Aloha from Oahu: Pearl Harbor, Craters and Waikiki

We are time lords. After a solid month of traveling east toward home, we were jumping around in time, but we were mostly losing it. A ten-hour flight here, a three-hour puddle jump there, and we were constantly losing minutes. Our watches had never been wound so much, I felt like I should have carried a pocket watch chain and a small pair of spectacles. But alas, we were finally crossing over the International Date Line, saying goodbye to Asia and hello to the U.S.

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We were now traveling across the International Date Line from Japan to Hawaii.

But our magical powers had a catch: we didn’t remember that with the time we lost that we would gain it back quite so quickly and all at once. Hopping over that invisible line gives you back an entire day! But this also meant, that we had to scramble and find ourselves another night in an Oahu hotel.

We also became a bit lazy. When planning a massive trip like this, we wanted to make sure we always had a plan. Go to this temple this day, see this church that day — it became a bit exhausting sitting in our tiny London flat looking at places that were weeks away. So by the time we got to Hawaii, we said, “we’ll figure it out when we get there,” and off we went to Stockholm.

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Welcome to Oahu!

If you’re planning a trip to Oahu, and you want to travel by the seat of your pants, at the very least, do these things:

  • Book a hotel for your entire trip!
  • Reserve transport, be that this fabulous and cheap service, or know you’ll spend quite a bit on a taxi, or rent a car.
  • Have an idea of when things close, like the Pearl Harbor Memorial.
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The idyllic views from the Pacific Beach Hotel.

The hotel we had booked for our single night in Oahu was already full, so we had the pleasure of trying out two fine establishments. We made these arrangements our final night in Tokyo laughing at our obvious mistake and strolled into the Pacific Beach Hotel right off the water of Waikiki Beach, so no, it was not a terrible decision to accidentally stay an extra day.

I do remember, at least twice, this whole time-traveling thing coming up in conversation. The first time was when we were still planning in London, and we had said, “we’ll worry about it later,” and then again, when we were flying from Helsinki to Bangkok, we thought about it, but again, “we’ll worry about it later.”

My advice, worry about it ahead of time!

The hotel was perfectly lovely with stunning views and little ABC convenience stores in the lobby. The ABC was the perfect equivalent to the 7/11 we had in Japan or any convenience store. It even had mochi for the frequent Japanese travelers.

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If you’re looking for a greasy burger, this is your place. Otherwise, don’t be looking for healthy options here.

Being back in America for the first time in several months, the first thing we did was go to Cheeseburger Nation and had some colossal burgers. We could not get any more American than that, and as we looked around, the full realization that we were on American soil finally began to hit. The atmosphere was louder, people were brusker, and tipping suggestions were on the receipts.

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We were headed to Diamond Head Crater next.

A friend of mine had suggested climbing Diamond Head Crater. Since we originally were only going to have one day in Oahu, I had cast this suggestion aside, but it was way too late in the day to see Pearl Harbor, so we high-tailed it to Diamond Head, which was about a 3 mile walk from Waikiki Beach. What we didn’t know is they stop admitting people at 4pm. We hustled and regretted not hopping on a bus, but the walking did us good after so long on a flight. Plus, seeing all of the local flowers like plumeria and the massive trees made the walk almost magical.

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The trees on Oahu were breathtaking and completely otherworldly.

If you’re a pedestrian, it costs only $1 per person to get into the Diamond Head State Park, but if you bring your car, it’s $5. Before you reach the entrance of the park, you do have to walk/drive through a long tunnel, which was awesome yet terrifying as cars rushed by.

This stunning hike and state park is perfect for anyone looking for a little conspiracy. Inside the crater houses the National Guard and U.S. Government antennas. I know I was imagining aliens rather than a military invasion as we climbed the .75 mile mount. It was a tough climb, I’ll admit, but right before dusk, it was completely worth it. They say the hike can take 1.5-2 hours, but we were up and down in just over an hour. If you’re not comfortable with stairs, be warned there are a lot. About 200 steps straight up to get to the scenic views on top of the zig-zag climb.

We made it to the top through rocks and tree roots, passing by a woman wearing high heels and a struggling baby stroller, to extraordinary views of the island. Just below us were homes and hotels overlooking the stunning blue ocean, and we finally took a deep Hawaiian breath.

On the way back to Waikiki, we found a food truck selling banana soft serve ice cream. I had to see what this was about and ordered the banana, peanut, coconut cup and was floored. You can choose an array of base flavors and make it your own with fascinating toppings. If you’re in Oahu, Banan is a must-find.

The sunset on Waikiki Beach was absolutely lovely as we watched a luau from the sand and baby crabs scurrying on the black rocks. The sound of the waves and the screams of kids blended into white noise before we passed out. Time had caught up to us.

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Surfers off the coast of Waikiki Beach.

The next morning, we woke up early. Pearl Harbor was on the agenda, and tickets to see the USS Arizona were first-come, first-served. We found the #42 bus that would take us to Ewa Beach. A single bus ride is $2.50, and it is recommended to carry exact change. The bus took about an hour to get there. Sufficiently motion sick and sweating from the amount of people doing the same thing as us, we got off and rushed to the front desk where they said the first available tickets were for 2:15 pm.

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Even if you think it won’t be a problem, buy your tickets in advance online

Saddled with a full day at the memorial, we got the scheduled tickets and got the lay of the land. While the memorial is stunning and an extremely important key in our history, there wasn’t a full-day’s worth of activities to do without paying extra money. Trying to stay on budget, we opted for the free exhibits.

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The USS Missouri and USS Arizona Memorial in the distance.

The small museum on the property was one of the absolute best war memorial museums I have ever seen. I felt it was one of the first ones that was relatively unbias. Now, it was not completely unbias, by far. But, for once, the Japanese were not villains or evil. They did what they felt they had to do, as I have read in countless war memoirs, and the museum reflected that. It was a relief to see such consideration taken in showing both views of the attack.

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A draft of the Roosevelt speech given on December 8, 1941 in the museum.

After we went through the two-building museum, which took about 75 minutes, we took a free shuttle bus ride to the USS Oklahoma memorial and the USS Missouri battleship. The battleship was an extra cost, so we did not go inside. But this battleship is where the Japanese surrender was signed by foreign minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, General Yoshijirō Umezu, and General Douglas MacArthur on September 2, 1945.

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The entrance for the USS Missouri where the surrender was signed.

Just outside the “final” battleship was the small, yet stunning, USS Oklahoma memorial. These tall, white marble pillars stand like soldiers in salute representing each soldier that died when the massive ship flipped and sunk in the bay. The stark white against the black plaque stone was quite beautiful and peaceful, but if you’re not looking for it, it is easy to miss.

We got back on the shuttle bus and drove by the Pacific Aviation Museum, which we also did not go inside due to extra cost. The 1,300 first-come, first-served tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial are free, so that’s why it’s paramount to book ahead or get there early, but if you’re not careful, your trip can cost upwards of $100 between the extra museums, exhibits, and tours.

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A lovely sign telling you where things are.

 

It was about lunchtime, and the only food on the premises are little, over-priced, convenient stores or a hot dog stand, so we snacked on a $7 bag of nuts while waiting for our USS Arizona tour to begin. With people beginning to get tired and hot from the sun, you can start to see true humanity. A dad with his two sons were barking loudly and rudely at surrounding people, and other tourists were flinging trash around expecting someone else to clean it up. Jeff and I were also both tired and hot, but we managed to just bicker with each other rather than the surrounding travelers.

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The USS Bowfin.

Because I was antsy, I decided to grab a ticket for the USS Bowfin, the small submarine that definitely saw some action during WWII. For $12, I toured the small, cramped space where nearly 80 men were housed at any one time. The tour was definitely geared more for kids, but I enjoyed seeing the placed pin-up drawings and the reconstructed displays of a captain’s quarters.

With that ticket, I was able to go inside the USS Bowfin Museum. This small museum was packed full of artifacts from the 1940s and war with photographs of soldiers, old radar equipment, and letters to lovers back home. The museum was mostly empty, but I think it’s because a lot of people didn’t know your Bowfin ticket gives you free admission. I had thrown away my receipt not knowing, and fished it out of the trash can with a smear of ketchup to boot.

We walked around the perimeter again, and Jeff happened to hear the woman standing in front of the USS Arizona memorial theater that we could go in a bit early, so we ran to make it before the doors closed for the 15-minute video. The video was quite nice giving a quick introduction to the happenings of December 7, 1941, and it was just long enough to have the little girl behind us fall completely asleep.

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Sailing up to the USS Arizona Memorial site, manned by the U.S. Navy.

The back doors to the small theater opened, and we were ushered onto a small charter boat, manned by the U.S. Navy. In about 10 minutes, we were standing on the USS Arizona. The gorgeous and striking white memorial does not touch the sunken ship, but instead hovers over it, protecting the ruin.

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The memorial gently hovers above the sunken battleship.

The explosion that sunk the famous battleship killed 1,177 officers and crewmen, several of whom are still inside. Oil leaks from the vessel in staccato-like fashion with little black balloons of iridescent light. I remember a documentary once saying that the oil will stop when the last Pearl Harbor survivor passes away. While this is a lovely notion, it seems there is enough oil still leaking to continue for many decades to come.

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Oil slicks burst into brilliant colors on the bay water surface.

But even with the continuous leak, the National Park Service does monitor how much and the ecological impact it has on the surrounding landscape. If it becomes out of control, they will remedy the leak.

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The interior memorial on the white, floating vessel.

In addition to the hundreds of soldiers underwater, when a survivor of the attack passes away, their urn can be placed inside the depths of the ship. I thought this was a lovely tribute to the fallen soldiers from 1941 to the present.

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Soldiers from the Canadian military service were also visiting the Pearl Harbor memorial when we were there.

We were only given about 20 minutes on the memorial before the next group of tourists were due to tour the small, floating memorial. With the American flag flying high against the blue sky, it was a truly lovely day to take in some monumental history.

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Inside the white memorial.

We rode the bus back to Pacific Beach Hotel and grabbed our bags to walk around the block to our second hotel: the Queen Kapiolani Hotel. We didn’t have the same views as Pacific Beach, nor the same updated luxury, but we could still see the beautiful ocean and the zoo beneath us.

For our final meal in Oahu, we opted for something with local flair, and that was the well-known Diamond Head Meat and Grill. Highly recommended on many websites, this place is just a couple of curbside windows where you order your burger, salad, or sandwich and eat it out of styrofoam containers on the outdoor benches. This would have been idyllic if it wasn’t pouring down rain. Soaked to the gills while eating pineapple rice and kimchi, we huddled together under the tiny awning watching the rain come down. We had just finished when the rain stopped, and a gorgeous rainbow formed over the road.

We said aloha to Oahu as we got back to the Honolulu Airport and puddle-jumped over to The Big Island. Stay tuned to our adventures on the east side of paradise: Hilo, Hawaii.

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