If you're a first time visitor to Hawaii, the island of
Oahu is typically where you might begin to explore
all that Hawaii has to offer.
Honolulu, the capitol city, has much to offer with respect to museums,
restaurants, activities, and
shopping. Most of these venues are scattered around Honolulu, which
means a rental car is in order
if you plan on making visits to these locations the focus of your stay.
Honolulu's public transit system--
The Bus--is an affordable alternative to a rental car, but expect to
spend some valuable vacation time
waiting for the bus or walking between it and your ultimate destination.
If it's bright lights, nightlife and beaches you're after, Waikiki
is probably where you'll wind up. Come
to think of it, that's probably where you'll end up like it or not.
The overwhelming majority of Oahu's
hotels are strung out like pearls along Waikiki Beach. In recent years,
however, Waikiki has become
quite congested. So if the point of your visit is to experience an idyllic
island lifestyle, it might be smart
to head elsewhere.
You might, for example, get away from it all and still have access
to everything by booking a stay on the
island's north shore. Numerous vacation rentals and bed and breakfast
spots are available there. Home
to some of the best surfing beaches in the world, the north shore's
laid-backlifestyle also makes it a
popular destination for Honolulu residents who want to kick back without
traveling far from home.
Oahu, the Gathering Place, is the
third largest of the four major islands, and by far the most populous.
Though still a lovely place to live and to visit, Oahu is in many ways
a worrisome vision of Hawaii's future.
If the islands are to resolve the economic and environmental problems
we face, it is Oahu which must lead
Oahu contains about 10% of Hawaii's land,
80% of the population and accounts for about 80% of the state's
economic output. Tourism, the federal government and medical services
are the three largest sectors of the
Oahu economy. Honolulu, the capitol of Hawaii since the 1840's,
is located on Oahu's south shore. Waikiki,
our best-known tourist destination, is at the south edge of Honolulu
near Diamond Head crater.
Oahu was not heavily populated prior to
the advent of foreigners in the island. The climate here is, by Hawaii
standards, imperfect. The island was valued for its fertile agricultural
lands and fish ponds, but was not seen
as a major prize until Kamehameha I and Maui's King Kahekili began contesting
for it in their bids to unify the
islands. Even then, the ali'i much preferred the Waikiki area,
with its regular surf and steady breezes, to the
hotter, swampier village of Honolulu
In 1792, however, a British merchantman
stumbled across the entrance to Honolulu harbor and thus ensure
d that Oahu would eventually become the center of commerce in the islands.
The harbor offers the best shelter
of any in Hawaii, and room enough for hundreds of ships to lie
Today, Honolulu Harbor is the lifeline
of the islands. Much of our food and most of our manufactured goods
be imported, and the Harbor is where the imports arrive for distribution
throughout Oahu and to the neighbor
islands. A recent longshoremen's strike against an inter-island shipper
brought home our dependence on imports,
and on the Harbor; within two days, some food items had become scarce
on Maui and Kauai.
Oahu was formed by two large volcanos,
Ko'olau and Wai'anae, which created the mountain ranges which
separate the Windward side (the Ko'olau range) from the rest of the
island, and which separate the central
plateau (the Wai'anae range) from the Leeward coast. There are two major
passes across (actually, through)
the Ko'olau range. The Pali highway follows Nu'uanu Valley and crosses
over at the site of the final battle in
Kamehameha's conquest of Oahu, and the Likelike highway crosses
at the apex of the Kalihi Valley.
Windward Oahu is generally wetter than
the Leeward side. The Ko'olau range rises high enough to force the
warm trade winds up to the cooler, high altitude winds, where the moisture
condenses and falls as rain. In
consequence, the windward sideis green and thick with vegetation. In
part because of its distance from Honolulu
and in part from the dearth of open land caused by the mountains crowding
the coast, the windward side is not
nearly so developed as leeward Oahu. The two largest cities, Kailua
and Kaneohe, are growing at a good clip,
and tensions between developers and residents are increasing.
Oahu's North Shore is another of Hawaii's
most recognizable locations, and it too is a battleground between
environmental groups, local residents and developers. It is still a
largely rural area, with quite a bit of small-scale
agriculture and numerous small businesses. The town of Haleiwa hosts
some of Oahu's best non-pretentious
eateries along with a bunch of surf shops, arts and crafts galleries
and tiny stores of all sorts. In recent years,
two major North Shore development plans have been cancelled or stalled
due to local opposition.
Central Oahu, once a heavily forested
region, is an elevated plateau nestled into a triangle bordered by the
mountain ranges to the east and west, and Pearl Harbor to the south.
In the 1830's and 1840's, much of the land
was cleared to make way for sugar plantations and, a bit later, pineapple
plantations. Waipahu and Wahiawa
(now the home of the U.S. Army's Schofield Barracks) were the major
plantation towns. Oahu's first suburb,
Mililani, lies between the two towns on the site of former plantation.
Mililani was developed by Castle & Cooke,
one of the Big Five companies which once controlled the sugar industry
and just about every other commercial
enterprise in the islands. With the demise of sugar on Oahu, a new battle
is shaping up around the disposition
of the remaining plantation lands.
A corollary of the development issue is
the question of water rights. In the 1920's, one of the major sources
water for the small taro farms on the Windward side, Waiahole
Stream, was partially diverted to feed the central
plateau plantations. As sugar has died, Windward farmers and ranchers
have been demanding the restoration
of their water rights. At the same time, numerous groups have been pressing
the landowners to divert the fallow
land to small-scale sustainable agriculture rather than to housing developments.
The Leeward coast, that stretch of the
west shore bounded by the Wai'anae range and the ocean, is less troubled
by development and more troubled by a sort of inadvertent neglect. Like
rural Windward Oahu, the west coast is
populated mostly by Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, groups
which have never had much political or
economic clout. With large chunks of land annexed by the military and
with the over-fishing of Hawaiian waters,
the farming and fishing communities of this area have pretty much
been left to fend for themselves.
The south shore communities between Honolulu
and Haunama Bay are largely middle and upper income suburbs,
with little in the way of commercial development other than shopping
and service businesses. The last remaining
areas open to development are the high ridges on the inland (mauka)
side, and the empty land at the tip of the island
which is the focus of much acrimonious debate.
Much more to come! Currently under construction...