Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Beaches: Diamond Head Beach Park

This is a narrow strip of beach east of Waikiki, tucked under the cliffs of Diamond Head Crater, right by the Diamond Head Lighthouse.  It's kind of an out-of-the-way beach, where tourists go for the scenic lookouts, but inadvertently miss the beach down below.  If you want to check out a less crowded beach and a good view, stop by Diamond Head Beach Park.  

View Larger Map Diamond Head Beach Park
It's pretty close to Waikiki, you could drive or walk, though it is a bit of a walk.  Just follow Kalakaua Ave towards Diamond Head and stay on it as it turns into Diamond Head Road.  Since the beach doesn't have many amenities you'll have to carry everything, so it's probably better to drive.

If you don't know what to look for, you could easily miss the entrance.  Someone I know missed the path and decided to hike down...needing to hold on to tree branches on the steep hillside to avoid falling.  The path down is right after the Diamond Head Lighthouse and before the first scenic lookout.  There's parking on either side of the road and is a popular beach for longboarders.

Just look for the sign and it will show you the way.  With parking on both sides of the road, be aware of surfers crossing the street.

You'll see surfers tote their surfboards as they walk up and down the path.  Make sure you don't leave any valuables in your car.  

Luckily, the path is paved with a guard rail, so footing is easy.   You might see the occasional mongoose running through the grass.  

And finally, the beach itself.  At the bottom of the trail is a shower and water fountain, but no bathrooms and no lifeguards.  There are no food stands, so you need to bring your own water and snacks if you're going to lay out for awhile.  The beach itself is narrow, the bottom is rocky in places and that means there's a decent reef break further off shore.

The beach extends further east to the sleepy (and expensive) community of Kahala.  

Walking further down the beach, it gets rockier.  There isn't much to this beach, it's mostly a spot for surfers that want smaller crowds and consistent waves over a reef break.  The paddle out and back in isn't too rough.  Just remember to check the conditions before you dive in.  

And at the end of the beach, a view of Doris Duke's historic mansion, Shangri-La.  If you want to read that blog post, click here.  There's a decent break called Cromwell's (named after Doris Duke's husband) about 100 meters off the yacht harbor.

As you can see, the surf is flat to a foot.  Today is when you bring the longboards or you won't catch many waves.  This picture was taken in December....such a rough life.

Beaches: Waikiki Beach

View of the south end of Waikiki Beach / San Souci Beach Park
In old Hawaii, Waikiki was the place where royalty came to relax and surf.  Today, Waikiki is where everyone can relax and surf.  It's busy and crowded, but there are showers and bathrooms on the beach, the bottom is sandy, waves are small, and lifeguards are present.  There are also areas for beach volleyball, surf lessons, canoe lessons, or surf board/boogie board rentals.  Always around the corner or across the street is a restaurant or store to get sunscreen, water, coffee, or food.  Yes, some are tourist traps, but you can't beat the convenience of everything in one place.  

View Larger Map Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach is on the south shore of O'ahu located nearby Diamond Head.  Waikiki means "spouting fresh water" and it's named for the multiple streams that fed this former area of wetlands and fish ponds.  Originally a wetland area, the old Hawaiians converted it to aquaculture and royal residence, building fishponds to feed the royal appetite.  Commoners worked the fish ponds while the chiefs engaged in business and surfing.

The surf here is decent, there's a reef break past the sea wall, but it's gentle for most of the year until the summer months.  During the summer when the south swells blow into Waikiki, the waves can get big, sometimes more than 5 feet.  For the rest of the year, you'll need a longboard to catch these waves, since they are gentle, rolling waves that barely get past 1 foot in height.

To the northwest end of Waikiki Beach (left in picture) is the Hilton resort beach and lagoon (which is private), next to the Hilton is Ft. Derussy Beach Park which is reserved for the Hale Koa guests, though the rest of Waikiki is public.  The center of beach around the pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel.  Right next to the Royal Hawaiian is the Waikiki Outrigger Hotel.  Two buildings to the right of the Royal Hawaiian is the original (historic) Sheraton Moana Surfrider Hotel.  That is the low, boxy, white building near the end of the seawall.  The tall building next to the Moana Surfrider is the new, modern tower of the Surfrider.

The section between the Moana Surfrider and the Kapahulu Groin (Kapahulu Pier) is known as Kuhio Beach Park.  The small, white cylindrical building next to the twin towers is the Ashton Waikiki Circle.  Next to the Ashton is the Pacific Beach Hotel and home to the Oceanarium Restaurant.  I'd recommend dining at the Oceanarium Restaurant for dinner or brunch at least once when you visit.  The Kapahulu Pier isn't in the picture, because I'm right on top of it.  Towards the south of Pier is Sans Souci Beach Park (not shown in picture).  Sans Souci (means "care free" in French) Beach Park is named after one of the first beach resorts.  The man-made sea wall that runs along section of Kuhio Beach.  It's covered with algae, so be careful walking or climbing over the wall.  It's very slippery and the water hides a shallow reef, so the fall can hurt.

View of Kuhio Beach from the Kapahulu Groin.  Most people call it the Kapahulu Pier, though technically a groin because it serves as an extension of a storm drain that runs under Kapahulu Avenue.  That area was where Kuekaunahi Stream flowed into the sea.  The Pier was completed in 1951 as part of the Waikiki Beach Improvement Project.

Looking east towards Sans Souci Beach Park.  The original Sans Souci resort was on the grounds of what is now Kaimana Hotel.  Sans Souci was one of the first beach resorts made famous by George Lycurgus.  He made the resort a popular destination and was probably the forerunner of the tourism business in Hawaii.  The far end is Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District, the War Memorial Natatorium, and Kaimana Beach

The Waikiki Marine Conservation District isn't much of a beach as much as a park.  Here's a picture at low tide.  You can snorkel, swim, or wade here, but no fishing or disturbing the coral reef.  There are several fish here and you might even see the occasional octopus or moray eel.  The building in the background is the Waikiki Aquarium administered by the University of Hawaii.  

Here's the front of the Waikiki Aquarium.  It's small, but conveniently located right on the beach and right by a Waikiki trolley stop.  If you have kids, it's a nice way to spend a few hours.  You can read the blogpost about the Aquarium here.

Walking back along the beach is the Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District.  The low concrete slab extending out to the sea is part of the War Memorial Natatorium.  It is the largest salt water pool in the US and is closed until further notice.  That building behind the palm trees is the Kaimana Hotel.

The Natatorium was built as a living memorial to honor the 101 who died and 10,000 who served in World War I that were from Hawaii.  Right next to the Natatorium is the Kaimana Beach Hotel.  

The Kaimana Hotel and Beach.  The hotel is offically called the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel.  Kaimana means diamond in Hawaiian and it's a small jewel at the end of Waikiki Beach.  The beach itself is small with rolling sandy floor and sections of reef.  The next big beach is the semi-secluded Diamond Head Beach Park about 15 minutes up the road past the Diamond Head Lighthouse.  You can spend the afternoon here at Kaimana Beach, at Diamond Head Beach Park, or go across the street to Kapiolani Park.  

Kapiolani Park is a huge, 200-acre park across the road from Sans Souci Beach Park.  It is the largest and oldest park in Hawaii.  The park has soccer fields, tennis courts, benches, a few charcoal pits, the Honolulu Zoo, and the Waikiki Shell Ampitheater.  The road around the park is about 2 miles, so it makes for a good early morning jog.  On Saturday and Sunday there is an open air art exhibit from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm by Kapiolani Park along the Honolulu Zoo called Art on the Zoo Fence.

Or if you want, you can go up to Diamond Head Crater Park.  It's a short drive, though the climb to the top and back can take a few hours.  Near the entrance to the crater is Kapiolani Community College (KCC).  On Saturdays, KCC hosts the KCC Farmer's Market from 7:30 am to 11:00 am.  This is one of the biggest farmers' markets and farmers come from all the Hawaiian Islands to sell some of the freshest local ingredients.  You can get Kona or Ka'u coffee, Kona abalone, fried green tomatoes, and much more.  All depends on what you want to do.      

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Beaches: Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island

Magic Island Lagoon looking east towards Waikiki.
One of the main attractions in Hawaii is beaches.  I'll start a running list of beaches and start a separate page when I get a chance, but they're a lot of beaches to cover. Whether you spend a few afternoons or your whole time on the beach, it's up to you.  I'll just post it.  Just bring plenty of sunscreen, water, and towels.  Don't forget to check the local beach conditions, depending on the beach and time of year there could be strong rip currents or unseen beach breaks.  As long as you're aware of the local conditions, you should be alright.    

View Larger Map Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island

Ala Moana Beach Park / Magic Island - This is the same beach, just referring to different areas.  Ala Moana Beach Park is the stretch of beach in front of the Ala Moana Shopping Center.  Magic Island is the peninsula that juts out from Ala Moana Beach Park next to Ala Wai Harbor.  Both are great places to relax.  

Ala Moana Beach Park

Ala Moana Beach Park is a great place to just lay out.  With an artificial reef, this beach has low surf, gentle currents, a sandy bottom, and lifeguards making it great for kids both big and small.  The park also has large grassy areas, trees for shade, showers, a concession stand, charcoal pits, and restrooms making this an ideal spot for large parties.  

Magic Island has more parking and a decent surf/boogie board break outside the lagoon.  It's a man-made island built on reclaimed shallow reef back in 1964 and was suppose to be a hotel.  That project fell through, so we have Aina Moana (means "Land from the Sea" in Hawaiian), but nobody calls it that.

The surf spot here is a little tricky paddling out and in, you might want to watch the locals for a bit before jumping in yourself.  Just stay away from the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor.  Also, this is a reef break, so look out for the rocks.   
These beaches don't get as crowded as Waikiki Beach, but expect a good number of people...and the occasional spear fisherman, who surfaces after catching a fish.

If you want to reserve a park permit for a large party or BBQ, you can call the Ala Moana Regional Park office at 808-592-2288 and leave a message with your name, number, the date and picnic area.  Depending on what you want to do, fees may apply.  

Just an FYI, they cannot return long distance phone calls, so you can fax them at 808-596-7046, or email at  Hope this helps.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Things to Do: Pearl Harbor USS Arizona Memorial

Depending on when you last toured the Arizona Memorial, you'll notice things have changed.  It's not just the Arizona Memorial, it's the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.  This new monument has the Arizona Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine Exhibit and Museum, the USS Missouri Exhibit and Museum, the USS Oklahoma Memorial, the USS Utah Memorial, and the Pacific Aviation Museum.  For first-timers, the new monument will educate and impress with it's collection of artifacts, stories, and memories.

The new World War II Valor in the Pacific national monument was made possible by Presidential Proclamation of President George H. Bush on December 5, 2008.  The completion and official dedication of the new Visitors Center was on December 7, 2010 honoring the soldiers, sailors, and airmen that gave their life on Dec 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked.  This new center starts with events leading to the Pearl Harbor attack and ends with the signing of the peace treaty at Tokyo Bay.  

View Larger Map The Monuments are at 1 Arizonal Memorial Road, Honolulu, HI

The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument is located in Pearl Harbor just off of Kamehameha Highway.  Parking is limited due to ongoing construction, so you want to go early or take a tour bus.  Also, this is one of the most toured sites in Honolulu with over 1.5 million visitors annually.  This place gets crowded, especially during the summer, spring break, and winter break so just FYI when you're planning your trip.  There is no charge for parking and admission to the Arizona Memorial is free, however you do have to pay for the other exhibits or additional tours.

A word of warning: security measures are strict.  Cameras are allowed, but no purses, handbags, fanny packs, backpacks, camera bags, diaper bags, luggage, or anything that offers concealment are not allowed.  If you do bring bags, you need to check them in at the storage facility by the USS Bowfin museum.  The Bag Storage building is off to the right before the main entrance.  Charge is $3 per item and they are open from 6:30 am to 5:30 pm.  

Monument guide outside the Memorial
You can plan on taking a few hours or all day.  A few websites say touring all the museums and memorials will take about 5 hours, but there's so much here it will easily take 6 hours.  Add time for lunch and restroom breaks and this can be an all day event.  The Pearl Harbor Visitors Center is open from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm seven days a week except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.  Each exhibit will take approximately 2 hours, but if you sign up for the guided tours expect it to take longer.  

One of the big differences from the "old" memorial is there's more space.  Once you past the main gate you can go straight to the centralized ticket booths for the different tours.  Timed tours to the USS Arizona Memorial are from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm daily and are given on a first-come, first-serve basis.  You need to get tickets for the Memorial from the Visitors Center and wait times can exceed 2 hours.  The program consists of a movie and a ferry to the Memorial.  There's also an audio tour for rent narrated by Academy Award winner and Navy veteran Ernest Bourgnine.  For an additional charge, you can rent iPods to use the Memorial's Guide2Go App as a visual tour as you walk through the exhibits.  

While you wait for the program to start, there's two galleries you can check out:  "Road to War" and "Attack and Aftermath".  The galleries are small and somewhat controversial.  The National Park Service brought together several World War II historians and decided to paint a bigger picture of the attack.  The broad brush meant the exhibits include the Japanese viewpoint of events and film crews went to Japan to interview several Japanese sailors, soldiers, and airmen.  The decision to include the Japanese viewpoint ruffled feathers of a few Arizona survivors.        

The "Road to War" gallery details the events and key people that lead to Pearl Harbor.  Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was an interesting character in the war.  He was the architect of the bold and successful attack on Pearl Harbor, though at the same time was at odds with his contemporaries in the Japanese Kwantung Army and General, later Prime Minister, Hideki Tojo.

Admiral Yamamoto had a unique view of the US military having been assigned to Washington D.C. as naval attache and attended Harvard University; he saw first-hand the industrial capacity of the US.  He warned that should war occur, the tide would turn against Japan within a year.  His prophetic warning was right almost to the day.  

The other gallery focuses on the attack and aftermath.  There's an 11-minute video "Battlefield Oahu" that focuses on the attack, relics recovered from Pearl Harbor, and details the internment of Japanese Americans and other events in the aftermath.

Over the entrance hangs a replica of a Japanese Nakajima B5N "Kate" torpedo bomber used in the attack on Pearl Harbor.  

One of the relics from the USS Arizona was this 9-foot section of the superstructure taken near the galley.  It shows the scorch marks from the explosion and flames, as well as the oil along the sinking ship's waterline.

Old Japanese Type 91 Model 2 aerial torpedo recovered from Pearl Harbor
One of the displays that caught my eye was an old Japanese torpedo from the attack on Pearl Harbor.  This was dredged up near Battleship Row in 1991.  The torpedo was relatively intact with its warhead armed.  What you see are the remnants after Navy Explosive Ordanance Disposal technicians took it out to sea and safely detonated the warhead.

The Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater and start of the Arizona Memorial tour
While you're in the galleries, don't forget to arrive 5 minutes before the movie's listed start time.  The whole program takes about 75 minutes.  It consists consist of a 23 minute film on the history of Pearl Harbor attack.  The movie covers the events leading up to Pearl Harbor, the anatomy of the attack, and the aftermath.     
After the movie, you board a ferry for the Memorial.  The National Park Service asks that you remember the Arizona Memorial is the resting place for many of the 1177 crewmen and act accordingly.  

And here is the Memorial: it floats on the water straddling the sunken hulk of the USS Arizona, but doesn't touch the ship itself.  The sag in the middle represents the low point of the attack, with high ends symbolizes final victory.  The windows at the right end form a silhouette of the "Tree of Life" symbolizing renewal and rebirth.

If you haven't seen it before, it is a solemn and impressive monument designed by Honolulu architect Alfred Preis.  After Preis passed away his ashes were scattered from the very monument he designed.  

Inside the central area of the Memorial.  The architect removed any impression of sadness and to give a sense of serenity.  He wanted each individual to reflect on their own thoughts and feelings while walking the white floors.  

At the far end of the Memorial is the Shrine Room.  Here the names of the those killed on the USS Arizona are forever remembered on the marble wall.  

The only thing from the Arizona that's above the water is what's left of the turret. The white buoy past the turret marks the stern of the battleship.  Gives you an idea of the length of the Arizona.  

There are more things to see back on shore after the Arizona Memorial program.  Here at the Overlook Memorial, you get a good view of the monuments that mark the beginning and the end of war.  The Arizona Memorial marked the start of the war and the USS Missouri, on its deck the peace treaty was signed, marked the end of the war.    

As you walk the grounds, you'll comes across additional monuments paying tribute to those that lost their lives during the war.  Another tribute on the grounds is Remembrance Circle.  This exhibit honors the men, women, children, and military personnel who were not on the USS Arizona, but who died on the day of the attack.  Also, in the background is a tribute to those on eternal patrol: the USS Bowfin Submarine museum and park.  That memorial honors the 52 submarines and about 4000 men that were lost at sea.  That is another great exhibit, which you can read about here or you can catch the shuttle bus to the USS Missouri.  

Whether you're the casual observer or the avid historian, there's enough to see and do to make this trip worthwhile.  Just make sure you charged your camera batteries and clear your memory cards because there's a lot to photograph.  

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Things to Do: Tantalus Lookout and Wai'oli Tea Room

It's actually called Puu Ualakaa State Park, but nobody calls it that.  Locals just refer to it as "Tantalus" since it's on Tantalus Mountain and it gives you the best panoramic view of Diamond Head, Waikiki, downtown Honolulu, Punchbowl, and Pearl Harbor.  It feels like you can see eternity from here.  

To find it on the map, however, you need to look for Puu Ualakaa State Park.  It's about 25 minutes from Waikiki depending on traffic, located just outside Manoa Valley.

It's a long and winding road to the park entrance.  Once you get to the gate, you have to follow the road for a little longer until you get to one of two parking lots.  You can park at the first parking lot, that has shaded benches and a restroom or drive down to the second parking lot.    

The second parking lot is right next to the lookout.  You might see photography groups up here taking pictures of Honolulu or Diamond Head.

And when you get to the lookout, you get this view.  To the left or southeast is a great view of Diamond Head and Waikiki.  

To the front (south) is a great view of downtown Honolulu.  

And finally, to the right or southwest is Punchbowl and Pearl Harbor.  That's pretty much it for this lookout, the park itself is small and not many hiking trails.  Most people aren't here for the trails, but for the view. However, since you're up here you might as well swing by Manoa Valley and check out one of the historic sites in Honolulu: the Wai'oli Tea Room.  
The Wai'oli Tea Room has been around since 1922 and it's located at 2950 Manoa Road, which is about 15 to 20 minutes away from the Tantalus Lookout.  I've tried lunch and the I think the food is just okay.  I haven't tried the tea and snacks, though I'd recommend it since it's their specialty.  They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as tea.  Tea time is from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm.