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A must-do in Honolulu – Spend a day at Pearl Harbour

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Spend a day at Pearl Harbour

Whenever you visit a major world city, the guidebooks always cover the key attractions and places worthy of visiting.  In some cases, they are well justified, whilst others fit very much into the cliched tourist attractions.  For first time visitors, the tourist attractions are sometimes necessary.  But for frequent travellers, it is usually the sights that are off the beaten path that derive the most value.  Pearl Harbour stands out from the crowd.

It’s noted in every guide book and every major forum online and for very good reason.  We spent the best part of a day here and loved every moment. I am the first to admit that I really hadn’t invested much time in understanding the history of Pearl Harbour.  I knew a little but the time spent at the memorials, onboard the ships, and in the excellent displays and exhibitions proved invaluable in bringing us up to speed with the activity leading up to and during one of the most significant war events in US history.  7 December 1941.

The Pearl Harbour memorial is comprised of several museums, exhibitions, memorials and seacraft.  Entry to the USS Arizona Memorial is by ticket only.  For years the only way of accessing these tickets was to queue every morning at the ticket office, and hope that you are one of only 2,000 people who will be given a ticket.  It’s first come first served and the ticket could be for any time of the day.  This means that you could queue at 7am for a ticket hours (and hours) later.  In their summer, this could be a really horrible experience as you queue in the sun.

We had a much easier entry to the memorial.  The Pearl Harbour Historic Site as embraced technology, offering reservations online, although it seems this is still a bit of a well-kept secret. Tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial are free but booking online will set you back US$1.50 per ticket.  A small price to pay for expediency at the gate.  You can also self-select your own time, which allows you for logistics planning as well.  Tickets booked online must be picked up one hour before the allotted time, or else they can reissue your ticket to someone else.  Again, I see this as being more of an issue in summer.

Planning your travel, and remembering the need to be there an hour ahead is important, as Pearl Harbour is a reasonable distance out of Waikiki.  If you are driving there is a reasonable amount of parking out there.  We chose to catch the bus which was easy enough but you should allow a good hour and a half.  We travelled on Sunday, so traffic wasn’t an issue, but still took us one and a quarter hours.  The number 20 and 42 buses go to the historic site from central Waikiki for $US2.50.

At 9.35am we joined a heap of others at the theatre for a half hour documentary, using real footage of the attack.  It was a terrific way to start our time at the site and also invaluable in understanding the facts.  We were strategic and sat closest to the exit to ensure we got a good seat on the boat, but I should have remembered that sitting too close to a big screen with heaps of moving parts generally makes me sea sick!  I had to close my eyes and just listen a few times as it felt like I was sitting on a boat in choppy waters!

We all boarded a working navy boat, operated by members of the US Navy, and in a couple of minutes, we were disembarking at the USS Arizona Memorial.  The memorial is really one of a kind, and it would be hoped that there would be no further need for anymore.

The USS Arizona

The USS Arizona has been built at an enormous cost as a perpetual memorial to those who lost their lives on 7 December 1941 aboard the navy battleship.  It sits above the sunken vessel, at the stern side of the midway point.  Hauntingly, some parts of the ship are visible from the memorial and serve as a constant reminder of the 1,177 people, many of whom are still entombed, who died that day.  Buoys at the stern and bow of the ship mark out its complete length of 184 foot (approx 56 metres).

It was a big ship! Still visible is Gun Turrent #2, Gun Turret #3 and the funnel.  Unbelievably, oil still leaks from Gun Turret #3, and you can see it floating past every now and then.  The memorial is treated very much now as a war grave.  There were survivors from USS Arizona.  Some survived the blast whilst others were off site that day.  38 of these survivors have been buried alongside their fellow sailors.  In February this year, Mr Joe Langdell, the USS Arizona’s oldest survivor passed away. As a survivor, they have the ability to be interred at the memorial alongside Gun Turret #4.  Mr Langdell with be interred on December 7 2015.

I was pleased I went out to the memorial, but for me, the greatest part of this was understanding the story (noting it is an American viewpoint) of Pearl Harbour, and getting the detail behind the surprise attack.  It seems it truly was a surprise, with the Japanese leader of the army more advanced in his thinking.  The Americans had great protection, but it was predominantly in the sea and on land.  Their weakness was the air, and with the types of artillery they thought was in circulation.

In the end, they were surprised in the air and by the types of rockets used, that ultimately penetrated the battleships.  Perhaps most tellingly was the call from officers through to the radio room after they noted unusual air activity on the radar.  The officer in the radio room dismissed the call as the Americans were expecting a shipment of B-52s and he thought these were simply the aircraft coming to Oahu.

History now notes that these were indeed the first wave of Japanese aircraft heading towards Oahu.  The Japanese air strikes completely devastated the island’s airstrips, the first strategic targets of the offensive operation.  With the US aircraft destroyed, it was harder for them to protect Pearl Harbour.  The strikes on Pearl Harbour were swift, with two waves of Japanese aircraft now in action, and with new rockets on board that could penetrate the armour plating on the battleships and also with the ability to move in shallow waters.  Both something previously unseen and unheard of.  Pearl Harbour and it’s eight battleships were destroyed that day.  USS Arizona, USS Utah and USS Oklahoma were significantly damaged and carried the most casualties.

In the end, they were surprised in the air and by the types of rockets used, that ultimately penetrated the battleships.  Perhaps most tellingly was the call from officers through to the radio room after they noted unusual air activity on the radar.  The officer in the radio room dismissed the call as the Americans were expecting a shipment of B-52s and he thought these were simply the aircraft coming to Oahu.  History now notes that these were indeed the first wave of Japanese aircraft heading towards Oahu.

The Japanese air strikes completely devastated the island’s airstrips, the first strategic targets of the offensive operation.  With the US aircraft destroyed, it was harder for them to protect Pearl Harbour.  The strikes on Pearl Harbour were swift, with two waves of Japanese aircraft now in action, and with new rockets on board that could penetrate the armour plating on the battleships and also with the ability to move in shallow waters.  Both something previously unseen and unheard of.  Pearl Harbour and it’s eight battleships were destroyed that day.  USS Arizona, USS Utah and USS Oklahoma were significantly damaged and carried the most casualties.

The exhibitions and museums on site are well curated and full of incredible wartime and Navy memorabilia.  Outdoors are incredible exhibits of real rockets and torpedoes.

USS Bowfin

We also toured the USS Bowfin.  costing $US12 per person, this gives you entry to the submarine and the associated museum.  It’s well worth the money.  For $25 you can also visit the USS Missouri (tours in WW11, Korea and the Gulf), decommissioned in 1992.  Whilst the prices might seem a bit steep, the entire Pearl Harbour Memorial Site is significant in size and in inclusions, and the navy seacraft requires constant maintenance and upkeep.  I think it’s worth every cent.

I was really interested to get on board the USS Bowfin, having never been on a submarine before, and imagining it to be something I would not feel particularly comfortable on.  It was one of the most amazing things I have seen but in the same breath, was happy for it to be docked above water.  It’s not something I would ever be found on in a working environment.  As you would probably expect, inside the sub is extremely confined.  There is no spare space anywhere.  Every nook and cranny

There is no spare space anywhere.  Every nook and cranny serve a purpose. I cannot even begin to imagine how the sailors onboard would be in the sub for weeks on end, well underneath the ocean.  I would freak out the moment I knew it went under the surface.  And I am quite sure I would have died of boredom.  Playing cards were central to their entertainment, and I hate playing cards.  The instruments onboard were mind boggling – so many knobs and buttons!  I think the photos will do more justice to the cramped conditions they lived in.  No room for messy people on this submarine!

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