We wondered why we had come, leaving behind the relative tranquillity of Maui to find ourselves in the Honolulu suburbs trying to escape the big city for the sanctuary of the north coast of Oahu. We were sat in a colossal traffic jam on the interstate H1 that, at one point, developed into 12 lanes of bumper to bumper traffic – a leviathan belching noxious fumes, its scaly backbone winding its way inexorably, yet sluggishly back and forth through a grey, concrete landscape of apartments and factories. People stood on their balconies at eye-level with the monster, passive witnesses to their environment’s destruction. We could only imagine the health impact of living in such a place. We were a million miles from paradise.
The further north we travelled, the lighter the traffic became and the landscape softened to green – a palpable relief. We were thankful to return to the simplicity of the ramshackle life and the smell of the ocean.
Oahu’s north coast is the embodiment of the good life – a life lived on the beach and in the sea, of shrimp tacos and cold beer, surfing and sunbathing.
From North to East
Haleiwa would be our our home for a few days and from here, we took a road trip down the eastern coast to Kailua. It wasn’t long before we spotted the now typical roadside collection of eateries, selling tacos, shrimp, fruit and cold drinks and we stopped to eat.
We chose fish and chicken tacos, with black beans and rice and sat beneath a tented gazebo and tucked in.
Highway 83 hugs the coast all the way and we stopped from time to time to take in the view or stock up on water.
We passed beach after beautiful beach and the sand was fine and soft, the sea a sparkling blue-green. Huge four-by-fours cruse up and down this coast, sometimes setting up camp at the side of the road with gazebos, chairs, BBQ’s and large speakers to boom out R&B or Reggae music. It’s a lot less intrusive than it sounds and somehow in keeping with the vibe of the place. On one beach, we saw kids having some canoeing lessons. They dragged the hulls down the beach to the water, jumped aboard and were off.
Later, as if we hadn’t had enough of the big city, we headed back towards Honolulu; this was a good opportunity to see the famous Waikiki Beach. We had low expectations of this iconic beach from stories we had been told and things we had read but couldn’t come here without seeing it. Joe, a guy we had met in a bar on Maui, told us that most people who come to Hawaii come to Oahu’s Honolulu area. And of those who come, nine out of ten stay in or around Waikiki Beach. The trouble started long before we arrived as traffic came to a stop on the edge of the city. Road closures and traffic volume lowered our mood somewhat and we decided to find the nearest parking lot and walk. We began to realise that we had chosen to be here during the annual cultural celebration known as the Pan-Pacific Festival.
The streets were rammed with people, who wandered up and down amongst tented stalls selling arts and crafts and the smell of all kinds of street food filled the air.
We asked for directions to Waikiki Beach and were directed down a side street filled with huge surfboards.
Within moments, we emerged onto the beach.
The beach was busy, with people sitting around in the sand or walking at the edge of the water. There was a subtle, carnival feel to the place and the beach-side bars and restaurants were full and music played. Further along the beach we saw a Hula competition. This traditional Hawaiian dance is accompanied by beating drums and ukuleles.
By now the sun was setting and people began to gather to witness it. The sky became stormy and the gathering clouds added to the dramatic atmosphere.
We left the beach to look for food and decided upon Thai vegetable noodles and ate it, sat on the sidewalk, watching the world go by and listened to the nearby live Hawaiian and Blues music.
We ended the day in a posh bar in a Honolulu street before taking the now quiet highway back to the solitude of the north shore.