While Waikiki and Honolulu are the main attractions in Oahu, there is so much more of the island to see. The bus system on Oahu (creatively called “The Bus”) can get you out to the North Shore, though it will cost around two precious hours of your exploring time and you’ll be at the mercy of the bus schedule. Hiring a car is a safer bet, and is what we opted to do. There are several car hire companies in Waikiki. We went with Alamo simply because on the day we wanted the car they had the longest operating hours, giving us the most time for our day trip.
On this trip we got to ride on two of the four Hawaiian “Interstates”. We began on the H1 before heading north on the H2, the trip north from Waikiki to Haleiwa takes less than an hour. The weather began to turn on us just as we were coming into the town, but the rain blowing in over the ocean only enhanced the beauty of this laidback surf town. Exploring Haleiwa was our first taste of Hawaii away from the bustle of Waikiki. The adorable stores along the main street have a nineteenth-century plantation feel to them that harks back to the days when the town was heavily involved in sugar production. It’s definitely worth getting out of the car and having a walk around to check out the boutique shops and cafes.
To escape the increasing rain, we hastened back to the car and headed further along the Kamehameha Highway. Immediately after the bridge over the Waimea River is the turn off to Waimea Valley. Known as the Valley of the Priests, this stunningly beautiful valley is lush with tropical greenery. I loved the twisted shapes of the larger Monkeypod trees as the branches warp and bend upwards, providing a striking canopy dappled with sunlight. Entry to Waimea Valley is $16 for adults and showcases many significant sites honouring the four main gods of the Hawaiian religion. However, we opted to just enjoy exploring the gardens surrounding the gift shop and cafe, which was free.
The next major stop along the highway is Sunset Beach, which is a famous stretch of sand known for its high surf in winter. Unfortunately, we timed our trip to the North Shore between the Hawaiian Pro event wrapping up in Haleiwa Ali’i Beach Park, and the Vans World Cup of Surfing beginning the following day at Sunset Beach. However, while we didn’t see any competition, we did see a lot of pros taking to the water to practise. If you’re planning a visit to the North Shore around November, be sure to check out the surfing competition schedule to get the chance to watch the best surfers in the world tackle some of the best surf in the world. Sunset Beach is ideal for watching the surf competitions because of its steep sand, which means you have a great vantage point and the waves break close to the shore. For this reason, Sunset Beach, and many of the other beaches on the North Shore, are not suitable for swimming in the winter months, so keep that in mind on your visit.
All that surf gazing and fresh sea air had made us hungry, so we hunted down some lunch. We had just driven around the very top of the island and were headed towards Kahuku. Along with its world-renowned surf beaches, this area of the North Shore is also famous for its shrimp (or prawns as we’d say back home), and the highway along this part of the island is littered with shrimp trucks. Our pick was Giovannis shrimp truck. They’ve been only been operating since 1993 but in that time have garnered quite a following. Originally operating out of a converted 1953 bread truck, they have now parked the truck near a permanent pavilion where many more people can enjoy their signature garlic shrimp scampi. A warning for those who aren’t really into garlic (you’re missing out) or those who don’t like messy eating: these shrimp are seriously buttery, seriously heavy on the garlic and seriously tasty. We left with garlic breath that probably could have peeled paint, but it was worth it. $14 (cash only) will get you a dozen shrimp served with rice. Just keep your interactions with strangers to a minimum and breathe in while talking for the rest of the day. Fortunately the rental companies don’t charge an additional cleaning fee for garlic smell in the car (yet…).
As we drove down the east side of the island, the terrain became much more rugged, with mountains jutting up from the coastline. Their sharp lines spoke of their volcanic past, and were softened only by the greenery that clung to them. These steep cliffs meet crystal blue sea via a narrow strip of land, which the highway hugs. We stopped many times along the road to take in the scenery (and many photos) on the way to our final stop at the south-eastern tip of Oahu.
Makapu’u lookout sits on the eastern most point of Oahu. This is an easy drive-up lookout point, with views of the coastline as it greets the pacific ocean. For an even better view, drive a bit further south to Makapuu Lighthouse road. There you’ll find a walking trail that takes you to the lighthouse. The trail is about 2km (1.3 miles) long with an elevation of about 200m and little shelter, so be prepared for a somewhat challenging walk. Your efforts will be rewarded by the stunning views from the top. At the end of the trail you’ll spot the lighthouse, which juts out from a rocky outcrop just below the lookout. For those with an interest in lighthouses, or want a cool word to google, this lighthouse has the largest hyper radiant fresnel lens in the US, and has been in operation for over 100 years. When you’re done looking at the lighthouse, keep your eyes peeled for humpback whales. The whales, known as Kohola in Hawaiian culture, migrate to these mild waters in winter to give birth. We were lucky enough to see two groups of humpback whales on our visit, but they were a long way out, so we’d recommend bringing binoculars if you’re a keen whale watcher.
The sun setting behind Diamondhead made for a spectacular backdrop as we headed back into Waikiki. The drive back from Makapuu only takes 30 minutes and takes you past yet more beautiful spots, like the aptly named Sandy Beach Park, and Hanauma Bay, which is home to the Toilet Bowl… seriously you can google that. If you do, you’ll find it is a natural spa that is now closed, as too many people flung themselves into it at inopportune times. So there you have it, a trip around Oahu condensed into one day. As with any trip, more time would have been great, but we hope this inspires you to escape the bright lights of Waikiki and explore this amazing island.