Text: Toni Jerkovic
The greater Honolulu area occupies the entire island of O`ahu in the Hawaiian archipelago. The city itself, with less than half of Zagreb’s population, lies on the southern side of the island, growing on the famous Waikiki beach. O`ahu is an island of myths. These are not just tales of terrible, shark-shaped gods and various folk tales; they also include some modern myths. The biggest myth is that O`ahu is Waikiki, and Waikiki is O`ahu. This is quite far from the truth. O`ahu has all the beauty, adventures and new discoveries a tourist may ever need. And a whole lot more.
It is most likely that your first contact with the island will be the Honolulu International Airport, whose architecture clearly indicates that you have arrived to a very special place. There are no big walls or windows that separate the airport from the outside world. The temperature on the island is very constant, around 30 degrees Celsius throughout the year.
Another myth is that after the airplane lands, droves of beautiful, tanned girls will come forward and drape a lei around your neck – a wreath made of orchids and other tropical flowers, and dance the hula, welcoming you. While you look enviously at the travelers who jump around with floral decorations like some mobile florists, you will wonder why this is also not happening to you. It is because you didn’t organize it in advance and paid for your floral welcome. So, that myth is busted. People in Hawaii will try their best to take the last penny from your pocket. That does not necessarily mean that they will succeed.
Renting a car is a relatively good investment. You can rent a car for fifteen dollars a day, or somewhat more, including insurance. We recommend insurance. Although it seems somewhat bizarre, car theft is a serious problem on O`ahu. Stolen cars are shipped further abroad. It is a probably quite a feat, because nearest land is several hours away by plane. If you plan on going to some isolated beaches, it is recommended not to leave any valuables in the car and not to lock the doors. Broken windows on cars in the parking lot belong to the people who locked their doors. This should not be an obstacle or something you should be upset about. You are on Hawaii, they dance to a different tune, like, for example, you can never be sure when a restaurant opens or closes. It opens when it opens, and closes when it closes. People are relaxed and in no hurry. You just need to do as they do.
Your first destination in Honolulu will definitely be Waikiki. We can bet you on that. O`ahu is three times larger than the island of Krk. It has more than 100 resorts, and only four of them are not located on Waikiki beach. Now imagine that two square kilometers hold more than sixty thousand hotel rooms. The beautiful sandy beach is more than two kilometers long, with significantly more restaurants than in the Croatian capital, endless shopping, luxury brands at relatively affordable prices and surfing. It is a place where everyone feels secure, welcome, where everyone is easy-going and free. You don’t come to Waikiki to escape into solitude; you come here to be a part of the non-stop action. If you need peace and quiet, there are other parts of the island you can reach after a nice ride in your car, rented at the airport.
Although the island is visited by several million tourists every year, it is relatively easy to find accommodation. Of course, the prices vary, but every hotel offers a discount on the officially listed prices of overnight stay. You just need to ask. The hotels on the beach are the most expensive ones, but a room in a decent three-star hotel, a few minutes from the beach, can be had for around 300 kuna.
As far as food is concerned, you definitely need to try the local specialties. Hawaiian cuisine is a fusion of various influences, most of all Polynesian, Japanese, Filipino, Portuguese and cuisines of all the other nations who had some influence on the island. We also should not forget the American cuisine, adding that in Hawaii you can expect to find a slice of grilled pineapple in your delicious, giant hamburger. The thing you should not miss is the lu`au, the traditional party featuring food and entertainment, such as Hawaiian music and hula. They mostly serve kalua pig, a very delicious dish that is cooked underground, salmon, seafood, and beer, of course. Although everything comes in an “all you can eat” deal, just like with every buffet anywhere in the world, the main rule is that you never stuff your plate at the very beginning, because the more delicious and expensive things always come later. The beginning of the table is reserved for the tourists.
A good lu`au can be found in the Polynesian Cultural Center, with the exception that alcohol is not served there, because the center was founded by the Mormon Church, as a satellite school of the Brigham Young University in Hawaii. It is worth a visit, because in one place you can experience the almost authentic spirit of this part of the world and the Pacific islands, and it includes numerous shows, authentic architecture and food, local songs and dances. The university gives scholarships to young people from the Polynesian islands, and in return, they serve as interns there.
War history enthusiasts will surely visit the Pearl Harbor. It is a bit spooky to walk around sunken ships that have taken thousands of young lives in the first Japanese attack on the US, but still, USS Arizona Memorial is worth the visit.
The Iolani palace is a story for itself. This is the only royal palace on the US territory, and it seems that it is still standing only by God’s providence. Namely, Hawaii was an independent kingdom until late 19th century. King David Kalakua traveled around the world, getting to know the architecture of the palaces that he visited. The result of his observations and notes is this beautiful building, built in the unique style that became known as the American Florentine, and is the only one of its kind in the world. This palace had electricity and phone even before the White House in Washington. After the establishment of the republic and annexation by the US, this palace served as the seat of Hawaiian administration that auctioned of the royal belongings. In the 1960s, there were even ideas circulating about condemning the building. Luckily, this pearl of international architecture has been preserved.
With all the possible commercial traps, Honolulu and its surrounding area provide numerous benefits for all lovers of nature. One of them is connected to the Waikiki beach. Diamond Head is an extinguished volcano, and it was named by the first Westerners, who thought that the shiny minerals in the extinguished volcano are diamonds. This proved to be untrue, and the summit opens a diamond view of Waikiki and the surrounding area. Don’t be surprised by the military presence in the cone. It still holds an active army base.
Numerous walks, tropical beauties and hidden waterfalls are a true treat for every lover of nature, and the only thing you should pay attention to is the sun that can be unrelenting. Sunscreen with the highest protection factor and water are two things you should have with you at all times.
There are numerous beaches on the island that are mostly safe to swim, but if the waves become too big, unsecure swimmers should not enter the water, especially on the Banzai Pipeline, a surfer’s paradise. The waves can often be higher than 15 meters. If you wish to surf yourself, Waikiki has numerous surf schools and the chance that you will be surfing after a few hours are very high. The feeling is truly unique, and it alone is the reason why you should visit Hawaii. It is the place where surfing was born. Yes, there are sharks. A lot of sharks. You will probably surf over them, but these sharks are completely harmless to humans, so the more dangerous sharks are those who will try to sell you something on the street, at prices much higher than normal. That kind of sharks you should avoid.
Although there are numerous places where you will want to spend your money, Waikiki has plenty of things that are free. Apart from the statue of Duke Kahanamoku, a surfing legend and a man who introduced it to the world, and an Olympic medalist in swimming, there is also a torch ceremony held every night in Kuhi`o Beach Park, with hula and music. At Queen`s Beach, you can catch a free movie at dusk, while Hilton offers a Polynesian show.
Regardless of the option you choose, we guarantee you it will never be boring, and you will want to return to Honolulu, or even move here permanently. The first two words you will need to know are Aloha and Mahalo, hello and thank you. That is what is expected from a tourist.