Ahh Hawaii, the ultimate sun-soaked getaway – especially for Australians, who love jetting across the Pacific for a bit of vitamin sea. But aside from cracking beaches and top-notch resorts, it’s safe to say that at some stage you’ve probably wondered what to do in Oahu, or pondered what is there to do in the North Shore.
Well, you’ll be spoiled for things to do – you just have to know where to look. So without further ado, here are some of the coolest things you’ll be saying aloha to when you visit this island oasis.
Hike Diamond Head Crater
Oahu is a natural paradise for hikers, with plenty of challenging, scenic routes. The best one for the average holidaymaker to tackle? Diamond Head Crater, which looms dramatically over the southeast end of Waikiki Beach. It’s only a 2.6-kilometre round trip, which sounds easy enough, but it’s also almost entirely uphill and the incline is steep, so prepare to work up a sweat. It’s all worth it once you reach the summit of this extinct volcano though, with spectacular 360-degree views that extend across Oahu’s south shore, north to the mountains, west to Kapolei and east to Koko Head Crater.
Visit Pearl Harbor
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a history buff or not, one of the must-see things on Honolulu is Pearl Harbor. This moving site, just 30 minutes’ drive from Waikiki, commemorates the devastating events that took place on 7 December 1971, when Japan launched a surprise aerial attack on the US naval fleet. On display are photos, artefacts and personal memorabilia, and visitors can also watch a 23-minute documentary. Perhaps the most emotional component is the USS Arizona Memorial, a floating shrine built above the sunken USS Arizona that honours the 1,177 seamen who lost their lives. It’s a sobering excursion, but an important one for people to experience.
Go Shopping at Ala Moana
Unfortunately it’s impossible to guarantee blue-sky days year-round in Hawaii, so if you’re not sure what to do in Oahu when it rains, head to Ala Moana Shopping Centre. It’s the largest open-air mall in the world (don’t worry though, there’s plenty of shelter to shield you from the weather as you dash from shop to shop), and it boasts more than 350 stores and restaurants. High-end boutiques such as Dior and Balenciaga mingle with the likes of Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, plus there’s a great range of cosmetics, homewares and electronics. Ala Moana is within easy walking distance from Waikiki, so there’s really no excuse not to shop up a storm.
Snorkel Hanauma Bay
With an abundance of pristine, white-sand beaches at your very doorstop on Hawaii’s most popular island, it can be a tough decision trying to figure out where to snorkel in Oahu. There is one very obvious choice though: Hanauma Bay on the southeast coast. Formed within a volcanic cone, this curved stretch of shore was declared a protected marine life conservation area and underwater park in 1967. It’s home to more than 400 species of fish, colourful coral and shallow waters that are ideal for paddling in. Just remember there’s a $5 USD entry fee, and numbers are capped at 3,000 people per day in order to best protect the reef. Look instead of touch at Hanauma Bay, and you’ll be in for an underwater delight.
Eat Your Way Along the North Shore
If you’re looking for a reason to take off on an Oahu road trip, here’s a good one: the insanely tasty North Shore food trucks. From smoked meat and shaved ice, to tacos and Thai, there’s something to suit all taste buds on this gorgeous stretch of coastline, which is just under an hour’s drive from the Honolulu CBD. Some favourites are the frozen yoghurt and acai bowls from Ono Yo (because you haven’t really been to Hawaii if you don’t try a fruit-topped acai bowl) and the legendary shrimp from Giovanni’s – this is where the locals eat on the North Shore of Oahu. While the food trucks don’t always stay in the same spots, if you plan your Oahu road trip itinerary carefully, you should be able to tick them all off your must-eat list. For something sweet to follow, check out Ted’s Bakery for whopping slices of piled-high pie – the chocolate haupia cream pie is a go-to pick.
Learn to Surf
Hawaii has long been considered a mecca for surfers – just look at how many flock to the Pipeline surf break trying to prove their worth – so if there’s one place you’re going to learn to surf, it may as well be Oahu. No matter if you’re a beginner who doesn’t know the difference between regular or goofy stance, or a more advanced boarder looking for a challenge, there’s a surf school out there for you. Many are located on Waikiki Beach, as the waves are gentle and calm, but you can also find plenty of reputable surf schools on the North Shore. Whatever your skill level, a couple of hours out in the Hawaiian waves and you’ll be hanging ten with the best of them.
Take a Sunset Cruise
So you’ve landed on Oahu and you’re not sure what to do in Honolulu without a car. Who said anything about needing a car when you can go on a cruise? And this isn’t just any old boat trip; it’s one of Waikiki’s famous sunset cruises. Departing directly from the shore, this is one of the most breathtaking ways to see the Oahu coastline. Cruises generally run for a couple of hours, and are accompanied by free-flowing cocktails and chilled-out tunes. There are also longer sailing options that include dinner or whale watching. Just make sure you’ve got your camera at the ready because the views will blow you away.
Explore Kualoa Ranch
If you’re wondering what to do in Oahu with kids, look no further than Kualoa Ranch. Part Hollywood movie set, part epic tourist attraction, this stunning 4,000-acre nature reserve, a 45-minute drive from Waikiki, is like nothing you’ve ever experienced. As the location for blockbuster films such as Jurassic Park, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and 50 First Dates, there are super cool tours that take you past sites where many of the most iconic scenes were shot. After something more adventurous? Then why not try horse riding, cycling, kayaking, zip-lining or jumping on the back of an ATV. There’s even a petting zoo and a couple of old military bunkers to explore. If you want the ultimate Oahu day out, this is it.
Experience a Traditional Luau
It’s easy to forget there’s so much more to Hawaii than cocktails and shopping bargains, so if you’d like to learn more about the local culture, you need to experience a proper luau. And one of the best is at the Polynesian Culture Centre on the North Shore. Here you can learn how to fish without a net and paddle in a traditional canoe, before settling in for a feast of Kalua pork and huli huli chicken while you watch an incredible song and dance performance. Not sure how to get to the North Shore of Oahu? The Polynesian Culture Centre offers a shuttle bus service that will pick you up from Waikiki and drop you back again.
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