By Robert W. Bone
“Look!” Sara said. “I can see Washington Place!”
Sure enough, that fine old residence, the home of Queen Liliuokalani, the last monarch of Hawaii, swung into view. We could see it clearly from our perch high on a mobile second-story observation deck traveling along Beretania Street. My wife and I were riding on a relatively new tourist attraction in Honolulu, on the Island of Oahu. Called the AlohaBus, it is a double-deck, open top vehicle comparable to many I have seen in other places. In the 38 years we made our home here on Oahu, I often said that a bus like that would be ideal for this island. Now, on our return visit, it has finally come to pass.
Like its counterparts elsewhere, the AlohaBus is a hop-on, hop-off deal. Riders can get off to explore a new area and then reboard later by showing their pass. The buses come along about every 20 minutes throughout the day.
As I predicted, it is a special boon for photography enthusiasts, providing unusual and interesting angles for photos. Formerly unavailable viewpoints of familiar island features are now available by shooting over the heads of crowds and cars. Among these sights was our elevated view of Washington Place.
After five years in California, Oahu still seems like home to us. We brought up our children there in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. While the kids wore rubber slippers and learned to speak pidgin, I wrote an annual guidebook to Hawaii (now out of print) along with hundreds of travel articles about the Aloha state for U.S. newspapers and magazines.
I always felt that Honolulu and its attractions at Waikiki Beach and elsewhere on the island of Oahu were the ideal introduction to understanding life in the Fiftieth State. Today some flights go direct from the U.S. mainland to other Islands, like Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island of Hawaii. These are all valid vacation experience, but lacking some of the historical and cultural background that Oahu provides.
We saw several improvements to the Oahu scene on our recent trip. There were additions to the zoo, new exhibits at Polynesian Cultural Center on the North Shore, an added exhibit at the Waikiki Aquarium, and even an impressive ongoing beach widening project at Waikiki.
But three recent developments are stand-outs: First, the aforementioned AlohaBus, second, the rebuilt Visitor Center at Pearl Harbor, and third, the surprising new Disney resort, called the Aulani, which has sprung up on the Waianae (western) coast of the island.
Pearl Harbor is arguably the most popular tourist attraction on Oahu. Until recently, it was also one of the more difficult experiences to arrange, with four experiences operating more or less separately from each other. These are (1) the USS Arizona Memorial, (2) the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, (3) the Battleship Missouri Memorial, and (4) the Pacific Aviation Museum.
Today, tickets for all the Pearl Harbor attractions can be obtained at the greatly expanded, and attractive Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, located near the boat landing for trips to the Arizona Memorial. That’s the building that floats over the hulk of the famous battleship sunk on Dec. 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The new center also includes a free museum of World War II memorabilia, run by the US National Park Service.
One difficulty remains: No bags or containers of any kind – backpacks, handbags or camera bags – are allowed in the area, a strict security measure. (Pearl Harbor is still a major US Naval Base.) There is a nearby facility where they can be checked for a nominal charge, but visitors who plan their visit carefully leave these items back in their hotel rooms for the Pearl Harbor trip. Cameras are allowed.
A special feature we saw there is not always available. Three men, aged at least in their 80s, wearing matching aloha shirts and military-style caps were sitting at an outdoor table. They were members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, a dwindling number of servicemen who were on duty in Hawaii when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor and other military facilities on Oahu. They willingly talk about their war experiences to anyone who comes up to meet them, listen to their story, and see their scrapbooks.
I took a quick photo and resolved to return to meet them after a nearby appointment. About 30 minutes later, however, the men were gone, at least for the day. In a way, it was symbolic as their disappearance will likely be permanent after only a little more time has passed at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center.
The third dramatic tourist development on the island is the Disney Corporation resort named the Aulani. Away from the existing nest of fine hotels at Waikiki, the resort has been established along a nondescript section of beach at Koolina, several miles from the traditional tourist center. The theme of the resort is ancient Hawaii, with nearly everything in it associated with the traditional native culture of the islands.
The interior and external decorations are all inspired by the arts and industry of the Hawaiians. Some light globes you would swear are actually woven baskets, and there are muumuu-clad Hawaiian “aunties” telling island stories. Of course a few traditional Disney touches can be found too. The carved wood table lamp in your room looks much like Mickey Mouse playing the ukulele.
Very much a family-oriented resort, it features twin residential towers surrounding a sculpted tropical oasis named the Waikolohe Valley. The Valley has lots of water activities including two swimming pools, one of which is a more like a small river, a snorkel lagoon, several hot pools, spas, along with nearby dining areas, teen room, and other touches. One cocktail lounge is staffed by personnel who honestly speak fluent Hawaiian (probably the only such bar in existence anywhere). and they will even teach it to you, if you want.
Although the occasional Disney-style costumed character will show up now and then in the valley to wow the youngsters, this aspect is not overdone. We checked the place out by staying a couple of nights. The only thing that was little hard to get used was a bed that was so high off the floor that we found ourselves sitting on the mattress and dangling our legs over the edge like little kids again – and maybe that was the idea.
We finished off our Oahu week with a pleasure we had wanted to do for decades -- checking in for at least a few days at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel. This small, modest, human-size building is on San Souci Beach, just a little east of the swank and glitter of Waikiki and on the edge of cool green Kapiolani Park, almost in the shadow of Diamond Head crater.
We were fans of its Hau Tree Lanai for decades, especially for its breakfast pancakes (either poi or regular) served under the twisting branches of the old tree. Our top-floor room gave us a wonderful view of Waikiki along with all the beach and park activities nine stories below us.
This same location, traditionally called Sans Souci (“carefree” in French), was the temporary home for Robert Louis Stevenson’s visit to Honolulu in 1889, when he hobnobbed with the royal family of Hawaii, even writing poems to the young princess Kai’iulani.
For us, Sans Souci Beach and the Kaimana Beach were an ideal ending to our reunion week on Oahu.
Travel writer Robert W. Bone lived in and wrote from Honolulu from 1971 to 2008. More photos relating to this article may be seen at http://robertbone.com/oahuvisit.
Sources of more information:
The Hawaii Visitors Bureau, 2270 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, HI 96815, (800) 464-2924, http://gohawaii.com,.
The AlohaBus, 2880 Kilihau St., Honolulu, HI 96810, (808) 457-4300, http://alohabus.com.
Pearl Harbor Visitor Center (World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument), 1 Arizona Memorial Place, Honolulu, HI 96818, (808) 422-3300, http://pacifichistoricparks.org.
USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, 11 Arizona Memorial Drive, (808) 423-1341, http://bowfin.org.
Battleship Missouri Memorial, 63 Cowpens St., Ford Island, Honolulu, HI 96818 (877) 644-4896, http://ussmissouri.com.
Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, Hanger 37 Ford Island, 319 Lexington Blvd., Honolulu, HI 96818 (808) 441-1000. http://pacificaviationmuseum.org.
New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, 2863 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, HI 96815, (800) 356-8264, http://kaimana.com.
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