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Sailing to Hawaii -- Part I

Author: travelmel (More Trip Reviews by travelmel)
Date of Trip: October 2006

It didn't really hit me that I was going to Hawaii until my second flight of the day -- after the haul from Newark to Salt Lake City and boarding my even longer connection to Honolulu. On this leg, flight attendants wore aprons in bright floral patterns, and all announcements began with "aloha." The scenery probably improved, too, but seeing as I was smack in the center of the plane in the very last row with no window, we could have been over Germany and I wouldn't have known the difference.

I was here to spend a few days on Oahu and then a week cruising the other islands on NCL’s Pride of Hawaii. I planned to get a rental car for my two days on Oahu from Hertz' new "Fun Collection," because when else would I drive a convertible sports car? I also set out looking for adventure, including my very first surfing lesson (because, hey, when in Hawaii...).

Driving in Paradise

Hawaii is a dream to explore via rental car. The islands are beautiful and easy to navigate, and since you are in the U.S., there's no need to worry about quickly memorizing new traffic laws or driving on the "wrong" side of the road.

I reserved a car from Hertz' new Fun Collection ahead of time via their Web site, and after picking up my baggage at the carousel, a shuttle van took me right to the check-in counter, where I was given the keys to a white Mazda Miata.

Tip: Unless you are traveling alone with one small bag, do yourself a favor and ask for something with more trunk space (like the Ford Mustang or Toyota Solara), or arrange to pick up your speedy, sexy car after dropping your stuff off at your hotel. Try as I might I could not fit my standard rolling suitcase in the anorexic backend of the Miata, so it sat shotgun (wearing a seatbelt, of course)!

Top down and radio tuned to a station playing Hawaiian melodies, my boxy traveling companion and I set off from Honolulu toward the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore. Instead of taking the freeway through the center of the island, as the GPS on my cell phone suggested, I consulted the map I'd grabbed at the Hertz counter to find a more scenic route from the Waikiki Beach area to the North Shore.

All along this route are scenic lookouts and beaches where you simply pull over, park your vehicle next to other rented Jeeps and sports cars, and take pictures or simply sit and enjoy the scenery. The most memorable part of the drive, which took me several hours, was stopping just before sunset at a quiet, deserted stretch of beach. As the sun dipped behind the palm trees and below the water, the entire sky turned pink and then purple -- as if just for me. Snapshots didn't do it justice, and I wish I'd viewed my first Hawaiian sunset through my own eyes, and not a viewfinder.

The Turtle Bay Resort is one of very few places to stay outside of Waikiki Beach, and is a full-service resort featuring pools, golfing and water sports. It was an easy choice; though hotels are notoriously pricey in Hawaii, Turtle Bay was running a special rate of $199 throughout the month of October. That rate and a surprise upgrade got me a comfortable room with a balcony. Cool tidbit: The property is designed in such a way that every single room has an ocean view.

After my long journey and road trip, I was interested in simply getting settled in and then heading downstairs to 21 Degrees North, a contemporary restaurant with Hawaiian fare fused with international flavors, for a relaxing dinner. I asked to be seated outside on a patio lit with tiki torches and washed with island breeze. I started my meal with a salad of local organic greens with pineapple balsamic dressing, Maui onions, Hawaii-grown tomatoes and goat cheese crusted with macadamia nuts. Dinner was a delicious Moi filet -- a meaty fish that is native to Hawaii, resembling salmon in texture but a white fish in taste -- wrapped in nori, served with jasmine rice, bok choy and a yellow coconut curry cream.

I passed on dessert, unusual for me, but my waiter made sure to slip me some chocolate truffles with my bill to take back to my room as a nightcap....

A View to Die for (Almost Literally)

After checking out of Turtle Bay in the morning, I drove back to Waikiki where I'd be spending my last night before boarding Pride of Hawaii -- this time via the freeway, past the Dole pineapple plantation (which I regret not stopping at). I dropped off my bag at the Marriott and set out for the day's adventure -- climbing Diamond Head.

The mountainous Diamond Head crater, flanking Oahu's southeast coast, is one of the island most famous landmarks, the byproduct of a volcanic explosion that occurred some 500,000 years ago. Ancient Hawaiians called it Laeahi, which translates to "brow of the tuna"; early British sailors mistook the glistening calcite crystals embedded in the lava rock for diamonds, and gave Diamond Head its incorrect name in the 1800's.

The cost to park and climb the 540 ft. is $5, and after locking up the Miata I set off toward the initial trail. The Diamond Head State Monument opens at 6 a.m., and that's a cooler, less crowded time to climb. When I arrived at 10 a.m., the sun was not exactly blazing -- but it was the start of a hot day and I could already feel beads of sweat moistening my forehead. The .7-mile hike begins with a paved trail that leads to a series of relatively steep and often uneven and rocky switchbacks (there are railings to hold on to) up the side of the mountain. Though there are a few lookout/rest points, there's not much to the trail itself.

Two steep staircases are about two-thirds of the way to the top -- and this is about where I thought I was going to die or at least get violently ill. It wasn't a fear of heights or even sensitivity to the heat, but sheer exhaustion. Okay, so maybe it was the heat, too. After the second, narrow flight there's a small dimly lit tunnel (a former World War II bunker) in which I literally sat on the ground panting. I knew I was close to the top, because people that passed my makeshift seat shortly came back in the other direction, sweating bullets, all promising the same thing: "It's worth it!"

Eventually I made it to the top (a few staircases later) and it was worth it -- only four or so people can be on the actual summit at a time, and there is absolutely nothing blocking your panoramic view of the vast blue Pacific Ocean, glittering Honolulu skyline and sandy shores of Waikiki Beach. It almost felt unrealistic, as if I had stepped into an aerial view postcard or 360-degree video clip taken by helicopter. (That might have been the heat getting to me.)

Travelers of all ages and ranges of physical fitness can and do make the climb -- young and old, scrawny and plump. The key is being able to pace yourself. Avoid the mid-day period when temperatures, and crowds, soar. There's little shade, so wear a hat and sunscreen, and take a bottle of water (mine was warm as soup by the time I made it to the top, but I was still grateful to have it).

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