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Hanging Loose in Hawaii

by Carol Middleton

(first published in Honda: The Magazine Autumn 2000)

'Cue the sun!' Hawaii is the film director's paradise. Spielberg was here - many times. More movies have probably been made on Kauai, one of the eight major Hawaiian Islands, than any other location outside of Hollywood. Not only South Pacific and Elvis's Blue Hawaii, but Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark, King Kong, The Thornbirds and MIghty Joe Young. Fifty-five in all, since Universal Pictures filmed White Heat there in 1934.

If Kauai, with its world record of 721 inches of rain in one year, is the film director's lush green unspoilt backdrop for all things African or anything remotely tropical, Oahu, with its perfect climate, is the ideal backdrop for the Japanese wedding or group package honeymoon. Oahu is the most popular island with visitors, most of them staying at Waikiki, near the capital Honolulu. At the historic Sheraton Moana Surfrider Hotel, where we stayed, a special room was set aside for wedding ceremonies and we would trip over at least two wedding gown trains a day as they glided through the hotel lobby for yet another photo opportunity.

Waikiki is certainly the most romantic of holiday locations, if you are looking for complete R & R, which we were. The most challenging sport we took on was  paddling out to sea in an outrigger canoe, to surf the waves back into the shore, with the Hawaiian slave-driver goading me on: 'Harder, harder!' We did venture as far as the hotel tour booking desk, with the result that one afternoon we were picked up and marshalled on to a sunset dinner cruise. This was an opportunity to see Waikiki from a new perspective, offshore. Luckily for me and my partner, the marine engineers of the Navatek I cruise ship had thoughtfully come up with a hull design that prevents the usual rock and roll motion and I completed the nautical experience, and the dinner, without mishap.

A favourite activity of ours was cruising the beach bars to sample the relative merits of the Mai Tais, Chi-Chis and Tropical Itches! These potent cocktails were invented, not just to keep the visitors 'hanging loose', but also to use up the 75 coconuts produced by each coconut palm every year. We only tore ourselves away from the beach for one of Hawaii's  essential attractions: shopping. Across the road from the beachside hotels, at the International Market Place, were all the puka shells, macadamia nuts and aloha shirts you could desire, and along the road at the upmarket Royal Hawaiian Shopping Centre we stocked up on the locally grown Kona coffee, Starfruit Jelly and Lilikoi (Passionfruit) Butter. For a while at least we would be able to eat breakfast in Melbourne and dream of being back on the Banyan Veranda in the Moana Hotel.

It was a day or two before our curiosity got the better of us and we set out to explore life beyond Waikiki. We planned to take a day driving around the island of Oahu in the Honda Civic. I braced myself for the challenge of driving on the wrong side of the road, girded up my swimsuited loins in a pair of trousers and off we went. There are no traffic hold-ups in Waikiki, where almost three quarters of the population are tourists who have flown in and anyway, we were heading east, away from the  Honolulu bound traffic. No worries...

Almost immediately Kalakaua Avenue, the main street of Waikiki, opens out to follow the coast around past the dominant landmark crater of Diamond Head and the exclusive Kahala residential area, where film stars are thick on the ground. Driving our brand new greeny beige Civic, we felt quite at home. I turned up the air conditioning and put on the CD of 'Hawaii Calls' - the radio broadcasts which went out to the world from under the Banyan tree at the Moana Hotel from 1935 to 1970.

I was enjoying this new driving experience when the road started to climb and I pulled in suddenly. The views were too impressive to ignore. We parked in the large car park above Hanauma Bay and stood and stared. This was the first time we had seen paradise from above, looking down on the volcanic ring encircling a bay of crystal clear turquoise water. The coral reef teams with fish and snorkelling is such a popular pastime that there is a $3 admission charge to the beach. We were on a mission, to see the island in one day, so we did not stop, except to buy 4 for $20 US T-shirts and a couple of sarongs. We will be back.....

Back on Kalanianaole Highway 72 (highway is a bit of an exaggeration), we were no longer in the abundant, cafe rich Waikiki, and were hard pressed to find somewhere to eat, although we did spy some golden arches beckoning. Finally we stopped at a bakery and took a right turn through the villas, looking for a beach setting for our picnic. We found an almost deserted 5 mile stretch of white sand, bordered by ironwood trees, with a lone lifeguard on his perch. My navigator declared we were at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park. I trust him. By the way, there are only 12 letters in the Hawaiian language, 5 of then vowels. No wonder I got confused by the names of places.

When we had returned to the Civic and were consulting the map, a solicitous policeman stopped his car to ask if we were OK. Maybe he was concerned because of the numbers of car thefts around the beaches or maybe he was making sure we weren't casing the joint. He set us on the right road to reach the northern surf beaches.

We skirted Kailua, to get on to Highway 83. When it rejoined the coast, we stopped at a fruit stall at Waiahole Beach Park for mangoes, bananas and a pineapple before turning into Olamana Orchid Farm. There was no way we could bring any of the orchids back into Australia with the customs restrictions on plant material, but the orchid farmers were happy for us to browse through the shadehouses with their huge sprays of orange, white and purple orchids, all with provocative stamens of a contrasting colour.

As I turned left out of the orchid farm back on to the ocean road, I looked right instead of left - oops! The truck pulled up just in time. The Honda's reflexes were excellent and in a couple of seconds I had reversed out of harm's way. The truck driver went happily on his way. No road rage here, even when a stupid Australian woman doesn't know which side of the road to drive on. Driving in Hawaiian roads is very relaxing: no-one is in a hurry, no-one tailgates you and no-one yells obscenities. What a lifestyle!

In spite of my near miss I loved driving the nippy Civic along this fabulous coastal road, just taking in the ocean views to the right and the state parks and forest reserves to the left. But this isn't Australia and you have to force yourself  to slow down as the distances between places are so small, you can miss out on all the little places of interest. We pulled up at Punaluu Beach Park to eat our fruit and for a liki liki stop, as the Hawaiian tour guides would have called it. We drove past the Polynesian Cultural Centre which I heard takes a day to appreciate and past Giovanni's Aloha Shrimp, focused on finding the perfect beach, which we believed lay further to the north.

The road hugged the winding coastline, each bend revealing a bay with even whiter sand and even clearer turquoise water than the last. These are the bays that provide excitement in the winter when the arctic swells bring the surfers in from all over the world. From June to September the seas are calm. We passed Turtle Bay on the northern tip of the island, and the other legendary surfing spots of Sunset Beach, Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay. They all looked perfect. They followed each other in such quick succession that they flashed by and we drove on a mile or two through an unpretentious residential area to the little town of Haleiwa where we could have lunch and get the local inside knowledge on the best beach for swimming.

The Haleiwa Bridge, built in the early 1900s, is only just wide enough for two cars to pass, so I decided to give way to a truck this time, rather than end up in the river. As we awaited our turn to cross, we watched  the local kids strip off and dive repeatedly off the bridge while passers-by picked their way around their discarded clothing. Haleiwa is the Byron Bay of Hawaii: a trendy village with old wooden buildings reborn as surfing shops, clothing boutiques and cafes. We parked the Civic in between the Kombis and station wagons with their "Hang Loose" stickers and boogie boards, and took our seats on the verandah overlooking the marina at Haleiwa Joe's.

Unlike Waikiki, there were no slack-key guitarists or hula dancers to be seen. Here mellow jazz rock aided  the digestive process. My navigator decided it was cocktail hour and settled down with a Chi-Chi, while I opted for an iced tea. If you ask for tea in Hawaii, it will probably be served black with ice - very refreshing. If you want the British/Australian variety, ask for HOT tea, but prepare to be thought very uncool. Mahi Mahi, the ubiquitous Hawaiian fish, was on the menu, so it was Mahi Mahi and salad, followed by Lime Pie, a delightful variation on Lemon Meringue Pie. The food was great and the service, if a fraction more casual than in Waikiki, was still attentive and helpful in typical American style. We asked about the beaches and were told we had passed the best, and should retrace our steps to Waimea Bay. Waimea has Hawaii's biggest surf, waves of up to 35 feet, in winter. In the summer it is a calm haven for swimmers and snorkelers. 'Do not leave Hawaii without going there.'

Always grateful to restaurant staff who make my difficult life decisions for me, I obeyed. Ten minutes later, after some nifty parking on the edge of a cliff as the car park was full, we descended to the birthplace of surfing, on to the hallowed sand of Waimea Bay. Ancient Hawaiians believed its waters were sacred. We had reached the end of our pilgrimage, our quest for the perfect beach. It is a long beach, almost 1500 feet to the water, and guess what we found there - a wedding! The couple were fully kitted out - a Texan in his American sailor suit and a Mississippi girl in the full-length white frothy number with the veil blowing out like a sail in the trade winds. After a lengthy session with the photographer, there was brief ceremony near the water's edge. A few feet away we parked our towels and stripped off, plunging into the holy water. We had arrived!

The crazy divers were here too, all young, mostly male, hurling themselves off the huge rock which rises out of the bay. Although the rock was only a few metres from the shore, the beach shelved away so quickly that there was plenty of depth of water. After our perfect swim we left the divers and the newly-weds, the deeply tanned beached surfers and the shining sands, our mission accomplished. We popped into the Waimea Valley Adventure Park across the road, a lush retreat from the beach culture, but they were closing for the day. No more adventures for us. It was time to return. We cut back through the red dirt centre of the island, on Route 83 which turned into 99 and finally into the fast ten-lane cement Highway 1 bound for Honolulu.

The round trip was 123 miles. The petrol cost $7. We had driven round one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world. We had seen life beyond Waikiki. But now we were back, pulling into the curved driveway of the Moana Hotel and parking between the white stretch limos, and the valet was opening the door of the Civic and taking the keys. As we stepped into the breezy colonial-style lobby, the strains of Blue Hawaii drifted in from the Banyan Veranda. We were home.


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© copyright 2003

Carol Middleton