The second half of our Oahu adventure (aside from LOST film site searches, which I already talked about), included our very first Hawaiian luau, and an exploration of the east coast of Oahu.
For our luau experience, we went to the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie. This effectively completed our Oahu island circuit, as we had previously been in this town during our trip to the sea turtle beach earlier in the week.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is far more than a luau though. Imagine Epcot’s World Showcase, but for the Polynesian nations and run by actual residents of each island nation instead of lackluster, bored park employees. They had sections devoted to Hawaii, Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and the place that will forever be dear to us – Aotearoa, aka New Zealand.
Each area includes a small village with cultural artifacts from the country it represents, along with demonstrations of what each nationality is famous for. Very foolishly (I blame myself), we arrived with only an hour to spare before our luau, so we only had time for a boat ride along a canal that runs through the center of all the villages, and one cultural demonstration.
Naturally, we chose the haka, in the New Zealand section. Ariel and I really wanted to share the experience with Jacob and my father (who has always wanted to visit New Zealand). Both of them really liked it, with Jacob continuing to try and imitate the warriors after (and during) the demonstration.
Then it was luau time. The Polynesian Cultural Center’s luau is about as authentic as it gets. While the center itself is devoted to all of Polynesia, the luau is all about Hawaii. No fire dancers or hakas here. The story they told was actually pretty sad, that of the last Queen of Hawaii. It was really beautiful and the food was really good too. Plenty of options for vegetarians or non-meat eaters. Jacob had an amazing time.
Now… AFTER the luau, there WAS a fire knife demonstration. Actually it was a competition, which wounded incredible. But that didn’t start until after 8:30, and we had an 80 minute drive just to get back to our hotel (damn you Waikiki traffic). Jacob was exhausted, so we skipped it. This actually inspired us to book a second luau, on Maui, that did include a fire dance, the following week.
Overall this was a really great experience. Absolutely recommended. Must-do for anyone visiting Oahu. Just plan to spend a half day here, or maybe even longer. And great for kids too!
The day after, we spent some time on the east coast of Oahu.
This was the first time since we came to Hawaii that I felt like maaaaaaybe the beaches could compete with what we saw in Tahiti. Maybe not QUITE that level, but pretty close.
We stopped at Spitting Cave, Lanai Lookout, Halona Blowhole, Makapu’u Point Lookout,
and then spent some time at Kailua Beach.
Some of this area I covered in my LOST post, so let’s talk for a minute about each location.
Makapu’u Point Lookout – amazing views, first time I felt on this trip like I was really in a tropical Polynesian paradise. Featured image of this post.
Lanai Lookout – very unique rock formations, also a LOST film location.
Halona Blowhole – nice rocks, blowhole itself is also ok but not really awe-inspiring. Worth a stop but don’t go out of your way to get here.
All of these were just off the road and easy to get to, even if you’re on your way to somewhere else.
The last two I want to go into a little more detail on because they were really hidden (ish) gems.
First off is Spitting Cave. This is in pretty much the same general vicinity as the above locations, but it’s far more secluded and trickier to get to, even though it shows up on Google Maps. You have to drive into a residential neighborhood and look for a sign that itself is pretty hidden. Then there is a pretty steep (but very short!) trail between one house’s fence and another house’s wall, that goes down about 100 feet or so. It can be slippery here (and very slippery on the rocks themselves) so don’t do this in flip flops.
Once you get to the end, you kind of burst out onto a pretty short cliff, with some easy footholds that are like a series of stairs. And then a bunch of wavy rocks, all sloping down to a pretty sharp 80 foot sheer drop into the ocean. People apparently cliff jump here or something, but that honestly seems pretty nuts to me considering the sharp rocks at the bottom and swirling current, but then again cliff jumping is definitely not my thing, so maybe it’s not as bad as it looks, I don’t know.
What very much IS my thing are secluded spots that LOOK dangerous, but really aren’t, so most people stay away and you get some space to yourself. I could have spent hours here just watching the water rush in and out of the cave (it’s like the cave is spitting water out… get it). It would be a perfect spot to take a break on the road and have a sandwich before continuing on. It’s also a great area to watch the sunset. Just be mindful, because in some areas, the rocks are really narrow, and occasionally wet (which is rather terrifying to think that about waves splashing all the way up here). You don’t want to die for a picture.
Anyway, my point about this place is that it is very similar to Lanai Lookout, but with much less people, so with just a little effort, you can have the place almost entirely to yourself. Absolutely NOT for children though. I was the only member of our party that went past the end of the trail, which also meant no secluded picnic lunch for me – just a quick look around and a scramble back up to the trail.
Our final stop was Kailua Beach. This was the nicest beach we visited on our entire trip. The water was clear, it had that awesome turquoise color I love, nice white sand, and it really wasn’t that crowded. You even got a nice view of some rock formations in the distance, that we just almost never see on Atlantic beaches. The waves also weren’t overwhelming so it’s good for kids, but also not nonexistent so if you have a child who likes jumping waves, they’ll be entertained for as long as you want them to be entertained.
Parking was not really a problem either, unlike literally everywhere else we went in Hawaii where getting a spot basically meant driving around until we saw someone leaving. Easy walk to restrooms so changing out of wet clothes or making a quick run with your kid is no big deal either. All in all, this is a championship-caliber beach that is a short drive from Waikiki (which we were really underwhelmed by).
Just a brief note about our last full day in Oahu, which was a bit of a fail. We started out going to Diamondhead, where they recently started a new reservation system. You buy a ticket to visit during a certain 2 hour window of the day. And boy, they are STRICT about enforcing your time. We showed up about 45 minutes into our window and they… refused to let us in! Nevermind our begging and pleading and promises to leave before our time expired. They just wouldn’t allow it. This is quite unlike the Black Sand Beach at Waianapanapa State Park (which uses the same reservations system) on the Road to Hana, where you can show up anytime during your window. If you’re more than 30 minutes late to Diamondhead, you have to eat your ticket! Well not literally, but you get the idea.
So instead of doing that, we went to the Swap Meet at Aloha Stadium. I thought it would be cool to buy souvenirs where the NFL has the Pro Bowl every year. And it would have been cool… except that of course all the stands were in the parking lot. I don’t know what I was thinking. Also, the prices there weren’t particularly different from other souvenir shops in Waikiki, and the selection was about the same. All in all our last day on Oahu was mostly a fail.
But that’s ok, because the day after that we went to Maui and it didn’t take long to wash the stench of failure off of us.