Almost three quarters of Hawaii’s population live on OAHU, which has monopolized the islands’ trade and tourism since European sailors realized that Honolulu offered the safest in-shore anchorage for thousands of miles. Well over half of all visitors to Hawaii arrive in Honolulu, and many remain for their entire vacation. Oahu effectively confines tourists to the tower-block enclave of Waikiki, just east of downtown Honolulu; there are few rooms anywhere else.
While over-development makes it hard to recommend Oahu over its neighbours, it can still give a real flavour of Hawaii. Oahu has some excellent beaches, with those on the North Shore a haven for surfers and campers, and the cliffs of the windward side are awesome.Read More
Until the Europeans came, there was no significant settlement on the site of modern HONOLULU; soon so many foreign ships were frequenting its waters that it had become Kamehameha’s capital, and it remains the economic centre of the archipelago. While the city covers a long (if narrow) strip of southern Oahu, downtown is a manageable size, and a lot quieter than its glamorous image might suggest. The tourist hotels are concentrated in the skyscrapers of the distinct suburb of Waikiki, a couple of miles east.
While its setting is beautiful, right on the Pacific and backed by dramatic cliffs and extinct volcanoes, most visitors are here simply to enjoy the sheer hedonism of shopping, eating and generally hanging out in the sun.
Built on a reclaimed swamp, two miles east of downtown Honolulu, Waikiki is very nearly an island, all but separated from the city between the sea and the Ala Wai canal. The site may be venerable, but these days its raisond’être is rampant commercialism. You could, just about, survive here with very little money, but there would be no point – there’s nothing to see, and the only thing to do apart from surf and sunbathe is to stroll, and shop, along the seafront Kalakaua Avenue.
In places, the parallel Waikiki Beach narrows to just a thin strip of sand, but it’s still a wonderful place to spend a lazy day, and there’s always something going on, from surf lessons to outrigger canoe rides. The pedestrian walkway along its edge, lined with pleasant gardens, makes it a refuge from the frenzy nearby, and usually you only have to walk a little west of the centre to find a more secluded spot.
Almost the whole of Pearl Harbor, the principal base for the US Pacific fleet, is off-limits to visitors. However, the surprise Japanese attack of December 7, 1941, which an official US inquiry called “the greatest military and naval disaster in our nation’s history”, is commemorated by a simple white memorial set above the wreck of the battleship USS Arizona, still discernible in the clear blue waters. More than 1100 of its crew lie entombed there.
Free tours of the memorial operate between 8am and 3pm each day, but it can be two or three hours after you pick up your numbered ticket before you’re called to board the ferry that takes you there. The visitor centre does at least offer long-range views of the memorial, which was partly financed by Elvis Presley’s 1961 Honolulu concert, his first show after leaving the army.
The huge USS Missouri, which survived the attack and was the scene four years later of the ceremony in Tokyo Harbor that ended World War II, is moored alongside the Arizona. Guided visits, by bus from alongside the Pearl Harbor visitor centre, include the actual surrender site as well as sweeping views of the harbour from the Missouri’s bridge.