Friday, May 29, 2009

Hawaii - Oahu

Pearls in the Pacific

We decided to celebrate our 25th Anniversary in Switzerland when we were on our Europe trip in 2002. That place was really wonderful. Switzerland is a place where every corner is picture perfect. Beautiful Alps, blue water lakes and pleasant weather make this place so nice. After coming back to USA and watching Travel Channel extensively, I realized there are so many other wonderful places and that changed our destination to Hawaii.

We visited a group of islands in the mid pacific. There are eight main islands. Each island is unique and has something special in it. All islands are diverse. I feel these islands are precious due to their diversity, rich culture and unique natural wonders.
This map shows 8 islands of Hawaii. We visited Oahu, Maui and Big Island. We booked the trip 6 months in advance. First, I thought of a cruise, which visits 4 main islands but we realized that if you are on a cruise, you get less time on land and some places of our interest were not possible on a cruise trip. So, we went and booked our trip with Trafalgar Tours. I started my research on different sites.

Some tips for first time visitors….When you visit Hawaii you should decide what you want to see. In general

Winter months - High surf on Oahu, whale watch
(Nov, Feb)
Summer months - Mangoes and other fruits and Flowers, other water activities
(Mar- Jul)
Year around - surfing, swimming, snorkeling,Volcanic activity, hiking, golfing

Good beaches - Waikiki – Oahu, Poipu - Kaui, Kanaapali-Maui

I think one should visit at least two islands. You must visit Big Island and one more island depending on your interest.
Our tour group was an all American group – all Whites. We were the only non Americans on the tour. Our AAA agent recommended this tour and we thought it was ok. Overall tour company experience was good. Administration, food, information, help, tour guides all were good. Out of the three places we visited, one accommodation was not good, that was the only bad part of the trip. Mostly people on the tour were seniors but they were so enthusiastic. First day they gave us some different looks but then they mixed up very well. I used to compare them with our last group tour in Europe and I want to admit that, it was pleasure traveling with this well disciplined group (I hope our people learn these manners and discipline.)

After booking the trip I told some of our friends. First question was how much is the cost? The answer to this question depends on ‘what’ and ‘how’ you want to see these islands. We were on a pleasure tour so we spent a little extra this time. The tours you choose, the places you visit and the places you stay change all the statistics. The basic expense is the air ticket and tour ticket or booking your hotels and inter island flights. All this information is available on net – visit or You can find out many deals. Our trip was 8 days long. Excursion tours are costly. You have to consider transportation while planning any tour. Inter island flights are not costly. Food is not that expensive. If you opt to camp in the park, the price comes down. Visiting two islands is a good option. If you have miles use them. You can shop for the deals on the net. If you want to spend time on water, cruise is a good option.

When you visit this place you feel at home as you see gulmohor, gulab, chfa, kanher, coconut and mango trees around you. The only difference is that, you do not get the humid weather on the sea shore and that makes this place different. The color of the sea water is a beautiful blue, greenish blue. (If it’s sunny).
After coming back from the trip I had so much information, I decided to write about it. I wrote about my Europe trip last time and its fun reading. Some of our friends are ready to read this. (Thanks to all). Thanks to Sameer n Shetal who gave us useful tips. There is a difference between reading on the net and getting tips from someone who already had been there. I took some pictures from net as they are better than my pictures. I have indicated the places we visited by stars on the maps. I hope you enjoy the trip.

Main attractions:
Pearl harbor and down town tour
Waikiki beach
Sunset beach, North shore (high surf is in winter months Nov-Feb)

We started our trip from Honolulu. Honolulu is called the gathering place of all tours. Cruise ships start from here. This is the capital of Hawaii. This place is commercial. You will see high-rise buildings on Waikiki beach. We reached around 2 pm after traveling 9 hours from Chicago. Our tour people greeted us with lei (flower garland made from plumeria flowers). It has a nice smell and is quite sturdy. We stayed in Pacific beach hotel. Mostly all the hotels are on one strip and just across the road is the famous Waikiki beach. Our tour guide Hank welcomed us in the lobby and gave a detail itinerary. Check in was very easy. We had a nice view from our room. (25th floor)
We went on the beach immediately after checking our luggage. We traveled 10hrs on that day but somehow we were fresh. Time difference is 5 hours. The beach was full of life. It was little crowded but it was clean and had place for many activities. I was wondering how come there was no repetition of swim suit or cover ups ….so many designs. People of many nationalities were around. You can see Diamond Head on one side of the beach. You can climb this hill and get a nice view of Honolulu.

That day was Honolulu parade day. We saw floats and many groups in the parade. There were dances by big groups of school children, high school groups, adults, special children. Other island people were showcasing their dances. We saw many Chinese, Japanese in this group. People were sitting on both sides of the roads and were watching the parade. It rained for a while but that didn’t stop the dancing. After watching the sunset, we went back to the room and had dinner. Again in the night we were just strolling on the road around 11 PM. All shops and bars were open. There were street jugglers and painters on the side road.

Next day, in the morning, we had orientation and after that we headed to Pearl Harbor. Generally there is a big ticket line. Our tour guide gave us tickets and, since our group tour was around 1 pm, he took us on a downtown tour and Maui divers shop. This is the advantage of going with the tour company. They know the timings, and we can cover more things. The downtown Honolulu tour included State capitol building, King Kamehameha statue, (you can see this statue on all the islands), Justice House, Iolani palace (the only Royal palace in the USA. This was the residence of last two monarchs.) You can take a tour if time permits. We saw construction everywhere. Our guide said construction is the number one business and Tourism is the second best business. (That’s why Crain is the official bird of this island)
Our guide was Tiny. He was only 250 pounds. It seems he was born tiny. He was very informative. He used to speak Hawaiian. That sounds like English tongue twister. He taught us many Hawaiian words while driving.

Next stop was a big volcanic crater. When you reach there, you do not get feel of a volcanic crater. Punchbowl cemetery is a memorial of the sacrifice made by USA Services men and women. Veterans from World War I, World War II, Korean and Vietnam wars are resting here (34000). On some name tags ‘unknown’ is written as they were not identified. This place is surrounded by Chinese banyan trees. They are different than the Indian banyan trees.
After that we stopped at Maui Divers shop. It is kind of a trap or commercial part on the tour. Ladies enjoyed this shop as it was related to pearls and corals. We saw one film on corals with food served by the shop owners. Then, they showed us how Corals are transformed into nice ornaments. How they clean it, grind it etc… The ornaments were beautiful and costly too. I purchased a tree structure (small) which has the corals of eight islands represented on it. I forgot to take their name list. I was under the impression that coral means only ‘powli’ which we Indians wear (I purchased those in lots when I was in Saudi Arabia.) But, here I found 8 colors. Black coral is the specialty of Hawaii. I picked up one small earring in black coral as a souvenir. Each Island has one coral deposition. Isn’t it great that one island has only black deposits other has green and so on…..If you start thinking, it’s a miracle, and I found so many miracles on Hawaii. They have developed the maps of coral deposits.

There was one more attraction …opening shells and getting pearls out of it. They sell it for 14 dollars (one shell). You have to choose your shell. After that you hear ‘Aloha’ and that shell is opened with a knife. You can see the pearl inside the shell in a bag like structure. Colors and sizes of the pearls cannot be determined beforehand. There are many designs for ornaments, and they have different stories for them. Most of them are related to their kings and nature. This process was very exiting.
Making of a pearl is a long process. Oysters inside shells make these pearls. If any impurity enters the shell by chance, it starts coating it. It takes days to make a single pearl. They can be black, pink, white or yellowish. Pink and black are rare. The girls or sellers were expert in making ornaments. They make pendants, earrings, or rings of these pearls which suits your budget (generally over budget). I compared this process with the child birth. The colors are taken from the shell cover. You get cultured pearls and real pearls. In cultured pearls, they put dirt inside the shell. Now I understand why Tahitian pearls strand costs so much. My lookout towards real pearls changed totally. We have artificial pearls to spoil all this. I saw some shells in the water packed in a tin for sale.
After Maui divers, we visited Pearl Harbor. This is a memorial. First you watch a movie which has actual footage of the attack. It is really moving. There is a small boat ride which takes you to the memorial. Always take right hand seats to get good pictures. The memorial is built on the actual ship, Arizona, which was downed by the Japanese in the attack. When you stand on the sunken boat and think 1700 or more people are buried under your feet, it gives you an odd feeling. Everyday thousands of people visit this memorial. Tickets you get have a picture of the memorial and a story of one soldier who was on that boat on that day. It’s a good souvenir.
The architecture of the USS Arizona Memorial is explained by Preis as, the structure sags in the center but stands strong and vigorous at the ends, expressing initial defeat and ultimate victory. The overall effect is moving. You can meet veterans on the site. I think this is the only place where defeat is displayed so well. Inside the memorial you see different flags, model of the ship, and names of the soldiers on the wall. White color memorial on the blue water looks prominent. Aerial view is good.

You can see oil on the water, which comes out from the boat. When I read this on the internet, I did not believe this, but it is still coming out. They call it eye drops of the sunken boat. USS Missouri is another ship which was used in Middle East war. It is standing at a distance from this memorial. There is a museum on this ship.

After coming back to hotel we visited the beach once again. Prasanna took surfing lessons. He could actually ride some waves. It looks very simple but is not that easy. I enjoyed the warm water. I saw some outrigger canoes. These are the canoes with left hand side support. The beach was very nice and relaxing. Surfing, swimming, canoeing, sailing, boating, so many things were happening around.
In the evening we had a sit down dinner at the hotel. Sweet dish was made by guava. Next day, we took a flight to Big Island. These flights generally do not have seat numbers. It is on a first come first serve basis. These inter island flights are 35-40 minutes long.

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