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Hawaii 2022: The Sights

When Elsie and I were planning our vacation to Hawaii the biggest question to answer was which island to visit? While it is possible to visit multiple islands by flying between them, we had no interest getting in and out of planes.

The two most common destinations for tourists are Oahu and "Big Island". While Big Island does live up to its name, being over six times as large as Oahu, it only has about a fifth of the population. Because we wanted to get a good mix of nature and humanity we chose Oahu. The urban area of Honolulu houses nearly 1 million people and is a 30 minute drive from elements of nature that we had never seen.

If you're looking to plan a vacation to Hawaii, my recommendation would be to find a hotel in Waikiki and visit everything on this list.

Pearl Harbor National Memorial

I did not think I would enjoy the Pearl Harbor National Memorial as much as I did. I was prepared for a cookie cutter war memorial with the standard monuments to history that we'd be able to see in less than two hours. We arrived at 1 pm and didn't leave until after 5 pm, probably only seeing half of everything that was possible.

Our first stop was the USS Bowfin, a submarine that saw active duty during World War II. It is crazy to think that I was walking through a submarine that battled in the Pacific Ocean nearly 80 years earlier. The audio tour gave an amazing insight into the frankly bonkers environment those sailors lived in.

After we exited the submarine, immediately next door was was the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum. It is divided into two sections. The first is all about World War II with heavy emphasis on the USS Bowfin. All sorts of personal mementos and recovered artifacts are on display. By the time we reached the end of this section it was already 3 pm. It was then we realized that the second section of the museum deals with everything after World War II and is considerably larger. Knowing we wouldn't have much time left if we explored everything this section had to offer we blew through it in 20 minutes and made our way back to the main park grounds.

As we walked through the various monuments spotlighting different aspects of the attack on Pearl Harbor we realized there were two more museum galleries. "Road to War" and "Attack" are full of all sorts of pictures, memorabilia, and miniatures of the lead up and attack on Pearl Harbor. We spent another hour walking through these galleries, completely enamoured with the tale being told.

When we finally emerged it was 5 pm and the sun was already setting so our time at Pearl Harbor had come to an end. But there was still so much we could have seen!

There is just so much to see and do at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial that I highly recommend you take your time and thoroughly plan out a visit to make sure you make the most of it.

Oh and one very important thing to call out. Do not bring a bag if you can help it. You are not even allowed to bring purses into the memorial. So leave everything at your hotel room except your phone and maybe an extra camera.

Koko Crater Railway Trailhead

One of the main reasons we choose Oahu was because we knew there were tons of amazing hikes to go on and the Koko Crater Railway Trailhead is at the top of that list. It is 1000+ steps of pure pain. Give yourself at least two hours to make it to the top, do a little sightseeing, and then fall with style on the way back down. Also, bring twice as much water as you think you need because if the sun is out you're going to be baked alive.

The secret to this hike is that when you get to the very last railroad tie, and it looks like you've reached the end, you can still climb higher. Take the well worn path to your right and climb to the absolute peak of Koko Crater where you'll have a completely unobstructed view of Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head, and Honolulu.

Manoa Falls

Another great hike is Manoa Falls and I think it is the absolute perfect first hike for any trip because of how easy it is. A relaxing 30 minute jaunt to the falls and then you just retrace your steps to get back. No crazy inclines or uneven terrain. Just a beautiful trip through a tropical rainforest.

It is also a perfect introduction to the microclimates of Oahu. During our 20 minute drive to the falls, we went from blazing sunlight to ominous clouds which proceeded to rain on our hike back from the falls. My recommendation to everyone doing this hike is just assume you are going to encounter rain and will essentially be hiking through mud. Bring things to properly clean yourself such as paper towels and rubbing alcohol to ensure that you're not bringing any unwanted hitchhikers back to Honolulu.

Diamond Head

No visit to Oahu is complete without climbing Diamond Head, the remnants of an extinct volcano that looms over Honolulu. Basically every website or YouTube video about things to do in Oahu will mention Diamond Head and I can confirm that it is well worth the trip.

Admittedly, it is a very touristy landmark. The hike up the trail to the summit isn't difficult so you're probably going to find yourself shoulder to shoulder with a lot of other people. But the majestic views on the way up are more than worth it and you're looking at probably only an hour to complete the round-trip.

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is located inside Punchbowl Crater, the remnants of another of extinct Oahu volcano.

It is a beautifully maintained cemetery for men and women who served in the US armed forces. The grounds are full of various monuments and statues to the wars those soldiers fought and died in. If you climb to the southwest edge of the crater you'll have an amazing panoramic view of Honolulu.

Living Ocean Snorkel Excursion

In my mind you cannot go to Hawaii without swimming in the Pacific Ocean at some point. We chose to go on the Turtle Canyons Snorkel Excursion hosted by Living Ocean Tours.

First things first, just assume you are going to get seasick. I thought I was fine on the water but there were particularly harsh seas that day and I barely survived the 20 minute boat ride. Once I jumped into the water everything was fine but I was very cognizant of where the vomit buckets were stashed.

This tour was targetted for the beginner type of snorkeler. You had to wear a flotation vest regardless of your skill level, so it was basically just stick your head in the water and look down. We didn't see any turtles but there were plenty of tropical fish so I was more than happy for what we paid.

If I went back to Oahu I would definitely try to find a smaller tour for more skilled swimmers. There were 30+ people on the boat and the area they took us to was the goto spot for various other snorkeling tours so it was quite busy.

Kualoa Ranch

On the eastern edge of Oahu is Kualoa Ranch, a 4,000 acre private nature reserve where many popular films and TV shows have filmed at over the years. It is quite a distance from Honolulu so I would recommend you rent a car to make getting there and back much easier. I cannot imagine the bus ride out here would have been fun.

The ranch itself is breathtaking. The foliage and mountains out here are probably unlike anything you've seen before. We chose the "Jurassic Adventure Tour" because as huge Jurassic Park fans we thought we'd get to see where they shot some iconic scenes. Unfortunately, only one scene was shot at Kualoa Ranch, the one where they hide behind a log from the flock of Gallimimus. Every other spot you visit is from the Jurassic World films, whose existence I refuse to acknowledge. The whole tour came off like a friend who randomly talked to a celebrity one time and now they are just coasting on that experience as small talk fodder for the rest of their life.

Knowing what I know now I would have taken a tour that focused more on the nature rather then the filming sites. Going out on a bike, horseback, or even ziplining would have been more interesting than seeing shoddily made hollow buildings used as background in a film.