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Oahu Beyond Waikiki

Waikiki has so many tourist and resort attractions that many visitors spend their entire time in Hawaii there (except for the trip to and from the airport). That makes it easy to get the impression that all of Oahu is paved over and densely packed with high-rises. But once you get away from the urban sprawl of Honolulu and Waikiki, you’ll see that Oahu has as much splendid scenery as any of the other islands.

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Picture of Hanauma Bay

About 15 kilometers past Diamond Head (the eastern boundary of Waikiki) is Hanauma Bay (“Ha-now-ma,” meaning curved bay). The bay is a coral reef, where snorkelers can view abundant fish. The shallow water creates clear turquoise and aquamarine colors. Get there early, since the bay also has a nice beach that’s quite popular.

Photograph overlooking Makapuu Beach Picture of Makapuu Beach

Further up the coast are several lookouts over Makapuu Beach (“Ma-ka-poo-oo”). The beach itself is famous for body-surfing, with waves reaching 4 meters and higher during the winter. That might explain the name of the beach, which means bulging eyes. But it’s a nice calm swimming beach during the summer. It’s also a popular place for hang gliding. Picture of Rabbit Island, Oahu

Picture of Mokolii from Kualoa Park Photograph of Mokolii from Kualoa Park

Offshore is an old volcanic crater formally called Manana (“Ma-na-na,” meaning buoyant), but popularly known as Rabbit Island. An entrepreneur brought rabbits to the island in 1890. Since Hawaiians were not particularly fond of rabbit stew, the business rapidly failed. But the lagomorphs multiplied until 1994, when biologists removed the rascally rabbits to create a sea bird sanctuary.

Several other beach parks north of Makapuu offer different views of the ocean, Rabbit Island, and the adjacent island known only by its tongue-twisting Hawaiian name, Kaohikaipu (“Ka-o-hee-ka-ee-poo,” meaning hold back the container, probably referring to a belief that the little island somehow protected the beach from stuff floating in the ocean).

Another scenic beach park on the windward (east) coast is Kualoa (“Koo-ah-low-ah,” meaning long back). It has been featured in numerous advertising photos. Its distinctive off-shore island is officially called Mokolii (“Moe-ko-lee-ee,” meaning little lizard). But it’s more often called by its politically-incorrect popular name, the Chinaman’s Hat.
Picture of Nuuanu Pali Picture of mountains at Nuuanu Pali

The Pali Highway is an inland route from Honolulu to the Windward Coast. The main attraction (for which the highway is named) is the Nuuanu Pali (“New-oo-ah-new Pah-lee”) Lookout. The name means cool high cliff, and it’s exactly that: 361 meters above sea level and very windy. The constant winds can be brutal, but the sweeping view of much of the Windward coast is worth risking the loss of your hat.

Looking the other way, it also offers a very nice view of the mountainous interior of Oahu. Nuuanu Pali was where the defenders of Oahu made their last stand against Kamehameha in 1795. Kamehameha’s warriors threw hundreds of Oahu warriors over the cliff in a decisive victory that completed his conquest of all the islands.
Picture of Byodo-In, Oahu Picture of bridge at Byodo-In

A bit inland from the Windward coast is an exact replica of the Byodo-In Temple in Uji, Japan. The temple represents a Japanese form of Buddhism that venerates Amida, a previous incarnation of Siddhartha Gautama, who became the first Enlightened One (Buddha). Amida is the Japanese pronunciation of the Sanskrit Amitabha, the “infinite light” of universal love. Amida Buddhists believe Amitabha created a Pure Land in a realm beyond the ordinary world. Anyone who sincerely calls upon him can be reborn there, receive his instruction in Buddhist teachings, and become a buddha who can then return to our world to help others attain Enlightenment.

Like its Japanese counterpart, the temple is built of precisely-fitting wood without the use of nails. Metal nails symbolize industry and war, and are thus inimical to the meditation necessary for Enlightenment. Inside is a 3-meter-tall gold Buddha sitting in meditation on a lotus flower. Outside is a Japanese garden, complete with a pond full of carp (essentially overgrown gluttonous goldfish) that swarm when visitors feed them bread crumbs.

Picture of Malaekahana Beach Picture of young coconuts

Malaekahana Beach (“Ma-lye-ka-ha-na”) is near the northern end of the Windward coast. About 300 meters offshore is an islet called Mokuauia (“Moe-koo-ow-ya,” meaning island to one side), or Goat Island. Like most of the islets off the Oahu shore, it’s an uninhabited bird sanctuary. Picture of lifeguard station at Haleiwa

Continuing up the Windward coast leads past the northern tip of Oahu to the north shore and Haleiwa (“Ha-lay-ee-vah,” meaning home of attractive people). In the winter the big waves make the beaches there among the world’s best places for surfing. Even in the off-season the waves can be impressive; the vigilant lifeguards certainly earn their money.

Although Oahu is the most developed and urbanized of the Hawaiian islands, much of its land is either agricultural or undeveloped. All kinds of strange and interesting plants and trees from all over the world grow throughout Hawaii. You can see them growing wild along the road, cultivated as crops, or in a pickup truck on their way to someone’s dinner table.

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