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Hawaii part 1

Honolulu, United States

We’d decided to spend our 5 days in Hawaii just on Oahu, mainly because we’d run out of money, but also because we thought that there’d be more than enough on that island to keep us occupied. We’d managed to get a good deal on a hotel room in Waikiki, so it was a short walk to all the main shopping, drinking and eating areas, and of course Waikiki beach. We spent our first day on Oahu just investigating the immediate area. There was a nice market under the shade of a few massive trees that we looked around, but we spent the evening by the beach soaking up the atmosphere.

The next morning we picked up a rental car and headed for Pearl Harbor (sic). We’d been told that unless we got there really early, we could face a long wait to get a ticket for the USS Arizona Memorial, and might not even get one at all. So, with this in mind, we left our hotel around midday and were on our way. The journey itself was only about 20 minutes, but funnily enough, the car park was already full and it looked like we were out of luck. We decided to try again the next day (and maybe get up a little earlier), and instead headed back past Waikiki onto the south-west of the island. The drive itself gave spectacular views as the road hugged the edges of cliffs with a clear blue sea crashing up against the rocks at the underneath, or rolling up along the occasional beach we passed. One of which, Sandy Beach, is considered the most dangerous beach on the island (in terms of injuries and rescues), but because of the conditions that create this, is really popular with bodysurfers

The place we were actually headed for was called Hanauma bay. This crescent shaped beach, though stunningly beautiful in its’ own right, is particularly famous for the snorkelling on offer from the moment you step into the crystal clear waters. A coral reef stretches across the width of the bay, and lies in what was once the bottom of a volcano; the seaward rim of which was gradually worn away through thousands of years of waves beating upon the rock. The rest remains though and provides a visually dramatic protective barrier, with arms extended around the bay before slowly dipping to meet the sea.

Much like our experience in Doubtful Sound in New Zealand, before we were allowed to go down and have fun we had to do some mandatory boring/‘educational’ stuff. On this occasion, it involved being shepherded, on a boiling hot day, into a small movie theatre about 100 metres up the hill from the beach. Only once we’d sat and watched a 10 minute film about the how the bay was created, and then how to snorkel responsibly (which included a really irritating disney-esque song called ‘ don’t step on me’, presumably sung by the coral,) were we allowed onward to the beach itself. We probably spent just over an hour in the water, and although we did see lots of really nice tropical fish, it definitely wasn’t the best snorkelling experience of our trip. The ‘ don’t step on me’ philosophy has obviously been adopted a tad too late for the coral nearer the beach, as the vast majority of it has been broken into thousands of tiny pieces by fat Americans stomping all over it.

The next morning we tried to get up extra early for our Pearl harbor visit, but I guess the attempt lacked any real conviction, as we arrived around 11am. We picked up our tickets and discovered that it was still going to be a 2 hour wait for our Arizona memorial tour. To kill the time, we decided to pop across to the neighbouring exhibit; the USS Bowfin submarine museum. This was actually really interesting (well, for me at least, and Angela found it pretty interesting as far as history goes) as the museum charted the development of submarines from the very beginning up to the nuclear age. Then we got to walk through the USS Bowfin itself - a retired submarine, moored alongside the museum. The Bowfin survived the war without suffering any casualties, while sinking 44 ships during the same period. It was pretty eye-opening walking through the cabins and getting a feel for what it might have been like to live in such cramped and claustrophobic conditions.

The Arizona memorial tour began with a video detailing exactly what happened on the morning of 7th December 1941 in Pearl Harbor, using eye-witness accounts and film from the time. 350 Japanese planes launched a surprise strike on the naval base and surrounding airfields in 2 waves, beginning their attack just before 8am. In total, 2,335 US servicemen and women were killed over the next 2 hours. Over half of these (1,177) died on board the USS Arizona, which was engulfed by a colossal fire which ripped through the front of the ship when a bomb exploded in the forward ammunition magazine. The average age of the enlisted men on the ship was just 19. The wreck of the Arizona has been left where it sank as a permanent memorial to all those who lost their life. A small structure has been built across the midsection of the ship‘s sunken remains, with the names of all those who died on the Arizona inscribed on a wall at the far end. After the film of the attack, the US Navy ferry you over to the memorial. The remains of a solitary turret is all that is left above the surface, but when the light hits the water in a certain way it’s still possible to see the ship a few feet below the waves. It’s a suitably moving experience, though it seemed a little odd to both me and Angela that most of the Japanese contingent and a few of the Americans touring the site seemed more worried about posing for pictures with Navy personnel than paying their respects to the casualties of war beneath us.

permalink written by  olliejohnson on August 28, 2007 from Honolulu, United States
from the travel blog: A Brit and a Canuck Down Under
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