Destinations North America USA

Travelling Hawaii: Oahu

Hawaii. Palm trees and blue skies. Leis on arrival and hula dances at night. Surfing galore and a dose of luaus on the side.

It paints a pretty picture, huh?

And Oahu can be gorgeous, when the sun is shining, the skies blue, the ocean flat. You can fly onto Reef Runway, admiring the coral as the wings almost touch the ocean.

As you take the freeway into town, magnificent volcanic peaks rise along your left, lush, densely rainforested and shrouded in lurking mists, so they look like a bubbling cauldron.

North shore beach oahu


But Oahu’s capital Honolulu is home to some 400,000 people, and it looks like one. The buildings wheeze with age, the land is raped for agriculture and the military.

People pass their everyday lives here, going to work – many working two or more jobs 7 days a week – and attending schools. There are vast military compounds, inclusive of baseball fields, basketball courts, schools and streets upon streets of duplicated houses. 

It looks like a city neglected, the concrete crumbling in parts, the buildings sparse and nondescript …

… And then you reach Waikiki.


Waikiki appears otherworldly in this petite city. The buildings are flash, the footpaths well paved. The shoreline is plush, with boardwalks for beach strollers and dog walkers, green parks, barbecue setups, statues of surfers and native leaders adorned with days’-old leis, and lines of wobbly palm trees reaching towards the heavens.

And it’s all set amidst the backdrop of the impressive Diamond Head Crater.

Waikiki beach

But those discrepancies typical to America still exist. Amid the Porche drivers and the 5 star hotels are the homeless, dressed in ragged clothes, sleeping on the beach and rifling through the rubbish bins to make a dime off discarded drink bottles, taking a tipple if there’s any liquid left in the soda cans. 


The North Shore is a less frequented part of Oahu, with short-term holidayers prefering to venture to Hanauma Bay or the Diamond Head Crater.

But an hour’s drive through barren, agricultural land brings you to a beautiful holidaying spot, at the centre of which is Haleiwa.

My fellow travellers and I picked a less than desirable day to traverse the island, heading straight into a torrential storm that didn’t seem all that willing to let up. But the humid atmosphere meant the rain would not hold us back – we chose to see it as refreshing.

Haleiwa is a historical town with a smattering of semi-charming surf stores and food shacks, including the half-century old and hugely popular Matsumoto’s Shave Ice, the line for which extended across the town’s tiny main plaza.

haleiwa shop oahu

As with Honolulu, Haleiwa had a fatigued feel about it, but it seemed almost deliberate here in this bohemian town.

Waimea Bay

Not far from Haleiwa is a beach arguably even more popular than Matsumoto’s refreshing snacks. Waimea Bay features one of the most popular beaches on the island, renowned mostly for the huge waves that crash onto the shore in winter.

On the day I visited, it was hard to imagine the pummeling surf. Instead, there was a vast stretch of sand framing the murky green ocean. To the left were rocks upon which the more brave beach goers congregated to bomb into the rollicking waters below.

As luck would have it, the rain diminished and the clouds parted to admit rays of sunlight on this little stretch of paradise.

If you’ve got the time and money, you can always head to Waimea Falls at the end of the Waimea Valley, but if I’m honest I struggle to be as impressed with waterfalls – especially ones you have to pay to visit – since seeing the marvellous Iguazu Falls.

I only had two days in this strange island, but what about you? Offer up other travel suggestions and comments in the Comments section below.

For more USA travelling inspiration…

The United States really are just a bunch of individual states – almost countries – tacked together. So if you’re looking for more inspiration, check out some of these State-side travelling ideas:

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