Discovering Oahu - MapNomads
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Discovering Oahu

Some time last month, I was at my best friend’s wedding in Playa del Carmen when Isaac called me. The news: he had to travel to Hawai’i for work. The question: would I like to join him?

Seriously. He thought he had to ask.

My sister, Pao, would be staying with us for that week so she also tagged along.

Waimea Bay Oahu

Less than two weeks later, holding on to a fortune cookie from the night before that read “An enjoyable vacation is awaiting you”, we were at LAX, ready to see if Hawai’i was able to live up to its ridiculously high expectations. Honestly? I had my doubts. I’d heard people usually felt like, especially Oahu, was a big disappointment. Too touristy, too crowded, too expensive.


Sharks Cove Oahu

So, we would try to spend as little time as possible in Waikiki, and instead, we would head out to find lesser known spots in the island, and find out what is truly worth discovering in Oahu.

Shark’s Cove

Straight out of the plane we rented a car and drove to North Shore (approx 1 hour from Waikiki). This area of the island is host to some first-class surfing competitions and it’s known for its massive waves. Not being surf gurus ourselves -and not particularly suicidal- we opted for discovering the underwater world instead.

Oahu Hawaii

Haleiwa Hawaii

Keep in mind that the entrance to the water in Shark’s Cove is extremely rocky and slippery so you’ll likely end up looking totally uncool and unbalanced as you make your way in. I know I did.

I won’t lie, the place was really crowded. Some of its beauty was lost in the mass of people, but once we started swimming away from the shore, the space cleared a bit.

Sharks Cove Hawai'i

I really wanted to catch some sea turtles, but we weren’t lucky that day. We did see plenty of coral, fish, and even an eel which, I admit, sent me swimming the other way faster than I thought possible. I mean, c’mon! They totally look like snakes.

Snorkeling Sharks Cove

Eel Sharks Cove

Eel Sharks Cove Hawaii

Snorkeling Sharks Cove Honolulu

Waimea Bay

Our second stop of the day was this postcard-perfect beach. I looked at it and realized it was exactly what came into my mind when I thought about Hawaii. White soft sand, azure ocean, blazing sun, all surrounded by the greenest jungle. “At last,” I thought, “time to relax”.

North Shore Oahu

North Shore Oahu Hawaii

Waimea Bay Hawaii

Waimea Bay, however, had other plans for us. We spotted it right away: a tall, intimidating cliff right on the ocean. As soon as we saw it, we knew. We had to jump.

Relaxing would have to wait.

Waimea Bay Cliff

Climbing the cliff was easy, although the rocks were hot and flip flops would’ve provided no grip. Once at the top, I started to doubt if I had the guts to jump. Locals were doing all kinds of crazy stunts as if they were on the edge of a pool and not facing a 20 ft drop into the ocean – currents, waves, hard rock bottom, the whole shebang.

Waimea Bay Cliff

There was no one on the highest rock so I told myself that I could do it. I stepped on it (approx 27ft) and my legs immediately began to shake. No. No way. I couldn’t jump! I climbed back down. I repeated this routine several times before I drove Isaac crazy and he decided to jump first. It looked like so much fun!

Waimea Bay Honolulu

As soon as he was safely back on the beach, I climbed on the rock again. Looking down, I remembered the time I chickened out of jumping off a cliff in New Zealand, and how I felt like I’d let myself down.

I told myself that this was the kind of life I’ve always dreamt of living- full of adventure, adrenaline-filled veins, spontaneous crazy decisions. A life worth remembering.

I flung myself away.

Waimea Bay Cliff Jumping

Whoa. What an amazing feeling. As I swam back to the beach I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so ready to do it again.

Relaxing is way overrated. Don’t you agree?

Cliff Jumping Hawaii


Yes, it’s touristy, it’s crowded, it’s expensive. But it’s also really nice. It’s got amazing- and way out of our league- shopping, lots of dining options, and a nice vibe to it. It’s alive and buzzing, and although it’s not what you would picture when you say ‘Hawai’i’, it’s still beautiful in its city-kinda-way.

Waikiki Hawaii

Waikiki Hawaii

Don’t forget to try some cookies from Honolulu Cookie Company  They’re on the expensive side, but the buttery deliciousness that melts in your mouth is worth it. Try the pineapple macadamia for the ultimate Hawaiian flavor-experience

Honolulu Cookie Company

The next morning we hit the beach. Hey, we couldn’t leave Honolulu without actually setting foot in Waikiki Beach. Besides, my 13-year old self really wanted to see the place where Britney filmed her ‘Live in Hawaii’ video. Don’t judge me.

Honolulu Hawaii

This, we found, is not all it’s cracked up to be. The ocean has such strong currents, that a rock wall has been put up for the visitor’s safety. It creates a wave-less sort of swimming pool which, in our case, is not what we look for in the ocean. We floated around and swam for a while but we would head over to Waimea Bay instead, any day.

Honolulu Beach Donut

Hanauma Bay State Park

Here is where we thought we would definitely catch some sea turtles, since it’s often called “the best snorkeling location in Hawai’i”, but the little dudes were proving to be sneakier than we’d thought.

The crescent-shaped bay, nestled in an old volcano’s crater, is beautiful.

Hanauma Bay Oahu

Crab Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay Oahu

Sadly, as soon as we entered the water we knew we’d come in a bad day. The current was strong and the visibility poor. Also, because I’m clumsy like that, I kept trying to avoid the coral since I didn’t want to hurt it, but I ended up slamming against it anyways.

For the coral’s sake and my own, I got out and stayed safely outside until they closed the park and asked us to leave.

Hanauma Bay Honolulu

Hanauma Bay Honolulu

Honolulu Hanauma Bay

Mokoli’i Island

An ocean adventure in Oahu is a must, and kayaking to Mokoli’i Island, aka Chinaman’s Hat, seemed like the perfect one. We made the mistake of assuming that the kayak rental place Go Bananas was open till late. When we finally had our kayaks strapped onto the hood of the car, we had only three and a half hours to drive to Kualoa National Park, kayak to the island, hike to the top, and everything back again. By the time we started paddling, we knew we wouldn’t be able to explore the island. It kind of reminded us of the time we didn’t make it in time paddleboarding  to Ruby Island in New Zealand.

Chinaman's Hat Hawaii

Chinaman´s Hat Hawaii

The kayaking part itself was pretty cool, and guess what we finally had the chance to see? Sea turtles! At least 6 of them swam right past our kayaks. I screamed like a little girl every time one of them broke the surface. They were huge! They were also too quick for our cameras, but just seeing them was an amazing experience.

Kayaking to Chinamans Hat

Turtle Hawaii

Mokoli'i Hawaii

Kayaking Chinamans Hat

On our way back, we jumped into the water. The temperature was perfect and the water so transparent, we could almost see the bottom.

We made it to the rental place just two minutes before they closed. Phew.

Back in Waikiki, while walking back to our hotel, we spotted a coconut and pineapple cart in front of Cuckoo Coconut Bar. I don’t know if it was because we were tired and I was still feeling a little sea sick, but it was the best coconut water I’ve had. Fresh, sweet, and so Hawaiian. Yum!

Pineapple Waikiki

We didn’t find Oahu to be a disappointment. In fact, we had a great time. But now it’s time to travel to Kaua’i and see a more rural side of Hawai’i.

Stay tuned!

What do you think of Hawaii? What are your favorite activities in Oahu? Have you ever been disappointed by a place while on vacation? How did you push through it?

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