Oahu Stories and Tips

Circle Island Tour

Koko Head Photo, Oahu, Hawaii

The drive is worth the time even if you don’t stop anywhere. Oahu’s scenery changes along the route from lush suburban neighborhoods to the stark barren slopes of Koko Head; from the cactus growing roadsides to mist shrouded Pali; from beautifully calm Kaneohe Bay to the high surf of Haniela; and from the huge pineapple fields flanked by two mountain chains to the congestion of the city.

We always stop along the way. This trip we decided to pull off at an overlook East of Hawaii Kai. Kai is Hawaiian for sea. This bedroom community for Honolulu does embrace a long stretch of seashore and crawls up the palis. From the overlook we could also see the backside of Koko Head. This is the last active cinder cone volcano on Oahu. The next overlook we stopped at is the Blowhole. It was not performing today as the seas were relatively calm no dramatic sprays of water. We did notice that since our last visit someone had built several rock stacks near the hole. Cute, but it is a very dangerous activity. More that one person has been sucked into that hole to pop up later far away.
Our third scenic stop was at Makahu Beach Park. From here we could see the lighthouse, Rabbit Island (Moturoa) and the vast Pacific Ocean. This is a favorite beach for wind surfing, surfing, snorkeling and swimming. Popular with locals but tourists often zip on by the turn-off not knowing there is a hidden treasure nearby.

Another hidden treasure is the Byodo-In Temple located at 47-200 Kahekili Highway in Kaneohe’s Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. Yup, it is a cemetery. Don’t I take you to interesting places? As you drive through the Memorial Park you see different styles of headstones. The cemetery is for all residents be they Buddhist, Shinto, Protestant and Catholic. At the far end of the park snugged up to the Ko’olau Mountains is the Byodo-In Temple. Admission is $4, which is paid at a small shed near the trail to the bridge. Get your camera ready. Almost everyone stops on the bridge or right before it to take a picture. This is our third trip here and we are not numb to the beauty. Breathtaking. Once you cross the bridge turn to the left and walk to the Bell House. Here you can swing a padded log to strike the 3-ton bell as a sign of respect and to invoke an atmosphere of tranquility. Mellow. Uphill on the grounds is a small pagoda pavilion. Besides being a serene spot for meditation it gives you a new perspective on the temple. The temple dating from June 1968 commemorates the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. It is a scale replica of a temple in Japan that is over 900 years old. If you have watched any TV shows based in Hawaii, somehow this temple shows up often miscast as another culture, but then it is so photogenic! That point aside, it is a functioning Buddhist Temple and all measure of respect is due. No shoes in the temple is one. No rowdiness is another. The Buddha is the largest figure carved since ancient times, it is covered with gold lacquer with gold leaf on top of that. Each time we come here we notice something we missed before. This time it was the immaculate raked gravel garden between the temple and the pond. At the gift shop Bill bought fish food and headed out to do his favorite thing. He loves to feed the Koi and birds. This is his Oahu highlight.

The circle drive continued following the shore around Kaneohe Bay, passing locations used in movies such as "Jurassic Park" and "50 First Dates". We stopped for lunch at The Crouching Lion Inn. Bill and I have eaten here on several trips, enjoying good food and a view of the ocean. Things have changed. While the menu looks the same, the new owners/managers haven’t retained the outstanding flavors. I would recommend packing a picnic lunch and stopping at Kahana Bay Beach Park. This is a very serene small beach located at the end of a long narrow bay. Gentle waters good for wading, swimming and we are told fishing. There are hiking trails as the park continues across the highway.

Continuing the drive we by-pass the Polynesian Cultural Center. But I would stop at Laie Point to see the sea arch. About this time you will start to see shrimp lunch wagons and other roadside stands. We have now reached what I consider the North Shore. Cars with surfboards abound. Glimpses of the deep blue ocean tease us. We enter Waimea and see the beautiful Waimea Bay and lots of people in the water, on the beach and walking along the side of the road. Drive carefully, as the road is narrow and the walkers often have to side step the abundant vegetation. We have now reached our next stop, Waimea Valley located at 59-864 Kamehameha Highway. We really like this park because the emphasis is on the natural offerings of the valley and how humans came to build a civilization here. As far as world history is concerned this is where Captain Cooks crew regrouped and restocked after Cook was killed on the Big Island. This was the first contact these islanders had with the outside world. The entrance fees range from $15 for adults to $7.50 for children and seniors. However, there is an additional $5 fee to ride the golf cart jitney to the furthest point, Waimea Falls. Marilyn and I rode up and walked down. Bill enjoyed the ride both ways. He also enjoyed the coffee shop while we walked. There are several trails to follow returning from the Falls. We walked along the Ginger and Heliconia trail, stopped at the Agricultural Terraces and the Ancient Hawaiian Living Site. It was lovely. Every twist and turn in the road brought us a new treat for the eyes. We were warned not to sample any of the fruits, nuts or seeds, as they could be hazardous. There is a lifeguard on duty at the pool below the Falls where swimming is allowed. It is no longer permitted to jump into the pool from the cliff or falls. This park is a great opportunity for family fun. The three of us visited the gift shop, where we found the items are locally made.

From this point to Hale’iwa we kept an eye out for parking spots along the highway. When we found one we could scurry over to the ocean side and check out the surf action. In Hale’iwa we stopped to shop for T-shirts. In all our trips here this seems to be our treat stop either fudge or shave ice or something to drink. Word to the wise, if you are diabetic shave ice is a killer and azuki beans are an acquired taste, especially when added to a shave ice cone.

As we headed south on our circle island tour, a rainstorm arrived in full force. We were able to see the vast fields of pineapples between the Ko’olau range and the Wai’anae Mountains. It was too wet outside to consider a stop at the Dole Plantation. It never ranks high on our list of must-dos, as it seems to be just a glorified rest stop with free pineapple juice and junk souvenirs for sale.

When we reached Honolulu, we stopped at the Ward Centers shopping complex on Ala Moana Blvd. We valet parked at the cinema parking garage, but only because I messed up on directions. We could have free parked (read that no tip) at the Ward Warehouse section of the complex. That was where we were headed. My favorite store there is called Native Books; my friend shopped at Island Slipper; we all liked the Nohea Gallery, and I have a ridiculous fondness for the Executive Chef. It was also time for supper and The Ward Centers offers a variety of food offerings. This concluded our circle tour. A long day, but one I will repeat every time we are on Oahu.

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