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The Best of (My) Oahu: Beaches and Outdoor Fun

Posted by on May 24, 2012
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As we savor our last few weeks here, I’ve started to get all sad and mopey about leaving this paradise. Life is just.so.good here. But, though our time in Hawaii was short — just over three months — we did a heckuva lot on this tiny island called Oahu. It got me thinking about the best stuff I’ve done out here, and since Hawaii isn’t as nearly as far flung of a destination as some of the places on the rest of our itinerary, I thought I’d dedicate a post to some of my favorite things about life here for my friends and readers headed this way in the future. In this installment, we take a look at my favorite beaches and outdoor activities. (Note: I know there’s tons more to do on the island, but this is just a rundown of the best stuff that we got a chance to experience.)

THE BEACHES

Kailua. Famous for its powder white sand beaches, this stretch of pristine land located 15 minutes north of Waikiki is straight out of a postcard. If you want to do more than just lay on the beach — which is definitely not a bad choice — there’s stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and windsurfing, which can be particularly good here thanks to its location on the windier part of the island. This is a great beach for families (especially because it has bathroom facilities), but word to the wise, it can get crowded on weekends. If you want a little more peace and quiet (and you’re OK with no bathrooms), try Lanikai Beach, another gorgeous beach located next door.

Ala Moana. Though it’s more in the thick of things than the other beaches on the list, this beach holds a special place in my heart because it’s where I discovered and fell in love with stand-up paddleboarding. For those not interested in SUP, it’s also a beautifully simple and close alternative to Waikiki Beach — just three miles away and a place where you can actually get space on the sand. The water is always calm and almost always glassy, making it a perfect spot for not just SUP-ing but swimming laps as well. It does get crowded with rows of tents and local families BBQing on weekends, but Ala Moana stretches pretty long, so it isn’t too hard to find privacy. But my absolute favorite aspect of this beach is the handful of turtles who occupy the waters. Each time I went SUP-ing, I would see at least three. I even saw one within arm’s length from me just 10 feet from the shore. Hawaii has changed me in a few ways, and one of them is my new-found love for turtles. They’re just so darn cute.

Waimanalo. Much of Lost was filmed here, and it’s easy to see why. This beach feels completely removed from stores, strip malls and cars. Tucked away on the east side of the island, Waimanalo opens up to mountains, turquoise water and plenty of sand to get your R&R on. It also happens to be a great beginners body surfing spot. Do it! It’s such a rush to feel like you’re flying through the air.

Waimea Bay. This legendary surf spot is located on the North Shore, and from December to February, you can watch world-class surfers do their thang out in the ocean. But any month of the year, it exudes the laid-back, aloha vibe that you expect from Hawaii. Do keep in mind that during those winter months, the waves, which break on the shoreline, can get mighty high.

Sandy Beach Park. Unless you’re a pro-body surfer, expect to be just a spectator at this spot, which is famous for the sport. Located 12 miles from Waikiki, this more local beach has some of the gnarliest waves for body surfers. If you’re debating whether or not to get in the water, keep in mind that many call it “Break Neck Beach.” Yup.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Hawaii Loa. There are tons of hikes to do on Oahu — Koko Head is a popular one — but after hiking our brains out in South America, Eaman and I opted to log more time on sandy beaches than in our hiking shoes. We did, however, hike the Hawaii Loa trail early one Saturday morning, and if you’re up for a difficult 3+ hour trek, please do this one. It’s randomly located within an uber-rich neighborhood, but once you get on the trail, you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. After winding up and down the lush green mountains, you get to the top, where, on a sunny day, you get a spectacular view of the island and on a cloudy day, you get up close and personal with some cumulus. But do bring your hiking shoes; there are points where the mud stairs have washed away and you need to scale the inclines with a rope.

Byodo-In Buddhist Temple. The main attraction at the Valley of the Temples in Kaneohe is this non-denominational temple, which was erected in 1968 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the arrival of Hawaii’s first Japanese immigrants. There are fish ponds, black swans and a giant buddha for your viewing pleasure. Though the beach may be its own sort of sanctuary, this is the real deal.

Snorkeling at Three Tables Beach. Tourists snorkel at Hanauma Bay, and granted, Hanauma is beautiful and you sometimes see sea turtles (I saw three!), but it’s so incredibly crowded and the coral is so tall that it’s hard to swim around without roughing yourself up. To see the same type of fish in a much more interesting and natural setting, head to Three Tables Beach on the North Shore. It’s right next to Shark’s Cove, a touristy beach where people snorkel only because they think sharks are around. (Note: They aren’t.)

Save the Sea Turtles International. Visiting this sea turtle sanctuary — located not far from Three Tables Beach and Waimea Bay on the North Shore — was one of the highlights of my time in Hawaii. The turtles come seriously close to the shore to munch on food, and there are plenty of sightseeing folks on the beach to watch them bob up and out of the water. But if you bring your snorkel mask and tube like Eaman and I did, you can jump in the water and swim right next to them. (There’s a guard there to make sure you don’t get too close.) We swam next to almost a dozen GIANT turtles, many of whom were bigger and longer than me. The water was pretty murky (turtle poop?), so the turtles seemed to appear from out of nowhere. But they’re such gentle, elegant creatures, that it was nothing short of magical. Seriously, turtles are amazing.

Kaena Point. Getting to this most northwest point of the island involves a car, an hour-plus car ride to Mokuleia and a few-mile hike on the beach, but what you see at the end is well worth the effort. There are monk seals, seabirds and that wonderful feeling of being entirely, completely on your own with just the waves to keep you company.

And last but not least… the Makapu’U Lighthouse Trail. This easy, paved hike, which takes a mere 30 minutes each way, ends with a breathtaking, super blue view of the island. Simply stunning. Just look at these snaps from the top.

Tonight, I’m headed to the Big Island with a dozen friends for a camping trip until Monday. But next week? I’ll share with you my favorites from the restaurant and bar scene. We may be on an island, but the food here is a lot more exciting and varied than you’d think.

So, until then…enjoy the long weekend!

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