Honolulu, Hawaii, USA (25th Mar 2008)
Aloha from Hawaii!
We made it to Hawaii, but not without some drama. We hadn't really been looking forward to this day as we knew it would be a long one, especially with the long layover in Fiji. Originally our ticket had been booked as a Qantas flight but little did we know that with our round the world ticket Qantas have the option of palming us off onto another cheap low cost carrier which means no food, no entertainment and no customer service. We ended up on Fiji air pacific, and without ranting on forever let's just say that they were the worse carrier we have even had the displeasure of flying on and will never go with them again no matter what!
After around 8 hours or so of sitting in the airport we left Fiji and got back on our way to Hawaii. Despite its illustrious reputation, it wasn't somewhere that had really appealed to us as a must see destination, rather a place to relax and do nothing and take a break from being on the move so much. The fun wasn't over yet for us on this leg of our journey, and about 3 hours into the flight the attendant announced we would soon be landing at Christmas Island; we didn't know if we had got on the wrong flight or what was happening since as far as we knew this was a direct flight to Honolulu and we didn't even have a clue where Christmas Island was. Thankfully we overheard an trolley dolly explain to another couple who also didn't know what was going on and she said not to worry and to just sleep as we would only be touching down to let a few people off, so that's we did and before long arrived on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
Since Mark had been to Hawaii before he knew just where to stay and roughly what we might do to fill up our days on the island. We had booked to stay in a hostel which was on the same street as where Mark had stayed last time but first of all we needed to get some American money so we could get there. Typically, as is our luck, there was only one ATM in the whole airport that wasn't through in the departure lounge and you guessed it, it was at the total other end of the airport to where we had just come out. As if that wasn't enough of an annoyance as it was, things only got worse once Mark managed to get to the machine. Since we needed cash to pay for the transfer and the hostel Mark tried to get out $500 but the ATM didn't feel like playing an only gave out $420 before getting jammed and trapping the rest of our money in the slot. Mark managed to get another $20 out of the slot with a pen. The other $60 was soon lost as when Mark managed to get someone who could help, all he (desk guy) did was push it back in the machine and lose it. You might have guessed it too; the airport could do nothing and told us they didn't deal with the ATM machines and that if we wanted our money back we should call the number on the machine! Welcome to America!
So already $60 (£30) down we caught the shuttle bus that took us to the hostel; arriving at "The Polynesian" hostel was a nice surprise, free breakfast (toast and muffins), free Wi-Fi, free laundry and our online booking was much cheaper than the rates they were advertising in the reception. Since we are in Hawaii for quite a long time (10 nights) we have decided to get a dorm room for the first 5 days and then a private room for our last 5 days so that we will have some time to ourselves and so Kara won't get too stressed out when it comes to packing up our stuff to leave as most dorms are so untidy and everyone but us seems to throw their stuff everywhere and not care. When we first got up to the room (4th Floor, No Lift) we were the only ones in, or so we thought, but then out of a door at the back of the room which we thought was a cupboard of some kind came Mike. Mike was geeky Canadian guy who said he was leaving in the morning and that if we wanted we could have his brand new 2008 Frommer's Hawaii Guide book and a load of notes etc because he couldn't be bothered packing them, awesome!
In actual dorm room we had a bit of a mixed bag, two girls from somewhere in the Caribbean (why come to Hawaii if you're from the Caribbean?) a girl from Switzerland , and a women in her 40's who we never met, who had towels draped around her bed and was never in until after 1am? For us the long day travelling (or was it two?) had been too much and all we really wanted to do was sleep, so shortly after getting to the hostel but not before fitting in a quick burger king, we dumped out stuff and climbed into bed where we stayed well into the next morning.
On our first full day in Hawaii we did nothing that is worth telling a story about, the weather was slightly overcast and since we had no clean clothes at all we spent most of the morning doing laundry. The first afternoon was just as boring, but we did venture out and had a walk to the little supermarket that offers over priced goods for those who want to self cater. The highlight of the day was when Kara finally found out that Mark wasn't lying about the pineapple in Mc Donalds; with every meal that you buy they give you a big tub of fresh Hawaiian pineapple free as a dessert and it is absolutely lovely, the sweetest juiciest pineapple I think either of us have ever tasted.
On our first day at the beach, surprise surprise Mark managed to get sunburn but this time it wasn't because he hadn't put sun cream on. This time the sun burn happened because whilst laid on the beach his shorts came down about an inch around the waist and up on the legs about 4inches both of which had been missed when sun creaming up, so after an hour or two Mark once again had some nice red patches which would be there for the next week. Waikiki beach is just like what you imagine a beach in Hawaii to be like, like what you see on a postcard, white sand, crystal clear waters and blue skies, it really is a nice place to relax. One of our favourite things about the beach at Waikiki is the lagoon area that they have built, where a huge wall runs along for a few hundred metres and stops all the waves and current, making in effect a massive swimming pool. It was also nice to swim out to the algae covered (it felt like carpet) wall and sit on it as the big waves come crashing into it and nearly wash you off back into the lagoon on the other side. The only real problem for us was that being on the beach all day everyday gets boring so after a few hours sun bathing, swimming and snorkelling, we were on the hunt for something else to do.
When we first came to Hawaii we thought we would just sit back relax and do nothing, but since we have been away we have developed a need to be on the move and see things so after searching through some of the free brochures that are everywhere and consulting our newly acquired Frommers guide, we headed off to the US Army Base, Fort De Russey which has a free war museum and a big collection of tanks, helicopters etc that you can go have a mess about with. The museum itself was pretty standard and told the American sides of various wars in which they have been involved. The most interesting things that are there are all the old weapons and the section which is upstairs all about people who have been awarded the Medal of Honour. Although it's not the best museum we have ever been to, it was still interesting to see the American interpretation of the Vietnam War after having been to the Vietnam War Museum in Ho Chi Minh.
We had seen that on Friday night the hostel was having a party / buffet and drinking games (beer pong) and after getting pretty friendly with a few other people and a couple of the staff we signed up for it. Basically it was $5 each and that got you a ticket for the all you can eat "Cold Cuts" buffet which was meat, cheese, bread and crisps. We filled our faces as much as we could until things became uncomfortable as it's not often we are given the opportunity to eat so much for so little. The hostel has a noise curfew at 10pm so after watching Mark lose at beer pong twice in a row we, along with our new friends, Jacob, Stine, Scott and a few others, headed out to see what the Hawaii nightlife had to offer. We went to a place on the main drag called The Red Lion and drank and socialised until the early hours.
By chance we had overheard someone talking about a rubber duck race, and after seeing a poster about it explaining that 20,000 rubber ducks were dropped into the canal and raced to win a prize, we decided to go and check it out. The poster hadn't been too clear about where the start and finishing points were so we thought it would be best to just walk along the canal until we found them, surely it couldn't be too hard spotting 20,000 bright yellow rubber ducks! We hadn't realised how long the canal actually was and by the time we found the ducks the race was over and the organisers were in the process of trying to fish them all out of the water. Even though we missed the race it was still quite a sight. We only managed to get photos after they had collected most of the ducks so they don't do any justice to what we actually saw. By this time we had already walked a couple of miles and since we were near and Kara wanted to go, we spent of the rest of the afternoon looking around the Ala Moana Shopping Centre which is an open air version of the Trafford Centre.
The following morning we had arranged to go to Pearl Harbour on the free shuttle bus that was running from the hostel and although it seemed to take ages getting there at lest it was free and we didn't have to mess about catching local buses (we also saved $2 each). The weather was nice, as usual, and before long we got on the way so that we could visit the museum and memorial.
Pearl Harbour is one of the most well known tourist attractions in Hawaii and possibly the World, but more than just a tourist attraction it is one of the most closely connected memorials and historical sites of the Second World War. There is no denying that this is no doubt an emotional and moving visit, probably more so for Americans, but none the less it still tells an interesting story about how America first became involved in the war after Pearl Harbour was attacked on December 7, 1941.
When we arrived at the site the hippie who drove us there pointed us in the general direction of the baggage storage which would be our first stop as the security is much tighter than when Mark was there previously in 2006. After this we had to go to the visitor centre where we got our free ticket that let us into the complex, within the centre are a couple of theatres, a museum, a bookstore, restrooms, and exhibits outlining the Pearl Harbour attack. When we came into the visitor centre, we were given a numbered ticket, which would let us into the theatre and then onto the boat. We ended up with ticket number 17 and the first one we heard announced was number 9! This meant we would have plenty of time to look around, and wait... and wait... and wait.
Finally after nearly two hours our ticket number was called so we made our way to the theatre entrance in preparation for the tour to begin. The whole "Pearl Harbour Experience" includes a 20 or so minute documentary of the attack on Pearl Harbour which is pretty entertaining even though it is mainly US propaganda. The film told the history of the attack and of the ships that were sunk and explained what was still left out in the harbour now and the history.
For those of you who need a refresher lesson in history...
The 7 December 1941 Japanese raid on Pearl Harbour was one of the great defining moments in US history. A single carefully-planned and well-executed stroke removed the United States Navy's battleship force as a possible threat to the Japanese Empire's southward expansion. America, unprepared and now considerably weakened, was abruptly brought into the Second World War as a full combatant. The final resting place for 1,102 (75 were recovered) crewmen of the U.S.S. Arizona who lost their lives on December 7, 1941. They are still entombed within the Arizona herself. The sunken battleship is commemorated by a 184 foot-long memorial structure that spans its mid-portion.
As soon as the film finished we were ushered out and took a boat out to the wreck of the only ship still left sunk in the harbour, the USS Arizona. Out on the far side of the harbour there is a memorial (the big white thing) that has been built over the ship that doesn't actually touch it but allows you to come on and see the deck and gun turrets which still come above the surface of the water. In the very back of the memorial there is a huge white and gold list of all those that died on the ship during the attack. The memorial is surprisingly small and although we wouldn't consider Pearl Harbour a fun part of our trip to Hawaii, it is an important part of the Hawaiian and US history and something that is well worth the day trip to see.
When we got back from the Pearl Harbour trip we had to move into our double room, which again was up on the fourth floor just a couple of doors down. We had been looking forward to this all week but when we got there we found that the dorm room we had to walk through to get to our double room was part of the staff quarters and was a real mess and they really didn't seem to want us there which was fine with us anyway! In the evening we had arranged to meet Stine and Jacob and the others for another night out. Hawaii doesn't have much of a bar/club scene (or not that we could find anyway) so we roamed the streets looking until Mark asked a local where was good to go and he suggested a place called Tsunami's. Tsunami's was a bit of a dive but they had 25 cent beers; the whole place had a seedy/ gangsters feel to it and had the accompanying soundtrack with a heavy baseline and some very explicit lyrics. On the way home we called in at the Red Lion (our new local) and played a few games of pool until it closed.
Although we didn't really want to get up so early especially after being out boozing we had agreed that we would in the hope of being able to secure a couple of Leeds Festival tickets which went on sale at 7.30am. We tried and tried both online and over the phone but alas we were unable to get tickets as the internet kept on crashing because the site was busy and the phone line was constantly engaged. We had both been thinking that it was time we had a haircut, and after hearing an advert for Supercuts on the radio we decided to look them up online to see if there was one nearby. Less than an hour later we were both in a chair with Mark having a tea tree Indian head massage and Kara getting twelve inches chopped off.We were really pleased when we left the salon, it was both cheap and they had done exactly what we had asked them to do. For those of you who don't know yet Kara now has hair above her shoulders that she can only just scrape back into a tiny little pony tail.
For one of our last day we thought we ought to make the most of it and do something productive and touristy, so we signed ourselves to climb our way to the top of the extinct volcanic crater, Diamond Head which is at the edge of Waikiki. So at some ridiculously early time we rolled ourselves out of bed so that we could do the climb early and avoid the burning hot sun. The walk/climb/hike was meant to be a guided tour that was offered by the hostel free of charge by one of their employees but on this particular day the girl who was meant to take us didn't turn up, so we along with a few other people decided to go off on our own since the guy behind reception told us it was a quite easy 15 minute stroll... It in fact turned out to be a steep uphill 45 minute hike on uneven terrain in the blistering heat through tiny passages and up hundreds of steps (ok maybe slightly exaggerating but wasn't easy!). It's a great climb though and we enjoyed the view at the top from which we could see for miles around and out to sea; before heading back down we listened to one of the park rangers blabber on about what we could see and what the landmarks were before he craftily tried to get us on a really expensive wildlife tour.
We went back to Waikiki around the other side of the crater which follows the coastline into Waikiki and by the time we got back we needed food, drink and sleep, but before any of that we had one last thing to book. We had been looking online all the time that we had been in Hawaii for a reputable company who we could go scuba diving with but so far had had little luck. By chance we found out that the Marriot Hotel had a dive shop, so we went down to see what they had to offer. Their prices were about average but the shop seemed ok and since it was just around the corner from where we were staying it made it easy for us to get there so we booked to do a two tank boat dive with them the following day.
We decided against doing the 8am dive as we knew that we wouldn't get ourselves up for it in time and besides if we did the 11am one it meant we could have a lie in. Originally we had the impression that the dive company was totally professional and there shop looked just as impressive as the guys back in Cairns, but we soon found out things were a little different here. Firstly, they didn't ask to see any proof of certification, they said we could dive as deep as we liked, even though we are only certified to 18 metres (60 feet)and rather than ask what size equipment we wanted, they just guessed and hoped for the best. The van that took us down to the harbour was just as dodgy looking. When we arrived at the marina we were expecting (foolishly maybe) a big 80foot yacht like we had been out to the reef on but we couldn't see anything like that. Once on board the tiny little boat (with no roof) we got suited up and to our surprise they had al brand new, top quality equipment which put us at ease and made us feel much better about all the other crappy stuff. The dive masters we also really good too and gave us a good briefing and helped set up all our equipment.
On the ride out Mark noticed something that we hadn't really been expecting, all our equipment that we would be using was in Imperial measurements but we had learned in Metric, this meant Metres were now Feet, Kilograms were now Pounds and Bar was now PSI, but it didn't really matter too much as we could easily figure out what was what and the dive masters helped us with our weights. As soon as it was time to get in the water it was as if we had never been away from diving and everything seemed natural and came back to us in a flash. One advantage of being on a small boat was that you can only fit so many on, which meant for us certified divers we would be in a tiny group of 5 meaning less time spent waiting for people to catch up etc and more time moving around and seeing stuff.
The water was much colder than in Australia, only 74F (another different measurement) compared with 85F out on the Great Barrier Reef. As soon as we got under the water we saw just what we had been hoping for, a huge green turtle, at least 8feet long, it was sat happily minding its own business eating some coral that was growing off the side of our boats mooring block. The only reason we really wanted to come diving here was to see turtles since we only got to see a couple of little ones in Australia and we weren't going to be disappointed on this dive. By the time we had to surface we had seen at least 15 turtles, all huge and Mark managed to jump in front of the camera for all the photos! The dive sight was nowhere near as good as out on the reef in regards to the coral and plants but it still had a good variety of colourful fish and with all those turtles we weren't looking much at coral anyway. The dive itself lasted quite a long time too as we were only relatively shallow and both had better control of our breathing.
The second dive was only about 10 minutes further out to sea and had quite a lot more coral and was in a bit deeper water. After getting down to the bottom we circled around a big coral outcrop that was covered in fish and hiding under the overhang were more turtles. We had been told to keep an eye open for reef sharks but we never saw any. Both of us were feeling much more comfortable on this dive and we all started messing around doing back flips and laying down looking up to the surface in the deep sand ridges.
All in all the dives were great fun and well worth doing and when they were over, like always we wanted to go again. We had promised ourselves that no matter what we wouldn't buy the underwater photos as they are always expensive, but after seeing them it was hard to say no especially after we saw how many good shots he managed of the pair of us, so begrudgingly we paid a fortune to have the CD delivered in the morning before we left.
Our leaving day arrived at just the right time, any longer in Waikiki and we could easily have gotten bored; looking back we would have liked to have travelled to some of the other islands because we didn't realise how hard it would be to do nothing. Waikiki is a great place to do nothing and we both agreed that if you get a chance to go and see it with your own eyes you should, but at the same time it's not really worth flying all the way around the other side of the world for. It's very American and very Eastern at the same time, lots of American shops, fast food chains etc and thousands of Sushi restaurants and Asian people; I mean millions of them, copious amounts nearly as many as in Auckland! Anyway as a place to stay still and just relax we loved it, sunshine was pretty much guaranteed every day and the beach was amazing but 7 days would be plenty.