I can honestly say that I thought Hawaii would be one of the last states I'd cross off my list (only 13 to go!), but thanks to some fortunate luck I found myself on a plane above the Pacific sipping complimentary mai tais.
Brian was waiting for me when I departed my plane w/ the most beautiful lei (and wonderful smelling) & hand made sign welcoming me to Hawaii. Even though the time change had me landing around 2 am MST, the cool ocean breeze rejuvenated my spirit and I requested we go immediately to a beach. After a short trek in our bare feet I found myself standing on the most beautiful sandy moonlight beach I've ever laid eye upon and even though the air was cool it was nothing compared to the Montana cold I was acclimated to & immediately found myself stripping my dress off and running into the cool tropical waters. At least there were no Japanese tourists around this time...
The next morning Brian took me to his favorite local breakfast joint where I gorged on something I can honestly say I've dreamed about most of my adult life - banana pancakes. With our bellies full, we headed down the highway to circumnavigate the island my first day there. Despite the weather being a bit overcast the scenery was beautiful and often seemed to be ripped from the pages of prehistoric times. So much so that we jacked up the radio and played the soundtrack for Jurassic Park as we drove.
In the early morning hours of day two Brian & I found ourselves loading our day packs and hitting the trail. Mount Ka'ala is the tallest peak on Oahu and it's summit was our destination that day. The trail is one of the most stunning and, with the severe climate change of coming from Montana's winter, possibly one of the most difficult I've encountered in a long time. Despite only sitting 4,010 ft above sea level (Missoula sits around 3, 209 ft), the tropical climate (especially after enduring record cold temps in Missoula this winter) nearly overtook me & I was happy to find my hiking partner so understanding of my frequent stops & water breaks. It was during one of these breaks, covered in mud from slipping and sliding our way up the grease-like trail, that we donned ourselves w/ war paint from the red mud.
|Mt Ka'ala from the bottom|
After trekking nearly 3,000 ft above sea level through jungle like forests the steep trail turns even steeper and becomes less of a hike and more of a ropes course. Over the course of thirty some ropes that consisted of part scrambling part climbing you finnd yourself at the top of this mountain with stunning 360 degree views of Oahu. As there are no geological markers, a small mound of dirt signifies the highest point. We rested here for a while, enjoying the scenery.
A planked trail leads you around the backside of Mt. Ka'ala through a rain forest so stunning and full of many plants found no where else on the planet. Less than a half mile trek through this amazing little piece of heaven and you find yourself standing on a paved road in front of the FAA's radar installation access. A short jaunt around this massive construction (waving to all the military workers of course & slightly cursing them under your muddy breath for having just driven up one of the more difficult hikes of my life) and we found ourselves resting in a small field for not only "lunch (gushers)" but a short nap in the bright sunshine.
Only when the sun started heating us up too much did we decide to head back through the rain forest to the peak for our return back down the ropes course to Brian's truck. However, as we reached the edge of the planks, the weather took a drastic turn and we found ourselves smack in the middle of a cloud and unable to see much more than a few feet in front of us. Again, for already the millionth time in two days, I found myself in awe of the beauty of not just our planet, but in my life in general. I was fighting back tears and this would certainly not be the last time I found myself in such a mindset during this trip.
Most of our morning on day three was spent touring the beautiful memorial of Pearl Harbor. This place is a must see for anyone visiting this island and more time should be dedicated for those especially interested in history (like my brother). We took several audio tours through submarines and museums before finally taking a boat through the harbor the the memorial above the USS Arizona. I was amazed at some of the facts I learned that day including that oil still seeps out of the vessel some 70+ years later and that the memorial is also the final resting place for all those who went down w/ this ship.
After our time at Pearl Harbor, we trekked to the other side of the island to find the Byodo-In Temple to not only appreciate the beautiful of such a serene place, but to ring the Bon-sho (or sacred bell). If we're being honest here tho, we mostly went to use a lot to ring the cuss out of a 5 foot, 3 ton brass bell. SO much fun! I should probably also note that before we made it here, we stopped for lunch at a small local restaurant where we received free food because I was "beautiful." Bahahahah! But seriously, that so happened. =D
After the temple the weather finally heated up & we rushed to the beach with our snorkel gear to squeeze in some time in the water w/ our last few hours or sunlight. No turtles were spotted, but the reef was beautiful and many fishies were to be seen.
The next morning we did some driving that eventually led us to the mall & a few of the military bases. The best part of Brian's military ID was having access to some beautiful places one would normally not have the privilege of seeing while on Oahu, such as the famous Palm Circle.
A bet had been made way back in football season when my favorite Pittsburgh Steelers took on Brian's favorite NFL team (I'm almost embarrassed to say this) the Green Bay Packers. The bet was over who bought ice cream next. Thankfully my super incredible team came out on top and to add insult to the wound I wore my Steelers jersey to the Dole plantation for some delicious pineapple ice cream.
The rest of our afternoon and night was spent at the Polynesian Cultural Center for fire making, coconut cutting, song singing, game playing, tourist spotting, village protecting, food eating, show watching fun. We toured the center, ate some good food, and were entertained by fire dancers all night.
Day five started with a short, but beautiful hike to Manoa Falls. Some of the scenery on the hike there can even be found in the movie Jurassic Park.
Around the time we were finishing the day was just starting to heat up. So we headed back to the same cove to spend the rest of our day snorkeling sprinkled w/ intermittent naps on the beach. This time tho we were equipped with a few disposable underwater cameras.
One unfortunate thing about living in Montana is the lack of zoos and aquariums in the area so when I travel I typically like to find these where ever I go. Thursday morning was spend wandering the grounds of the Honolulu Zoo. This zoo was small, but the perfect place to kill a few hours in downtown Honolulu.
Our plans Thursday night were an off-Broadway showing of the Lion King so Brian reserved us a beach front room at the exclusive military resort Hale Koa. I was unaware until now that resorts such as this one exist around the world for military members and their families. When we arrived our room wasn't ready so we strolled down to the Barefoot Bar that sits on the beach and had a local brew. Before long we were dressed and ready for dinner at the resort then off to the Lion King. I'd seen the show before on Broadway and was just as enthralled this time around as I was the first time. SUCH an awesome production.
Unable to do the aquarium the day before as planned, we were up early Friday morning to catch a glimpse of some of the fish we had yet to see in the nearby wild waters. Although quite small, the aquarium in downtown Honolulu has a beautiful display of native critters.
In what is quickly becoming a tradition, Brian and I next took off on another go kart race. I was once again victorious, but only by a small margin this time around.
Brian had planned a surprise trip, so after a quick costume change (of which I had no idea what we were dressing for) we took off towards the north shore. The sign gave it all away as we pulled onto the dirt road. A sunset horseback ride on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world? Yes please!
Saturday arrived all to quickly and there was still so much I wanted to do and see. In search of tropical fishies we trekked down a long and bumpy trail to the northern tip of the island. This was my first sighting of albatross. We sat, watching the waves crash for who knows how long before bouncing along the rocky shore in search of the little fish left stranded in pools by the low tide. Not paying much attention to the rocks we were jumping we found ourselves face to face w/ the endangered monk seal almost having jumped on its head.
That night I was more that psyched to spend the evening w/ a friend I graduated high school with and his wife. When you come from a graduating class of under 40, it's kind of amazing to "run into" one of them on an island nearly 5,000 miles away in the middle of the Pacific. Thanks again for your hospitality and allowing me to have a little piece of home so far away.
In a desperate attempt to take in as much of the beach as possible before heading back to the harsh Montana winter, we headed to a famous surfing spot. On the drive there I spotted my first wild boar too! The waves were too intense that day for swimming, but it made for my first time at watching surfing in real life. Out past the surfers we watched as humpback whales jumped and crashed in the hectic waters as well. Despite their enormous size, everyone was so enamored w/ the surfers, I think few people turned their heads the other direction to even spot the whales playing. After a quick snack we returned to the same beach we had visited on my first night in Hawaii to watch the sun set. As we sat and talked, staring at the beautiful aqua waters, I was already choking back tears at the thought of saying goodbye when a head appeared out of the darkening water. A few minutes later there was another & it finally came to me that I was staring straight into the eyes of the only animal that had eluded me this entire trip - a sea turtle. There were three swimming in the water directly in front of us, and although the waves were too harsh for them to come to land, they kept bobbing their heads out of the water until the sun set and we could no longer see them.
Sitting on my plane the next day I had several hours to think... Where will life take me next? I feel some big changes headed my way... :)