Hawaii Trip, Day 2: Waikiki Chinatown, Aquarium, Diamond Head, and Beaches

Waking up early due to jet lag, we decided to go get breakfast in Chinatown. We figured out how to use the local bus system (which we later came to really appreciate) and hopped on a bus outside our hotel (for just $2.50 each) and found ourselves in Chinatown about 25 minutes later. We learned that “Chinatown” is actually a bit of a misnomer – the area contains a mixture of several different Asian cultures and ethnicities, and has long served as a trade port for several different Asian countries (we mostly saw Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Filipino, and some Japanese foods and cultures present). (See http://www.chinatownhi.com/.)

Since it was just a little after 7AM when we got there, most places were still closed, but it was fun to wander around and watch all the shops open up and the entire neighborhood come to life. There were a lot of interesting little Asian markets that sold mostly food (fresh fish/marine animals and vegetables) or plastic wares. We enjoyed several pastries from a small bakery. After wandering a while, we “discovered” a large indoor area with multiple stands selling their wares, along with a large food court. Andrew enjoyed several tasty dishes (he had a delicious “manapua,” which is like a BBQ pork bun) and Teisha had a tasty boba milk tea (one of her favorite drinks) – there were four or more stands close to each other that all offered various boba milk teas (in addition to other foods), so she had many options to choose from! We also had to check out the live turtles and abalone for sale. Lastly, we wanted to find a Japanese shrine that we heard was in the area (the Izumo Taisha Shrine) so we walked a few blocks away to find it. It turned out to be a bit different than the Japanese shrines we’d seen so much in Japan (e.g., plastic folding chairs were in this shrine, and we’d never seen that in Japan), but it was still interesting to see. (The shrine’s name is pronounced how Teisha’s name would be pronounced in Japanese – “Taisha” – so it was particularly fun for us to pay the shrine a visit for that reason.)

After getting our fill of Chinatown, we hopped on the bus again (using our transfers for a free ride) and, after making a quick stop at our hotel, we found ourselves at the Waikiki Aquarium. Right before going in, we checked out the beach park next to the aquarium. There were several large banyan trees, which may be the most amazing tree we’ve ever seen – they just have roots hanging down all over, trying to reach the ground and make another “trunk.” Just amazing. We wandered down to the beach where Andrew had to “experience” the ocean – he took off his sandals and walked in until a big wave got his shorts wet. Teisha joined him, and then we walked back to the aquarium in our wet shorts. But our soggy attire didn’t seem at all out of place in Waikiki. (When we later discovered just how long it takes clothes to dry in this super humid place, we always packed spare, dry cloths in our day packs!)

We weren’t sure how good the Waikiki Aquarium would be, but it turned out to be well worth the visit. At least half of the aquarium is outdoors, making it a neat environment. There are several indoor saltwater tanks that explain the different types of corals and fish found in the area – it was good preparation for going snorkeling in the days to come. We honestly didn’t know the distinct types that coral comes in (which is based on its appearance, and probably easier to see when the coral is dead), especially not in the Hawaii area, so that was interesting to learn about. It was also neat to see several fish that would be rare to see in a natural coral reef, like the blacktip reef shark and the frogfish. There were also several different fascinating jellyfish. Outside, we enjoyed watching a Hawaiian monk seal do some tricks – the remarkable similarity to dogs made us miss our own dogs (who aren’t nearly as well trained as the seal was!). At the aquarium we also purchased a laminated, colored guide to coral reef fish in Hawaii – it was fun to use when we later when snorkeling.

After the aquarium, we walked through some nearby parks and enjoyed a local crafts event – there were several merchants selling their wares. By the park, we tried to figure out how to catch a bus to our next destination, Diamond Head. We had been using Google Maps on our iPhones to figure out the bus schedule, but the expected bus didn’t seem to show up – we then found out that the bus schedule had changed about a month ago, and the buses were arriving around 5 or so minutes before we expected them to, so we’d been missing them! After finding a more accurate schedule, and going for a short jog, we finally caught a bus up to Diamond Head.

Diamond Head is the location of a long extinct volcano. (See http://www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/oahu/?park_id=15.) A large valley (called a caldera) was formed where the volcano was, and people can take a tunnel inside of the volcano and hike up the side to have an amazing view of Waikiki and the surrounding area from the top of the volcano’s ridge. We did just that – the bus let us off at the bottom of the mountain, and we made our way to the tunnel entrance. Once inside, we enjoyed the beautiful caldera scenery – green plants cover everything, with no distinctive black volcanic rock to be seen. Other than the shape of the mountain it’d be hard to know that it was once a volcano. We made our way up the volcano’s side on a mostly dirt path (0.8 mile hike from the base in the caldera to the ridge’s top). There were lots of other tourists around, but it didn’t feel crowded, and we could go at our own pace. Part of the path went through a long-abandoned fire control station, completed in 1911, which was interesting to see, but clearly had been unused for many years. At the very top there was a beautiful view of the caldera, Waikiki, and the surrounding area, including the green hills and blue-green ocean waters by the beaches. Once we had made our way back down to the caldera, we rewarded ourselves with some “shave ice” – a popular, local treat of shaved ice soaked in sugary syrup. It was super tasty and refreshing. (It had been a very warm hike, but some light rain showers had helped keep us cool.)

Exiting the caldera through the tunnel, we walked back down to catch a bus, but found that since it was about 4PM by this time there was no point in heading to a nearby beach that we were thinking of visiting (the beach apparently closed about 5PM, as many beaches in the area do). We ended up walking a mile (along Diamond Head Rd, overlooking the beach) to see if we could get to a different beach (that didn’t officially close). After eventually finding a path down to the beach, we enjoyed walking along the sand there and hunting for pieces of smooth glass and coral that had washed ashore. There were also occasional little tide pools that held some interest, mainly for the little fish that darted around in them (no real star fish, sea urchins, hermit crabs, or other similar critters, surprisingly). Eventually we left the beach and walked back to the aquarium area (yes, lots of walking!).

As it was getting dark, we decided we should get some dinner. (Yeah, we really didn’t have lunch, unless you count shave ice!) Not finding any tantalizing options where we were, we again hopped on the bus and this time got off at the downtown, tourist-filled Waikiki area by a mall we’d walked by before (on Kalakaua Ave.). Exhausted, we got some fish-filled dishes at a food court and devoured them. (Andrew got Ono and Teisha got a salmon burger – super tasty!) After walking back to our hotel room, we collapsed. We figured that we walked around 15 miles today and had earned our rest!

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Paradoxdruid’s Rants » Blog Archive » Hawaii Trip 2013, Summary! - October 17th, 2013 at 8:47 pm

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