Travel Diary: Honolulu, Hawaii

I vacationed in Hawaii recently because my immediate family wanted to celebrate Chinese New Year somewhere warm together. Thank goodness too because I was starting to feel really blah in the middle of winter in Toronto. To be able to walk outside in shorts instead of shivering beneath¬†a million layers was a wonderful change. January is the perfect time to go to Honolulu. The weather was perfect‚ÄĒnot too hot and just breezy enough to be cool, not freezing. I did get spoiled by the sunshine after a couple of days, grumbling when it got a little bit chilly in the night or something.

Since this was our first time in Hawaii, we decided to focus on Oahu Island instead of island hopping. Waikiki Beach is Oahu’s main hotel and resort area, and we stayed at the Pacific Beach Hotel, close to the beach. The higher floors have amazing views.

The hotel was comfortable and conveniently close to the beach, with helpful concierge to book us in for various activities around the island. The Zhus are a pack of explorers who can’t sit still, especially my parents, who are always off doing something educational such as going to the museums downtown, the Iolani Castle, and the Pearl Harbour tour, all the while snapping pics and posting¬†on their own Chinese social media accounts.¬†I guess travel blogging is in my blood.

No one in my family is the type to lounge around on a beach all day or desperate to do water activities. I’d packed a bikini but didn’t go swimming once. I did read my books on Waikiki Beach a couple of times, and watched the sun set there every night.¬†

The first day trip I took was to the Polynesian Cultural Centre in the northern shore of Oahu. They had such great reviews on TripAdvisor that we had to see for ourselves. The bus ride there takes over an hour. We booked the Ambassador Tour so we had a guide to show us around and teach us more about Polyesian culture. 
Our lovely tour guide, Elizabeth, is from Tonga. She took us around to the different “villages.” The Cultural Center is made up of replicas of authentic islands from six Pacific cultures: Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Aotearoa (New Zealand), and Tahiti. What’s cool about the place is that 70% of the employees, which includes¬†Elizabeth, are students originally from one of the islands. In exchange for working here, I’m told their tuition is free at the university that owns the Cultural Center.

This was such a fantastic place to spend the day. Not once was I bored. I learned so much about Polynesian culture, and some of the music performed really moved me. I got to witness the Aotearran native greeting ceremony, their traditional song and dance with the Poi balls; and to learn how Samoan men start their own fires, climb coconut trees, and why they serve women first.¬†I learned why Maori men and women tattoo their faces, how to Hawaiian dance, and throw spears like the Tahitians. The boat parade showcased different dances from all the islands. Many of the activities were¬†interactive and it’s a great place for families. The dinner and Luau was fun, and the night ended with a spectacular performance of HńĀ‚ÄďBreath of Life.

I almost bought a ukulele, but showed some restraint since I’d recently bought a new guitar after visiting Nashville.

If you’re wondering what the food in Hawaii is like, I hope you like Asian food. With a predominately Asian population, and numerous Japanese tourists, it’s no big surprise. Waikiki has countless¬†restaurants to choose from, but I did venture from the main area every so often to try places where locals frequent. I wouldn’t say that most of the things I tried were healthy, like the Loco Moco, a popular local dish, at the Rainbow Drive-In, along with their burger. Poke bowls are always a healthier bet and Raffage Natural Foods near my hotel had consistently good lunch options.

Tiki’s Bar and Grill is a great place for brunch because it gets too packed at dinner time. They have a great view of the ocean. And amazing red velvet waffles.¬†

The Wakiki Yokocho Gourmet Alley is in the basement level of the Waikiki Shopping Center. The concept invokes dining in a Japanese alleyways, so you’ll find everything there from authentic ramen to soft serve green tea ice cream.

Plenty of fresh fruit juices, smoothies and shaved ice can be found around Waikiki as well. As for desserts, visit Leonard’s Bakery for their Malasadas (Portugese doughnuts), fresh out of the oven. They sell 1600 of them daily, so they know what they’re doing. Even for sugary deep fried dough, I couldn’t believe how good they were.
Another highlight of my trip was taking a 45-minute helicopter tour around Oahu Island. A bus picked us up from the hotel and took us to the airport, where we boarded a windowless helicopter. What a thrilling experience. See all my aerial island photos here.
While my family went hiking at Diamond Head, I decided I needed to get back to relaxing by booking myself in for a spa day. At least my bikini came in handy here. See my full review of the spa experience here at a slightly haunted hotel.

I also spent some time in the Beach Bar in the same hotel. Overlooking the ocean, the place is usually packed during meal times, but I like to come during the mid afternoon to read and sip a cocktail under the beautiful banyan tree. 

Since I’d already gone up in the sky, it was time to go 100 feet under water with Atlantis Submarines Waikiki. You first take a boat out and wait for the submarine to come. Watching the submarine emerge and climbing inside was pretty cool. The crew was lovely and professional, and I’m glad I went, but not a whole lot was happening down in the water. We saw different fishes and a turtle, but if you’re expecting a lot of action and sharks all over the place you’ll probably be disappointed. The submarine took us past artificial “reefs”‚ÄĒ boat and airplane wreckages planted there by to attract¬†sea life for the tour

Since I’d missed the first hike with my family in favour of lounging around at the spa, I was excited to go to Manoa Falls. In comparison to hiking up to Diamond Head, Manoa Falls is ¬†apparently a lot easier, but still not a walk in the park if you’re not used to hiking. You¬†can easily take a public bus from Waikiki Beach to the residential area where you can start the hike up to the waterfall. I suppose you can also take a taxi, but I got pretty comfortable taking the bus with the locals any time I wanted to get out of Waikiki Beach.¬†
For me,¬†Hawaii is the best place to go in the middle of winter. The plane ride is long¬†from Toronto, but Oahu Island’s perfect weather, and mixture of fun activities and places to relax, made for a balanced vacation for me. While exotic countries are fun to visit too, Hawaii is in the US, so language barrier is not something you have to worry about. The predominately Asian population and the mixture of North American and Asian culture made me feel at home.
I’ve always lived in the city, so when I got to Hawaii, I let Mother Nature embrace me. Traffic can be brutal in Honolulu like in any city, but I never heard anyone honk because it’s not “aloha.” I can’t imagine living here¬†or any place that’s sunny all year round‚ÄĒI’d probably get spoiled by the good weather and take it for granted‚ÄĒbut I got to fill up on my sunshine and nature to survive the rest of my Canadian winter.

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