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What about Waikiki

My wife and I were recently able to revisit a tropical paradise in Hawaii, a place we were fortunate to live for many years. A place where one keeps a swimsuit, beachmat, suntan lotion, and sandals nearby. Where men’s ties are an unnecessary extravagance and guests leave their shoes at their hosts’ front door. Where temperatures don’t drop below the mid50s at their coldest nor exceed the mid90s at their hottest. Hawaii is our fiftieth state, of course, but many Americans have still these missed gorgeous, lush volcanic islands lying in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a four hours flight from Los Angeles.

As our plane approached Honolulu International Airport on the island of Oahu, I noticed one thing hadn’t changed since our last visit. First time visitors to the islands still crane their necks in every way possible to peer through the plane’s windows as it begins its approach, trying to see many of the sites about which they’ve heard and now will visit: Diamondhead, Waikiki, Aloha Tower, Pearl Harbor. They are like little kids going to a candy store! Secondly, departing the terminal, one is still overwhelmed by the warm, moist air and the wonderful smells of tropical flowers, plumeria, anthyrium, and pikaka.

Waikiki is the most famous beach in the world and the focal point for most of Hawaii’s visitors. Remarkably, it’s a manmade beach of about 1 1/2 miles length made from sand dredged a century ago to clear the nearby Ala Wai canal. Despite its humble origins, it is now a gorgeous white sand beach filled with visitors from around the world, grandmothers from the Midwest and South, and barely clad young women from America, Japan, Europe, Australia, or New Zealand. Although the surf is mild in comparison to other places on the island, it still attracts young guys, too, trying to show off for some of those young women on the beach! Those who want to do more than swim in the warm waters can rent surfboards, boogie boards, and snorkeling gear along the beach and even sign up for classes in these sports.

Tired beachgoers usually return in the afternoon to one of the many excellent and sometimes famous hotels which line the beach, e.g., the Ala Moana and Royal Hawaiian hotels built more than a hundred years ago. These venerable old hotels are still luxury class but they are now surrounded by modern, high rise hotels from all the chains and boasting every service imaginable. A walk through the beautiful, peaceful gardens of either of these hotels is a true pleasure and a reminder of an earlier Hawaii.

The Waikiki area is 24/7′, too, with restaurants, bars, theaters, and shopping along Kalakaua Avenue and the parallel Kuhio Avenue bustling around the clock in the warm air. It seemed one night there was a street performer drawing a crowd on almost every block! Dining in the Waikiki area is a real buffet’, literally and figuratively. Options range from the expensive in many of the hotels, such as the Halekalani Hotel, to the usual casual family dining’ restaurants or fast food outlets. There are several all you can eat’ buffets, too, with American, Chinese, or Japanese dishes. Coupons available in the free visitor guidebooks available literally everywhere can reduce dining costs even lower. There are chances to be risky’, too. For example, I convinced my wife one morning to try a Japanese all you can eat’ breakfast. Suffice it to say she wasn’t enthused about substituting boiled octopus and unknown items for her normal bacon and eggs!

When visitors have had too much sun and beach, they often stroll to Fort DeRussy at the western end of Waikiki. DeRussy is an active U.S. Army post and the last major green’ area along Waikiki. A large military R&R;’ hotel is on the grounds as is an old coastal artillery bunker, now an Army museum with free admission depicting the history of the Army in Hawaii. Others visit the International Market Place with its funky little souvenir shops or the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center with more expensive shops and restaurants. Other shoppers my walk to the Ala Moana Shopping Center and the Victoria Ward Center with their large number of stores just west of Waikiki. The Aloha Tower overlooks Honolulu’s commercial harbor and many shops and restaurants ring its base. It’s the site at which I first met my wife and this time we enjoyed dinner there, watching a freighter dock!

The guidebooks are also filled with advertisements for a wide range of island tours and sailing, snorkeling, and hiking opportunities, even trips to the other islands. The tours often go to Pearl Harbor for visits to the Arizona Memorial straddling the battleship USS Arizona sunk on December 7, 1941 and still a national cemetery today with more than 1,000 sailors and Marines entombed in her hull. Tied nearby is the battleship USS Missouri, a behemoth on whose deck the Japanese surrendered in 1945 to end World War II. The two battleships reflect America’s entry into World War II and the end of the war. The USS Bowfish, a World War II submarine, is tied near the Arizona Memorial Visitor Center and is open to tours for those who can handle its cramped quarters. Pearl Harbor will always be filled with the Navy’s ships as they await orders to sail. Across the road is the Aloha Bowl where the University of Hawaii plays football and several college bowl games are played as is the NFL Pro Bowl.

Other tours go to the island’s North Shore, home to beautiful Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, and the Banzai Pipeline’ which host international surfing competitions in the winter when the waves are huge and sound like locomotives as they slam onto the beaches. The nearby Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) is a great place to learn about the many peoples throughout the Pacific, their culture, music, and food. Students at BYU-Hawaii are from around the Pacific and they work and perform at the PCC.

Famous Hanauma Bay is in southeastern Oahu with its great snorkeling where hundreds of fish will nibble on fingers and toes! The ocean slams into the nearby Blowhole’ forcing water skyward through a hole in the lava rock. Be careful here because foolhardy tourists have been washed away by trying to get too close!

Hawaii has a large U.S. military presence so visitors will encounter lots of young, shorthaired guys, also exploring the islands. In addition to Pearl Harbor, Schofield Barracks is located in the central plain of Oahu, in the midst of pineapple fields, and is home to the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division, the Tropic Lightning’ Division. The post was also attacked on December 7 and is the setting for the movie From Here to Eternity’. The U.S. Air Force is located at Hickam AFB, adjacent to Pearl Harbor, and shares runways with the international airport. Many of its buildings still bear bullet and bomb scars from December 1941. The U.S. Marines are located on the island’s windward side at Kanehoe.

A few more tips for visitors. Lodging along Waikiki can be expensive but B&Bs; offer an alternative (www.hawaiibandb.com). Rental cars are relatively inexpensive but gasoline costs much more than on the mainland. The Honlulu bus system is quite good and one can get practically anywhere on the island with it.

A weakened dollar may deter Americans from traveling internationally but they can visit Hawaii for an exotic vacation and still use those dollars!