Closer to Home: 3 Unforgettable Stops in East Oahu

So often, I find myself wistful whenever I browse through travel magazines and social media sites. Summit selfies and lakeside camp photos stir a longing in me that makes me wish I was anywhere but here. Thing is, here is a pretty darned great place to be–a fact I too often forget. More importantly, now is the moment I want to be in–and the only one we’re guaranteed. I’ll get back to the Olympic National Park and Seattle portions of our trip soon, but I wanted to pause for a bit to pay tribute to the humble backyard adventure.

To be honest, I guess I’ve been feeling a little burned out. Kids, work, activities–nothing new or out of the ordinary, but lately, it’s all been feeling like a bit much. I thought a little extra sleep might help. Or that maybe I needed to cut back on a weekend activity or two. Still, the feeling persisted. Then I walked past a Crayola-colored worksheet hanging on my son’s door–I am a Bucket Filler!–and it hit me.

I haven’t been filling my bucket.

Oh, I had a million excuses–kids, work, money…life–but the truth was, I’d let my bucket run dry. I count my blessings that we’re able to vacation most years (and these fill my bucket in a big way), but vacations can’t be expected to sustain you indefinitely. In neglecting to tend to my personal happiness, I’d lost sight of the everyday wonder in the here and now. I knew I needed to remedy the situation and was lucky enough to have 4 days off from work this week to do just that.

It didn’t take a lot of money–less than $20 for the entire week–and time was limited, with kids and activities to tend to. But it’s amazing how far you can stretch $20 and a few hours a day with simple pleasures. I sipped coffee and people-watched in a coffeehouse. Lay on the sand and watched the sun rise. Hiked in meditative solitude. Watched a movie (Queen of Katwe, which was excellent!) and shoveled a ridiculous amount of buttered popcorn. Slurped pho on a lunch date with my husband. Most of all, I watched waves crash over and over and released a breath I’d forgotten I’d been holding for months.

My favorite bucket-filling backyard adventure of the week was an excursion along the eastern coast of the island. Should you ever find yourself on Oahu, I highly recommend escaping the hustle and bustle of Waikiki and planning a day trip out east.

Stop 1: Sandy Beach and Makapu’u

Begin the day with sunrise at Sandy Beach, and prepare to be dazzled by early-morning surfers as they put on an electrifying show. img_20130910_132552

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Sunrise at Sandy’s–an unforgettable experience

Drive up the coast a mile or two and hike out to Makapu’u Lighthouse. More of a gentle stroll than a hike, there’s no better view to be had for less effort. Crowds are minimal on weekdays, allowing you to connect with your surroundings. I walked Makapu’u twice this week, meandering down a path toward lava tidepools and taking a spur trail near the entrance toward Ka Iwi Scenic Shoreline. I considered hiking Koko Head instead (a monstrosity of 1,000+ railroad track “stairs” that I will post about another time), but there is a time for challenge and a time for being gentle with yourself, and this trip was definitely the latter. Near the top, I scanned the horizon–no whales today, though they will return soon enough–and savored the views of Rabbit Island and Molokai in the distance. At less than two miles, you can easily walk this paved path in under half an hour, but lingering is what truly makes this trail memorable.

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Backside of Koko Crater and the Ka Iwi Coast
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Looking back toward Koko Head
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Makapu’u Lighthouse
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View of Rabbit Island from Makapu’u Lighthouse overlook
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Views of Waimanalo and beyond

Stop 2: Halona Beach Cove

After Makapu’u, I headed back along scenic Kalanianaole Highway toward Halona Blowhole. This lava tube-meets-ocean attraction is on the radar of every tourist and guidebook on the planet, and for good reason: it’s spectacular. I jockeyed for parking with the endless parade of tour buses streaming into the parking lot and then escaped the crowds via a rock “staircase” that leads to the secret beach cove featured in From Here to Eternity and Fifty First Dates. To be sure, this “secret” is not much of a secret at all, as you can certainly see the beach from the overlook. However, in comparison to the number of people at the overlook, relatively few people venture down because of posted danger signs. The danger signs are no joke–the current is powerful here, and diving from lava rocks into rough ocean is not something I would advise. However, from a lone perch high atop the black lava rock, there is no better spot to admire Halona Blowhole as it hurls churning ocean water 30 feet into the air. I sat here for close to an hour, watching green sea turtles drift in and out of the cove. I wandered into a cave tunnel at the foot of the lava wall and felt my bucket overflow with the incoming tide.

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The steps down to Halona Beach Cove
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Beautiful blue-green water…be sure to admire from a distance
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There she blows! Halona Blowhole
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From inside the cave tunnel

Stop 3: Lanai Lookout

From Halona, I drove less than a mile to Lanai Lookout. A favorite of fishermen and tourists alike, Lanai Lookout doesn’t draw quite the same crowds as Blowhole, or maybe it’s that it draws a different type of crowd–quieter, more contemplative. Whenever I’ve found myself in need of quiet reflection, Lanai Lookout has always delivered. This trip was no different. I sat alone along the sea cliff and listened to the roaring surf pummel the coast. Tracked not one, but two ‘iwa (great frigatebirds) overhead, giant wings splayed a magnificent seven feet wide. Soon enough, it would be Monday. Soon enough, it’d be back to work and the familiar grind. But for now, I’ll savor the sun on my shoulders and the hot Kona coffee in my belly. Breathe in the salty ocean air and trace the smooth lava rock beneath my feet. Refill my bucket with the thunder of every crashing wave. Because this moment–the one before me right now? This moment is everything.

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The ocean is mesmerizing here
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My favorite view of Koko Head and Kalanianaole Highway
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Pounding surf at Lanai Lookout
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Oahu’s eastern shore, as seen from Lanai Lookout
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11 thoughts on “Closer to Home: 3 Unforgettable Stops in East Oahu”

  1. Interesting how we so often long to be in a different place. To me, as the Vancouver rainy/gloomy season is already in full swing, I look at your backyard in complete awe and wish I was on one of those spectacular beaches. I’m glad you refilled your bucket and gave us a great tour—absolutely gorgeous. Amazingly, I’ve never been anywhere in Hawaii …hopefully I’ll get there in the not too distant future. Thanks for bringing me some sunshine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re absolutely right; it must be human nature to seek out the novel. I look at your stunning fall foliage and fungi photos and covet that PNW experience, though I imagine the reality of dealing with the season’s rain must be very different than my romanticized notions. Thank you so much for your kind words–we’re grateful to call Hawaii home; if an unfilled bucket is my biggest concern, I’m a lucky girl indeed. Here’s hoping an island getaway finds it way into your near future! 😀

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  2. Your writing always resonates with me, such a talented writer. I totally understand about feeling burned out and needing to fill your bucket. Sometimes I have to remind myself to just breathe and be in the moment (life is too short, kids grow so fast, and so on). Good for you for taking care of yourself! It’s the best thing you could do for your family. Your “humble backyard adventure” is my idea of a dream vacation, those beaches, views and especially the warm waters. One day we will make it out there and see those beautiful places you blog about, so keep those Hawaii posts coming 😀. Kona coffee, pho, buttered popcorn – that’s what I’m talking about!

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    1. Right?! Have you tried buttered popcorn with arare? I think it’s a local thing, but holy cow, that stuff is the best. Sprinkle with some furikake or li hing mui powder and go to town, yum! Thank you for always being so sweet and supportive–it really means a lot to me. Spending time on the east side reminded me how beautiful this place is; so grateful to call HI home. (And you’re right–love that it’s warm enough to swim here year round!) Now if it were just closer to more nat’l parks, lol!

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  3. Wow, you live in such a beautiful place! Those pictures are incredible! I can’t wait to visit there someday. I understand the feeling of not always appreciating your own backyard. We lived in Amelia Island, FL before we began traveling full time and some people wonder why we would ever want to leave such a beautiful place. I always longed for the next vacation and was sad to come home. I don’t know why. I loved where we lived, but loved traveling even more. Anyway, glad you had some time to yourself to appreciate the beauty in your backyard. It looks amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww, thank you, Heather! So glad you can relate–that makes me feel a lot better. I love HI and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else; I guess I just wish we were closer to other states, parks, monuments, etc. Road trips are pretty limited when you’re circling a tiny island! 😀 But I know what you mean about people asking why you’d want to leave someplace beautiful. A cashier at a North Cascades coffee shop told us we were crazy when she found out we left HI for the 40 degree thunderstorm we were in, lol!

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