A Guided Tour of Oahu, Hawaii
Brangelina. Bennifer. Tomkat. Combining the names of a celebrity couple seems to doom their union to failure. But what’s true in Hollywood is not true in travel, where one clumsy portmanteau insists on persisting – so-called bleisure. It’s a terrible moniker, but what’s most unfortunate is that it describes something that really should be actively encouraged.
Travel for business, while sometimes glamorous, is often just a soul-destroying mix of airports, corporate hotels and client offices, with little time to see a destination. Adding just a day or two of holiday to your work itinerary can make all the difference. And having come all the way to Hawaii for a company event, myself and a colleague have decided to do just that.
We kicked things off earlier in the day with an open-doored helicopter tour around the island, but now it’s time to take a closer look at some of our recent fly-bys.
Pressed for time as we are, we have secured the services of a local guide. Not long after setting off, however, it’s obvious how easy the island would be to navigate when you have the luxury of setting your own pace in your own hire car.
A bit peckish after our airborne adventure and tantalised by our guide Isaac’s description of poke, his favourite local dish, we head first to, well, er, Foodland. I’m slightly hesitant but say nothing, thankfully, because while a supermarket may not sound like the most enticing lunch destination, when we reach the back of store, it quickly becomes clear why we are here.
Poke, we discover, combines rice with a rather overwhelming choice of toppings and we are confronted with a vast counter extending what seems like the entire width of the store. A large sign proclaims “Hawaii’s home for Poke” and I, for one, am convinced.
A feast of dishes is on offer including all kinds of raw, cooked and dried seafood in a dizzying selection of marinades, as well as stir fried meats with vegetables for the more carnivorously inclined.
Isaac tells us poke is typical of much Hawaiian cuisine, fusing as it does many of the cultural influences that have converged upon this collection of north Pacific islands. Much of this fresh display is seemingly inspired by Japanese sashimi, so we follow Isaac’s recommendation and choose the spicy tuna – or ahi, as the locals call it. Somewhat confusingly, ahi actually means fire, but this makes much more sense when we hear how, back in the day, fishermen battling the powerful tuna would cry out “ahi” because of the rope burns they received.
One bite confirms tuna’s enduring popularity and we wolf down the delicious chunks of fresh, tangy fish and rice, barely pausing for breath. It’s the best thing I’ve had here since the poolside frozen grapes – simple yet genius – although, in fairness, the fish tacos at Duke’s on Waikiki Beach also vie for the title. With a new-found fondness for Foodland established we leave the car park behind us and set off to explore some of the undeniable beauty this island has to offer.
Our first proper stop gives us a chance to walk off some of our lunch. The Manoa Falls Trail is a pretty accessible hike although, with the humidity and the heat of the sun, you do feel the gradient on the way up. Manoa is considered a rainforest, with eucalyptus trees, hanging banyan branches and bamboo lining the path, which can be slippery. Depending on the rainfall, the water cascading down the falls can be quite impressive but, after a 30-minute walk, we are in no way disappointed when we find the water of the 30-metre-high Manoa Falls gently trickling down the giant rock face. The falls empty into a pool large enough for a cooling paddle – if, like many, you choose to ignore the barrier and signs!
Back on the Kalanianaole Highway, Isaac takes us to the outskirts of Waikiki and, as we get closer to Diamond Head, we can see the undulating path to the top of this peak. If we had not flown over this earlier today, we would have made time to make this hike too, affording you as it does a fine view of this dormant volcano’s impressive crater.
Further along the coast, Koko Head, another imposing cone looms into view, but somewhat unexpectedly, we turn into a residential cul-de-sac. This, it turns out, is the best way to access the cascading layers of volcanic rock that lead down to a spectacular natural phenomenon commonly known as the Spitting Cave. Waves pound the coast here, filling a submerged cave to capacity until the pressure sends the seething foam in a dramatic arc across the water.
Much to the chagrin of authorities, thrill seekers leap into the expelled water here. We, on the other hand, are happy to watch from a safe, elevated distance.
From here, it would be quicker to get to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve by boat but the road takes us closer to Koko Head, where the outline of a baseball diamond is clearly visible at its base. Quite the sporting backdrop! Hanauma Bay offers some of the most sheltered, easily accessible snorkelling on the island, with the coral reef lying just yards from shore. If our agenda wasn’t to see as much of the island as possible, we could have happily spent hours drifting with the diverse marine life here.
We press on to another unusual water feature, the Halona Blow Hole, a natural fountain of sorts that shoots water straight into the air from yet another submerged cave. It’s next to Halona Cove, the beach made famous by Burt Lancaster’s love scene with Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity.
With time for one last stop along the coast before heading inland, we take in the view from the Makapu’u Lookout. Here the east coast and the ocean stretches away from you, offering clear views of Rabbit Island. At the right time of year (Nov-May), it’s the perfect vantage to watch humpback whales breach as they migrate along the coast. It’s also the start of another scenic trail taking you to Makapu’u Point Lighthouse, but luckily we’ve already seen this from the air as well.
Our coastal drive has been framed by the Pacific on one side and the island’s cloud-crested, mountainous interior on the other. We head up into these verdant, corrugated hills now and make our way to the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout. This is one of Oahu’s most scenic points, with views of the Ko’olau cliffs – Pali means cliffs – and as far along the coast as Mokoli'i, a pointy island known as Chinaman’s Hat to the locals. It’s also exposed to the elements, resulting in warning signs quite unlike any I have seen before: “Caution – Beware of BEES During High Wind”. We escaped unharmed, but still being slightly at a loss over what defence you could possibly mount against such a threat, I can only advise you check the day’s weather forecast before coming here.
The Byodo-In Temple is infinitely more serene, nestled in beautifully landscaped gardens at the foot of the Ko’olau mountains. The valley is shrouded in mist on our visit, adding to the spiritual vibe. Only the splashing koi in the reflecting pond and the deep, resonant sounds of Bon-Shu, the temple’s scared bell, disturb the peace. The bell is customarily rung before entering the temple, with the help of a huge, rope-swung, wooden gong, and is said to bring happiness and long life. No wonder the temple is often used for wedding ceremonies.
Sadly, our own time here is running short. We head back to Waikiki, arriving at the Outrigger Reef in time for a quick sundowner – a local Kona Brewing craft beer for me - on the sundeck of the Voyager 47 Club, which makes us glad we upgraded to Club Oceanfront rooms. We step down to the beach to watch the last rays disappear across the ocean before taking a poolside seat for some live entertainment. The Outrigger Reef’s music programme features the island’s Grammy-winning artists including, Sean Naauao, tonight’s multi-award winning act. We happily listen to the traditional sounds of Hawaii well into the night amid the brightly burning bamboo torches.
Next morning, during our last breakfast of freedom, I ponder our whistle-stop tour over a cup of refreshing Mamaki tea – made from what is considered a sacred plant and said to promote overall well-being. This taste of Hawaii has left me wanting more and I know I will be back. And then it dawns on me. What bleisure has allowed us to do here, actually, is some very useful reconnaissance for when we return here again on holiday.
So, why not add a recce to your next field assignment?
Discover Hawaii on our 16-day Hawaiian Explore Journey, from £3,699pp. Or why not make an appointment with one of our Travel Experts to find out more about our tailor-made Hawaii holidays?