An Island of Two Halves: O’ahu, Hawaii

by Christobel Hastings on 16 October 2015, 12:10PM

O’ahu, the Hawaiian island otherwise known as ‘The Gathering Place’ is truly an island of two different halves, reports Journalist and blogger Christobel Hastings.

The third largest of the Hawaiian Islands, O’ahu is home to roughly two-thirds of the Hawaiian population, and when you fly into Honolulu International Airport, you’ll be greeted by a wall of muggy warmth washing over your skin, as well as the friendly hospitality Hawaiians are so famed for bestowing, making you feel fuzzily content before you’ve even had a chance to explore.

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According to locals, the island is jigsaw-puzzled into different pieces according to culture and geography; there’s the metropolitan “Town side” in the south filled with food, fare and bright lights; then there’s the laid back North Shore, the Windward Side, the East Side and The Valley, although Hawaiians have varying interpretations of where the boundaries of these segments of land lie. What’s true to say is that each part of O’ahu has its own distinct vibe; one you’ll want to explore as you traverse across the island.

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The first few days of my trip was spent in Waikiki, which boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in the world; a white strip of sand that stretches along the southern shore of Honolulu. This is what summer sunbathing dreams are made of – no long slog getting hot, sticky and bothered as you bake, but a quick turn in body-warming rays which guarantee to colour you up within the hour. Watch out for frequent rain showers though – you could be crisping in the heat of the sun one moment and running for the shelter of the trees the next, as cold, fat raindrops suddenly descend in fevered bursts.

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It’s worth visiting the local farmer’s market down at the International Market Place, a courtyard spun through with the knarled vines of  trees, where locals come every Tuesday and Thursday to sell all manner of delicious fresh produce – roughly hewn chunks of fruit  piled into open boxes, ready to eat as you stroll. If you’ve a sweet tooth, the amazing fried Hawaiian donuts won’t go amiss either. Opposite the marketplace stands Duke Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian born surfer who popularised the sport so much that a statue was erected in his honour. His statue is draped with leis in tribute, and makes for a catchy photo opportunity if you can wait your turn in the queue for snaps.

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If you’re after some time away from the crowds, the Halona Beach Cove, located just off the Kalanian’ole Highway on the southeastern shore is only a short drive away. Scaling the handmade steps cut into the side of the cliff on the way down may prove a little tricky, but the panorama is worth the scramble. The cove is filled with sparkling turquoise water and little clusters of rock formations, with the odd seal pup lounging about for comedy value.

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Despite being one of the largest islands of the Unites States, O’ahu is easily navigable. You can drive from one point of Oahu to the other in a couple of hours or so. I caught a ride in a rickety white van with friends, and we ambled up to the North Shore, music blasting, within the space of an afternoon. This was one of my favourite moments of the entire trip – passing pineapple fields, plantations and jungle-like vegetation, as well as the odd North Shore resident travelling along cross-legged on a car bonnet, or cycling with a surfboard under their arm.

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I spent time at Three Tables beach in Pupukea, watching surfers riding the frothy waves, a couple getting hitched and a spectacular Turkish-delight pink sunset. The roadsides are dotted with authentic seafood stalls and shrimp trucks which prove a hit with locals and tourists alike, so be sure to try the local cuisine.

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The North Shore is sprinkled with an array of scenic riches, and the landscape is now legendary thanks to star turns in film culture (Forgetting Sara Marshall and Pirates of the Caribbean to name but a few). The beaches are all crystal-clear aquamarine blue, bookmarked off by broad, white sandy shores; and if you go during the week, are practically deserted. There aren’t words to adequately describe the sunsets though, when the sky is splashed and mottled like inks spilling freely on a canvas; the colours of which will remain etched on your mind for weeks afterwards.

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There’s Turtle Bay, one of the last undeveloped areas on O’ahu, renowned for its stunning rock formations, wild coastal beaches, ancestral burial grounds, and endangered green sea turtles with names like ‘Mildred’, which come to sample the algae on the rocks and end up basking cheek-by-jowl with sunbathers.

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Waimea Bay in Haleiwa, meanwhile, is a popular preserve of surfers because of the large waves that break at the northern point of the bay. In summertime though, it is ‘The Rock’, a seven-foot high monolith protruding out of the sand and water on the left edge of the bay that captures tourists’ special attention. It’s an easy climb and proves an exhilarating cliff-jump for beginners; not that I had the nerve to freefall myself.

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Lanikai Beach, the “heavenly sea” is a quieter spot within Kailua, on the windward coast of O’ahu. Just half a mile long, the beach is a popular spot for photo shoots because of its stunning shoreline, broken only by the twin islands of Na Mokulua nestling on the horizon. It’s serenity was unrivalled by any of the other beaches I’d visited, but when I returned home to the Three Tables beach that night to watch my last Hawaiian sunset, I was glad to watch locals out enjoying the evening surf. Natural beauty is to be shared and savoured, after all.

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Christobel is a London-based freelance journalist. She can be found writing on her blog Calico Casa, and you can follow her on twitter here.


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