We have been visiting Waikiki for several years; my folks have access to a great hotel and it always seemed like a waste of energy to leave the compound. All the surfing, snorkeling, swimming, eating and drinking we needed was on offer within stumbling distance.
But for this trip we looked into having wheels available for excursions elsewhere. The folks at Discount Hawaii Car Rental directed us to Alamo was where we found our choice: a Jeep Wrangler. DHCR services the five major Hawaiian islands. We had tooled around Maui previously in a two door Jeep, and it was too cramped and too clunky. The four door Wrangler offered our long legged daughters room in the backseat, with room behind them for our suitcase of snorkel equipment.
At the Alamo lot near Honolulu airport the rental staff showed us how easy it was to pull down the convertible top. We spent as much time as possible over the next week riding topless.
One of our first stops was the North Shore. We wanted to dive with the sharks, but the boat’s captain called off the excursion due to high winds. We deferred to his expertise, but we had been looking forward to getting up close and personal with the sharks, with only a cage surrounding us.
We drove the route along the eastern side of Oahu. Our Wrangler was comfortable, with sufficient power. The four door Wrangler is far more solid than we expected after our two door Jeep. The gas mileage seemed decent; we traversed the island on a single tank of gas. Our first stop was Kailua Bay, just south of Kaneohe. The water seemed more turquoise than what we recalled at Waikiki; I need to research why. The mountains to our left almost came to the shore, and we kept our eyes peeled for the shrimp shacks of which we had heard much. Near Kahana Bay we settled on Alita’s and enjoyed shrimp and rice with a pungent garlic sauce.
As we rounded the northern tip of Oahu, the waves reached eyebrow-raising heights. Like many other folks, we found parking at Waimea Bay to watch the surfers tackle the surf. The offshore wind whipped the waves, and the photographers zoomed in on the surfers zooming down the wave faces.
The Alii beach near the fishing town of Haleiwa was where we found our first turtles. We nestled the Wrangler under a roadside tree and poked around the gentle surf. Within minutes we were among four turtles, including a baby that hovered under a coral outcropping. The turtles’ gently undulating flippers belied their ability for speed under water.
Back in our Jeep, we continued to enjoy 93.1FM on the impressive car stereo. Tweeters on the dashboard were coupled with downward firing speakers tucked below the rollbar. Offering ‘the best in reggae and local music’ 93.1 was the channel of choice on all our Oahu road trips.
My older daughter had been researching island hikes for weeks before our trip, and the most adventuresome by far was the Haiku Stairs, also called the Stairway to Heaven. Built during World War 2 for radio communication, the area is ostensibly off limits. But she insisted, and after some fatherly concern and research we set out with her older cousin at 2.30am. The received wisdom is to park in the adjoining neighborhood, and head up before the guards arrive. As we pulled into the ghostly silent neighborhood, I killed the Jeep’s headlights and glided to a stop as unobtrusively as possible. Prior trekkers keep a hole open in the fence, and with headlamps strapped to our forehead we were able to slither through the barbed wire fence. We eventually found the head of the trail, which led to the stairs.
The metal stairs are laid out in segments of about 10 steps each, bolted together and then spiked into the ground. Handrails make the trek possible, as the stairs vary in pitch from a nearly vertical ladder to the occasional Indiana Jones style footbridge. But up is the nearly exclusive direction of travel.
I was skeptical at the need for warmer clothing; even at 3am when we started our trek the temperature was over 70 degrees. But as we ascended, our increasingly sweaty bodies were chilled by the winds and clouds through which we were climbing.
In looking up, there was no way to gauge what lay ahead; the sky was as dark as the mountain. Although we did not see anyone else, eventually we noticed other bobbing pinpoints of light above us. Estimates are just under 4000 steps to the top of the Haiku Stairs, and I have no quarrel with that estimate. We arrived at the top by 6am, a full hour before the sunrise. There were already at least a dozen other hikers waiting for dawn to break, and another dozen or so followed us up. The stairs themselves were never crowded; indeed it was difficult on the rare occasion when anyone tried to squeeze by going the other direction.
The descent was far more intriguing, as no longer was our headlamp the only source of light. The sun sprayed its light across the valleys before us, and we could see that the staircase had been laid at the top of the ridge leading to the pinnacle of the mountain. As a result, for much of the descent on either side of the handrails was a dropoff of unknown distance. But the deep shades of green foliage were mesmerizing. The humidity caused by the clouds created a fair amount of mud and slipperiness on the steel treads of the steps, but fortunately less so on the steel tube handrails.
Some folks opted for a backward descent for various parts of the most vertical sections, but I was facing forward. The winding highway under which we passed in darkness hours earlier seemed impossibly further away no matter how long we descended.
I would not consider the hike dangerous; it seems only unsafe from a physically and mentally challenging perspective. Nonetheless, we were glad when we finally reached the neighborhood and found our parked Wrangler. Still gyrating mentally from the hike, we rode back in silence to Waikiki as the beach woke up.
The other hike my daughter found for us was far less exerting, but still rewarding. The pillboxes high above Lanikai were built defensively in the last century. The only modern day invaders come equipped with spray cans, so the graffiti on the cement structures is colorful and no doubt many layered. The view to the beach and several island outcroppings is magnificent. Looking inward, we wondered why the country club below was devoid of golfers, until we spotted a cluster of golf carts moving around the links; President Obama was keeping his head down on vacation.
The feeling of jumping into the topless Wrangler for our various excursions provided an air of spontaneity that amplified our sense of an island adventure vacation. This will become our preferred mode now that we are moving away from sedentary vacation style.
Discount Hawaii Car Rental www.DiscountHawaiiCarRental.com 1-800-292-1930