Waikiki beach in Honolulu, Hawaii – the birthplace of surfing – is one of the most well-known beaches in the world.
Surfing is an ancient sport that was reserved for Hawaiian royalty and chiefs, at one time.
Today, the sport is enjoyed throughout the world. O’ahu – one of the islands that make up the state of Hawaii – is a prime surfing destination.
Although learning to surf was not in the itinerary when I was in O’ahu in late June, there were many other things that my group did, such as exploring Kualoa, a private nature reserve – where we jungle-trekked and did some ocean exploration – as well as visiting the historical Pearl Harbor and going on board the battleship USS Missouri where a historic event took place. And our visit to Iolani Palace and the Polynesian Cultural Center gave us a glimpse of the rich history and culture of the place. These are some of the recommended activities for first-time visitors to this slice of paradise.
On my first night at the hotel nicknamed “the First Lady of Waikiki”, I was lulled to sleep by the strong pounding of waves on the shore, in my ocean-fronting room. It was bliss, especially after a long flight from Kuala Lumpur to Honolulu, via Osaka, on the award-winning low-cost carrier AirAsia X’s inaugural flight and first foray into the United States.
The 14.5-hour flight was made bearable by the stopover in Kansai Airport, to break journey; being seated in the Quiet Zone; and enjoying some tasty hot meals on board. It’s best to pre-book your meals (available at lower prices online) but you can still make your selections on board. My favourites were the Thai green curry with rice, the cheese ravioli and the seafood spicy noodles – they were delicious to the last spoonful.
Dinner on the first night in Honolulu was at an upmarket food court in the newly renovated International Marketplace (aka IMP) near the hotel.
The next day, as our coach came to a stop at the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout, we were told to bring nothing down except our cameras. Reason? The winds outside were extremely strong, and it would have been difficult to hold on to anything more than a camera. Everyone’s hair was blown about wildly!
What really took our breath away were the views of Windward O’ahu from the lookout point.
There were signboards there that read: Malama Hawaii, Malama Hawaii’s Wildlife, Malama Hawaiian Culture. The word malama means to take care of, preserve, protect, or save. Every place we visited in Hawaii, we saw this was the case – their culture, wildlife, heritage buildings and parks are all so very well preserved.
Later, at the sacred 758ha Waimea Valley on O’ahu’s North Shore, we hopped into a buggy to tour the luscious botanical garden that contains a rich variety of plants, fruits and flowers. It is also home to many types of birds. We saw, too, a traditional hut made of wood and dried leaves, which reminded me of an orang asli dwelling.
One of the highlights of the trip was our visit to Kualoa, which is touted to be “the world’s most famous private nature reserve” and the place “where legends are made”.
It includes a working cattle ranch and farmlands. After a bumpy ride in their heavy-duty vehicle, we arrived at the site where Jurassic World was filmed – remember the high concrete wall with the dinosaur scratch marks?
We also drove past the helicopter that crashed in Kong: Skull Island. Other made-in-Kualoa shows include Fantasy Island, Lost, Snatched, Battleship, Snowden, and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.
Kualoa covers a huge area of over 1,618ha and different types of tours are available for visitors to explore the place.
As part of the jungle expedition, we went on a short hike to a lookout point up a hill. What a scenic mountain-meets-the-sea view!
After that, in the same heavy-duty vehicle, we were taken on a thrilling “rollercoaster” ride downhill, which brought on the screams!
On the Ocean Voyage tour, we enjoyed the laidback vibes of Secret Island before going on a cruise in Kaneohe Bay in a catamaran named Kailani. On the way, we saw Mokoli’i island, aptly called Chinaman’s Hat because of its shape.
Those who were standing on the catamaran’s bow were drenched by the splashing water when the vessel surged back and forth. Fortunately, we all had the chance to shop for new clothes (and more) at the Waikele Premium Outlets. Some shops were offering discounts, which made the deals even sweeter.
Being at Pearl Harbor gave a depth to the stories I had only heard or read about up until then.
This US naval base was bombed by the Japanese on Dec 7, 1941, during World War II.
At the Arizona Memorial Visitor Center, we went on a self-guided narrated audio tour of the museum. The artefacts, maps, photos and survivor stories (on video) provided an enriching experience.
Later, at the Battleship Missouri Memorial, we went on board the USS Missouri (the “Mighty Mo”). We stood on the Surrender Deck, the very place where the peace treaty between Japan and the United States was signed in 1945 to mark the surrender of the Japanese and the end of World War II.
Our trip concluded with a visit to Hangar 79 of the Pacific Aviation Museum, where we saw the planes that were used in the war. In some of the hangar’s windows, we saw the bullet holes caused during the Japanese attack.
After learning more about the war and loss of lives, the solemn realisation sank in, that peace is something everyone ought to treasure and preserve. We would do well to follow in the spirit of Aloha, a word that is often used to say hello and goodbye, but whose deeper meaning is love, peace and compassion.
This trip was made possible by AirAsia X, in partnership with Hawaii Tourism Southeast Asia. AirAsia X flies from Kuala Lumpur to Honolulu, via Osaka, four times a week. For more information, go to www.airasia.com and www.gohawaii.com.