Our final day in Hawaii, Tamika and I woke up at the crack of dawn for a sunrise hike at Diamond Head State Monument, Honolulu's closest and most popular hike. Contrary to popular belief, black girls DO hike! (This chick here has gone a whole 3 times, for all you doubters -- I’m true to this).
For the relatively fit, Diamond Head is a painless uphill hike with wide pathways, modest slopes, and for the most part, gentle terrain. There are parts where the path is a bit rocky and just a tad slippery, but overall does not require a tremendous amount of exertion to reach the crater’s summit.
Ever since painstakingly surviving my first major hike, miles up a steep mountain range in Northern Thailand during a study abroad trip, which nobody warned us beforehand how EXTREME the climb would be, I feel like I can conquer all. Comparably, Diamond Head was a breeze. It is however, an energizing morning workout. The round trip trek only took about an hour total.
As we trekked upwards, there were herds of people headed the opposite way after witnessing the sun make its glorious appearance over all of Oahu. We didn't make it early enough for sunrise but the just-after-dawn morning light casted a glorious glow.
Throughout our climb, and especially when we made it to the very top, I’d been fighting the urge to practically faint at how picturesque the scenery was. The Hawaiian homes sprawling alongside tree covered mountains, the conspicuous highrises of downtown Honolulu and the famed Waikiki hotels, the brilliantly blue ocean sparkling under a fresh sun, the irony of a bustling city’s ability to appear so anti-urban and one with the earth, synonymous with natural beauty -- all completely irresistible.
For a metropolitan gal like myself who can’t resist city life yet loves her some beautiful beaches and gorgeous natural wonders -- Honolulu couldn’t be more ideal. Only a few days were needed for me to proclaim I was wildly smitten with Oahu.
Later that afternoon, I headed to the Honolulu Museum of Art for the sole purpose of attempting to join a tour of the Shangri La, an oceanside mansion that’s home to a Center for Islamic Arts & Culture. The wildly popular tour departs from the museum, but is limited in space and requires advance reservations. Judging by its photos, the architecture and the artwork showcased here from Morocco, Egypt, India, parts of Asia, Iran, etc. look fascinating. I did mention oceanside next to mansion, right? My heart flutters at the thought. I wasn’t lucky enough that day to have been granted a last minute wait list spot, but now that I'm aware of the Shangri La’s existence, you can bet it’ll be a definite must do for my inevitable return to Oahu. Instead, I stayed and wandered around the museum, particularly enjoying the Art Deco and Contemporary exhibits. If you’re into art, The Honolulu Museum of Art is definitely worth visiting even if you don't do Shangri La. Here are several snaps from its many rooms that caught my eye.
Can you tell which one is my favorite piece?
Afterwards, I hit up the Aloha Stadium (which holds the NFL Pro-Bowl most years) by suggestion of my previous day’s tour guide, who informed me that the stadium also holds Hawaii’s biggest open-air flea market on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. My last day in town was a Wednesday, so I found it the perfect time to go and pick out souvenirs (read: cheap shot glasses) to bring back for everyone. As I’m leisurely browsing various booths, taking my good old time taste-testing all 12 of one lady’s handmade fruit marmalades, Tamika texts me saying she was finishing up her work in the office.
Even though I hadn’t bought nan a souvenir (nope, not one, smh *goes to Amazon to purchase Hawaii shot glasses - #Iwasreallytheredoe*), I took that as my cue. All I wanted to do was soak up the sun & play in the sea with my sis for our last few hours of daylight in the Aloha state.
Speaking of aloha, there were a couple of charming things I got schooled on about the meaning of Hawai’i and aloha thanks to both Lara, my paddle boarding instructor, and my GyPSy driving guide. Broken down in the Hawaiian language, “Ha” translates to ‘breath,’ “Wai” means ‘water,’ and the “I” suffix attached here references “me/myself.” So, Hawai’i’s literal meaning is along the lines of “Water is my breath for life”/”I need water to breathe/live.” With the chain of islands being surrounded by such scenic seas, and its people so attached to them, wow...it makes so much sense!
I also learned that ‘Aloha is more than just a greeting or farewell in Hawaii. Aloha corresponds to love and affection. It’s a way of life, an important symbol for spreading love and treating others with kindness and respect. The idea is to perpetually exude positive energy with regards to oneself and everyone with whom one comes in contact; in the spirit of aloha, thoughts are uplifting, collective existence is necessary, life is lived harmoniously. Imagine how much more beautiful the universe would be if more people adapted this ideal? Ahhh, the bliss. Well, we can dream, right?
With aloha in my heart, I made Honolulu mine and cherished each moment as my mini-vacay ticked away.
Tamika and I finally took a dip in the private lagoon on our hotel’s property, a man-made seawater oasis where guests could simply swim, or rent paddleboards and beach bicycles. We took turns paddleboarding through the pristine pool, admiring the perfectly aligned palm trees and the neighboring beach that served as one of the most marvelous backdrops I could dream up.
One last thing I wanted to do while in Honolulu was a 1-hour open bar sunset booze cruise, a suggestion I pulled from Alex in Wanderland (I could rant and rave about Alex all day -- I assure you this won’t be the last time she’s mentioned here; she’s my faaavorite travel blogger), but after walking then ubering then being stuck in a slight traffic jam thinking *damn I should have just power walked the whole way,* we’d arrived to the other side of Waikiki Beach just as the catamaran was pushing out to sea -- without us. Yet another *next time* in the bag -- I’ve racked up quite a few of those, eh? (Again...why at least two weeks here is so vital!)
I didn’t mind missing the cruise, though, as it gave Tamika and I the chance to post up right where we were, to relax, capture a flawless moment in time that will be hard to forget. We threw our stuff down in the sand (keeping an eye on it all times -- Waikiki Beach is known for its popularity and thus, thievery) and headed straight for the sea -- soaking, swimming, scoping out the serious sunset action in awe.
The chunk of shore at our hotel was rocky and uncomfortable, but here, just a little further down at the heart of Waikiki Beach, the sand was soft, it was all the difference that made everything perfect. The turquoise Pacific water was deliciously warm, it so easily enveloped my entire being, waves riding in and stroking my soul. If there’s one place I know I belong, it’s by the ocean. Whenever at sea, I always feel like there’s no other place I’d rather be. Embraced by it...at one with it.
The synchronous sunset was the icing on the cake. It’s nothing less than captivating to watch the sky’s kaleidoscopic hues melt together behind delicate clouds. Soft blues made way for sherbet yellow-oranges, then evolving into a medley of lemon peel yellow, flamingo pink, and vibrant coral layers. Good thing sunsets only last around a half an hour or so, or else I’m not sure you could tear me away from them. (At least the photos last forever - prepare for a slew of them below)
The sunset swim made for a notable finale to an inviting introduction of Hawaii. You’ve won me over; I can’t wait to reunite with you. Until then, there’s one thing I will strive to carry with me daily, something that will forever remind me of my first explorations throughout Oahu:
the spirit of Aloha.
Diamond Head State monument = $5 per car (if driving and parking on property; free if not)
Honolulu Museum of Art = $10 (Museum and Shangri La Tour = $25)
Aloha Stadium Swap Meet = $1
1 hour paddleboard rental at the Hilton Hawaiian Waikiki Village = ~$35-$40