Waikiki and Oahu
Trip Start Jun 04, 2009
3Trip End Jun 19, 2009
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We arrived from Maui Thursday June 11. Took the Roberts Shuttle into Waikiki. We got a bit of a discount as we had a group of 11 - if memory serves it cost $7 per person. Our family of 4 had rented two condos at the Aston Pacific Monarch (corner of Kuhio and Uluniu). One of the condos was rented from the management at Aston Pacific Monarch, the other direct from the owner (Steve) on vrbo.com. The link to his ad is below:
The other part of our group was staying at Hilton Hawaiian Village, which is at the very western end of Waikiki.
The Pacific Monarch is probably a bit dated in parts, but the location was excellent. It is only a few minutes walk to Waikiki Beach and to the main tourist and shopping area on Kalakaua Ave. When we were researching where to stay, a lot of the condos we looked at on vrbo were located a few blocks further back along the Ala Wai Canal. When we got there and figured out the layout of the area we were glad we had chosen the Pacific Monarch, as it was much closer to the beach than those options. Also we found the staff at the front desk to be excellent, very friendly and helpful.
We really liked the condo we rented from Steve on vrbo. It was a bit older and the kitchen quite small, but had a great ocean view (20th floor) and came with a PC and broadband internet connection. There was a spacious lanai (balcony) where we would often have a drink of an evening and watch the moon rise over Waikiki. We'd definitely rent this condo again if we return.
Pacific Monarch has a pool and spa on the roof of the building and also a 'party room' which takes up the whole floor below that and has great views. We never saw anyone using it while we were there though...
The Pacific Monarch also has a small convenience store just outside the lobby which is run by a Korean couple and was fairly reasonably priced for buying beer, wine and other items.
A short walk up Kuhio to the east there was a Food Pantry (supermarket) and in the other direction a Foodland or Safeway, can't remember which...
There were plenty of options for eating close to the Pacific Monarch. There was a small Korean place just across the road where we would often get breakfast and lunch, a Tex-Mex place we ate at (La Cucaracha) just down the block as well as many Japanese restaurants, including a quite nice looking one just nextdoor. Generally in Hawaii we found there was a good choice of food - things like Vietnamese or Thai which we often have at home were available as well as others that we don't see much here such as Filipino food.
One of the guys I work with in Australia visited Waikiki years ago on a football trip and was always telling me how lousy and unhealthy the food was, everything deep-fried etc. I think it must have changed since then - sure, they have most of the burger joints common on the mainland, but as I say you can get pretty much any kind of food you like. The portions are huge though - my family and friends used to call me 'scrappy' for finishing off the kids' leftovers or stuff people couldn't finish at work lunches etc, but often I couldn't finish my own meal in Hawaii, let alone other people's! It was the same on the mainland last time.
Kamehameha Day Parade:
We arrived on June 11 which is King Kamehameha Day, On the Saturday they had a big parade which started in downtown Honolulu and made its way along Kalakaua Ave to Kapiolani Park. The Americans certainly do a good parade, and this one was fun to watch from our vantage point just outside Macys on Kalakaua.
As well as the Royal Order of Kamehameha leaders riding in convertibles, they also had paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys), princesses from the various islands on horseback, beauty pageant winners riding in Corvettes, Hawaiian warriors, and a float with a Hawaiian band complete with a pig being roasted on the back! It must attract a bit of interest on the mainland as well, as the parade included high school marching bands from Missouri and motorcycle cops from the Indianapolis PD.
The parade was led by a Marine Corp marching band. These and the other troops and sailors taking part always got cheers and claps from the crowd as they marched by. What struck me most about the parade was the relaxed atmosphere around the event - an indication of the 'Aloha Spirit' perhaps! For example, a few times Japanese tourists (girls) would run out and get their photo taken with one of the sailors or other participants. At one stage a scruffy looking young guy with no shirt joined the parade, waving and acknowledging the crowd. I'm pretty sure here in Australia the police would have intervened, but nobody seemed interested in doing anything about it. Anyway we enjoyed the parade very much.
Diamond Head State Monument:
Later that same afternoon we hiked up to the top of Diamond Head State Monument. You can get 'The Bus' to the turnoff to the monument then it's a decent walk to the trailhead. Cabs hang around offering lifts from the turnoff through the tunnel that goes through the crater wall and we accepted. Once at the trailhead you pay your entry fee and begin the climb. It is a good workout, that's for sure! There are apparently 800 steps or something and apart from the steps the ground is very uneven for most of the way up. Apparently funds have just been allocated to resurface the trail in the next year or so. Still it is a great view once you get to the top, as can be seen from the photos. My mum and auntie are both in their mid 70s and made the climb along with us and the kids, which is a good effort.
The next day (Sunday) we did the USS Arizona tour at Pearl Harbor. We took 'The Bus' there (direct from Waikiki) and arrived around 10:00AM. They give you a ticket (free) for the next available tour of the USS Arizona site. Our tour was about 45 minutes away so some of us took the opportunity for a very quick tour of the battleship USS Missouri. This ship is famous as the place where the Japanese formally surrendered at the end of World War II. Also as the backdrop for Tina Tuner's video-clip of 'If I Could Turn Back Time' in the late '80s or early '90s!
We enjoyed the USS Arizona tour, including the 20 minute movie they show you before the boat takes you out to the site of the wreck. The smaller kids in the group were very interested in the history of the war with Japan - it was not something they would have known much about until then, unlike us whose parents were old enough to remember the war years, if not to actually serve. Around 1100 men went down with the ship on Dec 7, 1941 and are still entombed there. The site is considered a war grave and as such visitors are expected to behave respectfully.
Leeward Coast Drive:
On Tuesday we did a drive up the Leeward Coast (the western, dry side of Oahu). We rented a '91 Tracker from VIP Car Rentals just down Kuhio from the Pacific Monarch. It cost $35 USD and we really should have just rented a 'regular' car from one of the majors. The saving of maybe $25 or $30 was not worth it. This thing had rust holes in the bodywork, even the radio was rusted out and did not work! It had no windows and the canvas top was in pretty poor shape. There was no way to secure the vehicle when parked. The ride was also very uncomfortable at highway speeds.
Anyway, the Leeward side was quite a different landscape from other parts of the island - much drier. We took the H1 west, then Highway 93 through Wai'anae and up as far as Makua Beach Park, stopping a few times to check out the beaches. The area is pretty laid back, mainly smaller towns with the occasional modest shopping mall and a few fast food outlets etc. One depressing feature was the number of homeless. In several places along Highway 93 there were encampments of homeless people along the beach parks next to the highway. Some of the tents may have just been tourists camping, but many were clearly occupied by the homeless - vehicles which looked like they would never move again under their own power, dilapidated tents, portable toilets and so on. These were not one or two tents; they were extensive and must have had dozens of tents in some clusters. I'd heard something about this on Tripadvisor - not sure whether they have been there for some time or if it is a result of the current economic downturn.
National Military Cemetery of the Pacific - Punchbowl:
On the way back to Waikiki from the Leeward Coast we stopped at the National Military Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. This is in the hills behind Waikiki and has lovely grounds and great views over the city and back towards the mountains. Quite a solemn place, with many plaques from figures including Sir Winston Churchill expressing gratitude for the sacrifice of American forces in WWII and later conflicts.
Windward Coast/North Shore:
For our last day we rented another Mustang convertible and drove along the eastern (windward, i.e. green and lush) part of the island to the North Shore, where they surf the giant waves in the winter months. We stopped and did a tour at Kualoa Ranch, where numerous movies and TV shows have been filmed. It has very iconic Hawaiian scenery which would be familiar to anyone who's seen Jurassic Park or shows like 'Lost'. There are lots of nice places to see along the way, such as Koko Head, Hanauma Bay, Makapu'u Beach Park and others.
We stopped at Haleiwa for lunch then returned to Waikiki via the H2 which runs through the middle of the island.
General Observations - below are a few observations about various topics, which may or may not be of interest to Aussies and others travelling to Hawaii:
Lots of things are much cheaper in Hawaii than back home. These include clothes, shoes, makeup and 'product' generally. Beer and wine are somewhat cheaper, spirits are maybe half what we pay in Australia. At bars drinks are probably roughly the same price as at home once you factor in the tip (which would not be expected in Australia) and convert the currency. Same applies to restaurant meals I think. We enjoyed quite a few Mai-Tais and 'Lava Flows' during the trip at various places!
We got Levis from Macys for $31 USD per pair, and some Nike shoes from Footlocker for $60 USD, for example. Groceries did not seem cheap at all - probably more than at home. Probably they are more expensive in Hawaii than on the mainland - our impression last time was that many grocery items on the mainland were cheaper than at home. Gas/petrol was a little over $3 USD per gallon which I think works out at about 90 cents Australian per litre.
We did a bit of shopping in Waikiki, mainly Macys as I said earlier. The Macys in Waikiki is smaller and does not have the range of items that the large Macys in the Ala Moana Center carries. Ala Moana Center is a large mall and has a wide range of stores. We visited there a couple times - Macys, Old Navy and some of the smaller specialty stores. It was pretty good value for clothes, cosmetics, perfume, cologne etc.
They told me before we went that there was an ABC Store on every corner and it's actually almost true! - in Waikiki I reckon you are never more than 100 yards/metres at the very most from one. These are very handy for beer and wine and also sell grocery items, T-Shirts, souvenirs etc. Not as cheap as the major supermarkets but very convenient.
On the Road:
OK, I'm a bit of a car guy so I always notice what's different from back home automotive-wise when I travel somewhere. Wherever we went in Hawaii it seemed the most common vehicle was the full-size American pickup (Ford F150/F250, Chevy Silverado, Dodge Ram etc). These are not generally sold in Australia though a few are imported by building contractors and the like. My impression compared to our trip to the US mainland in 2004 was that Hawaiians prefer these big pickups more than the large SUVs that are very common on the mainland.
Safety rules must be a bit different too - we'd notice kids riding in the back of pickups, also surfers with their boards. Definitely not allowed in Australia these days, though I remember as a kid being driven to soccer training with the whole team in the back of a 'ute' (car-based pickup). Also motorcycle riders are not required to wear helmets, although many do. Speaking of bikes, we were going to rent Harleys (there are a few outfits who rent them on Oahu and on Maui) but unfortunately we didn't get time to do so. Lots of tourists rent mopeds or scooters (not sure what they are actually called) in Waikiki. As far as I could ascertain no motorcycle license is required for these. They also have these three-wheeled versions you can rent.
We didn't have much trouble getting used to driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. I think having done so for 3 months in 2004 probably made it quicker to get used to this time. After a few days it seemed perfectly natural and I had to be a bit careful the first day back at home!
Aussies and other foreigners might be surprised to learn that you generally have to prepay for gas/petrol. This was the same as on the mainland in 2004. The other option which works really well is to 'pay at the pump' via credit or debit card. This way you don't have to go inside the store to pay in advance, then back in again to get any change once you are done. The only problem was that some service stations make you key in the zip code of your credit card's billing address to use pay at the pump. I have a US Visa debit card so no problem, but I doubt an Australian card would have worked at these gas stations for paying at the pump. I think Chevron was one where they ask for the zip code, maybe some others too. You can use any credit card when paying at the counter, I should add...
We had a large group of 11 and when we rented cars we needed a minivan and another vehicle. We found that walkie-talkies were a good way to stay in touch as they have a range of a few miles and are a lot cheaper than using mobile phones internationally with 'roaming' charges and all - which segues nicely to the next topic...
Speaking of phones, I had my iPhone unlocked from my provider before we left, planning to buy a prepaid SIM when we got to Hawaii. I visited a T-Mobile store on Maui and the guy said he could sell me a SIM but it probably would not work as the phone had to be unlocked in a certain way in order to function on their network. He tested this by putting a SIM in my phone and sure enough it did not work. I still do not understand the reasons for this, and it goes against other advice I had received that, as long as my handset was unlocked, it should work if a US SIM was installed in it.
So I continued to have my phone 'roaming' with its Australian SIM in it. I only made a handful of calls and was quite prepared to pay for them when I returned. What I had not counted on was the absolutely exorbitant rates Telstra and other providers charge for data usage while roaming. Just by getting my email on the iPhone, using Google a few times to get information on places or activities we were interested in and a bit of GPS usage, I managed to run up a huge bill for data usage. OK, my daughter's unauthorized use of Bebo and MSN Messenger probably didn't help either! Turns out they charge $15 AUD per MB, and my 350MB monthly allowance does not apply overseas. I had no idea about these charges for data usage, though it is common knowledge that making or receiving calls costs a lot more while roaming.
So anyone else with a web-enabled 'smart phone' should be careful not to make the same mistake I did while travelling to the US or anywhere else. A smarter option would be what we did last time in 2004 - but a cheap prepaid handset and recharge it as required with airtime minutes. I managed to negotiate the waiver of most of the bill for data usage, but still an expensive lesson learned!
We had rental cars the whole time we were on the Big Island and Maui at the start of the trip, but you don't really need one in Waikiki. The public transport system is known simply at 'The Bus' and goes practically everywhere for $2 or so. Cabs are also pretty good value for the short trips you are likely to be doing in Waikiki, especially if you have three or four people in the group. We only rented a car for two days, one to visit the Leeward Coast and the other on the last day to drive to the North Shore and take us to the airport the next morning. Even those places well outside the Waikiki/Honolulu area can be done via The Bus, or you can book at trip to these area with Roberts I think.
I've covered this already in the Maui and/or Big Island sections, but main advice I'd offer to Aussies and other non-Americans is to consider renting through the UK branches of the major firms such as Budget and Avis, We researched this extensively for this trip, and found Budget UK to be the cheapest option, once all costs were included and comparing the same class of vehicle. We had found the same to be true on our mainland trip in 2004. The main attraction of using the British arms of Budget etc is that they tend offer very competitive 'all-inclusive' rates - meaning that all the insurances you need as a non-American resident are included in the quoted rate.
The base rental rates advertised by US firms do not include CDW/LDW (Collision/Loss Damage Waiver - in case the car gets damaged or stolen) or SLI (Supplementary Liability Insurance - in case you injure someone else or damage their property - like Third Party in Australia). The reason is that US renters are generally covered by their own car insurance policy when renting a car, which is definitely not the case for us, even within Australia. Americans will often also be covered for rental car insurance if they use a 'Gold' credit card to rent the vehicle. Again, this is very rare here - if it is offered at all usually it is only coverage for a few thousand. It's also not covered by your travel insurance - sure, there might be rental car coverage, but only for a few thousand. The other point of difference is that when you are offered the additional insurance here (equivalent to CDW) it is to waive the $2500/$3000 or so 'excess' for which you would otherwise be liable if the rental car is damaged or stolen. In the US, unless you have CDW or are covered in some other way you are liable for the total value of the car if it is totalled or stolen.
So, this means the prices quoted by US firms will look a lot cheaper at first glance than the rate you will end up actually paying. CDW is usually about $22 USD per day, meaning it can be as much or more than the base rental fee itself.
Keeping the kids amused - State Quarters etc:
When we visited the States for 3 months in 2004 our kids were 10 and 11. On that trip we found that collecting 'State Quarters' kept them amused and also taught them a bit about the various states of the USA. The State Quarters are a series of commemorative 'quarters' (25 cent coins) that have been released by the US Mint a few states per year for the last 10 years or so. They feature a design relating to that state and the year the state joined the Union, in place of the eagle that appears on the regular quarters. Last time we bought a little folder from Borders to put them in as you collect each one. This time our kids were 15 and 16 and not really interested in this, but I told my brother about it as his kids are between 8 and 9. Anyway they were very enthusiastic in collecting the State Quarters, especially once they realized that if you put some quarters into a vending machine, then press the coin return, you get different coins back. By the end of the trip they had collected all 50 states and I had finished off the collection I started on the mainland in 2004 - except for one state. So I'd advise any non-Americans whose kids like collecting stuff to think about getting them into the State Quarters while visiting Hawaii.
We also took the kids to mini-golf in Waikiki - they have a place on Kalakaua Ave where you wear 3D glasses and there are 3D island scenes at each hole on the course. The younger kids loved this as we have not seen anything like it in Australia. I think the kids in our group all enjoyed various aspects of the Hawaii trip, even our moody teenagers who often slept in and missed some of our activities!
Where I stayed