as the likes of Waikiki, Off the Wall, Backdoor Pipe, Sunset Beach (known for its big wave surfing) and the notorious Pipeline, a reef break located off Ehukai Beach Park ideal for eager spectators, bikini-clad girlfriends and surf photographers due to its close proximity to the beach. Oahu's North Shore works best during the winter months when large waves are created by winter storms in the North Pacific, a stark contrast to the clear, calm water during the summer months. Other key spots for surfing in Hawaii include a great point break at Magic Sands Point on Big Island, the reef break of Pine Trees in Kauai, and Maui's Honolua Bay. Beginners are also catered for with small and easy rollers at places like Waikiki Beach, Chuns Reef, Cockroach Bay and Puena Point, and there are plenty of surf schools and experienced instructors available. The south coast of Kauai is also an excellent surfing spot for beginners, with reliable waves at Poipu and Kalapaki Beach.


Byodo-In Temple
Byodo-In Temple © Cristo Vlahos

Valley of the Temples

Opposite a bustling shopping centre on the Kahekili Highway in Kaneohe, below the Koolau mountains, nestles a little piece of Japan tucked away in Hawaii. The Valley of the Temples Memorial Park contains oriental gardens and koi ponds, a massive nine-foot Buddha statue, Japanese Tea House and an exact replica of Japan's 900-year-old Byodo-in Temple, the original of which stands in Uji near Kyoto. The temple was recreated to honour the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.

Address: Kaneohe, HI; Website: www.byodo-in.com; Telephone: (808) 239 8811; Opening time: Daily 8.30am-5pm.; Admission: Byodo-In Temple grounds admission: $4 adults, $2 children.

Events

Aloha Festival Floral Parade
Aloha Festival Floral Parade © Hawaii Tourism Authority

Aloha Festivals

The Aloha Festivals, celebrated on six islands in Hawaii - Oahu, Kauai, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Big Island - taken together, comprise the only statewide cultural festival in the United States. Established in 1946 (then known as Aloha Week), the purpose of the Aloha Festivals is to celebrate the music, dance, history and traditions that make Hawaii unique. Every year, up to 30,000 volunteers are involved in organising the various events; and over the festival's six-week running period, a million visitors, from all over the US and the rest of the world, are drawn to Hawaii to attend this fascinating cultural celebration. All events are free, and the highlight is the Floral Parade through Waikiki, Honolulu - a colourful equestrian procession of pau riders and extravagant floats, festooned with cascades of Hawaiian flowers, and accompanied by hula dancers and marching bands.

Venue: Various venues in Oahu, Kauai, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Big Island; Date: 1 - 29 September 2019; Website: www.alohafestivals.com


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