It’s hard to describe Oahu. Do you start with the tropical heat? The rainstorms? Having already visited Maui, I was prepared for winds and strong currents, but didn’t expect the stifling heat and humidity. It was utterly magical, but as someone from a decidedly non-tropical country who is as fair-skinned as they come, there were definitely moments where I struggled.
That said, the heat really helps you fall into the rhythm of island life. No one rushes – everything is at a slow pace. And it is a different pace: when we visited, daylight hours were 6.30am-6.30pm which meant rising early to make the most of the sun. Most days were spent exploring the incredible ruins, waterfalls and rainforests, mixed in with beach time.
Which brings me to my recommendations. With one exception, you won’t find popular tourist attractions here. Many are worth the visit but there are already plenty of travel guides dedicated to them. Here – in addition to my favourite food spots – you’ll find a smattering of places I loved, some quiet and understated and some rugged and untouched. All equally lovely.
For those concerned that Oahu is nothing more than the shiny tourist trap of Waikiki: we didn’t venture into it until the last day of our trip, and I wouldn’t change that as it’s akin to walking into Vegas after spending a week in the desert. Waikiki is a resort, and is a world away from the rest of the island. If you’re staying there, by all means enjoy the experience but I can’t recommend enough taking the time to explore the true island atmosphere outside of it.
Kukaniloko Birthing Stones – Visited by few tourists, the simplicity and quiet of these stones says more than a museum could. Used by ancient Hawaiian royalty for support when giving birth, there is something indescribably special about this site.
Maunawili Falls – Don’t let the guidebooks fool you – this ‘30 minute’ hike takes much longer if you’re not wearing hiking boots as it’s an uphill trudge through slippery red mud (in which you will be COVERED). The views over the valley are completely worth it however, as is the waterfall swim at the end.
Waimea Valley Botanical Garden – A truly beautiful garden that I could have spent much more time in, it contains beautiful indigenous species from all over the Pacific and is lush, wet and peaceful. The highlight is, again, the beautiful waterfall swim at the end.
Diamond Head Crater – One tourist favourite I couldn’t resist, and my favourite hike, Diamond Head is incredible not only in its views of Waikiki but in its history: you can literally climb on old Second World War lookouts.
Makaha Beach – THE local beach. We found this by accident and it has the most crystalline water, not to mention pretty great surf. You won’t find tourists here, just locals and foodtrucks.
Sharks Cove – The place to go for perfect snorkeling. The cove is full of rock pools filled with coloured fish, where you can snorkel for hours without tiring (as the pools are so shallow!)
Kailua Beach – Another favourite, in the affluent neighbourhood of Kailua. The choppy waves make this huge, pristine beach perfect for uninterrupted bodyboarding with a handful of locals.
Ai Love Nalo – Without a doubt, the best, most colourful food I found on the island. Traditional Hawaiian food with a plant-based twist. Try their delicious banana and coconut soft scoop.
The Beet Box – A great little cafe on the surfy North Shore, with delicious plates of tofu and mixed veggies, alongside beautiful-looking desserts.
Down To Earth – I didn’t expect to put a health food store on my list, but this Oahu chain’s vegetarian deli bars have such a wide range of vegetarian/vegan dishes that you’ll want to try everything. I’m missing their raw chocolate pies as I type…