USA Travel Diary Day 6 – San Francisco to Honolulu
1st December 2021
This morning we are up at 6 am for our flight to Honolulu. We have already checked in, uploaded our vaccine QR codes and completed the form to obtain our Safe Travel Hawaii QR code, so once we have dropped off the hire car, we can go straight through security to the gate. Here, we are offered the chance to show our QR codes to obtain a pre-clearance bracelet, thus negating the need to wait in a long queue in Hawaii. Sounds like a no brainer, although it feels a bit weird when the government official applies the wristband. In the past, wearing such a wristband meant festival access (in my youth) or all-inclusive hotels (in middle age). Now, it’s proof I’ve been vaccinated against a virus….
We’re in plenty of time, so eat our high end breakfast of bagels and cream cheese, which we purchased yesterday in Target, at the gate. Then it’s time to board. As it’s technically part of the USA, it’s easy to forget quite how far away Hawaii actually is from the mainland. From San Francisco the flight is almost 6 hours. Shortly after take off, drinks are served. The man next to me orders 2 double whiskies and a beer – it’s 9.30 am. We make do with soft drinks until we hit Waikiki – then it’ll be Mai Tai o’clock. But first, a long flight to endure.
We’re travelling with Alaska Airlines and it’s like they’re trying to give us a little taste of Alaska in plane form. The cabin temperature is so cold that I shiver all the way there. Arriving in Honolulu on an Alaska Airlines flight is a bit like having a hot flush. All of a sudden it’s 28 degrees and I’m ripping off my layers in a panic to cool down.
Our non festival, non all-inclusive hotel wristbands allow us to pass through the airport swiftly and soon we are on a bus to Waikiki, via Honolulu. The first part of the journey is far from the exotic island paradise I’d envisaged. We drive through streets lined with tents and tarpaulins and lots of homeless people before reaching the more affluent area of Waikiki. We alight from the bust after a 10 hour journey, during which we have eaten a bagel and a bag of crackers. First stop is, therefore, a food court where we buy teriyaki with rice. I’m asked what side I want. I’m thinking the choice will be something live vegetables or salad. I’m offered pasta or potatoes. I ask for potatoes and get pasta. To go with the two scoops of rice. So quite a carb fest.
We check into our hotel; Waikiki Sand Villa. Our wristbands, which we were not allowed to take off before reaching the hotel, exempt us from a 10 day quarantine. There are some very fancy hotels in Hawaii – this isn’t one of them, but it’s very pleasant and even has a heated toilet seat – because let’s face it, when it’s hot outside, nobody wants their bottom temperature to drop rapidly when they sit down to do their business.
After we’ve eaten our carb fest, we walk to Waikiki Beach for a swim in the lovely warm ocean. The power of the waves exceeds my own swimming power, so much as I try, I cannot manage to swim forwards – it takes all my effort to avoid swimming backwards. We follow our swim with a brief wander along the strip, but it’s been a long day, plus there’s two more time zones to acclimatise to. So we buy sandwiches and Mai Tais from a general store and return to the hotel. Daughter no 1 moans briefly about not getting to explore more, then falls asleep. At 6 pm.
USA Travel Diary Day 7 – Pearl Harbor
2nd December 2021
Before an afternoon of beach and cocktails, the serious business of a visit to Pearl Harbor. First, breakfast at a nearby bakery, Kona Coffee, where I buy the cheesiest cheese stuffed cheese topped cheese croissant. Then we catch the bus to Pearl Harbor.
We take a wander round the harbour and museum, which tells the story of the attack, which took place 5 days short of 80 years ago. The Americans had moved dozens of ships and hundreds of aircraft from the mainland to Hawaii (so basically half way to Japan) yet were totally unprepared when the Japanese turned up and attacked. In just 2 hours, most of the boats were sunk and most of the aircraft destroyed with the loss of 2400 lives. 900 men died on board the USS Arizona, which exploded and sank. It still sits in the harbour, together with its crew.
One of the most poignant exhibits is a postcard of the Arizona sent by a crew member the day before the attack. He drew an arrow to his position and wrote ‘Dear family, this is where I am stationed’. By the time the card arrived, it marked the spot where he would be stationed eternally.
A floating memorial platform has been built over the sunken ship, and and fleet of boats ferry tourists across the harbour to the memorial. We board one of these boats, operated by the US Navy. The boat is driven by a marine who looks like he’s auditioning for a Village People tribute act. Daughter no 1 prevents me from taking a photo of said Village People wannabe. At the platform we disembark and walk over the sunken ship which lies amidst dozens of colourful fish. At the end is a wall which lists the names of the victims. Not many crew survived the attack, but many chose, upon their own deaths, to be laid to rest with their colleagues.
After our tour, and the obligatory fridge magnet purchase, we exit the memorial site and turn right to wait for the bus back to Waikiki, which is unfortunate as the bus stop is actually out of the memorial site and left. We realise our mistake when the first bus hurtles past without stopping, so have to cross the road and wait a further 30 minutes for another bus.
We manage to catch a bus at the second attempt, then the remainder of the day is similar to yesterday; stop at the food court to purchase teriyaki, swim and wander along Waikiki beach. Only this time we manage to stay out a little later. We almost make it until sunset, only daughter no 1, who isn’t blessed with a huge amount of patience, gets bored before the sun actually sets.
So we walk through the Royal Hawaiin Center, stopping to watch the Christmas hula show. This features some old Hawaiian classics like Jingle Bells and White Christmas, plus a cute number called Island Christmas, about hanging your decorations on your coconut tree and waiting for Santa to bring you presents in a canoe. Then it’s back to the store to buy dinner (and maybe some more cocktails) for another balcony picnic.
USA Travel Diary Day 8 – Waikiki (Diamond Head Crater)
3rd December 2021
Today, we are going to climb to the top of Diamond Head Crater. Starting from the hotel, it is an 8 mile round trip. I’m all for catching a bus to the trailhead, but daughter no 1 will not be persuaded; we are going to walk the whole way.
The Visitor Centre is actually inside the crater, so we must skirt around the bottom, then walk through a tunnel through the middle of the volcano. Then after purchasing a ticket, we can begin our ascent. The first part is along a concrete path, then as we climb higher and steeper, we follow a trail around the crater.
The final part consists a large flight of steep stairs, a tunnel and finally a spiral staircase inside a vertical tunnel. To make it harder, masks are required inside the tunnels. Climbing hundreds of stairs, in a mask, in 28 degree heat is not the most comfortable experience. I am puffing and panting from the exertion and can’t get enough oxygen because of the mask, which is, by now, very soggy.
We finally reach the top and can unmask, catch our breath and admire the view. Then it’s time to retrace our steps. Down the stairs, masks on for the tunnel, along the uneven zigzagging path, holding onto the handrail to avoid slipping, descending in a long line of tourists. I have hung my mask over my wrist as I will need it again soon. The elastic slips over an upright in the handrail and I come to grinding halt, attached to a post, causing a comedy style pile up.
We reach the bottom without further incident. At the visitor centre I don my mask once more to buy a postcard. The sweat has attracted plenty of volcanic dust so it’s now pink and soggy. We walk back into to Waikiki, buying sandwiches en route. The combination of the temperature and exertion have caused significant sweating. I replenish lost fluids and salts (island seltzer and cheese crackers) then refuse to move again until I’ve had a nap.
Daughter no 1 sets of for the shops/beach. I promise to join her later. After an old lady nap, I set off towards the arranged meeting point. According to Google Maps, I can join the beach at the end of the road and walk a mile along a boardwalk. The reality is somewhat different as the boardwalk keeps disappearing. After detours through the restaurant of a fancy hotel, some walking in the sea and a little light climbing, I make it to Kahanamoku beach. It’s quite big – just as I realise arranging to meet someone so unspecific was foolish, I spot daughter no 1.
We had planned to go for a swim, but we come across a popular little beach bar (operated by the US army as part of a military retreat hotel) . Before I know it, we’re sitting under an umbrella sipping Mai Tais (daughter no 1 is a bad influence). We walk/wade/climb along the boardwalk/not boardwalk back towards our hotel, stopping for another attempt at watching the sunset then go in search of dinner.
We spot a large queue outside the Paia Fish Market and decide to join it. I’m usually vegetarian but in Hawaii, finding nut free vegetarian food has been a mission – everything vegetarian seems to contains macadamia nuts. So, this week I have put self preservation above principles. We wait and wait in the enormous queue, then notice that the barman isn’t busy. So we decide queue drinks are in order, buy some wine and sip our (enormous) glasses of wine while we wait to order. Pretty soon, queue drinks have caught on, and everyone is standing in line sipping on their beers and wines.
Finally it’s our turn to be served, and once we’ve shown our vaccine certificates, we choose Cajun spiced Mahi mahi and chips. It was definitely worth the wait – the food is amazing and the portion is enormous. Dinner finished, it’s time to waddle back to the hotel and retire for the night.
USA Travel Diary Day 9 – Hanauma Bay
4th December 2021
Today we’re going to Hanauma Bay – basically a drowned crater full of coral reef and exotic fish. It’s not easy (or cheap – at $25 a head) to obtain tickets; there’s a strict quota with tickets going on sale two days ahead at 7 am each morning and selling out in minutes. We have managed to score some tickets for today. To reduce pollution, they have withdrawn the bus route which used to service the reserve, so the only access is by private vehicle. Only in America would banning public transport be considered a pollution preventing measure. So, after breakfast we book an Uber and ride the 12 miles up the coast to Hanauma.
Once we’ve attended a compulsory briefing, there’s a choice of walking down a short hill to the beach or catching a land train. Daughter no 2 says it would be lazy not to walk. But I determine to get my money’s worth and so we catch the train. We spend the morning swimming around amongst the coral, watching the fish. It’s really beautiful – a bit like swimming in a huge tropical fish tank, surrounded by fish of all shapes and sizes and colours.
Once we’ve had our fill of beach, we buy lunch from the beach snack bar. The picnic tables are surrounded by really tame herons on the lookout for snacks. We order garlic fries – basically chips covered in huge amounts of crushed garlic. Just the thing when you’re about to spend the next hour in a mask breathing in those garlic fumes!
A man on the beach told us that Lyft paid the government a huge bung to cancel the bus, so we determine to make it back to Waikiki by public transport. Google Maps says the nearest bus stop is in a mall just over a mile away. Google Maps neglects to mention that this means walking down a freeway with no pedestrian provision. In addition, daughter no 1 has suffered a wardrobe malfunction so I have to lend her my shorts. So I basically spend 30 minutes walking along the motorway in my (bikini) pants.
We reach the mall without being run over or sectioned and stop at Leonard’s Bakery Truck for Malasadas (which are basically doughnuts) because my guide book says we should. I have to admit, Lonely Planet has a point. I get a Li Hing coated one (Chinese plum dried in a combination of sugar, salt and spices) – it’s so fresh it’s still piping hot and tastes amazing, even if it’s eaten at a bus stop, on the freeway, in the rain.
We catch the two buses necessary to return to Waikiki and spend the remainder of the evening planning tomorrow’s trip – we are going to hire a car and drive round the island.
USA Travel Diary Day 10 – Oahu Circle Tour
5th December 2021
We collect the car at 8 am. It was cheaper than anticipated but the insurance comes with a $1000 excess. We set off for our first destination – Halona Blowhole. Here, the crashing waves force a fountain of water through the blowhole. We have arrived at peak island circle tour time and it’s very busy. Upon returning to the car, we have to wait for 6 coaches to reverse perilously close to our $1000 excess before finally managing to continue.
Next stop is Makapu’u Point. Here, we take a 1.3 mile hike up a path to a lookout on the far south eastern point of the island. The path is smooth and the gradient 7.5%, making it a popular Sunday morning running route. We are passed by lots of runners running up and down the trail as we walk. We stick to walking, stopping at the various lookouts as it’s apparently common to see migrating whales pass by at this time of year. Daughter no 1 claims to spot one. I’m not convinced.
After admiring the view, we descend and continue our drive up the east coast. As soon as we turn the corner, the waves are immediately bigger. The storm has passed, but where the road is close to the shore, there has been damage and plenty of sand and rocks deposited. We pick or way through the debris, conscious of the $1000 excess on our insurance. Next stop is Kualoa Beach Park. We have the ocean on one side, with an island called Chinaman’s Hat, while inland is the film location for Jurassic Park.
We continue up the east coast and round the north shore to Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline where my guide book tells me we can watch pro surfers in action. But there is only one surfer. He has been towed far out by a jet ski to ride the enormous waves. His cousin sits in a pickup truck telling everyone who passes that he does it to try and entice crazy tourists into the water to get beat up by the waves. But the tourists all remain firmly on the beach watching. So I guess there’s only one crazy person on Sunset Beach today…
It’s lunch time, so we join a long line at Ted’s Bakery to purchase a plate lunch. A Hawaiian plate lunch consists of some meat or fish together with 2 portions of rice and 1 portion of macaroni salad. I dread to think how many calories it contains. Daughter no 1 also gets a piece of the bakery’s specialty coconut cream chocolate pie, which she puts on the back seat to eat later.
After one more stop at Pupukea Beach, with its black volcanic sand, we head to our final north shore destination; Haleiwa Beach.
We park up and walk through the quaint little surfer town, crossing a bridge over a river where we spot turtles, then into the harbour where there really are crazy tourists boarding a shark tour boat.
Then it’s time to drive south through the pineapple plantations to our final destination; Dole Plantation. As we set off, a couple step out in front of the car. Daughter no 1 brakes so hard that the back seat unlatches and collapses on top of her pie. I’m not sure if she’s more worried about her $1000 excess or the loss of her pie. Luckily, the plastic container has taken the blow and her pie and $1000 are intact.
Dole Plantation is very busy and there are long waits for the attractions (the gardens, a train, and a maze) so we just take a stroll round the grounds, watching a cat stuffing its face with fish food. Then head for the main attraction – Dole Pineapple Whip. There is another long queue but it’s worth the wait as it tastes amazing. Once we are stuffed to the top with pineapple ice cream, we return to Honolulu.
Before returning our hire car, we stop at Walmart for supplies and souvenirs. There are some very big people in there. It’s like the Hawaii Plate Lunch Appreciation Society. The aisles are full of enormous people in electric chairs and we have to keep jumping out of the way. I opt to take refuge in the salad aisle (just kidding – there’s no salad aisle in Honolulu Walmart).
As we leave the supermarket, a storm breaks and we drive the last couple of miles in a torrential downpour. One final stop to fill up with petrol. Sme things in are Hawaii is so expensive – yesterday we paid $7 for a bag of crisps – so we are surprised to find our 100+ mile jaunt has cost us $3.62 (that’s £2.73 – or half a bag of crisps). We drop off our car after our 10 hour trip and round off the evening eating bagels and drinking Island Seltzers while watching the storm from our balcony.
USA Travel Diary Day 11 – Waikiki
6th December 2021
Breakfast has not been properly thought through; it consists of Everything Bagels, topped with a thick coating of garlic and onion, and blueberry cream cheese. An interesting combination! This morning daughter no 1 wants to go on a whale watching trip – with storms forecast and a wind advisory in place. I cannot be tempted to join her, so she sets off for the marina alone. I am, of course, right and pretty soon she texts to say all boat trips have been cancelled. So we agree to meet at the mall 2 miles away. She has the money belt containing all our cash, so walking is my only option.
Instead of sending me a block up and along a street lined with shops, Google sends me a block down along the canal. So when the heavens open, there is nowhere to shelter and I get totally soaked. My t shirt is ringing wet and my feet are sliding around my trainers making squelching noises as I walk. So I give up and squelch my way back through huge puddles to the hotel. I change into my last pair of clean socks and promptly stand on a bird poo on the balcony. Note to self: stop feeding the bloody birds! I only packed one pair of shoes, so am grateful for the heated toilet seat where I can hang them precariously to dry.
Daughter no 1 makes it back in a gap in the storm, then the rain starts up again with a vengeance. The hotel restaurant is closed, so buying lunch will mean getting soaked. We end up perched on the inner edge of the balcony consuming our remaining supplies of crackers and island seltzer. To make things even more miserable, room service only come every 3 days and were due today but didn’t turn up, so the room is beginning to resemble a rubbish tip; the bins need emptying and the sheets are full of sand. It rains and rains and rains with no sign of abating. Daughter no 1 is a restless soul and makes several escape bids.
Eventually, she can take containment no longer and sets off for a walk along the coast in the heaving rain, returning a couple of hours later completely soaked and clutching a ball of papier-mâché which was once a bag containing fish and chips. It’s only 4.30, so not really dinner time, but she figures no one will want to venture forth again – the forecast is for a further 10.4 cm of rain in the next 24 hours! So we have an early dinner and an even earlier night as the rain continues to fall in torrents.
USA Travel Diary Day 12 – Waikiki
7th December 2021
The rain has finally abated to a steady drizzle. We have had 7.92 inches of rain in 24 hours – the 2nd highest daily total in Hawaiian history. Who knew the sky could hold so much water? It should clear by evening, which is good because today marks the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which will be commemorated with a parade through Waikiki.
We start the day at Kona Coffee, home of the cheesy cheese croissant. The queue is enormous and daughter no 1 wants to try somewhere less busy but I will not be deterred from reaching my cheesy cheese croissant. Cheesy mission accomplished, we walk to the beach and daughter no 1 goes for a swim. I cannot be persuaded because 1) the waves are scarily big, 2) I read there was a shark attack on Hawaii yesterday, 3) fear of being run over by a surfer and 4) there are people much more agile than me failing to exit the ocean with dignity as the waves sweep them off their feet. So instead I sit on the beach with the wussier tourists and homeless people.
Then we walk to an area where a sea wall blocks most of the waves (and sharks) for my old lady swim, then back up the beach so daughter no 1 can enjoy the waves. While she is swimming, an old man dressed as Hawaiian Santa walks past clearly enjoying all the attention as people stop to take selfies with him.
In the afternoon, one last wander round Waikiki. It’s getting very busy as participants head towards the park where the parade will assemble. We pass a group of 600 Varsity cheerleaders walking along the strip in their red, white and blue outfits and star spangled masks. Their leader rather optimistically attempts to get all 600 across a pedestrian crossing on one green light. After a stop for happy hour Mai tais, we find a spot on the side of the road to watch the parade.
The parade commemorates the attack on Pearl Harbor, which killed thousands of Americans and launched the US into WW2. It consists of 93 groups – as well at the cheerleaders, there are marching bands, bands on floats, bikes and classic cars and balloons. For a British person, used to war memorial parades being sombre affairs, it feels rather strange to see everyone having such fun as the bands and cheerleaders pass by. The theme of the parade is ‘to honour veterans while recognising that once bitter enemies can become loyal friends’.
There are 107 WW2 veterans in the parade. Some are riding in classic cars, but most are pushed in wheelchairs (a couple actually walk). The crowd go crazy, shouting and cheering. The wheelchair pushers circle and zigzags across the road to prolong the vets’ moment of glory. Some come along the edge of the road and receive hundreds of high fives as they pass the cheering crowd. Some hand out postcards telling of their war service – we receive a card from a man who dropped out of school after Pearl Harbor to enlist, serving in the army for a couple of years before spending 9 months as a PoW in Stalag 12. The whole thing is very moving.
Then it’s on with the remainder of the parade. A couple of comic moments when a corvette driver tries to show off, revving up his engine. It overheats in a huge cloud of smoke and he has to get out and push his car along the remainder of the route.
And then the parade comes to a halt when a giant inflatable Purple Heart medal gets lodged between the traffic lights. When this happens, we are treated to an extended performance from a high school band doing an excellent rendition of Uptown Funk. It’s so good that we’re disappointed when the inflatable medal is wrangled loose and the band moves on.
After almost 2 hours of marching bands (who knew there were so many bagpipes players in America), seated bands on floats, the 600 cheerleaders, inflatables including an American eagle and a fighter jet and the USS Arizona (which sank in Pearl Harbor), cars adorned with Christmas decorations etc, the parade comes to an end. Our last evening in Hawaii has been quite special.
USA Travel Diary Day 13 – Honolulu to San Francisco
8th December 2021
Today will mostly be taken up with travel. We just have enough time for one last walk along the strip. Preparations are ongoing for the weekend’s Honolulu marathon. We (I) play a very judgmental game of ‘here for the marathon/not here for the marathon’ with passers-by. Daughter no 1 says I’m a troll, then promptly joins in…
Then it’s time to check out and head for the airport. Google maps suggests that instead of catching the bus (20) which actually goes in to airport and takes 73 minutes, we catch a bus (42) that passes nearby the airport and takes 60 minutes, leaving us with a ‘4 minute walk’ to the terminal, and is therefore, allegedly, quicker. We fall for it and catch the No 42. Once off the bus, we have to cross two freeways, walk round the airport perimeter road, which really isn’t designed for pedestrians, then the full length of 2 multi storey car parks before we reach the terminal. It has taken a 20 minute walk, in the traffic, in the heat to finally reach the terminal building, right next to the No 20 bus stop!
Once we reach the airport, the remainder of the journey goes smoothly. Unlike on the outward journey, nobody is interested in our vaccine passports at check in, or at the gate. In fact, the only time we have to show them is in the café to buy chips.
We board the plane – this time we are on Hawaiian Airlines which is very pleasant; a perfect trio of seat back entertainment, cheese sandwiches and rum punch make the journey (literally) fly by. They even demonstrate the emergency exits with a hula dance. In fact, I’m a little disappointed when it’s time to land and I don’t get to watch the end of my film. We pick up our hire car and return to Palo Alto for one last weekend with daughter no 2.