Continued from Antidote’s Guide to Hawaii
Ko Olina: Truly a Relaxing and Luxurious Vacation Experience
Ko Olina is quickly becoming the second city of O’ahu. Located on the southwest coast of the island and just 25 miles from Honolulu, this budding beach-side haven is a true escape. It provides visitors as much calm as Waikiki Beach has energy, with soothing beaches and group activities that are fun for all ages. A vacation at Ko Olina is a put-up-your-feet vacation where you can book expeditions like a family catamaran trip or group horseback riding.
If it’s world-class comfort you desire, look no further than the familiar name of Disney. The media conglomerate opened the $800 million-dollar Aulani Resort and Spa in August of 2011 along the Kohola Lagoon, with more than 800 rooms arranged within two towers and nestled around a bastion of outdoor fun. The hotel radiates Hawaiian lifestyle starting with its grand, open-air entrance. Not only are you greeted with traditional Aloha Spirit – as well as a lei and refreshing beverage – but you’re also welcomed by breathtaking woodwork, carvings and imagery from Hawaiian culture. Aulani’s signature curved arc frames everything from the main entrance to the room keys and becomes an artistic sign of familiarity and comfort. In fact, it’s almost as if the arc is a quiet guard looking after the guests.
If you chat with a young visitor who spent some time at Auntie’s Beach House, a school of Hawaiian culture and activities where parents can take their kids for some vacation style education, you might learn about a mythical creature to watch out for. The mischievous menehune are dwarf-like craftsmen who are said to play tricks on people. More than 200 grinning and smirking menehune statues are hidden throughout Aulani, so you’ll have to look in both obvious and obscure places if you’re going to keep track of them all.
You’ll find plenty of menehune and people hanging out in Waikolohe Valley, Aulani’s sprawling outdoor water complex. With poolside service accompanying the aquatics, you’ll want to set up for the day – or night – on the deck. After baking yourself in the sun and sipping on a Kona beer (try the Big Wave Golden Ale), your only decision will be how to cool off. If you’re embracing the relaxation, ease into the lazy river or the swimming pool that’s fit for all ages. The adventurous type could splash into the water through two water slides atop Pu’u Kilo Mountain. If your timing is right, you could even jump into the Rainbow Reef at feeding time and get an up-close look at dozens of different species of fish in O’ahu’s only private snorkeling tank.
But perhaps the prime time for some pool action is after dusk. As the dinner crowd heads to grab some grub, pool space opens up – especially in the high-demand Jacuzzis. The steamy water will ease away any lingering stress from back home or sore muscles from a day of swimming. As if the hot bath couldn’t get any better, you might be lucky enough to get some alone time after dark in a whirlpool with a disappearing edge. The two-tiered infinity pool looks out onto the cove where you can see the sunset and moonrise over the Pacific Ocean. Don’t worry about doing it all in one day. Not only will it be there tomorrow, but there’s also a two-mile beach walk that traces the edge of Ko Olina’s shoreline from Paradise Cove to Barber’s Point Harbor.
With all the pool activity, it’s easy to forget about the adjacent beach. The decks of Aulani sit mere steps away from the sandy coastline of the Kohola Lagoon. Soak up some more rays or find an umbrella to set up by your beach chair. Either way you’ll have miles of beautiful scenery to enjoy as Ko Olina and the Pacific Ocean bring the prettiest postcard scene to life. Even the weakest of swimmers should become a part of that postcard by dipping into the water. The manmade lagoon shields vacationers from large waves and dangerous fish, optimizing the calm while wadding, swimming or floating.
Having this much fun while relaxing will make it easy to forget about eating, but Ko Olina and Aulani have enough tasty food to put the pounds on you. But that’s OK; it’s vacation. You can indulge in the luscious fruits of the Hawaiian Islands with an O’ahu-inspired breakfast at ‘AMA ‘AMA. When tropical fruits, like the star fruit, are infused with the fluffiest buttermilk pancakes then drizzled with coconut syrup, you’ll feel unsatisfied beginning a day any other way. That’s not even counting the ocean view accompanying the scrumptious meal.
If the lunchtime hunger bug hits you while the poolside service is especially busy, you won’t be disappointed with the hot dogs from Mama’s Snack Stop. These aren’t your typical ballpark franks. Mama’s sells gourmet dogs like Portuguese sausage dogs and Buffalo-ranch chicken dogs. Only the largest of appetites will finish two dogs, but you might want to try more than one anyway. Before heading up to your room for a midday nap, snag some shave ice with optional ice cream center and special milk topping from Papalua’s.
As dinner time rolls around, Makahiki’s buffet will leave you feeling more full and satisfied than three of Mama’s gourmet hot dogs. Seafood dishes, Asian inspired cuisine, meat carving and of course Hawaiian pizza (with ham and pineapple) will stuff your tummy. Then dessert will put you over the top. For as mouthwatering as the baked goods and fruit are, the bread pudding is second to none. You won’t be limited to resort meals throughout your stay in Ko Olina. Right across the street from Aulani is Monkeypod Kitchen, which is also a vibrant watering hole after hours, and sit-down and take-out eateries serving pizza, sushi, Mexican and Hawaiian BBQ. Bring back a late-night snack or Kona brew to have from your cozy, lux room – each of which sports a private lanai for fresh air and a remarkable view.
Perhaps the only negative about a stay at Ko Olina and Aulani is returning to the real world once your stay is over. However, your first-class vacation will provide you with a new tool to combat stressors of daily life: memories. Closing your eyes when things get rough and imagining a trip down the lazy river where a shave ice awaits you at the end will invigorate you to power through the hard times. You’ll realize you’re just that much closer to getting back to Hawai’i.
O’ahu Excursions into the Hawaiian Heartland
There is much more to see on O’ahu than Ko Olina and Waikiki Beach, so be prepared to plan more than one island excursion. Hopefully your trip is long enough to take it all in; time it right and you could be rubbing shoulders with world-renowned surfing icons. During the northern hemisphere’s winter months, the North Shore of O’ahu and its Banzai Pipeline are home to the best surfing conditions on the planet and, in turn, The Triple Crown of Surfing. You may want to stick to spectating during the winter, since even champion surfers have paid the ultimate price for the thrill here. However, the North Shore has more than enough surfing schools for beginners.
The moderately adventurous tourist can easily keep busy on the North Shore with tamer oceans or stunning scenery. Shark’s Cove Beach is more welcoming than its name suggests, but not necessarily to surfers, swimmers or sunbathers. This stretch of rocky coastline is ideal for snorkelers wishing to see the distinctive, underwater landscape literally swimming with wildlife. Nearby Shark’s Cove is the culturally historic and naturally magnificent Waimea Falls Park where a rooster or peacock is just as likely to cross your path as a pigeon would in New York City. But animals are only the beginning; unthinkably beautiful and unique plant life awaits – a canopy greener than any crayon could imitate is held up by tree trunks the size of skyscrapers; jungle-sized vines large enough to swing on reach up those very trunks and down to the mountain floor; a smattering of colors not even seen in the rainbow emboss the mossy backdrop. Where the canopy breaks, you’ll find the best sight of all: Waimea Falls. The waterfall empties into a natural pond where you can try your hand at freshwater swimming.
Once you’re good and hungry, you will find the North Shore is the perfect place to look for food despite its lack of snazzy restaurants with familiar names. Follow the highway guiding your outing to the famous shrimp trucks of the North Shore. Savor your taste buds in the originally flavored shrimp that’s local and fresh. If seafood isn’t your style, hunt down the Pupukea Grill truck for a quesadilla overstuffed with succulent cheeses and greens, your choice of tenderly cooked chicken, pork or fish and delicious Mexican rice. Your car might ride a little lower to the ground after this journey, but take a pit stop at the Dole Pineapple Plantation for, at the very least, a sweet pineapple snack. If you need time to let dessert settle, take the Pineapple Express train tour for a look at pineapples, mangos, jackfruit and breadfruit that are ready for harvest or just beginning to bud. On the other hand, you can burn some calories walking the world’s largest pineapple maze.
Sooner or later it will be time to leave paradise, as all good vacations inevitably come to a melancholy end. Even though there isn’t an easy cure for this hangover, you can temper its effects by proactively booking a helicopter tour before your flight home. Makani Kai Helicopters can show you all of O’ahu that you didn’t see on foot with a first-class aerial experience. Skip the lines at Pearl Harbor and get a clear view of the U.S.S. Arizona, Utah and Missouri battleships. Soaring above Sacred Falls State Park is the only way to see its magnificent 80-foot or 24-meter waterfall. (The park was closed in 1999 after a deadly landslide.) Your tour guide will call out other points of interest such as where Jurassic Park and the TV series Lost were filmed. Furthermore, you can see familiar sights again from a different perspective since tours glide above Waikiki Beach, Ko Olina and the North Shore.
A helicopter tour of O’ahu is the finishing touch your Hawaiian vacation deserves. However, it’s up to you to decide what the highlight was. That will help you decide how to plan your return trip and what’s left to do on the island. Once you conquer O’ahu, it’s onto the next Hawaiian island, with either a whole new dose of calm and relaxation or more brand new excursions and adventures. Whichever flavour of Hawai’i you prefer, you’ll surely enjoy the island experience.