City Girl Gone Wandering
Honolulu has always fascinated me. How does such an urban space manage to exist amidst the dazzling landscapes of the Hawaiian islands? How do so many people live there? Does it still feel like Hawaii? Or is more like Southern California surfer culture conjoined with the hustle and bustle of New York’s busy streets? I came to Honolulu with a myriad of questions, a huge pile of intrigue, and a heart eager to soak in everything having to do with city living in the middle of the ocean.
The answers? Well, for starters, Honolulu is not quite as hustle and bustle as New York. It runs faster than the rest of Hawaii, certainly, but it still has that gloriously laid-back, slow-paced island mentality to it. As for whether or not it still feels like Hawaii, the answer is… sort of. It looks like Hawaii, or at least the landscapes around it do, and the kindness of most people is unquestionably reserved for non-mainland America. However, the city attitude that inevitably arises from so many people living in such close proximity to each other was definitely present in the air, and many people carried around protective barriers that I have not experienced anywhere else in the Aloha State.
Culturally, the city felt like a strange melding of other places I have seen: an awkward combination of Vancouver meets San Diego meets Elvis Presley’s Graceland–with a dash of aloha spirit on top, of course.
Honolulu sits on the southeastern shore of the island of Oahu and is, by far, the largest city in the state of Hawaii (population just under 400,000). For comparison’s sake, you should know that Big Island’s Hilo comes in second with a population of just over 40,000.
I come from a city of 8.4 million, yet it was still jarring to be thrust into a world of highways and humid city air upon landing at the Honolulu airport. After months of daydreaming about Hawaii, I wasn’t entirely prepared for the simultaneous feelings of familiarity and novelty. It wasn’t until my first morning in the city–nestled in the sanctuary of Palolo Valley, drinking tea amidst the sight of tropical plants and the sound of wild birds singing out a tune–that it really felt like I had begun my journey home.
As much as I love Big Island, I will say that Oahu has it beat ten-fold in the public transit department. For someone like me (who hates driving so much she refused to get a license until about a week before moving back to Hawaii) public transportation is the holy grail of all travel. I have mastered the transit systems in every city I have ever visited, and Honolulu proved to be no exception. Within hours of waking, I hitched a ride to Manoa, bought some high-powered sunscreen, and hopped a bus bound for Diamond Head Crater. It was my first day back in Hawaii and there was only one thing to do: climb a volcano.
Diamond Head is an extinct volcano crater that offers up magnificent views of the city of Honolulu from its peak. The hike can be a little bit difficult, mostly because of the prolonged sun exposure that hits you for the entirety of your climb, but it’s all worth it once you get to to the top and take in the sights.
After staring at the magnificence of the Pacific from above, all I really wanted was to immerse my body in its waters. I had been warned repeatedly not to swim at any of the beaches in Waikiki, so I let the bus carry me through the tourist port and over the canal that runs all sorts of disgusting entities out into the ocean. I soon found myself at Ala Moana Beach Park, a local beach filled with white sand and calm waters. I took a swim, watched the sun make its descent over the ocean, and decided that nothing in this world will ever be more beautiful to me than a Hawaiian sunset.
The next day, my friends and I made our way over to the Manoa Waterfalls trail and took a stunning hike through various tropical plants.
These are my favorite Hawaiian hikes: the ones where you walk and walk and walk until suddenly you emerge upon a cascading waterfall that seems to come out of nowhere.
The big reveal always feels like Mother Nature whispering secrets into your ear, letting you in on some sort of vast cosmic truth that you will forget the moment the heat of her breath disappears from the side of your neck.
That day, Mother Nature implored me to be a waterfall:
Clearly, I succeeded admirably.
From there, we made our way east toward Hawaii Kai and stopped off at what is colloquially known as “The Blow Hole”. A piece of lava rock collapsed in such a way that a strategically placed hole now exists near the ocean. Every time a wave comes in the result is a large burst of oceanic water propelling itself several feet in the air, dancing for observers like an attention-starved dolphin.
And then, there was this:
My trip was cut short because I had to fly back to Big Island for an impromptu job interview (spoiler alert: I got the gig), but my brief stint on Oahu made me eager to explore it further. Good thing it’s only a 45 minute flight away from my new home on Hawaii Island! I’ve been getting settled in, discovering that my hatred of cars is not as easily overcome as I had hoped, and enjoying my 40 minute walk to work along the ocean. Many more adventures are in the works, and I am excited to discover more about this land that has stolen my heart so successfully that I fear I may never again get it back.