World Travel Guides

Oahu - Off the beaten track

Hula dancers at Kapiolani Park, a 200-acre (80-hectare) park given to the people of Honolulu by King Kalakaua in 1877


Just south of Mokapu Peninsula on the east coast is Oahu's third-largest city, Kailua. It has an old stone temple (Ulupo Heiau) on its outskirts, low-key accommodation (no sky-blocking hotels here) and a fair range of restaurants, and, being only a 20-minute drive from Honolulu, is often promoted as a modest, more relaxed alternative to the frenzied commerce of Waikiki.

Attractive though these assets are, it's not just Kailua's laidback urbanity that draws the visitors. The eastern coast of Oahu is also known as the Windward Coast because of its exposure to the northeast trade winds, a characteristic that makes it eminently popular with sailors - one of the best places for feeling the wind in your hair, particularly for those sea-lubbers whose equipment of choice is a windsurfer, is at Kailua Bay. The bay is also popular with kayakers, and the area is blessed with some fine swimming beaches.


The arid western edge of Oahu is called the Waianae Coast, after the mountain range that gives this nominally developed and distinctly untouristed stretch of beachfront its scenic backdrop. Sheltering behind Kepuhi Point is Makaha Beach, a broad crescent of white sand that receives the attention of winter surf on a scale matching the size of the north-coast swells. Due to its enviable world-class waves and the fact that it's planted squarely in the least visited part of the island, Makaha is a favourite of peace-seeking surfers (particularly longboarders). During summer, the less-turbulent waters accommodate swimmers and snorkellers, and allow divers to visit the underwater caverns and arches of Makaha Caves.

To the east in the Makaha Valley is Kaneaki Heiau, a Hawaiian temple constructed in honour of the god of agriculture, Lono, in the mid-16th century. Unlike similar stone temples that were dismantled as the Hawaiian kingdom fell apart, the basalt stacks of Kaneaki Heiau were preserved because of their relative isolation. Today, after comprehensive and authentic restoration in the 1960s, it's the best-presented temple on the island.

Sunset Beach

From November to February, world-famously huge waves - some in the legendary order of 50ft (15m) high - break along Oahu's relatively untrammeled north shore, where they're greeted by an enthusiastic community of kamikaze surfers and avid onlookers. Sunset Beach is one of the three prime surfing locations in the area - the others are the Banzai Pipeline off Ehukai Beach, and Waimea. The challenging breaks at Sunset Beach play a key role in the annual Triple Crown of Surfing, one of the most hotly contested and lucrative events on the competitive surfing calendar. The big surf break called Backyards, at the northern end of the beach, is also popular with windsurfers.

Though the size of its waves lend it a fearsome reputation, Sunset Beach is a pretty low-key place when not packed to the dunes with surfies, and the surrounding area offers some decent swimming and snorkelling over summer when the swells and rips die down a bit. Every weekend in the peak surf season, convoys of spectators motor up to the north shore from Honolulu - if you're there in winter, it's best to visit on a weekday.

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