Aloha Hawaii! Honolulu, Kailua and the north shores | [Part 2- Oahu]

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From lovely lush Kauai, we headed on to our next destination – Oahu. The island of Oahu is definitely a very popular tourist destination. While we did not see many in Kauai, Oahu and especially Honolulu was flooded with tourists. The island is lot bigger than Kauai but just as beautiful. We were totally spoilt by all the lovely sights and incredible weather throughout the duration of our trip.

Here are top 5 sights not to be missed while visiting the island –

1. Lanikai Beach– After having read innumerable blog posts and articles about this beach, I could think of no better way to start exploring the island. Just a short distance from the busy Kailua Beach is this incredibly lovely beach. Parking can be a bit difficult since the area is primarily residential but a couple of rounds later, we managed to find a spot not too far away. At the end of the alley that led to the beach, we could see the glistening blue water. The blue I had only seen in photos and movies. It seemed unreal and in that moment I found myself feeling extremely fortunate for having seen some of the most magnificent sights over the past couple of days. Overwhelmed and excited, we decided to come back at 4:00 am the next morning to watch the sunrise. The experience wasn’t over yet.

We were the first ones on the beach the next morning. We picked a nice spot overlooking the Mokulua Islands and settled down to witness the grand spectacle. The sunrise was definitely one of the prettiest I have seen. We just sat there, the two of us, listening to the gentle waves and taking it all in. Later that morning, we kayaked out towards the Mokulua islands and spent the afternoon lounging in the sun. The beach is also great for snorkeling and paddle boarding.

Lanikai Beach

2. Laie Point and the shrimp trucks – The drive along the North Shores is a must do in Oahu. The road gently meanders along the coast and the pretty blue water looks so inviting as you drive up the Kamehameha Highway (83) along the Eastern side of the island. Along the way, it passes a succession of small coves and bays and miles of white-sand beaches, some nearly deserted. There are some lovely snorkel spots and as you go further up north, the waves are ideal for surfing!

Oahu Revealed, the popular guide-book by Andrew Doughty gave us some great suggestions on places worth visiting, away from all the tourist traps. That is how we found Laie Point. According to local legend, this peninsula was originally a “Mo’o” or giant lizard. Standing upright ready to kill any intruder.  After Kana (a legendary warrior) and his brother had rescued their mother from Moloka’i and had taken her back to Hawaii. Kana set out on a journey to kill all the Mo’o in the islands. In time, he arrived in La’ie where the Mo’o had been killing many people. Kana easily defeated the Mo’o taking its head. He chopped it into five pieces and flung them into the ocean. The pieces of the lizard’s head can still be seen today as five small islands lying off-shore their original names were Kihewamoku, Moluaaniwa, Pulemoku, Malualai and Keauakaluapa’a’a.

 (Source: “Hawaiian Legends” by William Rice, Bishop Museum Bulletin, Honolulu, HI 1923).

The rock formations are a stunning sight and beautiful to photograph. At Laie Point you can also see what the locals call “the hole in the rock.” Located in the rock island to the far left of the point, a hole can be seen in the middle of the island, which was created after a tsunami hit it in 1946. This is also the point where Mila Kunis and Jason Segel jumped off in ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall‘. We didn’t see many cliff jumpers the day we were there because it was terribly windy and giant waves were crashing on the rocks! Would love to go back and jump off the cliff on a day when the waves aren’t as intense.

The north shores - Oahu

After about an hour of wave watching and some soul-searching at the tip of the cliff, we realized we were famished and we decided to go look for one of the popular shrimp trucks in the area. We chose Giovanni’s based on all the reviews and were not in the least bit disappointed. Hot fresh buttered garlicky shrimp was just what I needed. For non shrimp lovers, there are some other trucks in the area that have other options as well.

3. The spitting caves – On day 3 at the island, we started heading towards Honolulu, our final destination. We decided to drive along the southern coast for more scenic views and so we could stop at the famous Hanauma Bay. As luck would have it, the parking lot was already full by the time we got there so we just had to settle for a view of the bay from one of the lookout points. We had read about the spitting caves just a short distance away, so we decided to go check that out instead. It isn’t very easy to find as the access path is in a residential area and not very well-marked. I am glad we didn’t skip seeing this place because the natural rock formations really make this place stand out. The spitting cave is where the ocean smashes against a few huge rocks and there is a cave where the waves go in and the pressure pushes the water out. Quite an amazing sight and it wasn’t crowded at all.

4. Honolulu – Crowded and bustling like any other tourist city. Downtown Honolulu is literally a mixture of old buildings, new buildings, bars, shops and restaurants. We checked into a hotel right on Waikiki so we wouldn’t have to drive out much on the last 2 days of our vacation. It was nice to just walk around, catch some of the FIFA World cup matches at the local bars and sample some delicious Japanese food.

The day we arrived also happened to be the day of the Pan-Pacific Parade down the Kalakaua Avenue, the main strip next to Waikiki beach. The main street is temporarily closed down to vehicular traffic from Lewers Street to Kaiulani Avenue to accommodate this festive parade. Thousands of participants included colorful performers, taiko drummers, dancers, ethnic cultural groups, and high school marching bands. It was a true feast and we felt lucky to have witnessed it.

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The next morning we drove up to Mt. Tantalus (Puu Ualakaa State Park) to get a glimpse of the lovely skyline of Diamond Head and the city of Honolulu. It is a beautiful drive up the hill and the views are just stunning! (Opener photo)

5. Pearl Harbor – What a beautiful memorial! The exhibits are great and the grounds are very well maintained. The atmosphere is somber and everyone so respectful of the site. There are four main exhibits and if you choose to see them all, it will probably take up most of your day. Do make sure to reserve a ticket to see the USS Arizona online a few weeks before your trip. A small number of tickets are also given out each morning.  The office opens at 7:00 AM, but an employee recommended arriving at 6:00 AM to get in line.  The tickets assign a time to view the film. Directly after, the audience boards a boat to the USS Arizona Memorial. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, they only had late afternoon slots available and we had a flight out that afternoon so had to miss seeing it. We did get tickets to the USS Bowfin, so we did an audio tour of the submarine. The tour was extremely informative and included personal accounts from veterans and residents to bring the story to life. This was very helpful, as I found the amount of information displayed quite overwhelming, especially in the submarine museum. Will definitely go back to visit the USS Arizona and USS Missouri on the next trip.

The trip ended on a very good note and I have just picked up a copy of Hawaii – The Big Island Revealed, to start planning a trip back to the gorgeous islands.

Aloha Hawaii! Kauai and Oahu explored | [Part 1- Kauai]

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Sometimes a good holiday can be the perfect cure for just about anything. After months of slogging it out, I was feeling rather demotivated and worn out. In desperate need for a break, we decided to head out to Hawaii for one week. After consulting with friends in Hawaii, we decided to visit the islands of Kauai and Oahu based on the amount of time we had and the stuff we wanted to do. The husband and I love being outdoors, driving around, hiking or bumming at the beach and taking in all that nature has to offer!

The first island we visited was Kauai – green, serene and gorgeous! We took the first flight out and six and a half hours later, we landed at Lihue airport. Quaint and rustic, I fell in love with it immediately. We spent three nights at Kapa’a, around 6 miles north of the airport and close enough to pretty much all the places we wanted to visit. We spent the afternoon exploring Kapa’a, did a short drive up north to the sleepy town Kilauea and started planning the rest of our trip.

Here are the top 5 must do’s while in Kauai:

1. Nounou Trail aka The Sleeping Giant Hike – Local legend states that a giant who feasted so much at a party thrown in his honor, laid down for a nap and never awoke. When you see the mountain’s resemblance to a sleeping giant from the nearby town of Kapa’a you can see why the legend persists. This is a nice little hike if you’re in the area, and a great way of sampling some of Kauai’s exotic plant life and bird population. This vantage offers views of the ocean, Wailua River and Mt. Waiʻaleʻale. The trail can be quite slippery, especially after the rains so do bring sturdy footwear.

2. Snorkel at the beaches around Hanalei Bay – The stunning blue water calls out to you as you drive along the coast towards the North Shores and Snorkel Bob made it extremely easy to rent all the snorkeling gear. The calm, gentle water was perfect to dive into and explore the ocean bed. We did spot one big turtle, gently swimming along :). On our next trip to Kauai, we definitely plan to do a couple of boat tours so we can explore some of the sea caves along the Na Pali Coast.

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3. Doors off Helicopter Tour – We decided to do a doors off helicopter tour of the island to see some of the best sights from the air, since everyone we spoke to recommended it. I spent the first five minutes after take off trembling in fear and refusing to let go of the seat. But slowly, the views just started getting so amazing that it took my mind off everything else! We got fantastic views of the Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park. The canyon is often referred to as the ‘Grand Canyon’ of Hawaii and rightfully so.  It is a sight you definitely do not want to miss. We also saw the Manawaiopuna Falls, more famously known as the Jurassic Falls because it was featured in the movie Jurassic Park. The next main attraction was the famous Na Pali Coast. I don’t think I have ever seen a prettier coastline. I always thought that nothing could ever compete with the Pacific Coast highway but my jaw literally dropped the minute we got closer to the Na Pali coast. You can’t go to Kauai without seeing the Nepali Coast. Breathtakingly beautiful! Our pilot slowly steered inland over Hanalei Bay towards the center of the island and the Weeping Wall, a series of beautiful scenic waterfalls that tumble down the side of 5,184 foot high Mount Waiʻaleʻale. The summit is one of the rainiest spots on earth with a record 683 inches (17,300 mm) in 1982.

Be sure to book this in advance so that you can plan your trip better. We were extremely happy with our tour with Mauna Loa Helicopters. The tour can be a bit pricey but totally worth it. No photographs can do justice to the sights we saw :).

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4. Taro Burgers and Shave ice – Never having eaten Taro before, I was extremely curious about it. Crispy on the outside, moist on the inside with textural crunch, the taro burger is a must try. I had never had anything quite like it and it was flavored perfectly. We tried them at a number of places but absolutely loved the ones at Kalapali Beach Hut in Lihue. A tiny shack-like but cute building but on the roof is a cozy two booths and bar style seating with a bit of view of the ocean.  Shave ice is an ice-based dessert made by shaving a block of ice and coating it with flavored syrups. The fine texture of the ice absorbs all the syrup and makes one delicious refreshing dessert! Do try some local favorites like Pineapple, Lychee, Papaya and Guava syrups on your shave ice. Nothing beats the heat better!

5. Tree Tunnel and Poipu Beach – Very close to the old town of Koloa is the Maluhia Road Tree Tunnel. Definitely drive towards Poipu via this route. It is a mile long drive flanked by Eucalyptus Trees on either side to form a tunnel. The drive through is pretty amazing, have your camera ready as you drive into Maluhia Road from Highway 50. A short distance away is the Poipu Beach, quite popular with tourists and known to be a great snorkeling spot. We spent an entire afternoon here just lounging on the beach.

I already have a list of things I want to do on our next trip to Kauai, including hiking the The Kalalau Trail – an 11 mile stretch of coast is the original trail used by the Hawaiians who lived in Kalalau Valley and other valleys along the Napali. The trail provides the only land access to the Napali Coast on Kauai. Of course this would require some planning and conditioning but we hope to return to this magnificent island very soon.

Coming up next – Exploring the island of Oahu…

Love at first sight… 7 places that took my breath away!

Some places are unforgettable. They permeate deep into your heart, find a cozy corner and refuse to leave. Just the thought of them sets off a hundred different emotions in your mind. I have a long list of places embedded in my mind and I long to revisit these places some day. Until I do, allow me to share some of that joy I feel at the thought of these places.

1. Windermere, Lake District National Park, UK

England’s largest lake and one of the most picturesque places I have visited. We spent a couple of nights by the banks of the lake and it is one of the places that is permanently etched in my mind. Sit by the banks and just zone out to the world. This is one place you can do so very easily! Oh and if you are in the area, do drop in to see Dove Cottage, where William Wordsworth lived for a considerable amount of time and also where he wrote one of his most famous poems – “Daffodils”! If you visit in the spring, you can actually see the carpet of daffodils that inspired the poet. The adorable cottage is open to visitors for a small fee but is very well maintained and the guides do a pretty remarkable job of giving out information.

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2. Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan, India

I have always loved had this strange love for Tigers. I remember doing a ‘Save the Tiger’ campaign in school and getting extremely passionate about the cause. Never having seen a tiger out in the wild, I knew I had to visit Ranthambore some day. I was fortunate to visit with an old and dear friend on a spur-of-the-moment trip.  We stayed at the beautiful Nahargarh Palace, located at the outskirts of the park. Fortunately we had booked a late afternoon safari to take us into the forest. Our guide was extremely optimistic but hours passed with no sign of any Tigers. We did see a lot of Spotted Deer, Peacocks, Crocodiles, a Bear that dashed into the woods after spotting our jeep and some really exotic birds. Towards the end of our safari, our guide drove through some super windy roads and took us to a spot where we saw not one but TWO gorgeous Tigers! 🙂 I am going to hold on to that moment for the rest of my life. If you are a wildlife enthusiast, do add Ranthmbore to your list of places to visit right away.

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3. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Lucky enough to have been able to call this city my home! Even though it was for a short while. As you enter Newcastle, it captivates you instantly. It’s like a city out a storybook. I suggest you take the train into the city because the Central station is stunning and the location is perfect if you are looking to explore the city.  I have spent so many afternoons just ambling around the city, going up and down the architecturally stunning Grey street, shopping for fresh produce at Grainger Market, walking down to the Quayside to sit on the Millennium Bridge and collect my thoughts…so many happy memories! The city is a perfect blend of old and modern, it is best known for its nightlife and culture. I promise you will not be disappointed if you choose to visit Newcastle.

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4. Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Oh Yosemite! Where do I begin? You were such an unexpected surprise! Despite having lived in the area for over 4-5 years, the husband had never visited Yosemite so I didn’t have very high expectations when we did visit last year. As we drove into the park, I was stunned! The high rock structures are so enigmatic. They almost call out to you and beg you for your attention. I had to immediately pull over because I couldn’t focus on the road.  The views of the half dome and the valley are just spectacular if you are able to drive up to Glacier Point. It was so surreal, I had to sit down for a moment or two just to take it all in. I look forward to visiting the park in every season.

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5. Lake Wembanad, Kerala, India

Serene. Exquisite. Mesmerizing.  Lake Wembanad is the place the visit if you just want to escape from the crowded city life. We spent a couple of nights at the Malabar Escapes property, Purity and it was so magical! The views were just breathtaking and the food, exceptional. The lake is a well-kept secret because you don’t see the regular sea of tourists like in other parts of Kerala. It is the perfect getaway if all you want is a couple of days off to just let all the stress from everyday life melt away! I can never forget the gorgeous night, eating dinner under the stars as our houseboat called Discovery drifted away into the backwaters.

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6. Taal Volcano, Philippines

I have had the fortune of visiting the island country twice. My aunt and uncle who lived in Manila at the time organized a trip for us to Batangas, which is located in the Southwestern part of the island of Luzon. The drive itself was very scenic but the highlight of the road trip for me was the Taal Volcano. It is the second most active volcano in the Philippines and my first caldera volcano sighting! It looked so calm and peaceful floating on the lake… but has had some of the country’s largest and deadliest eruptions. Taal Volcano acts as the parent to Vulcan point, which is the world’s largest volcano in a lake (Main Crater Lake) on a volcano (Taal Volcano). And the main Crater Lake also happens to be the largest lake on an island (Volcano Island) in a lake (Lake Taal) on an island (Luzon). We got a lovely view of the volcano from the Tagaytay Ridge.  I do hope to go back some day and hike up to the Volcano.

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7. Zermatt, Switzerland

If I could go back to one place right now, I would choose Zermatt. This quaint city in Switzerland stole my heart the instant I stepped out of the Glacier Express! It is a car free city and you can stroll or bike around without a care. You might encounter a horse-drawn carriage every now and then but most vehicles are kept out of the city and are mostly battery operated. The Matterhorn is visible from almost anywhere in the city and looks SO majestic. Walk around, take a hike into the mountains, hit the slopes, sip some delicious hot chocolate and fall in love with Zermatt, I know I did!

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Road Tripping through the South

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Road trips are awesome! They are so spontaneous and it is so nice to not have a plan for once. I must confess, I am a planner. I LOVE to plan! Before going on vacation, I have a long list of places to see, what to eat, where to eat and so on. This was the first time I left home without a plan and I was pleasantly surprised.  All I knew was that we were flying into New Orleans and flying out of Charleston, SC. With minimal planning, a car booking confirmation and a GPS, we left home.

So after a lovely few days in New Orleans, we decided to drive out East towards the Emerald coast in Florida. We quickly drove by Mississippi on the I-10 East and made a quick stop at Mobile, Alabama for lunch. However, being Christmas day, the entire city was shut and there wasn’t a soul in sight. It felt like driving through a movie set! I would definitely love to visit the charming old city again some day. We continued our drive towards Pensacola from where we decided to take the scenic Florida State Road 399 towards Panama City, FL. This state road is on this sliver of land with the most gorgeous white sand beaches on the Gulf Coast! I definitely recommend taking this slightly longer route towards Panama City. The views are breathtaking and the beaches are magnificent. We were so blown away by the emerald green water, that we decided to stop at Panama City for the night. Luck was definitely on our side as we managed to get a room right on the beach! It felt really special waking up to that view. emerald-coastRejuvenated after that stay, we left Panama City and decided to head further East across Florida to Jacksonville on the East Coast. This was probably the longest stretch of driving we did on this trip. Tired and hungry, we arrived at Jacksonville downtown late in the evening and decided to stay overnight. The next morning we made a quick stop at Anheuser-Busch Brewery, which is just on the outskirts of the city. They conduct tours of the brewery everyday so we decided to go see it. It is quite a large set up and our guide was pretty thorough, she answered a lot of questions and gave us very detailed information. The tour ended with some free beer! After that slight detour, we continued North on the I-95, vaguely heading towards Savannah, GA. We stopped for lunch at Brunswick, GA and ate at the most adorable place called The Indigo Coastal Shanty! The food was probably the best we had on the entire trip and the hospitality, very impressive! (What would I do without yelp!)

With stuffed tummies, we headed out North on the US Route 17 that passes through all the small towns along the coast of Georgia. Just off of highway 17, we came across The Smallest Church in America in South Newport! The church is very neat and looks really pretty with all the Spanish moss hanging from the trees around it. It was quite exciting to just stumble upon it :)! That’s what makes road trips so much more special. You end up seeing a lot more than you ‘plan’ to! After another quick stop and a 50-mile drive later, we arrived at Savannah, where we decided to stay for 2 nights. Getting a hotel room last minute was not easy since it was a long weekend and Savannah is a very popular tourist destination in the area. Do plan ahead and make hotel reservations if you are planning to spend some time in Savannah! We had the option of just skipping the town but the husband and I was so drawn by the quaintness of the city that we just had to stay.Savannah-1Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia and is a city with so much character and history! I am always fascinated by old cities so Savannah quite a treat for me. The historic downtown area consists of 22 park-like squares. Most of these squares are named in honor or in memory of a person or historical event. We walked through about 12-15 of these squares and each had a different story to tell. One of these squares was the famous Chippewa Square made popular by the bench scene from Forrest Gump. A visit to The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is definitely recommended, as is a stroll down Jones Street. Southern Living Magazine declared the street the prettiest street in America! It was a fun day of sightseeing, great food and very interesting martinis at Jen’s and Friends.

The next morning, we headed out to the Bonaventure Cemetery and the Wormsloe Plantation. The cemetery has featured in several movies and is eerily beautiful! Large oak trees draped with Spanish moss, arches and stunning statues make it so picturesque.  We spent some time walking around and then decided to leave for Wormsloe. The Wormsloe Historic Site is a real visual treat. No photographs can do justice to the beauty of the oak lined avenue towards the museum and tabby ruins. Noble Jones, one of the founders of Georgia, established the plantation. It is quite well maintained and the museum is quite interesting. A visit to Savannah is incomplete without visiting Wormsloe Plantation. It is definitely a MUST DO!Savannah-2With that picture in our minds, we set out for Charleston, our final destination. Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina and again like Savannah, it has some magnificent old buildings. We spent the first afternoon walking around the busy downtown area on Kings Street just to get acquainted with the city. It reminded me so much of streets in England, with narrow cobbled streets and gorgeous buildings dating back to the early 1800’s.

The next morning, we decided to walk around the old parts of the city and the Battery for a clear view of Fort Sumter. This is the location of the official start to the Civil War. Having worked closely on a book on the American Civil War, I was terribly excited to see Fort Sumter! The Battery Park is also home to some of the most gorgeous Southern Mansions, as well as American Revolution History. Just a short walk away from here is the famous Rainbow Row, a series of 13 colorful historic homes in Charleston. They looked so cheery and bright, I couldn’t take my eyes off them! 🙂 We spent the rest of the evening on the busy Bay Street visiting some local bars and restaurants.Historic-CharlestonThe following day, we returned home feeling relaxed and invigorated. In 9 short days, we experienced different cultures, pace of life, scenery and food. It was quite an unforgettable vacation and although we were a little sad to be back, we found comfort in the fact that we have so many more places to explore and so many more road trips to look forward to! 🙂