Driving around the East Shore of O’ahu
Whenever we have travelled, we have always made it our business to drive ourselves wherever possible. We are really comfortable driving in foreign countries, and it adds to our sense of freedom and independence to be able to do things at our own pace. No rules, no real timetable. We just stop when something piques our interest. A pineapple stand, a food truck, a hidden lookout, waves smashing on the beach during a squall, an animal, a cool building. We were in and out of the car all day during our trip up the Eastern shores, and it couldn’t have been a better day. I would highly recommend it.
Find a better car rental company
What I wouldn’t particularly recommend, and I don’t say this often, is Enterprise Car Rentals on Prince Edward Ave at Waikiki. We chose this agency as it was extremely close to our condo, and for this reason it does deserve a big tick. Where they fall down is with their service and downright lack of process. We had reserved our vehicle with an expectation that it would be ready when we arrived at the agency at our allotted time. Not so. Whether you pre-reserve or just turn up on the day, you are treated the same.
So, I joined the queue, thinking it wouldn’t take that long. Not so once again. Once you get through the admin process you then join the large group of people in the waiting room, waiting, waiting whilst the boys out the back move cars back and forth to get the vehicles out. One move inadvertently blocks the next car that is needed so it takes quite some time to get into the car and on your way.
This happened two days in a row, with the second day actually being so much worse that I let my reservation go and walked into another agency to book a new car. This took me about 10 minutes whereas I would have been in the other queue for an hour, before getting anywhere near the car. Island time is one thing, but this was completely ridiculous. Many others around me swapped over to the other agency as well.
Finally, we are on the road
Anyhow, with that all behind us, we were quickly zipping towards Diamond Head, as the highrises of Waikiki gave way to the residential areas.
We passed Koko Crater, another of the great climbs to do on this island. Koko offers another level of difficulty to that of Diamond Head, with 1000 steps going straight up the side of the crater. Not much room for stopping here.
Next stop was the Molokai Lookout. The weather had turned a bit ordinary as we arrived here, but luckily it was just a bit of a rain squall which didn’t take too long to pass. Whilst we waited, we watched with fascination as the local police put a tour bus operator through his paces. All the paying passengers were out of the bus and in the carpark, then they were all ferried back inside with a comment of “we’ve got to go back to base”. Not sure what the driver did, but the end result was a definite disruption to his customers. Uh oh !
The great part of driving these shorelines is that the amazing views happen often.
Not far along the coast is the Halona blowhole, where volcanic activity created lava tubes, similar to what is found at Hanauma Bay. The tube opens up to the ocean where the water rushes in on a regular basis into the cavity. If the water is pushed in fiercely enough, the water will push up through the spout. The viewing spot here was manic, with bus loads of tourists all arriving at the same time and people everywhere jockeying for position. On a number of occasions, I felt as through I should have a hard hat on, as I took several hits from over-excited tourists scrambling behind me!
At Sandy Beach Park, surfers were out taking advantage of some larger waves today, although they appeared to be real dumpers, full of white wash and sand being thrown about.
At Makapuu Point you have the option of walking up the hill to see the lighthouse and taking in the magnificent views from the viewing point, which also takes in one of the World War II bunkers, and across to Rabbit Island. The lighthouse is positioned on the most eastern part of O’ahu.
Waimanalo Beach is one of those quintessential beach towns, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of big city life, where people live in modest beach houses, form a community and have some of the best views and lifestyle around. Equally, as the Kalanianaole Highway veered inland a little the town of Waimanalo mirrored the adjacent beach town.
It had been at least an hour since we’d seen something that involved food 🙂 so we were excited to come across the Kalapawai Market, a well-established store that first opened in 1932 and remains the place to visit in Kailua. Stocked to the brim with artisan chocolates, homemade baked treats, gifts and souvenirs, an amazing wine selection, coffee shop and a great cafe out the back selling wonderful lunch items. Pity, it wasn’t lunch time as it would have been a great place to stop. I couldn’t believe they were also selling meat pies from New Zealand. I wonder if they were lamb?
You need to try the Hawaiian Shave Ice
What we did have time for was my first sample of true Hawaiian ‘Shave Ice’. I remember recording the name of this location when I read it prior to our arrival and I knew I would never remember such a place otherwise. Why? Island Snow the Shave Ice shop is located within a clothing store in Kailua.
Hawaiians are very protective about their Shave Ice. Don’t get caught out called it Shaved Ice. The inclusion of an errant “d” makes all the difference in the world. And, if you are Australian, don’t even think about comparing it to what we know as snow cones. The ice in Shave Ice is exactly that – shaved. It’s not crunched or ground. A machine, similar to a drill press, is lowered down onto a large round block of ice, which is then moved in a circular motion against what is effectively a razor.
Ordering a Shave Ice has several steps that need to be manoeuvered before you can start sticking your spoon into the coloured icy goodness. Selecting your size is relatively straightforward, but just remember that these treats don’t stop at the top of your cup. They are overloaded to the max, so a medium can become fairly large as it grows in front of your eyes.
N,ext you need to decide whether you want icecream in the bottom. What the ? I’ve never heard of such a thing, but when in Hawaii….. I have to say that this addition was the bomb. As the flavours and ice melt, a mini ice cream spider starts to form at the bottom. Here’s where your straw becomes really important. Don’t do what we did and have overflowing, sticky cordials flowing down our arms as we frantically tried to drink all the melting ice in what quickly became an unwinnable battle.
The next choice was whether to have cream or not on the top, termed a ‘snow cap’. This sounded a little too much to me, but in the interest of trying it, my husband put his hand up. I’m personally glad I didn’t venture down this path. The cream is actually condensed milk which, in my opinion, detracts from the overall yumminess of the Shave Ice.
Finally, it’s time to choose up to three colours. Seriously, choose three. With so many terrific flavours to select from, it would be criminal to only have one. Besides, how often as an adult do you get to eat something that looks as though it should be in the hands of a kid.
All of this takes only a matter of minutes and before long you’ll find yourself perched on one of the seats outside, slurping and licking your way through the best Shave Ice ever.
Still looking for malasadas
Just in case we thought we might starve on our way around the East Shore, we pulled over at the Kaneohe Bakery in search of a Malasada. With portuguese origins, the Malasada is a Hawaiian doughnut. Plain or filled, they are delicious. On this occasion, I had to be satisfied with a plain cinnamon dusted one.
Onwards we continued, winding our way along the roads of the East Shore, in and out of local communities.
Then we came across the food trucks. In my mind, the food trucks were beasts that drove up and down the highways, stopping where there was a crowd that could be tempted by their wares. Not so, as I found out on the long and colourful Kamehameha Highway. As we happened upon the first food truck, a quick glance around took a in variety of trucks on both sides of the road. No transient pickings for these trucks. Here they sit permanently attached, with their own undercover dining areas. Wow!
Mike’s Huli Truck – legendary in these parts
Then we saw Mike’s Huli Chicken Truck, one of the trucks I had been hoping to see. In a flash, our lunch decision was made. If you needed any persuading as to why this should be the place to eat, all you need to do is walk out the back of his truck and watch as Mike’s team turn the chickens on the rotisserie. Yum. It’s that moment in time when you literally feel as though you could eat an entire chicken.
This was also the opportunity for us to have the local tradition of a ‘plate lunch’. Protein, mac and cheese, and rice, it’s standard fare for many Hawaiians. The carbohydrate overload was probably a bit much, but thankfully Mike now offers up a choice of a salad instead of the pasta, which serves to even out the meal a little. But, it’s all about the chicken. As for feeling as though I could eat a whole one, I think on reflection, that’s what I got. The photos will prove it was not an entire bird, but seriously what a massive lunch.
The chicken was to die for, moist and soft in the middle with the most amazing skin, having cooked in all of it’s marinade over the glowing orange coals. Mike was actually on site, talking to customers, cleaning, and generally ensuring that everything ran the way it’s supposed to. He stopped a couple of times for a chat with us, and joined us for a photo when we were ready to leave.
Polynesian Cultural Centre and Laie Park
A little further up the coast in Laie is the Polynesian Cultural Centre, offering the opportunity to learn more about the different cultures. Not far away is what I shall call a ‘hidden lookout’. Just off the Kamehameha Highway, is a street that leads to a dead end at the water’s edge. Here is Laie Point State Wayside Park which provides a terrific view across the ocean, and to an incredible rock formation that was apparently formed by a tsunami many years ago. Parking is extremely limited given it is just at the end of a residential street. We were lucky that there weren’t too many people here, but in peak time, I would recommend visiting early or late in the day.
We stopped again at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, not to eat this time, even though our trips really are revolving food tours! We had to stop as we just couldn’t believe the number of people lining up for shrimp. Prawns in our language.
Turtle Bay Resort
By this stage, it was getting on in the day and we were in need of a refreshment. Where else to stop but the Turtle Bay Resort at Kahuku, and the point at which we were going to stop our East Shore expedition and turn for Waikiki. If getting out of Waikiki is your thing, along with rest, relaxation and luxury in an outstanding location by the ocean, Turtle Bay would tick the boxes I’m sure.
For us, we just settled into our chairs on the sand at the Ola Beach Cafe and sipped on a Corona as we took in the stand up paddleboarders doing it tough out on the water, and those who were just as happy to lounge on their beach chairs and be served cocktails.
The trip home was a little quicker as we decided against re-tracing our steps down the Kamehameha Highway, and instead go back as far as Kaneohe and head along the Pali Highway that would take us to the Pali Lookout. It was hard to believe that such a stunning lookout could be so close to Honolulu. It was also hard to believe that after spending the entire day in shorts and singlets we were freezing up here and badly in need of a jacket.
In the space of five minutes, we went from the lush green jungle to wall-to-wall traffic along a six-lane highway leading into Downtown Honolulu. It typified the day we had. No fuss living with a strong ‘rural’ feel, a million miles from the big smoke….but not really.
After enduring the unusual practice of paying for your petrol before filling up (how does one pay for petrol when you don’t know how much it will take to fill up the hire car?) we returned the car, unscathed after our 116 miles of driving and extremely happy with what had been a totally awesome day.
More Hawaii reading
We took inspiration from our visit to Mike’s Huli chicken truck on the east shore and made it back home. Cook this recipe for Mike’s Huli Huli chicken.
Go snorkelling at Hanauma Bay. It’s the best place on O’ahu.
Go for a drive on the North Shore of O’ahu.
Or go for a walk and check out the view from Diamond Head.