Outdoor Articles

Beyond the Beaches of Waikiki, Oahu



The myriad activities in Waikiki are obvious, from people watching to surfing on perfect waves, outrigger canoeing in the surf, catamaran rides, and world-class shopping on Kalakaua Ave.  After a couple of days unwinding on the beach you might be ready to avail yourself of the many other charms the island of O’ahu has to offer. To get some exercise we explore the delights of hiking through tropical wonderlands. To expand our cultural horizons we visit museums or take in a traditional hula performance downtown. To get away from the bustling activity of Waikiki we head out to the laid back North Shore. We usually eschew use of a car for in-town activities, opting instead for ambulation, public transportation or taxi, except when we strike out for the North Shore, when we rent a car from one of the many inexpensive purveyors in Waikiki.

Bishop Museum

Bishop Museum

Bishop Museum

Founded in 1889 by Charles Bishop, husband of Princess Pauahi who was the last descendent of the royal Kamehameha lineage, the Bishop Museum houses the largest collection of cultural artifacts from Hawaii and the Pacific, numbering over 24 million items. Central to the museum’s collection is the Princess’ set of artifacts, family heirlooms, ceremonial spears and art. The Hawaiian Hall, newly restored in 2009, features three floors of artifacts demonstrating pre-contact life, Hawaiian history and the importance of nature in daily life. The Polynesian Hall showcases the strands of history that link Hawaii with distant neighbors scattered across the Pacific, including their Polynesian origins.  The museum hosts hula and Hawaiian music performances on the expansive lawn. A planetarium and interactive science center is also located on the grounds.

To get to the Bishop Museum take Bus #2, or check the website for driving directions.

Hula Performances

Halau I Ka Wekiu at Merrie Monarch 2007

Halau I Ka Wekiu at Merrie Monarch 2007

We are fortunate to have friends in Honolulu who regularly perform hula and have expanded our appreciation for this ancient art form. Our friends’ two sons, in fact, won the prestigious Merrie Monarch hula competition in 2007 with the I Ka Wekiu halau (club), beating many teams from the islands and the mainland. My favorite style is the men’s traditional style, characterized by chanting in the Hawaiian language, lack of musical instruments, and costumes reflective of the past, such as skirts made of ti leaves. The primal, fierce masculinity of the warrior dances is balanced by the grace and unison of the dancers as they represent ancient stories of the Hawaiian people.  I also enjoy the modern style, which allows musical accompaniment, usually with modest costumes imposed by the conservative missionaries, with full length skirts, long sleeves and high necks for the women, long pants and shirts for the men. Many of the Waikiki hotels feature hula dancing, some of it authentic, but often performed by just one or two dancers. Hula is most often a group activity, though there may be soloists within a performance, and to see twenty or more performers dancing in unison is a moving experience. Hula performances can often be seen at the Hawaii Theatre Center, a grand old historic theater built in 1922.  Check the Hawaii Theatre website for listings, and you’re likely to find a hula performance listed. If you’re there for a short time don’t worry about the details, just go. We’ve seen high school performances that took our breath away, and variety shows combining hula and Hawaiian musical performances that made us feel like we were part of a giant extended family, one tied together with bonds of appreciation for art forms that are keeping the Hawaiian language and culture alive. If you get really hooked, do a web search in your local area and you may be surprised to find hula halausin your area performing, especially along the West coast of the U.S. The year we attended Merrie Monarch the Academy of Hawaiian Arts Academy from Oakland, CA was the hands-down crowd favorite with their audacious hybrid of hula and street-smart modern dance. A number of hula festivals are held during the summer (see below), and Merrie Monarch is held annually in Hilo on the Big Island.

If you go to an evening performance consider dining at one of our favorite restaurants, Indigo, located right behind the Hawaii Theatre, which has a romantic interior combined with a tasty Asian fusion menu.

To get to the Hawaii Theatre Center, located at Bethel St. between Hotel and Pauahi Sts., take Bus #2 or 13 from Waikiki, or check the website for driving directions.

Kayaking on the East Side

Lanikai Beach

Lanikai Beach

The Windward side of the island is home to Kailua and Lanikai Beaches. The quiet waters and shallow bays protected by an extensive offshore reef offer excellent kayaking and snorkeling. Guided and self-guided tours and kayak rentals are available from several locations in Kailua including Kailua Sailboard and Kayak. There are six protected islands and a bird sanctuary that offer kayaking destinations with secluded pools, remote beaches, and plentiful wildlife observation from seabirds to turtles, albatross, dolphins and tropical fish. We have rented kayaks on several occasions to paddle over to Lanikai Beach or over to one of the other islands, and have enjoyed the crystal clear waters and shallow reefs.

To get to the Windward side of the island, check the Kailua Sailboard and Kayak website for driving directions over the Pali Highway from Waikiki and other points, as well as bus routes. The bus could take up to two hours and a 15 minute walk, so driving is recommended.

West Coast Cruise

The rugged West coast of O’ahu can be best appreciated by boat, and a favorite boating activity of ours is an excursion from Ocean Joy Cruises based near Ko’olina. The Kai’Oli’Oli is a fast and stable power catamaran They provide pick-up from Waikiki hotels, or if you have a car it’s a 30 minute (depending on traffic) drive out to Ko’olina Marina from Waikiki. The catamaran cruises along the less developed Wainai coast, where you can spot spinner dolphins and flying fish, seeing a bit of history as you pass the notch in the rugged mountains where the Japanese flew undetected to drop their bombs on Pearl Harbor in World War II. The boat stops for an hour to snorkel in the warm waters, getting up close and personal with the sea turtles that ply the waters, but this isn’t the best snorkeling place on the island. We enjoy this cruise for the boating aspect more than the snorkeling, and to see an unspoiled side of the island that doesn’t get as much exposure. In the winter months the mountains shine a brilliant green against the blue sky. Lunch is provided and it’s a very pleasant way to spend the day.

To get there, pick-up is provided from Waikiki hotels, or get driving directions to Ko’Olina Marina from their website.

Manoa Falls Hike

Manoa Falls

Manoa Falls

One would be hard pressed to find a more beautiful hike in such close proximity to an urban area. Dense tropical lush foliage lines the trail, giving way to a thicket of bamboo forest, accompanied by the percussion tones of the hollow bamboo clacking together in the breeze in concert with chirping birds. The water falls are fairly modest but feathery spray drops into a pretty pool that we like to dip our toes into. Thickets of hau trees can be seen along the trail, used extensively by early Hawaiians to create canoe outriggers from the wood, sandals from the bark and sap as a medicinal agent. Expect a few raindrops in the afternoons as clouds often gather around the mountain tops. This area gets of rainfall annually, and from sunny Waikiki one can look back to Manoa in the afternoon to see dark, billowing clouds gathering along the ridges.

This is only one of 18 intersecting trails within the Honolulu mauka trail system, so there are many opportunities to lengthen the hike if you desire. You will see a signed junction for the ‘Aihualama Trail on this hike, which ascends steeply to the top of Tantalus, featuring an expansive 360° view and contains many junctions with other trails. The Manoa Falls Hike is popular, but if you take some of the extensions you’ll see fewer people. Download a map or memorize the junctions to find your way back down.

To get to Manoa Falls, take any one of a number of buses from Waikiki to Ala Moana Shopping Center, such as Bus #8, 19, or 20, then take Bus #5 to Manoa. At the end of the line take a 10 minute walk () to the trail head. The hike is a fairly easy 30 minute walk to Manoa Falls, though it is on an uphill gradient and has an uneven surface, and can be slippery due to frequent showers.

Harold L. Lyon Arboretum

IMG_0033We often like to combine the Manoa Falls hike with a visit to the lovely grounds of the Lyon Arboretum, located adjacent to the trailhead. This garden showcases an extensive display of native and introduced flora. Established in 1918 by the Sugar Growers Association to test tree species and identify plants of economic value, it was acquired by the University of Hawaii in 1953. Today native Hawaiian species are emphasized, including collections of palms, ginger, ti and taro. A stroll around the paths of the arboretum is an agreeable way to conclude a hike to Manoa Falls.

To get to the Lyon Arboretum, see directions above for Manoa Falls.

Judd Trail to Manoa Falls Trailhead 

Steve in the bamboo forest

Steve in the bamboo forest

This hike starts in Nu’uanu near on the Old Pali Highway and ascends up to Tantalus and down to Manoa Falls. It’s ideal to access via public transportation as you would need two cars at each trailhead otherwise. Dr. Judd, personal physician to King Kamehameha III, contributed greatly to academic institutions in Hawaii, founding the first medical school and co-founding Punahou School. As large landholder many place names on Oahu carry the Judd moniker. The Judd Trail, a frequent filming site for the TV show LOST, starts near a tranquil stream, easily crossed without getting feet wet.

Turn right after crossing the stream and the trail will ascend fairly gently at first, winding through Norfolk pine forests, gradually becoming steeper as views come into play. This hike is almost completed shaded, a nice feature on a warm, sunny day.  Transitioning onto the Nu’uanu Trail, there are a couple of places where ropes and chains have been placed, presumably to aid in the climb, but we didn’t find it necessary. Perhaps in muddy, slippery conditions the extra stability might be appreciated. Reaching the top a slender trail continues along the ridge, the slopes dropping away steeply on each side, providing wondrous panoramic views. Pearl Harbor is visible in the distance, as well as downtown, the beaches of Waikiki and the distinctive shape of Diamond Head glinting in the distance. On the other side a notch in the Pali Highway provides a sight line all the way to the Windward side of the island. The ‘Aihualama Trail descends through a series of switchbacks lined with fragrant and colorful ginger plants and bamboo forests, finally intersecting with the Manoa Falls Trail. It took us 3 hours to complete the hike due to the amount of uphill hiking and presence of thick knotty roots on portions of the downhill, requiring careful stepping.

From the end of the Manoa Falls trail a walk to Manoa Road and Kumuone Sreett takes you to the bus stop where you can catch Bus #5 to Ala Moana Shopping Center, then one of the many buses going to Waikiki.

To get to the trail head in N’unanu we took Bus #4 all the way from Waikiki to the Old Pali Highway, just a couple of blocks from the trailhead on Nu’uanu Pali Drive. However, the #4 crisscrossed the freeway several times and we realized that it would be faster to take Bus #2 or 13 from Waikiki to Bethel St. downtown (at the Hawaii Theatre), then transfer to Bus #4. The bus driver will send you in the right direction to the trailhead if you ask.


See other Hawaii articles at Inga’s Adventures

The Bus
(808) 848-5555

Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice Street
Honolulu, HI 96817

Hawaii Theatre Center
1130 Bethel St.
Honolulu, HI  96813

Hula Festivals:
Aloha Festival
King Kamehameha Hula Competition 
Prince Lot Hula Festival
Merrie Monarch Festival (Hilo)

Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks
130 Kailua Rd. Suite 101B
Kailua, HI 96734

Ocean Joy Cruises (Kai’Oli’Oli)
Ko’Olina Marina:
92-100 Waipahe Place
Ko‘Olina, HI 96707

Hiking sites:
Honolulu Mauka Trail System
Honolulu Mauka Trail System map
Frank’s Hawaii Hiking
Hawaii State Parks

Hiking book:
The Hikers Guide to Oahu, by Stuart Ball & Stuart Ball

Harold L. Lyon Arboretum
3860 Manoa Rd.
Honolulu, HI 96822

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