3-6 May 2015. When we flew from Vancouver to Australia in December 2014 we stopped in Hawaii for five days, Samoa for six days, and Fiji for two days. It’s a very sweet way to cross the Pacific – no jet lag and three mini tropical vacations along the way. Returning, nearly six months later, we stopped in Fiji and Hawaii.
We didn’t walk the Diamond Head Summit Trail on Oahu on the way to Australia but promised ourselves we’d do it on the way back.
The trail starts from the middle of a volcanic crater that is more than one kilometre (3500 feet) in diameter. It was formed about 300,000 years ago when the volcano blew its lid off in a single gigantic spectacular explosion. A cloud of particles and ash arose in the air, settled and solidified, forming a rock called tuff. The rim of the crater is tuff and is higher on one side than the other because that’s the way the wind blows.
About two hundred years ago some British sailors saw shiny calcite crystals glittering in the sun and optimistically thought they could be diamonds, hence the name even though no diamonds have ever been found there. The Hawaiian name is Lē’ahi meaning ‘brow of the tuna’. So next time you’re ordering fancy and expensive ahi tuna in a fancy and expensive restaurant you’ll know that you’re ordering tuna tuna, with the first word being Hawaiian. The tuna may or may not have come from Hawaii.
The trail is a two and a half kilometre (one and a half mile) hike from the visitors centre to the top of the crater rim and back. It was built in 1908 as part of the Oahu coastal defense system. It’s easy enough if you don’t mind walking up a bunch of switchbacks,
and two staircases, the first seventy-four steps, and the second ninety-nine steps,
through a dark tunnel,
and then through another tunnel, followed by a three-story spiral staircase.
After another fifty-four steps you arrive at the Diamond Head Observation Station. You’ve arrived at the top and the views are magnificent.
Getting back down is quick and easy if you don’t mind downhill. I prefer uphill. It’s easier on the knees.
On the west coast of Oahu, about forty kilometres (twenty-five miles) west of Honolulu is Ko Olina Resort. We’d been told that it is sometimes possible to see turtles at Ulua Lagoon, the southernmost and least-used of four man-made lagoons at the resort. We head out there with our snorkelling gear all excited and hopeful. Alas the water is way too cold for us to want to swim so we hang out at the beach, photographing the locals,
and enjoying the scenery.
It’s all man-made, and pristine perfect, and very beautiful. Walking through the resort along the beach front, past the lagoons to the north, past the hotels and condos and restaurants, we feel a bit like interlopers. It’s another world.
Back in Honolulu we wander down to Waikiki to watch the surfers and the sunset.
PLEASE DO NOT HANDLE THE PLANTS. NEVER PUT ANY PLANT OR PLANT PART IN YOUR MOUTH. SOME PLANTS ARE POISONOUS AND/OR MAY CAUSE ADVERSE REACTIONS.
Thus admonishes the brochure for Koko Crater Botanical Garden. The garden is about twenty-four kilometres (fifteen miles) east of Honolulu, and I suspect visited by very few tourists to Oahu. Who wants to look at weird plants when there are all those beautiful beaches? And sun tanning. And shopping. And generally lazing around in the tropical pineapple sun-warmed wonderfulness of it all. Well we do. I guess we’re not really beach people all that much unless the water is really really warm, and it isn’t.
Speaking of pineapples, we make a special trip to the Dole Plantation north of Honolulu so I can have a second large serving of their pineapple ice-cream. I had the first on our way to Australia. The whole time we’re there I’m thinking that when we’re back in Hawaii I’m going to have another serve of that ice-cream. Best. Pineapple. Ice-cream. Anywhere. Ever! Best ice-cream anywhere ever. Don thinks its okay. I think it’s a bowl of sheer smooth delicious mouth-watering drooling heaven.
Meanwhile back at Koko Crater Botanical Garden I definitely do not think of eating the plumeria.
It being a botanical garden, all the plants are labeled. The name plumeria puzzles me. I know the flower, it seems very familiar, as if I should know the name of it, but I’ve never heard of plumeria. Later I discover it is, of course, also known as frangipani, a name that comes from a sixteenth century Italian noble family of the same name. The Marquess invented a plumeria-scented perfume, and thus the family name was passed down through the ages.
Walking through the garden we discover many weird plants, really weird plants with exotic names. There are pachypodiums from Madagascar, which surely must be lecterns for elephants. And Hawaiian wiliwilis. Are they dust devils in disguise? If so they didn’t move fast enough to get away from an invasion of gall wasps which apparently have had the gall to cover them in galls within which their babies incubate.
There are weird flowers,
and weird seedpods, all of which are definitely unfamiliar. There are massive round cacti sitting on the ground like giant spiky bowling balls,
spidery furry flowers,
a snarling tangle of green tree snakes,
and dragon’s blood trees with spiky hair. Eat your heart out Sid Vicious.
Don’t even think about getting close to me, or I will prick you with a thousand needles until you bleed like the sun,
and if you come too near to me a hundred sharp tentacles of doom will reach out, wrap themselves around you, and squish you like a bug. I’m just dozing.
It was a fun garden to visit. We were quite awed by the variety of spectacular and unusual plants. This is a but small selection.
Driving around the island we stop at an obvious lookout point for some views of the rugged coastline, relentless pounding waves, and fishermen living on the edge. One rogue wave could sweep them all away.
Surrounded by a vast restless ocean, the Hawaiian archipelago is a group of tiny islands, the result of volcanic activity millions of years old. The earth’s plate is still moving, the volcanoes are still spewing lava, the sea roils on, and in the midst of that fishermen fish, a cattle egret forages for food,
a man rests comfortably reading in a tree,
and another man, on Kailua Beach, introduces a young boy to the joy of pigeons.
Most evenings we find ourselves down at Waikiki Beach to watch the surfers, the boogie boarders,
and the sunset.
From the pier I watch this little girl,
and her friend. I watch them for hours, or so it feels. I am captivated by their complete ease and joy with their environment. They can’t be more than nine or ten years old, maybe only eight, and yet it appears as if they were born in the water, born to ride the waves. Over and over they paddle out, catch a wave with their boards and ride it in squealing with delight, playing with each other, having fun making whale noises, frolicking in the water like a couple of young dolphins. They are not human at all it seems, but sea creatures, at home and full of joy in the place they love best.
And so ended our time in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. It was another mini tropical vacation as we headed across the Pacific back to Vancouver. We stayed in Vancouver for two and a half months before travelling to Sweden.
Next travel post: Two weeks in Sweden.
Other posts about Hawaii:
Wildlife Times in Hawaii
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.