I can’t lie. It is pretty torturous having to write this recap from the middle of the continental US!!
As I mentioned in my first post, we broke up our stay over 2 different resorts. Our 2nd leg of the trip was spent at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, so the first thing we did today was check out of the Hyatt and into the Hilton.
The reason we chose this resort was because it gets really nice reviews and was SUPPOSED to have penguins (they didn’t; the poor little penguins moved to Maryland). Earlier in the year I had signed up for the Citi Hilton Honors Reserve Card and received 2 certificates for a free weekend night. Being in Honolulu, every hotel here is pretty pricey, so this was definitely the best bang for our buck to be able to redeem there here. Having the credit card and being a Hilton Honors member also helped us by getting an upgraded room in the Rainbow Tower.
Once we were all checked in, our first stop of the day was something that was at the top of my Hawaii bucket list: Koko Head Crater. The hike is 1,028 feet straight up a mountain via 1,048 railroad ties or “steps.” The railroad ties used to be a railway track to haul supplies to World War II military bunkers, but now it is abandoned and used just for foot traffic.
This was TOUGH. I had read a lot about it before we went, so I was stocked with water and we went early to beat the heat. I’ll admit I expected this to be CAKE considering we are marathoners 🙂 WRONG. I was drenched by the time we were halfway up.
At least it was so pretty that I was able to stop to catch my breath and just pretend like I was soaking in the scenery 😉
There is even a part in the middle of the climb, where the railroad ties are actually suspended off of the ground. Freaky. If you aren’t comfortable climbing them like a ladder with nothing beneath you, there is a small trail you can take as a detour.
However, once you reach the top, the journey was SO worth it. Stunning views all around! And going down is MUCH more fun 🙂
After Koko Head, we headed over to Kona Brewing Company for some brews and NACHOS. The food here was really, really good. They distribute a couple varieties of Kona beers in KC, but our favorite, the Koko Brown, is only on tap and not sold in bottles. This was definitely a fun stop and we took our time enjoying the sampler.
Afterwards we headed back to our new hotel and spent some time checking out the digs. We did get a resort credit for being Hilton Gold members, so we promptly spent that on fruity drinks at the pool bar and then spent some time walking around the pools and beach.
For dinner, we headed out and stopped at nearby sushi place for the BEST pork belly and some really good rolls. Rule #1 for Hawaii: ALWAYS trust in the Kahlua Pork. It will never steer you wrong.
The one downside of the Hilton Hawaiian Village is that it is almost TOO big. They have a TON of restaurants, but most of them are very pricey and don’t get all that great of reviews. However, they do have their own ABC Store (local chain of convenience stores) on-site with tons of gifts, snacks and drinks (even musubi!). They also have a couple on-site quick service restaurants where we snagged a REALLY good pizza.
Despite celebrating the entire trip, today was actually our anniversary! We already ate the top tier of our cake at the 6 month mark, so we celebrated instead with panCAKEs at Eggs N Things 🙂
After breakfast we got in the car again and headed to the North Shore of Oahu. We went to Waimea Valley which is a BEAUTIFUL botanical garden ($16 a person). Seeing all the plants was really neat, but the highlight (and the reason we went) was for the waterfall.
It is quite a long walk out to the waterfall, but absolutely worth it (and they do offer golf cart rides for a fee if you can’t handle long distances). The water was FREEZING and they do require you to wear a life jacket (they provide them), but it was still really fun.
With all the recent rain (for the hurricanes that weren’t), the waterfall was SUPER strong, but we were still able to swim up to it and go under it. The pool itself is about 50 feet deep.
However, I’ll admit I was super freaked out. There are tons of rumors about Waimea Valley being ancient burial grounds and of mysterious deaths in the Falls. I’ll spare you, but you can read more here: http://www.jackboulware.com/writing/journalism/haunted-hawaii
Needless to say, we spent a lot of time here, but I didn’t really linger in the deep ends 🙂
After we were done swimming around, we left the Valley and simply crossed the street to Waimea Bay Beach Park (no fee).
I love Waikiki Beach (and it is still my favorite), but Waimea Bay was SO beautiful and very empty. The small group of people that were there were all huddled around one spot: The Cliff.
I surprised even myself when I jumped off of it… but don’t think too highly of me. I panicked at the last minute and while I THANKFULLY didn’t bellyflop, I know I looked like as cool as a falling log as I jumped.
I’m still really happy I did it. The sensation of falling is a love/hate relationship with me. I think it will be a loooong time before I can convince myself to skydive 🙂
After some time in the waves (water is much rougher on the North side!) and laying in the sun, we were hungry and went looking for food.
We found Pupukea Grill food truck and this was a match made in heaven. We ordered the ahi tuna tacos, the kalua pork tacos and the cheese nachos. Loved. Every. Bite.
The nachos were laughable because they were just chips soaked in nacho cheese. And by laughable, I mean, laughable at how good just plain cheese is on chips. We inhaled these. Does salt water just make you delirious? Maybe, but I’m hooked. I think there is crack in the cheese.
To us, this was quintessential Hawaii. Stupid good food, served from a truck, on the beach. What more can you ask of life?
After our food, we jumped back in the car and headed back the resort. It only takes about an hour to drive across the entire island, but the views are stunning the entire way. If you are staying in Oahu more than 2 days, I definitely recommend getting up to the North Shore. Definitely worth the cost of a car. The island is also pretty easy to navigate, not too bad of traffic, and the only real burden is the cost of overnight parking at most resorts. However, there is plenty to keep you entertained in Honolulu and also a lot of tour options that will come get you directly from your Honolulu resort and being you up to the North Shore if you don’t feel like dealing with a car.
One thing I also always recommend is checking out Groupon/Living Social before you travel for deals. From doing this, we had bookmarked Maita’i Catamaran as something affordable, but still fun to do. When we got back to the hotel, we realized we would have plenty of time to catch the 3pm sailing, so we called ahead and confirmed they had spots and THEN bought the voucher.
This was possibly my favorite part of the trip. The cruise was technically family friendly, but with loud music and drinking it is more of a party for couples or friends (Our group was mostly honeymooners, some locals and one family with a crying baby).
The view from the boat was beautiful! We cruised down by Diamond Head and even saw some dolphins!
My favorite part was that we even stopped and dropped anchor and they let everyone jump in. I was terrified (uh, hello, it WAS Shark Week), but for the 3rd time today was proud of myself of doing something that kind of scared me (Swimming in the waterfall , jumping off a cliff, now jumping basically into a shark’s mouth)!
The water was so clear when I looked down it was just pure teal blue all the way down (they said we were about 30 to 50 feet deep at this point).
A fun time and a chance to see Oahu from a boat! The Living Social deal also made it basically dirt cheap, so it was a good 90 minutes.
The rest of the day was spent at the beach before we headed to dinner at Ramen Nakamura. We noticed this place earlier in the week because of the line that goes out the door. I Yelp-ed it and the reviews were great, so we decided to check it out.
We waited about 45 minutes for a spot and it was definitely worth it! The line looks intimidating, but it moves steadily.
I ordered the ramen combo and Paul got the spicy ramen.
I loved my ramen, SO good. And it was fun watching people struggling with their ramen or downing it like pros.
Paul’s spicy ramen was his favorite. He loved it more than Marukame Udon, but I still preferred the udon. I would definitely return here!
Our last day was short, but worth it. Our flight was ORIGINALLY supposed to leave very early (like 7am), but our first class tickets allowed us no change fees. With a lot of cancellations due to the storms that were SUPPOSED to happen, we ended up switching our flights to some open seats that were much later in the day (4pm). This gave us one last day to relax. We ate at Goofy’s (awesome Kahlua Pork Eggs Benedict) and then spent our last hours enjoying the beach.
When we finally (begrudgingly) made it to the airport, we hit up Kona Brewing one last time (the airport location is insanely busy) and then spent time in the equally as crowded Delta lounge.
Thankfully I was able to get some sleep on this flight (thank you lay-flat seats), because as soon as we landed from our ATL> MCI flight, I had to head straight into work. So strange leaving at 3pm and arriving at 9am 🙂
So, to recap:
My Top Recommendations for Oahu:
- Take a catamaran ride from Waikiki Beach (Check Groupon! But avoid over-priced dinner cruises)
- Marukame Udon – YUM!
- Visit the North Shore (if your trip is 3 days or more)
- Hike Diamond Head!
What I’m Checking Out Next Time:
- Pearl Harbor (it closed in anticipation of the Hurricanes)
- Dole Plantation (The only place besides Disney that they sell Dole Whips)
- Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck (North Shore)
- Save money by not renting a car your entire trip. Parking is $$$. There are multiple rental locations near Wakiki Beach, so you don’t need to go all the way back to the airport to get a car.
- Check Groupon/Living Social/deal sites before you go, but be careful to book only what you will use. Or better yet, wait to buy them until you are on the island.
- Hawaii can be $$$ in terms of flights and hotels, but the rest can be really affordable!
- There are SO many hikes and trails and ways to explore that are completely free. We used Oahu Revealed which has an entire section on hikes and walk which is what we used to find out where to go. The only things we PAID to do were Waimea Valley and the Catamaran.
- Skip the chains. Pass on Tony Roma’s and other overpriced chains. Our meals at Ono Seafood, Ramen Nakamura, and Marukame Udon were basically dirt cheap in comparison (all under $25).
- The ABC Store is your friend. We bought our floats for the ocean ($3), alcohol, snacks, and almost all of our souvenirs here. As the Starbucks of Hawaii, there is one on almost every corner.