Imagine being driven in a bus, looking out the clean, clear glass windows, down streets lined with palm trees and orange trees, macadamia nut and coconut trees. Picture orchid trees in bloom, lush pink azalea bushes and tulips of every color in the rainbow, and every so often a glimpse of a camellia flower growing right in someone’s front yard?
What’s the first word that comes to mind? Paradise. That’s Hawaii for you.
Hawaii wasn’t new to us—my husband and I had been there before, done it and thought we’d seen it all—but we were mistaken. The last time we went, we were alone, and only went to Maui and Kauai, where we stayed at the hotel, sunning ourselves. This time we went with our travel friends, Fred and Lucille, and joined the Tauck Tour again.
We saw Hawaii inside-out. We observed glorious flowers and trees like those in no place else in the world. We caught a glimpse of dome-shaped dormant volcanoes, volcanoes ready to erupt and volcanoes still smoldering from recent eruptions. We learned the difference between the lava rocks—one being smooth and used as fertilizer and another that looks like sharp black rocks, which we were able to walk on. Our guide explained that the red-hot lava pouring out of the volcano turns black as it cools down. We came upon spots where famous movies and TV shows were made, such as “From Here to Eternity,” “Lost” and “Hawaii Five-0.” And everywhere we went we saw the glorious navy-blue Pacific Ocean and many young people surfing.
I opened my balcony doors at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach on the island of Honolulu, and was mesmerized by how many surfers were riding the waves as the sun came up out of the east. As each wave arose far out at sea, the surfers readied themselves to enjoy the ride back to shore. I had only watched such a scenario on TV and couldn’t believe that I was actually on Waikiki Beach watching surfing in person.
Our hotel was the oldest on the island, dating back to 1927. It had seen many presidents, senators and movie stars in its heyday. We were staying in the newly renovated wing, in an oceanfront room with a wonderful view of the Pacific Ocean and all the people sunning on the white sands of Waikiki Beach. It was paradise.
After dinner, we took a walk to see more of Waikiki Island. I was taken aback by the very modern buildings housing the most prestigious retail shops in the world. I gaped in wonder at the number of people walking and browsing. I guessed those people were the ones I saw surfing in the morning. There are so many hotels and malls to see, I knew I would have to spend three more days on that island alone.
As we soon found out, not everything in Honolulu is paradise. Looking across the marina toward the somber sight of Pearl Harbor, we saw where all the warships were docked on that famous, serene Sunday morning of Dec. 6, 1941.
The first Japanese bombs hit Pearl Harbor at 6 am, and the casualties included 2,335 servicemen, 68 civilians and many others. More than 180 US aircraft were destroyed and the USS Arizona sank with a loss of more than 1,100 men.
The water was pristine and clear as we ferried toward the Arizona’s remains. We were able to see the white concrete of the memorial and the steel structure of the sunken hull. The memorial for the ship is a testament to that never-forgotten day.
Leaving Pearl Harbor, we drove on a path through the Punch Bowl Cemetery, which is similar to our Arlington National Cemetery. It is the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, covering approximately 116 acres and dedicated to those who perished at Pearl Harbor. It was a very stressful morning, and I for one was glad to get back to our hotel amid the beautiful beaches and people.
On the third day of our extensive travels through Hawaii, we drove up to Diamond Head Mountain, where early explorers thought they saw diamonds glittering off the mountain. From the top we were able to see the rough, blue water of the ocean and people snorkeling or surfing, looking like fish themselves.
We got a little jealous of everyone enjoying the water sports, so we took an outrigger canoe ride off Waikiki Beach. I was first on the canoe. That meant I met the high waves first; I got splashed first when the wave broke and I screamed with delight the entire time. It was a world away from Brooklyn, and I loved every minute.
Our next stop was Kauai, the oldest of the 13 islands in the Hawaiian chain. Our plane landed on the north side of the island, which is known for its lush vegetation. This, too, was a tropical paradise. The mountains were the famous Bali Hai Mountains of the South Pacific, and all around us the orchids and hibiscus were in full bloom. We were so relaxed we didn’t want to move, but it was getting late and we still had to see the fascinating volcanic blowholes on the road toward the south side of Kauai and the Hyatt Hotel.
We thought it was so funny to learn about the volcanic blowholes because we couldn’t imagine what our guide was trying to explain to us. Even when our bus stopped near a short seawall where we saw chunks of lava rock, we still didn’t understand. Then a great wave came rushing over and under the lava rocks, and we stood back and watched sprays of hot water shoot up 50 feet high through the blowholes from the surf. It really was fascinating.
The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort was breathtaking. It was very big, with a health club, and there were different levels of pools, bridges, a waterfall, and many stunning flowers. We enjoyed the hotel’s amenities while most of our traveling friends went on a helicopter ride over the rain forest and mountains. Albert and I did the ride on our first vacation to Kauai, and once in a helicopter is enough for me.
When Albert and I were in Maui the last time, we stayed at the Grand Wailea in an area called Wailea. This time, we stayed at the Sheraton in Lahaina. The two hotels were on opposite sides of the island, so we got a very different perspective of Maui.
We walked down the boardwalk along the busy oceanfront and took a catamaran out to sea to watch the whales. We saw one whale jump out of the water 18 feet into the air and down again. It happened so fast, it was unbelievably amazing. Along the beaches there is a beautifully designed outdoor mall overlooking the ocean. The local shops were just as impressive as the upscale ones, although since we were in the US, the prices were exactly like those in NY.
Besides the glorious beaches and a hot sun like no other, Maui is famous for the world’s largest dormant volcano, Haleakala. The crater is more than seven miles across and 10,023 feet above sea level. It took two hours to reach the top, but the views were stunning. If we’d been a little younger, we would have taken advantage of the bike ride down the mountain, but we opted to take the bus.
We finally got to the Big Island, Hawaii. It is the youngest of all the islands, yet the biggest, made by five different volcanoes and still growing. That means there are still eruptions going on under the ocean. These produce lava, which turns into additional land. Mauna Loa is the most massive mountain on earth, and Kilauea volcano has been erupting since 1983. Both produced rivers of fiery lava that when hardened made most of the island.
We visited the coastal rain forest, where, thank goodness, it wasn’t raining. We walked among the tall coffee trees and millions of flowering plants on a path that was usually muddy. On the last night of our Hawaiian vacation, we went on a sunset sail in a catamaran along the Kahala Coast. Just when I thought we’d seen it all, we looked toward the back of the catamaran and marveled at the setting sun in the sky and the reflections of the sun on the water. The peaceful feeling I experienced with these two phenomena still makes me smile from ear to ear.
While Kauai is lush and green, calm and serene, Maui has whales frolicking in the ocean and the Big Island is full of volcanoes. I loved Honolulu best. Maybe, down deep, I’m a city girl and appreciated how Oahu’s timeless radiance meets the modern luxuries of today. It is the best of two worlds, the glorious beaches of Waikiki and an avenue of luxury stores that beats Madison Ave.
Francine Dweck is a community member who likes to travel.