Waikiki, 6:00 am, Tuesday, March 12


In this grey time before sunrise, the residential swaths up the mountains could be North Vancouver -- the cabbed mowers traversing the pale fairways across Ala Wai Canal, misplaced snow cats -- excepting the warm, floral air and the pipes and warbles of unknown birds. Kayakers ghost by on the dim canal at the base of the hotel, but in 15 minutes the impatient tropical sun will greet them at the ocean. The contrast between this and the soaking cold pre-dawn journey to the Victoria airport yesterday makes the scent of all the nameless flowers that much more delicious.

Julie pulls a chair out onto the lanai as more birds wing past mauka (inland). Emma soon appears, beholds the grooved mountains, rich valleys and golden dawn palm trees, points across the canal and excitedly shouts, “Look at the sprinklers!”

When my brother-in-law Rob comes up to see our tower view later (their pualeilani studio nestles beside the pool below), before showing him the fish feeding in the water and the fuscias and palm trees, Emma again highlights the sprinklers, jetting across the golf course. Everything seems new and wonderful on holiday.


We’re travelling with my sister’s family, and our staggered arrivals in Hawaii yesterday kept us all from meeting until late afternoon. We washed down a supper at Cha Cha Cha’s with a few pitchers of Margaritas, then walked down to Kuhio Park Beach for our first swim. After years of conditioning in the chilly Saanich Inlet, my nephew William is delighted that the ocean could be warm, Emma less pleasantly surprised by the coral that slices up her foot as the waves push her around. She tends to let adversity like this stop her cold, but my brother-in-law Rob is great at chirping her up, and with her cousins along, she’s motivated to stop grumping and take in the hula dancers, who perform as the sun goes down a rich red. With the falsettos of the band rising above the murmur of the blue surf, and a golden Diamond Head over my shoulder, I wonder how much of this thrill is fulfilling some cultural norm. Would this all be as “right” without Hawaii 5-0, the Brady Bunch tiki doll and Elvis Presley movies?




Our continental breakfast beside the pool consists of a cold, thick-icinged cinnamon roll and a few mini doughnuts, washed down by pineapple “cocktail.” Rob and Julie say the coffee is surprisingly good. A creche of Japanese scuba divers swoop in to feast before taking off for the day, to return at sunset – a pattern that will be repeated for the duration of our stay.


During the 20-minute walk to the zoo, I’m glad I’ve packed a ridiculous amount of water. We begin altering our path to gain seconds of shade, from a fence or a palm tree. A 9:00 am sun in March here is hotter than any summer afternoon in Victoria.


The Honolulu Zoo is a perfect kid size and nicely designed, with hardly any cages or signs of separation from the animals—at the white rhino, I feel quite exposed and check to make sure there’s a cunningly hidden moat between us. The zoo features tropical and sub-tropical beasts and birds: tigers from Indonesia, Australian Komodo dragons, African Meerkats. White-handed Gibbons, swinging with ease and speed high above a small lake inhabited by odd air-gasping fish, hold the kids’ attention longest.


A lunch-time swim at our hotel pool and Quiet Time refresh us for another shot at Waikiki beach, this time at Duke Kahanamoku Beach at the Mawai (as opposed to Diamond Head) end. We all try snorkelling except Julie, who hardly gets wet above her knees the whole trip because of her head cold. There is nothing to see and poor visibility, so the kids stay close to shore, away from the rock bottom and current.


Wednesday, March 13

Driving to Chinatown exposes some of the real Honolulu to sandhoppers stuck in Waikiki. The cluster of low rises from 1960 suddenly fall back to vistas, broad lawns and some impressive landmarks. The Iona Palace, home and prison of Queen Kapiolani, the last Monarch of Hawaii, is complimented by the impressive municipal and state buildings erected by the American businessmen and politicians who usurped her. When the lowrise buildings pick up again after crossing the end of the Pali Highway, they’re better maintained and, even early on a Wednesday, hustling with people: Chinatown.


Anyone who has spent time on the Pacific Rim will recognize lots of things here: the assorted smells, the bad teeth, the oriental kitsch. To its Asian marketplaces, Honolulu adds fresh fish of startling blues, golds and oranges; at least five different slabs of tuna meat, from blonde to cherry red, gleam from stalls. Fruit stands everywhere boast fresh pineapples, papaya and small apple bananas. Alongside the ancient shops selling dried herbs and dusty ‘50s silk dresses, there’s a feeling of a thriving community here that is missing from many dwindling Chinatowns of the North American west coast. We find our best tourist shop here, an upscale Hawaiian kitsch/art shop with old prints and knick knacks. I scout out the best place to buy flowers for the return trip home – the nostril-teasing leis in a variety of pinks, yellows, blues and whites sway from small shops open to the sidewalk – and peek in Lai Fong Department store which opens after 11:30 am. It has incredible looking kitsch in the windows and what look like boxes of antique Hawaiian postcards, but its doors stay locked this and every time I visit in the next week.



Rob, Julie and Sheila have decided on a circuitous route up to the North Shore on our way to the Polynesian Cultural Centre – a fact that keeps me whining for a good portion of our departure, after picking up the second rental from the airport. This is my low point on the trip, and my griping continues through the heavier and heavier rain as we crawl past Pearl Harbour and up onto the King Kamehameha Highway. The rain makes the road a river. Suddenly we’ve worked out of the hills and the broad Ewa Plain stretches before us toward the North Shore. The rain coalesces into larger, intermittent drops and then ceases completely. The clouds gather around the peaks off to the east and west, and shafts of sun nudge through and finger their slopes vermilion.


The thin coast around Oahu belies the breadth of this inland plateau. Hectares of pineapple groves blur past. I’d imagined tall trees, but the tops of the plants poke up only a few feet, like the green spiky hair of an army of Jim Henson characters, buried to their scalps in the dirt. The road finally slopes down towards the now visible North Shore.

We’ve lost Rob and Sheila’s car somewhere in transit, but have arranged to meet at Haleiwa. None of us are quite prepared for how undeveloped Banzai Beach and other famed surfing spots are. We realize 10 minutes after passing it, that ___ Rd. was the turn off for what was probably the tiny hovel which constitutes Haleiwa. We debate what to do as the beautiful beaches and towering waves blur past.  Eventually we do a U-turn and try to head them off. Their rental pops out of the east bound traffic, but our honking and Starsky & Hutch 180 through the shoulder dirt do nothing to grab their attention. We become involved in a tedious eastward pursuit, all our attention focused 8 cars ahead to make sure they don’t turn off the main road. We catch them just before our destination.


I’m sure others have more pointed and engaging anecdotes of the North Shore coast. My only real observation is that the windy one-lane highway has no passing lanes and offers few chances to overtake in the stream of traffic. I did catch one spectacular wipe out in a sudden gap between west-bound tour buses, so can attest that the surf was up.


Between the 7 of us, we shell out almost $500 CDN at the Polynesian Cultural Centre, a Mormon tourist trap run by the masterminds at Brigham Young University. In return, we get:

1) an hour of a more authenticate version of Disneyland’s Adventureland, complete with a river ride through a collection of faux-Polynesian dwellings;

2) possibly the worst buffet meal I have ever experienced, with reconstituted mashed potatoes and a white fish in some kind of glue sauce;

3) a pretty spectacular evening show, which is marred only by the inability of the MC to go a sentence without mustering the crowd to shout a jolly “ALO-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-HAA!!”


I am left massively unimpressed with this experience, yet we all somehow find our way back in two days, in a fruitless attempt to get more for our money by taking advantage of the Mormon’s “free” second visit option. To be fair, the kids love the activities at the various villages, and there’s some good music in Tahiti. I thoroughly enjoy Aotearoa (New Zealand), where we meet a cool Maori chick--her accent takes me right back to laughs with Tara, Pip and Bridget --who puts up with all the naďve questions posed with the usual disregard for irony by American tourists: “Do you dress like that all the time?” “Do you have television?” “I thought white people ran New Zealand.”


Thursday, March 14

We arrive early at Huanauma Bay, but have left Emma’s flippers and mask in Sheila and Rob’s car. While I mope a bit at the far end of the beach, listening to everyone around me raving about how great it is with so few people and so many fish and turtles in the reef, Julie and Emma wait at the other end of the beach for them to arrive. It gives me time to gear down my expectations and become a reasonable traveller, so when they finally arrive aprčs Starbucks, and after another few thousand tourists have poured into the park, I’m cool with it. And I remain cool with stuff for the rest of the trip.


I get much more out of Haunauma Bay than my experience as a teenager. It’s a lovely blend of puttering with the kids and watching them master snorkelling and diving, and getting out further on my own to see some more sea life.


Friday, March 15

Goodwill. Can there be a better sign? En route to the Pali Highway, barely 10 minutes into our 24-hour couple time, Julie and I come across this block-long Goodwill, with rack on rack of “Sports” and Hawaiian shirts. There are whole other rooms of stuff, but I don’t even scan all the shirts, including an eye-popping selection of Tori Richard polyester creations, in the few minutes I have before our parking meter runs out. With a half-price-at-the-till surprise, we walk out with 4 swell shirts, 2 dresses, a blouse and a pair of sly black pumps for $31. The day only gets better from here, but in true time-optimist fashion, I’ve crammed so many plans into this day that we’re behind schedule already.


The highway takes us up past the cool heights of Queen Emma’s summer palace, to the clouds and rain of the Nuuanu Pali Lookout, where Kamehameha got a wonderful view of windward Oahu as his forces drove the island’s defenders over the cliffs and won control of another island in his consolidation of power.


Our B&B hostess at Kaneohe Bay is a classic middle-aged reformed hippie, complete with a meditation course she’s taking, no doubt as a supplement to her pension from a fine career as a school counsellor. Her place is beautiful, with a goldfish pond, tiny lizards sunning on the brick walk and a birdsong-saturated green space. After a luxurious morning of relaxation, we head north along the island-dotted Kaneohe Bay to Kuloa Park, with its rim of white sand, blue-green surf and backdrop of spiked green mountains.


We chomp down a net’s worth of fresh shrimp at Ahi’s further up the coast. Tragically, they are out of milkshake ingredients, but the food is still delicious, and the stripped down, beach hut feel of the place is so far removed from Waikiki, it could be in a different part of the Pacific. After our second tryst with the Polynesian Cultural Centre, we head back down the coast, and spend a fruitless period driving around Kaneohe, looking for a place to eat. Julie settles on Haleiwa Joe’s, which sounds potentially tacky and proves elusive. Our free, sketchy map leads us away from the commercial strip and up into unlit residential areas. We’ve pretty much given up, when we find the joint, stuffed behind some condos. It’s a swanky ( yeah, a bit tacky) open-air restaurant set over its own artificial lagoon, with bracket torches and a band that sounds pretty authentic doing Hawaiian love songs and less convincing performing their Eagles-infected original numbers. We blow any chance at seeming like local swingers by staring vacantly at our waitress’s “Howzit?” You can almost see her switch into her tourist mode as she rephrases “How are you tonight?” Rats. I order exotic girly drinks while Julie sticks with pints. Windward Oahu’s night is ten shades blacker than lit-up Waikiki. The stars surround the car on the way back to bed.


Saturday March 16

To be continued