Because I tend not to rent a car when I travel, day tours are a great way for me to get outside a city and see more of a region, as well as interact with other human beings. (As a solo traveler, it’s nice to have that built-in social time.) On Oahu, you can book what they call a “Circle Island Tour” that will take you all over the island. Each tour may focus on different things. For instance, on my most recent trip to Hawaii, I booked Discover Hawaii’s Eco-Adventure Tour, which had a different itinerary than their Circle Island Tour I’d booked in 2012 (the North Shore Polynesian Tour).
However, calling it an “eco-adventure” tour turned out to be a misnomer. As best I could tell from the itinerary on their website, the “eco” and “adventure” portions of the tour were covered by two stops:
- A stop at Laniakea Beach (aka. “Turtle Beach”), where you can see the sea turtles lounging around on the beach; and
- A hike to Waimea Falls waterfall.
We did neither of those things. Instead, other stops were substituted. I was disappointed about missing out on the sea turtles. But it was my only disappointment of the trip. Otherwise, it was an outstanding day, and I enjoyed all the stops we made, so I can’t really complain. I only mention it because if someone were to book this tour specifically for the turtles and the waterfall, they might be disappointed.
In the “small world” department, I got the same tour guide I had on my last Circle Island tour, “Cousin Kevin”. I recognized him right away and told him that I’d been on his first circle island tour two years before, when he was the FNG (“fricking new guy”). It took him a little while, but eventually, he did seem to remember me (or kindly pretended to). Besides us, there was a pretty diverse group of guests on this tour: a solo woman from Paris and one from Virginia; a couple of guys from Vancouver; a Russian mother and daughter; and couples from India, New Zealand, South Carolina, Iowa, and Michigan.
You may recall that on my last circle island tour, I spent the day soaking wet due to torrential rains, and was disappointed that my photos of some spectacular spots around the island were lackluster thanks to the rain. Not this time. We were blessed with a beautiful day all over the island. By the end of the day, I had taken 440 pictures, most of which turned out very well. I have terrific memories of the day, of all the beautiful places we saw around the island, and of Cousin Kevin’s corny jokes.
Here is a virtual Circle Island Tour for you of Oahu, in some of my favorite photos from that day. Enjoy!
Beautiful, isn’t it? We didn’t have time to do more than look, but if you love snorkeling, I understand this is the best place to do it on Oahu.
For the record, the films “Blue Hawaii” and “From Here to Eternity” were before my time, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you have no idea what they are.
No, we’re not in England, we’re on Oahu! The proper name for this place is Waimanalo Bay Recreation Area, but the locals call it Sherwood Forest. It’s surrounded by tall trees and reminded me of a state park here in Vermont.
If you’re looking for the exact opposite of crowded Waikiki Beach, this is the place to check out. (You’ll need a car.) There are lifeguard stations and bathrooms on site (but no soap or hand dryers, so bring Purel!).
The Dole Plantation
We did make a quick stop at the Dole Plantation, which actually does smell like pineapple. This visit was more interesting than the first, because i learned what my Hawaiian name is. (You can read that story here.) But I didn’t take any pictures this time around.
We drove past all of the North Shore beaches except Sunset Beach, where we stopped for about 10 minutes. The waves here were incredibly high that time of year, about 20 feet. (Later in the week, they were even higher, around 40-50 feet!) I got some great shots of surfers.
While up at the North Shore beaches, we stopped at a roadside market for five minutes where we all had time to buy some kind of snack. I went with Kevin’s suggestion of the deep fried banana. Some people bought grilled meat skewers, and one woman bought a coconut with a straw in it–fresh coconut juice! I’m not a fan of bananas as a rule, but the deep-fried banana was very good; the outside was crunchy like an egg roll wrapper and the inside was sweet. I’m glad I tried it.
La’ie Point is a popular tourist stop on Oahu for its dramatically beautiful views of the shoreline along the coast and the famous rock formation with a hole in the middle, which was apparently punched through it during a tsunami. It’s a beautiful spot for photos.
Kualoa Ranch and Secret Island
Our next stop brought us to the famous Kualoa Ranch, where many, many Hollywood TV shows and movies (like Lost, Fantasy Island, and Jurassic Park) have been filmed. We got to use the restrooms here and pick up our box lunches to take with us to the “Secret Island,” also located on the Ranch property.
Without a doubt, this was my favorite stop of the whole trip. In order to get to the Secret Island, you drive down to a fish pond and catch a shuttle boat over to the island. From the dock on the island, which faces a gorgeous mountain landscape back on the mainland, you walk a path through the forest, which has these incredibly gnarly trees that look like something out of a sci-fi or fantasy landscape to the other side of the island (a very short walk). It felt a little like walking in an upside-down wicker bowl, because the branches were all twisted together overhead.
At the end of the path, we walked out onto a beach with a covered picnic area, outrigger canoes, and views out over the ocean. It was beautiful and peaceful, because aside from us, there was hardly anyone there.
We had the whole place to ourselves. We were here maybe 30 minutes, during which we ate lunch and had time for a swim (or to wander around taking photos as the case may be). From the beach, we had a great view of the island of Mokolil (otherwise known as the “Chinaman’s Hat” because of its shape).
This was a repeat stop for me, but I didn’t mind. It’s one of the most beautiful locales on Oahu. I actually saw a young woman doing what you’re supposed to do at a Buddhist Temple: Meditate. Imagine that.
Nuuanu Pali Lookout
On my first Circle Island tour, the view here was marred by low-hanging rainclouds and a cold wind drove me shivering back to the bus. This time, the conditions were perfect for photos and much more comfortable. We also spotted some adorable feral cats, gnarly tree roots, and hikers who are obviously in much better shape than I am.
But the star of the show is the amazing views across the valley of the windward coast. Pali Lookout is just 5 miles outside downtown Honolulu, but you’d never guess you were that close to the city when you’re standing there. This spot is where King Kamehameha won the Battle of Nuuanu and became ruler of Oahu.
Tantalus Lookout, Puu Ualaka State Park
This was our final stop of the day, and the perfect way to cap off our circle island tour. Kevin drove our little shuttle van up a series of windy, narrow streets, and finally we arrived. The views of Honolulu are amazing from here! (Better, actually, than the views you get from the Punchbowl, because it’s higher than the Punchbowl–which you can see down below from the park). As far as I can tell, if you want to enjoy this view, there is no way to get there by bus.
Like Vermont, there are no billboards in Hawaii, which makes for incredible, natural views as you drive around the island. Believe me, you don’t want advertisements cluttering up this landscape. There are also no snakes, which makes Hawaii pretty much my favorite place EVER.