Friday, 21 December 2012

Hawaii Ground Cruise - Day 2

Continuing our 12-day 'grand voyage' of Hawaii with Norwegian Cruise Line and Virgin Holidays, we have a second day to explore Oahu...

After our full day on our return to Honolulu, we wanted to make the most of another chance to explore as much of the island as possible with our hire car, so we were (again) up early to get started - both because our first appointment was on the other side of Oahu but also because the Kahala Resort was having to deal with a slightly tricky organisational issue - the Honolulu Marathon, which had effectively cut it off from the rest of Waikiki!
To get to our car, which had been moved overnight to the nearby shopping mall, we had to get a taxi shuttle to the end of the Kahala resort property, walk across the line of the Marathon (dodging runners on the way!), then get another taxi shuttle (all laid on by the Resort) to the Mall, where we again had to dodge Marathon competitors (although these were more at walking pace!) to get across the road to the parking area. Phew!

Amazingly, everything was so well organised we were still on our way on to the Highway within 10 minutes of leaving the hotel and soon winging our way across the island, as most of the traffic seemed to be heading IN to Honolulu rather than the way we wanted to go.

Our first destination today was the Kualoa Ranch on the north-east coast, and it required taking Highway 1 and then Highway 3, the equivalent of interstate highways in Hawaii, albeit with speed limits as low as 45mph in places. Highway 3 was apparently one of the most expensive pieces of road ever built in the US as it required cutting a tunnel through the Ko'Olau Mountains and avoiding a number of Hawaiian archaeological sites that turned up along the route.
Still, it was worth the drive as the passage over and through the Mountains was immense and the scenery on both sides just jaw-droppingly beautiful. As we reached the coast and turned north-west, the mountains kept us company on our left, with the ocean on the right, and Oahu was absolutely drop-dead gorgeous. With the scenery continuing to be just as spectacular, we reached the Ranch and were wowed all over again.

Kualoa had been strongly recommended for us by our friend Stewart Chiron (The Cruise Guy), and it was easy to see why. Set into the slopes of the mountains, and along the stunning Ka'a'awa Valley, it is a breathtaking location for nature and terrain tours, and it is clearly picture perfect as a film location - which is exactly why scenes from Jurassic Park, Godzilla, George of the Jungle, Windtalkers, 50 First Dates and the TV series Lost (among many others) were all shot here.
The Ranch offers a number of different tours, including horse-riding, hiking, its own beach and even Hula lessons - as well as being a great venue for weddings - and we were able to sample three in our few hours here. First we tried the standard Movie Sites & Ranch Tour, a bus ride around the main part of the 4,000-acre working ranch and into the Ka'a'awa Valley, where so many of the movies were filmed. Then we were able to try something a little more adventurous with the Jungle Expedition Tour in a 6-wheel Pinzgauer jeep, which took us deeper into the rainforest and for a little hike up a ridge that provided a brilliant look down the full length of the Valley.
Finally, we got to try their 1-hour ATV Tour, a chance to ride these great all-terrain vehicles around much of the Ranch, going back into the Valley and getting a better close-up of some of the film sites (we did stop for the inevitable Jurassic Park shot!). The people there couldn't have been any friendlier and we left only reluctantly, as we wanted to try to get to the North Shore to see some serious surfing before heading back to Honolulu. The Ranch also boasted a great cafe and gift shop and we were able to get a good (late) breakfast and a few souvenirs before leaving.

We had initially planned on taking the 45-minute drive north to Sunset Bay where some of the biggest waves are reputed to be, and the surfing is truly mega, then return to the well-known Crouching Lion restaurant for a late lunch. But, after reaching the Bay and seeing some serious waves (WAY too rough for swimming, but apparently surfing was OK!), we were told there was actually a surf competition further along the coast, so we jumped back in the car and headed along.
Sure enough, at the appropriately-named Banzai Pipeline there was a MAJOR event going as as the roads were packed and the beach was swarming with thousands of spectators for the Pipemasters event. We saw only the last 15-20 minutes or so but it was enough to prove competitive surfers are truly mental as the idea of being out in those kinds of waters, let alone trying to 'ride' them (or surf through the pipe, as they were doing - spot the surfer in the pic above!), is hideously ridiculous. Suffice it to say it made for great viewing and we left feeling like we had walked into a movie set.

By now, lunchtime was a LONG way in the rear-view mirror and there seemed to be nothing in the vicinity of the beach restaurant-wise, so we were trapped into moving (slowly) along with the traffic in the vague direction of Honolulu
Thankfully, we were able to turn off into the town of Haleiwa, where Jameson's By The Sea was the perfect place for an early dinner. With the sun setting over the distant hills and views into the bay where paddle-boarders and more surfers were still out playing, it was a fabulous vista to finish the day, while our fish dishes were quite excellent (Mahi-Mahi and Ulua, a new fish to us but a real winner in taste terms).

Finally, with the sun now long set, we drove back into Honolulu to pick up our baggage from the Kahala Resort (thinking it not wise to leave it in the car at all during the day). Then we drove back OUT of Honolulu to the west coast this time for a brand new adventure, where we would spend our final two nights (but more of that in the next episode, as I know we have a number of keen Disney fans eager to hear more...!).

Next up - Disney's Aulani Resort.