“La’i lua ke kai.”
“The sea is very calm, all is peaceful.”- Hawaiian Proverb
Don’t get me wrong. I love family travel. My goal in life is to teach my daughters that they have an entire planet in their backyard, with smells and sights and sounds to discover. But there is something to be said about Mom and Dad getting away, that moment you get over the tears of leaving the kids at Gramma’s, and you’re in line at the airport. You’re standing behind the family with a car seat, 8 suitcases, a stroller, a screaming toddler and a look of despair, and you just have to fist bump your significant other. While our girls have grown and travel extremely well, I am a firm believer that it is good for parents to get away as adults. Exploring a destination kid free is a completely different experience, and parents deserve the time to recharge, reconnect and rediscover life as individuals, and as a married couple.
On this trip, we found ourselves headed to Oahu, the 3rd largest of the Hawaiian islands. Known as “The Gathering Place”, this island offers up everything you can dream of and delivers it on a silver platter. Famous for the WWII history of Pearl Harbour, views from the 100,000 year old Diamond Head crater, 30 foot swells along the legendary surf territory of the North Shore and walking along the infamous Waikiki Beach, Oahu embodies a desire to both relax and enjoy life to the fullest extent. I love Oahu because it is the perfect mix of home and sun quenched beaches. You can safely drive, speak the language and eat the food (they even have Costco!), while spending days lounging on the world class sands of Lanikai, snorkeling in Hanauma Bay or simply lounging on your lenai, sipping wine, watching the whales in the distance. Truth be told, we only did a couple of the “Must Do’s” and it was still the most amazing week you can imagine. In fact, we loved it so much we are returning with my family to celebrate my Grampa turning 80!!
WHERE WE STAYED:
If you are looking for the perfect mix of luxury condo and resort, then Ko Olina Beach Villas are for you. Located on the leeward coast, about 40 minutes from the airport, the condos are nestled between the Marriott, Disney’s Aulani and the Four Seasons. Backing onto a prestigious Golf Course, Ko’Olina is the destination of luxury travelers. The Beach Villa condos range from one to three bedrooms and offer high end finishings and appliances, including a full kitchen, as well as a washer and dryer. Most are privately owned, so they will vary slightly, but strict guidelines are in place to maintain a high level of expectation. There are 2 pools, one adult lap pool with hot tub, and a lagoon style pool for families that has a pebble bottom hot tub for watching the infamous Hawaiian sunsets. There are several grilling areas for guests to use, as well as a cocktail bar. For those who are less inclined to cook, there is Ko Olina Station tucked in behind the hotels. Eating at Monkeypod is an absolute must! Longboards along the beach at the Marriott is another great place to grab a meal, especially as the sun goes down. For a complete list of places to eat in the area, see here.
Consisting of four man made lagoons, the coast of the Ko’Olina area is a fantastic place to spend time soaking up the sun and then watch it set. Each of the beautiful white sand beaches are crescent shaped, and are among the top rated beaches on the island, as the calm waters offer safe swimming and easy snorkeling. Walking paths connect the lagoons as well as the neighboring hotels. It’s easy to work off the food and drinks here, you can walk, jog, swim the lagoons or even enjoy the gym on the main floor of the villas.
SNORKELING and SNUBA:
In the marina attached to Ko’Olina is a fantastic place to book an adventure with Captain Todd and the Crew at Ocean Adventures. We spent a spectacular half day drinking, eating and snorkeling. We then tried our hands at “Snuba”, a combination of snorkeling and scuba. I highly recommend trying it! Using a regulator, a weighted belt and a snorkel mask, you are able to head to the ocean floor to get up close and personal with coral and whatever sea life the crew can manage to show you! They even provide a photographer so you can later purchase shots of your day. The catamaran and snorkel has two departures each day (morning and afternoon). For detailed pricing see here.
**Bring a towel and sunscreen. They provide the snorkel and Snuba gear. Our early sailing had no children. The afternoon appeared to have plenty.
SWIMMING WITH SHARKS:
Step into the cage my friends….. Ok, I’ll be the first to admit I was extremely nervous (I’ve seen the movies, they don’t end well). But this is about as safe as it gets, and such an amazingly unique experience! We took the tour thru Shark Tours Hawaii in Haleiwa, on the North Shore. The boat takes you 3 miles out, and be advised that someone will suffer the plagues of sea sickness. In fact, the captain told us that not once in his career has he ever had a trip out where at least one person wasn’t sick. There is plenty of open air, and Sam and I were fine, not so much for a few of our friends. Once you arrive, out goes the cage. Relax, there is no scary music to accompany it. Up to 8 people can go in at a time, and the sharks are circling before you even get in….(ok, maybe a little scary music, but it’s in your head, I promise.) The captain told us that they are so used to the sound of fishing boats that provided food, that they arrive automatically, and are considered “curious” not dangerous. In our 20 minute shark experience, we saw many of them, with sharks ranging from 5 to 15 feet in length. The experience will run you about $120 US per adult and welcomes all ages. For detailed pricing, see here. Swimming with sharks….CHECK
** Bring towels and sunscreen. They provide the Snorkel Gear and life vests if required.
CHECKING OUT THE SURFING:
The North Shore of Oahu is a legendary surfing mecca, drawing professionals from around the globe to it’s winter swells. While we were there, the Billabong Pipemaster Competition was being held. Due to conditions, it wasn’t running the day we stopped by, but seeing the setup, and those still out braving the waves was awesome.
SO HOW HARD CAN IT BE??
We decided to try surfing ourselves….and it turns out it’s not easy. But, wow, is it fun! Thanks to our surf coach Danny at Westside Surf , we were all able to get up and ride the waves to shore. Taking a surf lesson here is practically a rite of passage, so make sure to try it out. Surfing in Hawaii….Check.
** Leave the North Shore waves to the experienced. There are plenty of safer places around the island to either rent a board or take lessons!
With the endless number of beaches Hawaii has to offer, you could spend the entire week discovering new places to put your toes in the sand. Just make sure one of them is world renowned Kailua. This 1/2 mile stretch of powdery white sand and turqouise ocean on the windward coast is the perfect place to walk, boogey board, kayak and watch the windsails on the horizon, and is quite often rated among the top beaches in the world. You can take lessons or rent surf or paddle boards, as well as kayaks, all within walking distance.
WAIKIKI and HONOLULU:
We only spent a few hours here. With such a jam packed week, we didn’t have time for Diamond Head, but we knew it was an absolute must to take time to walk the infamous Waikiki Beach. Waikiki is the beachfront neighborhood of the state’s capital city, Honolulu, and has been known as the hangout for everyone from 1800’s royalty to Elvis. Here you can lay on the beach, surf gentler waters, shop, eat and stay at one of the hotels dotting the shoreline.
You need to make sure to stop at Duke’s (if you can get close to the place, it’s legendary). Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, was born in 1890 in Honolulu, and his legend lives on today. Not only was he a well decorated Olympian swimmer, Duke IS surfing. You also need to check out the banyan trees near the Honolulu Zoo end of the beach. The roots of the banyan grow vertically, descending from the branches to the ground.
I’ll be honest, an afternoon in the hustle and bustle of crowds, traffic and noise was enough for me. I much prefer to visit for a day and then get back out of the city.
Oahu is a destination that can be tailored to any type of budget and travel style. From the bright lights of Honolulu, to the laid back atmosphere of the North shore, it is paradise, and we easily fell in love with the sand, the ocean, and the ideologies of the Hawaiian people. Hawaii is about family, it’s about enjoying your surroundings and living a full and enriched life. Mahalo, Hawaii, until we meet again.