“Hele mai” — “Come with us” on a scenic tour of the island of Oahu, Hawaii. You’ll be surprised at the varied terrain, plant life, fauna, geology, and climate variations. Each region also has a unique feel and different mixtures of towns, businesses, recreational activities, churches, and schools.
The island of Oahu is nicknamed the gathering place because Honolulu Harbor provided safe anchorage to whalers, traders and visitors from the late 1700s. The city of Honolulu quickly became the center of commerce, government, culture and the arts, education, and population, which is still true today. The Koolau Mountain Range dominates the eastern part of the island, and west of the central plain are is the Waianae Range.
Here’s a quick rundown of the available tours:
- The Honolulu tour covers the greater Honolulu area.
- The Waikiki tour covers Waikiki specifically, although its within Honolulu.
- The Southeast tour covers the southeastern tip of Oahu from Diamond Head around to Kailua.
- The Windward tour covers the Northeast coast of Oahu from Kaneohe up to the North Shore.
- The North Shore tour focuses on the coastline centered on Haleiwa and the “seven mile miracle” surf breaks.
- The West Side is made up of the Western Shore, bordered on the East by the Waiana mountain range. It’s also called leeward Oahu.
- Central Oahu is made up of the valley between the Koolaus to the East and the Waianae range to the west. The main areas are Pearl City, Wahiawa and Mililani.
Honoluluis a modern, cosmopolitan city with elements of ancient Hawaii, Victorian buildings, steel and glass office towers, innumerable dining choices, a quaint Chinatown, and mini-parks and plazas where people gather to enjoy the tropical air and bright sunlight. Iolani Palace was the home of Hawaii’s last queen and her prison after her overthrow. Washington Place, the governor’s residence is shaded by huge trees. The State Capitol derived its design from the volcanoes that built the islands. The Bus provides excellent transportation for about $2 a ride throughout the downtown area and into many suburban areas.The University of Hawaii – Manoa and Hawaii Pacific University award undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and host research in many disciplines.
Waikiki is the most famous stretch of beaches, hotels and shops in Hawaii. It’s on the southeast edge of Honolulu and is distinctly a visitor destination. When steamships were the only way to get to Hawaii, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel was one of the few hotels open. With the advent of airline service, the number of hotels quickly grew, and accommodations range from luxury to budget priced. Activities like surfing, outrigger canoe paddling, parasailing, jet skis, scuba diving, snorkeling, and luaus fill the visitor’s agenda. Shopping, from fine fashion designers to t-shirts, and dining, from Planet Hollywood to noodle shops, draw millions of vacationers to Waikiki.
Take the quick tour of South East Oahu to discover Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head, Sea Life Park, Kailua Beach (one of the world’s best beaches according to Dr. Beach), and the Nuuanu Pali Lookout, the site of a critical battle in Kamehameha the Great’s conquest. A highway tunnel cut through the Koolau Mountains connects the eastside communities with downtown Honolulu.
In Windward Oahu, the eastern slopes of the Koolau Mountains have been sculpted over eons by the tradewinds and showers into lofty, pleated mountain walls covered by emerald green foliage, cut by waterfalls. The valleys and coastal areas below are rich agricultural lands with charming communities and beautiful bays. Two highways with tunnels cut through the mountains connect the windward side and Honolulu. In Laie, the Church of the Latter Day Saints has its temple, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and Brigham Young University – Hawaii campus.
The North Shore is best known for its huge winter surf, documented in movies, television, and songs. World-class surfing championships are held at Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline, and Sunset Beach when winter swells roll in. In the summer the same bays can be placid enough for youngsters to snorkel and swim. Haleiwa town is a funky mixture of surf shops, old family cafes and art galleries. Waimea Falls Park features acres of lush botanical gardens, tours, cliff-diving and hula shows.
The leeward or West Side is bordered by the Waianae Range, and is generally warm and sunny. Hawaiian families here treasure the “old style” feel of life in coastal communities. Makaha Valley is full of mystery and historic and spiritual importance. Kapolei is a modern community that’s growing rapidly. The luxurious Ko Olina resort features golf and many leisure activities. Kaena Point is the northernmost part of Oahu.
Central Oahu is a plain known for its fertile red earth that used to be planted in acres of pineapples. The crop is now diminished, being sold as fresh fruit, rather than the tons that were canned and processed into juice. Sugar cane is no longer grown either; vegetables and herbs are now cultivated for restaurants and markets in the state. There are several military bases in the central plain and surrounding Pearl Harbor. Mililani, Pearl City, Aiea and nearby communities are home to many residents who work in Honolulu.
Along the southern central shore is infamous Pearl Harbor. The Arizona Memorial is a can’t-miss attraction for anyone with an interest in history. There are a number of tours within the base. Check at the visitor’s center. The USS Missouri is berthed next to the Arizona Memorial, so be sure to go aboard one of the world’s most famous battleships. The peace treaty (“Surrender Ceremony”) between Japan and the United Sates of America ending World War II was signed on board the USS Missouri. The USS Missouri Memorial Association, Inc. (MMA) now operates the ship as a living memorial.