Tuesday was the first of two daytrips we planned for the week. We needed to get an early start; therefore, we decided to eat on-the-go. By now, we had discovered the Island Country Market which was located just across the street from our resorts. The place is known locally as the ABC Store. As the name implies, it sells alcohol but that was not the reason we frequented it. The Island Country Market is a convenience store that sells groceries, souvenirs, and cooked-to-order meals. We could buy a full breakfast for about a quarter of the resort prices. We also took advantage of the reasonably-priced souvenirs. The store encourages everyone to save their receipts because they give free gifts each time you bring back $100 worth of receipts. I am not sure if we ever reached that amount during our stay.
Our plan was to spend the day in Honolulu visiting Pearl Harbor, Waikiki, and Diamond Head. We needed to be at Pearl Harbor early in the morning because we heard that slots to see its main attraction, the USS Arizona Memorial, normally fill up by the afternoon. We arrived a little before 8 AM but had to make a quick trip back to the parking lot to put bags and pocketbooks in the car since they are not allowed on the premises.
There is no charge to see the USS Arizona. Tickets are issued using a timed-entry system. We picked up our tickets a little after 8 AM and were given an entry time of 11:30 AM - Darn! I should have reserved our time slot online. What were we going to do for 3.5 hours? We didn't want to give up our good parking spot. It wouldn't make sense to drive all the way back to the resort only to turn around and head back an hour later. Fortunately, there are other things to see at Pearl Harbor but most are not free. There is the USS Missouri, the Bowfin Submarine Museum, the Pacific Aviation Museum, and other attractions. We bought a day-pass that gave us reduced admission prices for several Pearl Harbor attractions.
For our first tour, we were shuttled to the USS Missouri battleship (a.k.a. Mighty Mo). We were given a 35-minute guided tour on the ship deck. We saw where the USS Missouri was hit by a Japanese kamikaze in World War II. We received a brief explanation of the ship's weapon systems such as the 16-inch guns and its Tomahawk cruise missiles. However, what makes the USS Missouri famous is that it was on the deck of this ship that the Japanese surrendered on September 2, 1945. We were shown the exact spot where the surrender agreement was signed.
We were told about the ship's history in battle. The ship has seen action in World War II, the Korean War, and the first Gulf War in 1991. She was last decommissioned in 1992. Interestingly, the USS Missouri's most recent role was in the 2012 movie Battleship. A movie tour is now offered that allows visitors to see where some of the scenes were shot; however, this was not part of our package.
USS Missouri ("Mighty Mo")
touring the USS Missouri
After the guided portion of the tour, we were turned loose to explore the ship on our own below deck. We followed the green arrows that took us through the living and working quarters. These areas of the ship were compact but functional. I noticed this ship had that distinctive oil smell that I first encountered when Traci and I toured the Battleship New Jersey in Camden, New Jersey many years ago.
As we exited the ship, we took a look at the professional photo that was taken of the five of us when we first boarded. We did not purchase the picture but it was pretty funny. All of us were smiling in the photo except for Audie who looked like he wanted to hurt someone:-0.
We caught the shuttle back to the main entrance. We still had 45 minutes to kill so we visited the souvenir shop, the snack shop, and then just waited around. We finally made our way to the meeting area for the USS Arizona Memorial.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese executed a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. They sunk ships and killed many. One of the ships that were sunk that day was the USS Arizona taking with her to the bottom of the harbor more than 1,000 sailors. The ship was never raised nor were the bodies recovered. Instead, a memorial was built over the sunken ship.
We were led into a theater where we saw the best documentary I have ever seen on the topic of the Pearl Harbor attack. It explained why the Japanese attacked and the strategy they used. It showed footage of the attack and then explained the memorial. After the film, we boarded a boat that took us to the memorial. We walked around inside the memorial where we saw the names of all the sailors who went down with the ship. We could look into the water and see the sunken ship. Perhaps the most striking feature of this memorial is that you can still see the oil from the ship that has been leaking to the surface since she went down in 1941. It is estimated the oil will continue to leak for another 70 years.
names of those entombed in the sunken USS Arizona
Oil from the USS Arizona has been leaking since she was sunk in 1941.
We spent about 15 minutes walking around inside the memorial until we boarded the next boat back to the main entrance. We still had more Pearl Harbor exhibits to visit on our day-pass but we all agreed we had heard enough about war and death at that point. Therefore, we considered the rest of our unused day-passes donations for the preservation of these important historical sites.
From Pearl Harbor, we drove further into downtown Honolulu. The skyscrapers, traffic, and businesses reminded me that not everyone in Hawaii is on vacation. People actually live and work on the islands. I was thinking to myself that Honolulu could be just about any major city on the mainland U.S.; that is, until I turned a corner and suddenly saw the famous Waikiki Beach with its sunbathers, blue waters, and surfers. Waikiki is much busier than the laid-back resorts of Ko Olina where we were staying.
We found 2-hour metered parking on a street just off the main beach strip and then set off to find a good lunch spot. Finding restaurants in the area was not as easy as I had hoped. There are not many restaurants visible from the street. Instead, you must walk through a hotel to get to them. Traci did a search for nearby restaurants on her iPhone. A man overheard us discussing the choices and highly recommended Duke's. We took his suggestion and headed off to find the restaurant.
The restaurant was named in honor of Hawaii's most famous citizen, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku. Not only did he introduce surfing to the world, but he also won Olympic medals in several water events, was elected sheriff, appeared in movies, and served as a U.S. ambassador. His list of accomplishments goes on and on. There is a statue of Duke located in front of Waikiki Beach.
The restaurant is located at the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel. Audie did the buffet while the rest of us ordered from the menu. I ordered the baby back ribs. Our general consensus was that the food was good but we still had not found that meal that just wowed us. The restaurant opens towards the pool and beach. While this can be scenic, it caused an unwanted problem - birds. Pigeons and other birds walked around pecking crumbs from under the tables. These birds are so accustomed to humans that they barely flinched when we tried to shoo them away. Our departure from Duke's could not come soon enough for AJ.
Duke statue at Waikiki Beach
We made a stop at a cookie shop for dessert on the way back to the car. It started to rain lightly. The funny thing about the island is that it always seems to rain at the same time the sun is shining brightly. A lone cloud would cause a quick, cool rain shower on one side of the street but the other side would be completely dry and sunny. We happened to get caught under one of these lone clouds as we ran back to the car.
The final stop on our Honolulu outing was Diamond Head State Monument. Diamond Head is the prominent mountain that often appears in advertisements for Waikiki Beach or Hawaii in general, for that matter. Visitors can walk to the summit of Diamond Head. This was our objective.
We drove through a residential neighborhood to get to the entrance of Diamond Head State Monument. We paid $5 to park which turned out to be one of the least expensive activities we did during our stay on the island. I had been hyping up the hike ever since we landed by pointing out the mountain whenever I saw it. Most of the reviews and trip reports I read before our vacation indicated the walk was not too difficult. I really hoped this was the case because as soon as we started on the trail, I saw a lady grimacing as she was being helped back to the parking lot by two young men. From the way they were supporting her, it looked as if maybe she had injured her leg. The sight of this had me wondering what I had gotten my family into.
It is 0.8 miles from the parking lot to the summit. The trail starts off as pavement and then transitions to dirt and rocks. Although you are constantly ascending, no climbing, scrambling, or any other technical skills are needed. The biggest challenge for most of the walk is the intense sunlight that beams down on you. It is a good idea to be prepared with sunscreen, a hat, and cold water. If you did not bring water, you can purchase some from the vendor truck or from the vending machine in the parking lot before you begin your trek.
We encountered people of all ages on the trail. We needed to exert more energy as we got higher into the mountain. There is a stairway of 74 steps followed by a dimly-lit tunnel. This took quite a bit out of us physically but it was what we saw after emerging from the tunnel that almost wiped us out psychologically. We emerged from the tunnel to see a stairway that seemed to go off into infinity. We actually had a choice at this point to either take the path to the left that was not as steep or to take the 99 steps to the right. We chose the steps which were cruelly followed by a spiral staircase. There were more steps to get to the summit but nowhere near as many as the stairs we had just conquered.
all these steps and there are still more...
We were told it normally takes about 45 minutes to reach the top from the parking lot. Audie, who is goal-oriented, made it to the summit in less than 20 minutes. AJ and Sugar joined him a little later. It took almost 45 minutes for Traci and me since we took our time occasionally stopping to take pictures. We were having camera challenges that day. Traci's memory card was full and she accidently left her unused card at the resort. She had to settle for using her iPhone to take photos. Sugar, on the other hand, forgot to charge her camera battery and was running out of juice.
There is an observation deck at the top of Diamond Head that provides a great 360-degree view that includes Honolulu, the ocean, and even other Hawaiian islands. It was not until I arrived at the summit that I realized Diamond Head is not a single mountain. It is actually one of the peaks of a crater rim. The parking lot from where we started is located at the floor of the crater.
tired and sweaty but still smiling
It was starting to get crowded on the observation deck so we started our trek back to the car. We were pretty wiped out and sweaty when we reached the parking lot. Despite this, we were really happy with our accomplishment. Diamond Head turned out to be one of our favorite activities during our stay on Oahu.
As we started our drive out of Honolulu and back to our resorts, I was reminded once again that Hawaii is not just for vacations. We got caught in the bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic which added an extra 30 minutes to our drive. We were in vacation mode and thus were not in a hurry. Besides, we had found a great radio station that played nice jams from my high school and college years. It's sad to think that this music is now considered "Old School". I guess it won't be long before it is simply referred to as "Oldies". continue...