Oahu: our experience & pointers for first time visitors

posted in: USA | 20

Recently we landed up on the island of Oahu in Hawaii for the first time and we managed to check out a few places which we recommend to first time visitors or people who are thinking about going to Hawaii. This was a part of our long trip around North America and Hawaii we were planning to relax and unwind. To be honest, about 20% of our week on this beautiful island was spent relaxing, the rest was checking out to see what the island had to offer.

Oahu, Hawaii, USA, kualoa ranch
Beautiful ocean view from Kualoa Ranch, on the Eastern side of the island.

North Shore Beaches

The top beaches have to be on the northern side of Oahu (where a lot of the surfers hang out also). We stayed in the coastal village of Hauula where we had a nice small sandy beach to chill out on and a nice warm sea to dip in but what we noticed is that the mid-morning was the best time until early afternoon then the tide would come in and the whole beach would be covered over by the Pacific and that was it for sunbathing. There are some larger beaches to which when the tide comes in, the whole beach doesn’t get covered like the one we checked out in the small town of Hale’iwa (which is a great town for eating out and stocking up on food and drink if doing the self-catering like we did).

Hale'iwa beach - North Shore, USA, Oahu, Hawaii
Hale’iwa beach – North Shore
Hale'iwa beach - North Shore, USA, Oahu, Hawaii
Hale’iwa beach
Hauula beach - North Shore, USA, Oahu, Hawaii
Hauula Beach – North Shore
North Shore, USA, Oahu, Hawaii
Beach near Kualoa Ranch
Kahana Bay - North Shore, USA, Oahu, Hawaii
Beach at Kahana Bay

Pearl Harbor

This historic harbour does not need any introduction because of the history involving the Japanese bombing the place from above. For the first time in North America (and probably one of only few places this happened during the war), we were able to go to memorial sight of a place where people suffered major losses in the Second World War. We find this places a time to reflect, a time to learn from the past mistakes to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future and a place to educate the young children on why war is bad. There are so many places like this in Europe like Auschwitz in Poland which has been kept the way it was since the end of the war and is now a museum and an memorial. Pearl Harbor is a huge outdoor museum with lots of going on and if doing a trip across to the actual memorial (which involves a boat trip), remember to book up tickets in advance or get there early on the day.

Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Pearl Harbor

Kualoa Ranch

We have to admit we have never heard of Kualoa Ranch before we arrived on the island of Oahu but once we heard that they were home to quite a few movies which were filmed here, we had to take the short drive along the North Shore and check it out. Located about five miles north of Kane’ohe on Route 83, the ranch is pretty hard to miss. From the moment we saw the road sign it was at least another mile before we went through the main entrance.

Oahu, Hawaii, Kualoa Ranch
Some of the movie ‘Jurassic Park’ and its franchise were filmed at Kualoa Ranch

The ranch isn’t only used as a movie set, it is also a farm with lots of horse, cows, sheep and pigs dotted around the 4,000 acre site. Also the main aim of the ranch is to protect and enhance the natural beauty of the land and at the same time, develop agricultural and recreational business that doesn’t harm the environment. To read more about this amazing place, visit our blog post.

Oahu, Hawaii, USA, kualoa ranch
A view to the east towards the ocean from Kualoa Ranch
Oahu, Hawaii, USA, kualoa ranch
We couldn’t get enough of the landscape at Kualoa Ranch.

Waimea Valley

We visited this place on the off chance of seeing a road sign whilst driving along the North Shore main road. After quickly researching it, we had to visit it. The valley is an area of historic cultural significance and includes several historical structures which includes walls and stone terraces which were built when Hawaii had a monarchy. The area was settled by locals because of the nutrient-rich volcanic soil which made it the ideal place to do farming and grow crops.

Waimea Valley, Hawaii, USA, Oahu
At the waterfall and water hole in Waimea Valley – it was raining hard that day so we couldn’t swim in the water.

From the entrance of the valley, we hiked up and down small hills passing fish ponds, beautiful plants and trees before we reached a small waterfall and a swimming pool (to which if it hasn’t rained heavy recently then visitors can swim in the pool).

Waimea Valley, Hawaii, USA, Oahu
Waimea Valley
Waimea Valley, Hawaii, USA, Oahu
Waimea Valley
Waimea Valley, Hawaii, USA, Oahu
Waimea Valley
Waimea Valley, Hawaii, USA, Oahu
Waimea Valley

Byodo-In Temple

This beautiful Buddhist temple is located in the northern side of Kaneohe on the eastern side of the island. It has stood here since August 196 to commemorate the 100-year old anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to settled in Hawaii. With beautiful surroundings this temple is truly amazing and so peaceful. With mountains overlooking the valley and the temple located so far away from the houses of the town, this really did remind us of being Asia. At the time we didn’t realise that the temple is a replica of a 900-year old temple of that located in Uji (Kyoto area) of Japan. However this temple is not a proper functioning Buddhist temple as it doesn’t have a resident monastic community.

Byodo-In Temple, Hawaii, Oahu, USA
Byodo-In Temple

Going inside there is a 18ft (5.5 meters) statue of the Lotus Buddha whilst outside there is a three-tonne brass peace bell. Everywhere we walked there were ponds full of koi. We spent a bit of time here as we loved the setting and the peacefulness. This was one of the highlights for us and gave us thoughts of doing an Asian trip in the very near future (is that bad?).  

Byodo-In Temple, Hawaii, Oahu, USA
The Peace Bell at Byodo-In Temple
Byodo-In Temple, Hawaii, Oahu, USA
The Lotus Buddha statue at Byodo-In Temple
Byodo-In Temple, Hawaii, Oahu, USA
Byodo-In Temple


The capital of the state of Hawaii but not as touristy as nearby Waikiki. There was only two reasons we came here before our flight off the island, was to see the statue of King Kamehameha outside the Aliiolani Hale (the supreme court). The original statue (which is NOT the one located here) was on its way from Europe to Hawaii by boat back in the late 19th century but the boat sank off the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. Another one was made and placed here. Then the original one was found by local Falklanders, sold it to the Hawaii and is now placed at the King’s birthplace on Big Hawaii.

statue of King Kamehameha, Hawaii, Oahu, USA, Honolulu
Statue of King Kamehameha

Opposite is the Iolani Palace which is the ONLY Royal palace in the United States (as Hawaii was its own country and kingdom before  being annex by the USA many moons ago). Tours of the palace which is now a museum can be down and a statue of Queen Liliuokalani is located nearby. She was the first female monarch to take the throne and the last ruler of Hawaii. She managed the island to avert war on the islands (somehow as the US Marines surrounded the palace with arms ready to battle) as the US wanted the sugar plantation fields. The Queen eventually stepped down from the throne but only if she would be allowed to speak to Congress back in Washington D.C and then after that Hawaii was annexed. She somehow managed to tell all the locals not to go to war with the US, keep calm and wait for tensions to calm down. Eventually over the years, everything was peaceful, Hawaiian peope kinda accepted the US and the former Queen spent the rest of her life being a model of forgiveness and standing up for her heritage.    

Iolani Palace , Honolulu, Hawaii, Oahu, USA
Iolani Palace

The Queen said this in her memoir before her death which we believe is so true, “I could not turn back the time for the political change, but there is still time to save our heritage. You must remember never to cease to act because you fear you may fail.”

statue of Queen Liliuokalani, Honolulu, Hawaii, Oahu, USA
Statue of Queen Liliuokalani

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki, Hawaii, Oahu, USA
Waikiki Beach

The tourist beachy area of the island has to be done and this is where it’s all going on. High rise hotels, shopping malls, expensive restaurants, hula shows on the beach, surfers and cocktail bars everywhere. This is where everyone goes and splash the cash. Unless you are like us who didn’t splash the cash and chilled out by the waterfront which was still very enjoyable, just seeing the world go by (and seeing the planes come into land nearby).  

Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA, Oahu
Waikiki Beach

And now for the ‘not recommended by us’ – Diamond Head

Now everyone told us to visit and hike up Diamond Head which is a volcanic tuff cone located east of Waikiki on the southern side of this island. The crater looks fantastic and from the plane as we landed into nearby Honolulu on the first day of the trip, the crater looked like a great place to hike up and get amazing views of the ocean and surrounding landscape. We were told by everyone to go there and embrace it. We traveled just before the school holidays in North America and no word of a lie, from the moment the sun rose to the sun set, hundreds of visitors were climbing probably the one hiking path to get to the top and then there were crowds everywhere. We gave up trying in the end. Our view is, if we go hiking up a mountain or in this case, a volcanic tuff cone, we don’t want to mixed in with heavy crowds, fighting for a place to capture a great view for the camera and a place to gather our thoughts as we are nearer to heaven. There are plenty of other mountains in Hawaii to do this but everyone aims for Diamond Head. I can see the appeal but in the end, it wasn’t for us.

Waikiki, Diamond Head, Honolulu, Hawaii, Oahu, USA
Diamond Head – as seen from Waikiki Beach

Driving on Oahu

I (Danik) love driving. I love doing road trips. But I hated driving on Oahu. We did Big Hawaii island the week before and the driving was ok as there wasn’t many cars there but on this island, due to the poor public transportation outside Honolulu, everyone owns a car. With not many interstates or highways, it’s all single-tracked roads which has more bends than roads in the English countryside back home. The weekend was worse, we drove down the North Shore road to the south coast, in hope to stop off at a few places and landed up in a traffic jam. I think we did forty miles in the space of three hours. It was horrible. We just drove back to our place on the North Shore and hit the beach for the rest of the day. Even around Honolulu and Waikiki, the amount of cars on the road is unbelievable and made this part of the trip a misery.

Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Church in Honolulu


Oahu was alright in the end. It was probably what we expected (as we came all the way from the United Kingdom), beautiful beaches, stunning mountain backdrops and friendly locals but as mentioned, the driving was horrible. We would totally recommend coming here when it’s not tourist season but when is that when it’s an all year round destination with beautiful sunny skies (he he). If anyone gets the chance, come, but also check out the other amazing islands which Hawaii has to offer.

Hawaii, North Shore, Oahu, USA

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Oahu, Hawaii, Honolulu, North Shore, USA

20 Responses

  1. First off, your pictures are beautiful! I can’t believe how green and lush it looks there. Kualoa Ranch looks especially gorgeous. I also never knew that Hawaii had a monarchy, let alone the first female monarch! What an interesting history. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hawaii is absolutely on my travel wish list. Thanks for a guide on how to start on Oahu. I love the idea of the beaches on the north shore and would plan a visit for when the beach does not disappear. I am sure that Pearl Harbour would be an emotional stop for people of every nationality. It looks like you had a lot of fun at Kualoa Ranch. But the views would get me for sure. I was surprised to see a Buddhist temple. But will look to see if I can find its duplicate when we are in Kyoto in October. Waikiki Beach seems so far away from this temple view. I would probably be with you and pass on hiking up with crowds of people just for a view. We definitely want to check out the other islands too!

  3. I agree with you about the driving. I love driving trips too but not in that kind of traffic. I visited Maui a few years ago and the traffic was okay, but a little jammed in some places. The Big Island was okay too. At least we usually get great view when we’re stuck in traffic on a Hawaiian Island! Maybe?! haha

  4. Love love love your photos! We’ve never been to Hawaii as it’s just a little too far for us to travel, but really want to go. I mean, the nature, the beaches, everything, just looks great there. And if you do have beaches like that, it makes complete sense you’d spend some of your time relaxing there.

  5. Danik this place looks magical! We laid over in Honolulu for a few hours about 3 months ago,flying from Auckland to JFK. Eye-popping descent. I’ve not seen anything like that water. Amazing beauty in Hawaii. Tweeted for you buddy.


  6. Hawaii is high on my list, so thanks for this guide to Oahu. It’s great to know the popular spots, like Diamond Head, so that you can either choose to visit or avoid depending on the season! Pearl Harbour looks like it’s an emotional place to visit.

  7. Hale’iwa beach, Hauula Beach and the one near Kualoa Ranch (I could hear Hawaiian accent just reading the names of beach :-)) do not look crowded, which make them my kind of beach. I could stay there doing nothing but appreciate the sights around and the sound of waves.

  8. Hawaii always looks like the most beautiful state in the US, I really want to visit and experience all those stunning beaches. I am glad you went to visit the pearl harbour part, the dark points of history are important too. The photography is amazing in this post and I love the picture of you guys with the dinosaurs!

  9. This place is so beautiful and interesting. There is surely a plenty to explore and I am loving Hale’iwa beach, Hauula Beach, the Diamond point, Waimea Valley, Temple and everything else there. Your pictures are gorgeous.

  10. The photos used in this post are absolutely amazing! Hale’iwa beach sounds like a dream and I love the story about Queen Liliuokalani and how she stood up for her heritage. I’m sure the Byodo-In Temple was an awesome experience, as well as the whole Hawaii trip in general 😉

  11. Saw Waikiki Beach and Pearl Harbor on an earlier trip but two years ago, I finally got to see the Ranch and the North Shore Beaches. Much better driving there. Like you, I didn’t like Diamond Head hiking,

  12. I really enjoyed reading this post as I’ve not been to Hawaii so far although it’s on my list. The beaches look really uncrowded which surprised me (pleasantly). Loved the quirky dino pic! My favourite shot though is the Buddhist temple with those gorgeous colours. I can just imagine how serene it must have been. If you had to pick one favourite part to visit, which would it be?

  13. Ferna Mae Fernandez

    Your photos are the best!
    Surely giving more ideas on where else to visit in Hawaii. I would do the same as what you guys did, just relax and rest as these places lush with natural and green environment meant to be embraced with pure relaxation. I am eyeing for that Waimea Valley and thanks for sharing this, as this is my first hearing about the place. I would love to interact with the people in that place. Magical post Daniel and Claire.

  14. This place is a beautiful combo of cultural, heritage and nature. The valleys, ranches and beaches – simply amazing. Loved your pictures of each of them. Pearl Harbour is a must visit spot for me given its historical significance. Would not say no to Kualoa Ranch also for the variety that you can see here.

  15. Love the hues of blue! Who would want to go away from this place? Love the fact that beaches are not that crowded, especially the famous Waikiki beach.
    Love the statues of Statue of King Kamehameha and Statue of Queen Liliuokalani. Very detailed.

    Your photos are as always gorgeous and my favourite shot is the Buddhist temple.

  16. Oahu has lovely and exotic beaches with crystal clear waters surrounded by coconut trees. Hale’iwa beach and Kuaola Ranch looks splendidly beautiful. I was not knowing about the Japanese immigrants to the eastern island of Hawaii and it would great to visit Buddhist temple here on the island.

  17. All the pictures are just gorgeous and the landscapes are so tempting. Oahu is not a place I am familiar with, but reading your post makes me think that some research is in order. I would certainly stop at te Pearl Harbour site.

  18. This is a wonderful trip!! I would love to go to Pearl Harbor! I went to Auschwitz-Birkenau & it was life changing for sure!

  19. There is so much to do in Oahu it seems. I would love to visit the Pearl Harbour museum, the Kualoa Ranch, and the temple for sure.

  20. Oahu is a new place for me. Would love to explore its beaches specially Hale’iwa beach. Landscapes are breathtaking. Waimea Valley looks super gorgeous.

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