Hawaii/Oahu - The best hikes, most beautiful beaches, and must-visit places in Oahu
After getting familiar with the general info needed for a Hawaiian adventure, let's have a look in detail what wonders each of the islands offers for their visitors. Let's start with Oahu.
Oahu, as the locals call it "The gathering place", is the third-largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. The current capital of the state is Honolulu.
Many people say that if one wants nature rather than partying and the skyscrapers and hotel complexes of Honolulu, it is worth flying on to another island. I agree that Honolulu and its surroundings are very crowded, as about a quarter of Hawaii’s population lives there, plus most tourists arrive at Honolulu Airport from overseas. It is very often a real challenge to drive due to traffic jams during peak hours, and parking is not easy in the city either.
HOWEVER, this is only the southern part of Oahu, as we go a little further from Honolulu, then we start seeing the abundance of natural wonders, breathtaking beaches, craters, beautiful mountains, ... If you want to visit the island properly, it is definitely worth renting a car and booking accommodation in separate parts of the island otherwise, you will find yourself being on the road and driving during the whole trip.
We rented a Campervan on Outdoorsy. And there is another similar website, RVShare as well. Ordinary cars can also be rented on both platforms, not only campervans. However, whoever chooses a campervan needs to be a little flexible and creative, as it is illegal to sleep in a car in a public place, so we hoped that we would easily find people on Couchsurfing letting us into their gardens and let us overnight there in our camper.
However, it was not that simple (in Oahu). Housing is extremely expensive for permanent residents in Hawaii (and of course for tourists as well) and often there are tiny little houses where the family can barely fit in. Many families even have their cars out on the street due to lack of space.
We didn’t want to book accommodation because we love being in a campervan and don’t like moving from one hotel to another every day. The accommodation in Hawaii is very expensive anyway, especially since we were constantly on the move and only spent one night everywhere. But of course, there are plenty of hotels and other accommodation options on the island, just make sure that you are able to pay for it.
Public campsites are still very limited due to Covid, but those that are already open need to be booked months in advance because they are normally fully booked, plus a camping permit has yet to be obtained.
Thus, for us the most ideal solution for accommodation / overnight stays was provided by Hipcamp. It is practically a platform like Airbnb, the only difference is that here you can book campsites. The offers really vary. There are places where campervan spots can be booked, as well as tents or bungalows with a shared kitchen and bathroom, and there are also completely private places where it is just for you, maybe even right on the ocean.
It’s completely variable, but obviously also a question of your wallet. Oahu and Big Island have a pretty large selection of Hipcamps however, on Kauai and Maui we couldn't really find campsites on the Hipcamp website (at least when we were there).
But what are the wonders, which make it worth exploring the whole island instead of just getting stuck in Honolulu and Waikiki beach ...
The best hikes in Oahu:
This crater tour is located southeast of Honolulu and rewards enduring hikers with beautiful views. Admission is $ 5 per person, plus $ 10 for parking. It is advisable to go early because large crowds can be in the car parks. And if they get full, they’ll only let the next car in if another one comes out. The number of parking spaces is quite limited. It is also worth noting that the trail closes at 4 in the afternoon and you need to devote a minimum of 2 hours to walk the approximately 2.6km long journey comfortably.
Make sure to bring enough water with you, because in many places there is no shade. (One of the most comfortable hikes that seniors and children can also do.) Towards the end of the hiking trail, when we reach the edge of the crater, there are amazing views of the crater, the ocean, and all of Honolulu.
It was a huge surprise for us to have a wasp invasion in a matter of seconds at the top lookout. It was clearly like in the movies that they covered everything in seconds.
This is another famous crater tour, also not far from Honolulu. It is free, there is no entrance fee or parking fee. But it’s particularly advisable to go there either in the early morning or late afternoon, as it’s a much tougher tour than the Diamond Head.
Here you practically have to climb up on a very steep old rail. It is not a child- and elderly-friendly tour.
Although not very long (3.2 km), it is really very steep and the rails also make it difficult to climb. (Especially if there is a quick shower and everything gets wet, the rails are very slippery.)
Here too, it is very important that you take water with you and go in comfortable hiking shoes!
Once you get up, you will be greeted by this wonderful view.
Crouching Lion Hike
This is a very nice, but no longer maintained hiking trail. There is a small car park along the road (the start of the tour is on the other side of the road compared to the car park). On the other hand, you have to be lucky, because there are only about 5-6 cars that can park there. There are parts here where you have to pull yourself up on ropes left by other hikers, and in many places, the road is very slippery. (On the parched sandy, dirty part, one can easily slip especially if there are no handrails and the road is steep.) The Crouching Lion hike is not long, it is just less than a kilometer, it can be walked comfortably in just over half an hour.
You will overlook this beautiful bay at the end of the tour. After the tour, it is worth walking down to the beach on the other side of the car park, a very nice area as well.
Manoa Falls hike
Nice little rainforest trail with bamboo and a waterfall at the end. There is no admission, just a parking fee of $7.
Kaʻena Point Trail
This tour leads to the westernmost point of the island. A nice coastal road, it’s worth starting early because there is no shadow along the trail. Sometimes you can see Hawaiian monk seals. Unfortunately, we didn't see any, but we saw more whales and albatrosses. If your time is limited, it is enough to hike a little on the first section, as the coast is pretty similar along the way.
Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail
And this is the easternmost tour of the island. Nice hike and beautiful panorama from the lighthouse. However, if one is short of time and can only do a limited number of hikes, I think this lighthouse tour can be replaced by the lookout at the foot of the "mountain", the Makapuʻu Lookout.
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
This is where the iconic Hawaiian palm tree photos are taken with the beautiful green mountains in the background. Admission to the Botanical Garden is free and very interesting because there is a regular drive-in road to the Botanical Garden, as it is quite large and makes it easier to move between the parts. The palm "corridor" is right after the entrance, but since many photographers have held up the queues very much, it is no longer possible to stop and get out there. But you can walk back if you want.
The botanical garden has a large lake from which you can also shoot beautiful pictures. And it is worth driving a little further, because there is a large park where you can have a picnic with such a view.
Waimea Valley - Botanical Garden and Waterfall & Toa Luau
If anyone wants to attend a local Luau show, I can recommend this Waimea Valley combination. If you purchase the ticket for the Toa Luau, then you get free access to the botanical garden. It is worth arriving at least 2 hours before the Luau so that you still have time to discover the beautiful botanical garden.
The Luau is a traditional Hawaiian dance-music event followed by a feast that is usually accompanied by entertainment. Toa Luau itself is preceded by an interactive demonstration of local (historical) customs, where you can try, for example, breaking a coconut and making a diadem from palm leaves ...
They also demonstrate how the meals were prepared by the natives of Hawaii back in the time. They cooked on the ground, covered the dish with palm leaves, and smoked it over a slow fire. And you also get to understand the importance of the root of the Taro plant in Hawaiian meals. This root was practically used as potato and they flavored it with banana and coconut. It’s very special and if you are lucky, you can even taste it.
Then begins a dance-music demonstration of the indigenous peoples of the Polynesian archipelago, and its various islands, so in addition to the Hawaiian hula, e.g. We can also admire the dances of Samoa and Tahiti. And it is for sure that no one will remain hungry or thirsty during the evening.
Hanuma Bay is a beautiful bay in the southeastern part of the island. However, the place is very touristy, as can be seen from the $ 25 admission per person. However, if one does not want to snorkel here, just to see the picturesque surroundings, then (if the parking lot is not full) you can go down by car and for $ 5 you can go into the parking lot from where you can walk around and enjoy the view.
But you have to be lucky, because when we first wanted to go down, we couldn't because the parking lot was already full, even though it was still before noon.
Kualoa Regional Park
This picturesque place might be familiar from a lot of movies, but at first, maybe everyone will think of Jurassic Park. Due to its great popularity, there is a pricy entrance fee to the park. There are many themed experiences to choose from in the park, such as a quad tour, exploring the Jurassic Park sites and sets, and of course the scenery, ...
Anyway, for those who travel to Hawaii, I highly recommend watching the family movie Ohana in advance, as it showcases Hawaiian culture very well and it's shot in wonderful locations like Kualoa Ranch. :) But for those who are more interested in nature, I don’t think it is needed to buy the expensive ticket, as we can admire the iconic landscape for free from the beachfront along Kualoa Regional Park.
And from here you can also walk to Secret Island along the coast.
Speaking of movies, it’s worth heading to the big Banyan tree in the north of the island, it is incredible how huge it is. This tree was also featured in Pirates of the Caribbean and Lost, for example. It is free to visit.
There is a parking lot next to the road, and from there you just have to walk to the ocean side of the road and after a short walk the view unfolds in front of you. After that, go down to the shore, from there you will find yourself in a beautiful, quiet, less touristy beach area.
Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii and almost a quarter of the archipelago’s population lives here. No wonder the locals also call it as "The gathering place". Honolulu is a large city (from Hawaii's point of view). Plenty of tall buildings and hotel complexes dot the cityscape. it is extremely crowded, especially its seaside and its famous surfers’ paradise Waikiki beach.
Nightlife and entertainment venues can be found only here on the island. But I don’t think it’s worth spending much time in Honolulu, it's okay to have a quick walk in downtown and on Waikiki beach, but I personally wouldn’t spend more than a few hours in Honolulu. And regarding the crowded Waikiki beach..., there are so many more beautiful beaches on the island.
Best beaches on Oahu:
Lanikai beach Lanikai Beach is definitely the most beautiful beach on Oahu in my opinion. Almost white sand, beautiful blue ocean, palm trees. No wonder you have to be lucky enough to catch a nearby parking lot.
Kailua Beach Park Just north of Lanikai Bay is Kailua Beach Park, where it’s easier to park, but a similarly beautiful view awaits beachgoers. Here is a large green area next to the sandy shore, a perfect place to have a picnic and a full day of swimming, as it is not a problem to find shade here.
Kualoa Regional Park & Kualoa beach This beachfront has a beautiful panoramic background view of the Kualoa Ranch.
On the beaches on the west coast, you can often find turtles resting. The northwest coast is also favorable for surfing.
Sunset Beach Park
Ke Iki Beach
Waimea Bay Beach
Hanuma Bay, which I've written about before
Waikiki Beach, you can also read about it above
Ala Moana Beach
What I have just presented here above, can be accomplished in four days. But then it means there is no stopping ... :D
In return, you can get the most out of Oahu in a limited time, leaving time to explore the other three islands as well. About which you will soon be able to read in my next blog posts.
Have a nice day,