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8 Fun Things to do in Honolulu

Aloha! A typical greeting heard all over the Hawaiian islands! The aloha spirit is one of love and affection. Thanks to the popular TV program Hawaii 5-0, Magnum PI and countless other movies shot in the fabled islands, Hawaii exudes a timeless appeal. And of course, it’s known for its most famous son, former President Barack Obama. 

Here are 8 fun things to do in Honolulu:

1. Macadamia Nuts to Macy

 Ala Moana Shopping Centre, boasts mainland brands such as Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Neimann Marcus; as well as island goodies from coffee to macadamia nuts and chocolates. Or head for  the Waikele Premium Outlets, where shoppers can spend a whole day trawling designer and leading brands like Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Kate Spade, Samsonite and more with savings of 25% to 65%. A shuttle service is available from selected hotels. Ross for Less and TJ Mexx are the other discounted stores found in the main suburbs.

My all time favourite – the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet is held every Saturday and Sunday (pending football matches) at Hawaii’s largest sports venue, the Aloha Stadium.  This is Hawaii’s largest open-air flea market with over 400 vendors displaying rows of local products and produce. From cheap souvenirs, aloha wear to intricate woodcarvings, ukeleles and popular ethnic snacks, the Swap Meet is anything but ‘swap’. 

2. Lovely Hula Hands

I have, long been swayed (pardon the pun) by the hula, a beautiful ancient dance form, that was scowled upon by the missionaries of yore. From graceful, lithe movements to the vigorous hip shakes, each movement has a meaning to it. With a Mai Tai in hand, I highly recommend the sunset performances by former Hawaiian beauty queens at the renowned Halekulani Hotel in Waikiki. Free lessons are available at the Royal Hawaiian Centre along with lessons in lei making, ukulele playing and lauhala weaving using leaves from the hala tree.

3. Lights! Camera! Action!

As an unabashed fan of the Hawaii 5-0 series, I took it upon myself to investigate the filming sites of the shooting. The series’ police station is  set in downtown Honolulu by the statue of King Kamehameha. It’s a lovely walk combing Ali’iolani Hale, the fictional headquarters of the Five-O team, Iolani Palace, the once-upon-a-time-home of the Hawaiian monarchy, Hawaiian Mission Houses, Hawaii State Museum and Chinatown. 

Film buffs should visit Kualoa Ranch – 4,000 acres of rugged beauty  in the Ka’a’awa Valley – and you may recognize the backdrop for the TV show ‘Lost’ and  a host of other Hollywood movies –  Jurassic Park, Godzilla, 50 First Dates,  Pearl Harbor, Hunger Games as well as some of  the 1960’s Elvis classics. 

4. Submarine tours

Find out more about the watery world below with Atlantis Adventures – a safe traipse to the depths of 120 feet in air-conditioned comfort. It’s like venturing into a different realm festooned with two wrecked ships, two sunken airplanes and other colorful marine life on the Atlantis Reef.

For whale watching, the Atlantis 140′ high-tech vessel built with SWATH technology takes you into key viewing locations in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary during the whale watch season. 

5. Diamonds Are Forever!

It’s worth hiking up 2.6km up one of the state’s most iconic landmarks, Diamond Head, the extinct volcanic crater, for some of the most stunning views of the island.  In the 19th century, the discovery of calcite crystals glistening in the sunlight was mistaken for diamonds. 

The area around Diamond Head towards the  prime Kahala district leans towards some of the  swankiest homes of the who’s who of Hawaii, Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Local folks may be able to point you to the homes of the late Jim Nabors aka Gomer Pyle, the late Jack Lord who played the original Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-0, the late Clare Boothe Luce, wife of Time magazine founder and the favourite villa stay of actress Emma Stone of The Amazing Spider Man.

6. Lu’au

Get into the Aloha spirit with a lei, aloha shirt or a muu muu (long floral dresses) and head for a lu’au – a massive feast which showcases the rich bountiful gastronomic aspects of the Hawaiian culture. One can literally pig out on its highlight – the kalua pig, slow roasted for many hours in an underground oven before a ceremonial unearthing. Other favourites include poi (mashed taro paste), ahi poke (raw marinated tuna), lomi lomi salmon(fresh tomato and salmon salad) and lau lau (meat wrapped in leaves and steamed). Popular lu’au sites include the Polynesian Cultural Centre and Germaine’s Lu’au

7. Pearl Harbour

Come face to face with WWII history at the USS Arizona Memorial,  USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, the Battleship Missouri Memorial and Pacific Aviation Museum which form the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites. Over 1,000 of the USS Arizona crew lost their lives on 7 December 1941 with the sinking of the ship by the Japanese. The Memorial, which stands above the sunken ship, today is reportedly the top visitor attraction in Hawaii after Waikiki and Diamond Head.

8. Spins, Trails and Loops

The best way to soak in the coastal scenery is to hire a car and go on a ‘topless ‘spin of your own.  Stop for  instagrammable views at Hanauma Beach, filming site for  Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii;  Sandy Beach for great body surfing; Kailua Beach for swimming, sunbathing and the popular holiday retreat for the Obamas, and the world famous sunset surfing beach on the North Shore. 

For album keepsakes, the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout is one of Oahu’s most incredible points known for its formidable winds, coastline, mountain peaks and a breathtaking landscape.  Pali, which means ‘cliff’ in  Hawaiian, was the location for a violent battle fought in 1795 which led to the unification of Oa’hu under King Kamehameha I. 

For an extraordinary date night, meander along the Round Top Drive, a winding, canopy-covered 12km loop to the top of Mount Tantalus  to capture sweeping views of Honolulu, Waikiki and Diamond Head. 

It is at this point where the lyrics of this perennially touching Hawaiian song come to mind –  ‘Honolulu City Lights’.

Honolulu City Lights

Looking out upon the city lights and the stars above the ocean,

Got my ticket for the midnight plane and it’s not easy to leave again.

Took my clothes and put them in the bag; try not to think just yet of leaving.

Looking out into the city night and it’s not easy to leave again.

Each time Honolulu city lights stir up memories in me.

Each night Honolulu city lights bring me back again.

You are my island sunset; you are my island dream.

Put on my shoes and light a cigarette.

Wonderin’ which of my friends will be here

Standin’ with their leis around my neck.

It’s not easy to leave again.

……………………………………..Keola Beamer

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First published in Asian Journeys magazine in October 2018

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