Travelling the Oahu Coastlines with a Multi-Generational Group

By Laurie Millman and Martin Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The backpackers who did Europe on $5 a day on summer breaks from college are now BabyBoomers with grandkids, still with the travel bug that they want to share with their children and grandchildren. Multi-generational travel is now one of the booming trends in travel but aside from going to a ski resort or a cruise, the logistics of a more complicated itinerary with lots of sightseeing may be daunting. With only three full days on Oahu, Hawaii, we wanted to see as much of the physical island as we could, while visiting attractions that would be interesting for a multi-generation group from 6 to 60 years old. Take a look how we did it:

Day One: Southwestern Coastline

1. We flew out early in the morning from Maui – the flight was quick and easy, under an hour on Hawaiian Airlines.
2. We picked up the rental car from the airport, and drove south from Honolulu along the scenic Kalaniana‘ole Highway (Highway 72), which brought us to the beautiful, scenic Hanauma Bay — just minutes by car or bus from Waikiki hotels. After a forced reduction in visitors to the bay and enforced restrictions placed on activities around the bay since the 1990s, Hanauma Bay has been restored to a pristine coral reef and marine ecosystem that is now an excellent local destination for snorkeling by all ages and experience.
3. On the side of the highway, we passed Koko Head crater, which has a steep trail of 1,050 railroad tie steps that reward climbers with a panoramic view of the island. If you plan to climb to the top, we recommend wearing tennis shoes or good hiking shoes, wear a hat with a brim, and bring water.
4. We stopped along the way at the Halona Blowhole Lookout to catch the sparkling, ocean water spray rise up through the blowhole, and to view down into the pristine Halona Cove.

“Halona Cove, Oahu, HI,” (©Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com)

The cove was made famous in the classic love scene with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in the 1953 movie, ”From Here to Eternity.” Halona Cove was also used for “Whitecap Bay” scenes in the movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”.

5. At the eastern end of the island, we arrived at Sea Life Park (https://www.sealifeparkhawaii.com/). For over 50 years, Park staff has been educating the islands’ residents and other park visitors about their preservation and conservation marine animal programs through hands-on, interactive animal encounters and tours on park grounds.

Committed to animal care, Sea Life Park is the only place in the US where green sea turtles (“honu” in Hawaiian language) have been reproducing successfully in captivity since the first pair were given to them in the 1970s by the State of Hawaii. With the success of over 17,000 hatchlings released from the park’s adult breeding program, the green sea turtle has been taken off of the “endangered” list. The Park offers turtle meet and greets, when visitors get to learn how to properly touch the shell of the turtles.

The Park also prides itself with the success of its sea bird rehabilitation program. Since 2005, over 4000 birds have been rescued and released by the Park. They have an over 80% success rate caring for fledgling (young) birds each year who arrive at the park either dehydrated or malnourished after being disoriented by the nighttime illumination on the island. The caretakers even perform flight therapy on the birds for wing issues and water training with the young birds to help them learn to hunt for fish. At times, some of the birds remain at the sanctuary for months – during our visit, we saw two large resident sea birds – a Booby and a Great Frigate.

“Learning to Touch a Green Sea Turtle at Sea Life Park, Oahu” (©Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com)

Other attractions worthy of visiting Oahu’s Sea Life Park include:
● A netted, outdoor aviary allows visitors of all ages to have a closeup encounter with love birds and cockatiels by hand feeding them.
● The dolphin show is an educational program which showcases the world’s only “wholphin” — the only known living hybrid offspring of an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin and a false killer whale (another dolphin breed). She performs leaps and other behaviors along with her own daughter who was sired by another bottlenose dolphin. None of the bottlenose dolphins in the attraction were acquired from a hunt. The Park’s dolphin experts and trainers, alongside their dolphins, have worked jointly with the Navy on echo-location/sonar studies.
● Shark Cave is a 300,000–gallon tank with native Hawaiian sharks, such as sandbar, whitetip reef, and blacktip reef sharks.

Park hours are daily 9:30am – 4pm; parking is $5. General admission is $39.99 (13 and older); $24.99 (3-12 years); infants and toddlers are free. Check out the Sea Life Park web site (https://www.sealifeparkhawaii.com/plan-a-visit/tickets-and-programs) for pricing of the many interactive programs and tours for kids and adults with dolphins, sea lions, and sharks. Lockers, strollers, and wheelchairs are available for rental, each for a nominal fee.

The Park’s “Ka Moana” Luau is the only luau on the east side of the island. This luau celebrates the connection between ocean life and the Polynesians who historically looked to the ocean for sustenance. Prior to the dinner and show, luau guests participate in cultural activities like stringing a lei, weaving coconut fronds, playing a ukulele, and learning to dance hula. The show’s highlight is the Samoan fire-knife dance. The Ka Maona Luau runs nightly except Thursdays and Saturdays. Park admission is included with the luau packages, which start at $99/adult, $87/ages 13-17, $74/ages 4-12, and free for toddlers and infants. Reserve seats in advance online or call (808) 926-3800. Only half hour door to door from Honolulu (with no stops in between), round-trip transportation is also available from the Waikiki hotels for an additional $16 (reserve 48 hours prior to your reservation date).

Day Two: Northern Coastline

1. From the Pearl Harbor area, we drove north on Hwy H3 — this is a beautiful and safe, multi-lane highway that cuts across in the center of the island. The highway led us into Kaneohe on the north side of the island. We followed Hwy 83/King Kameameha Highway to Kualoa Ranch, enjoying the beautiful mountains and ocean views along the way. While in Kaneohe, we located the area where Laurie grew up for part of her childhood, as well as her elementary school – this was significant for our group, as it was Laurie’s first time returning to Oahu since her family left to visit her childhood stomping grounds.

2. What do “Jurassic World”, “King Kong”, and “Lost” have in common? These and hundreds of other movies and tv shows were filmed at the beautiful, 4,000-acre Kualoa Ranch in Kaneohe. The Ranch is known as Hollywood’s “Hawaii backlot”.

We had booked the 90-minute “Kualoa Ranch Movie Tour”. The driver/guide took us around the ranch’s beautiful Hakipu`u “Jurassic” Valley in a vintage school bus, pointing out specific locations where the Jurassic franchise and other movies and tv shows were filmed. We stopped at a large, WWII bunker that has been used for indoor movie and tv scenes (visualize the basement in Jurassic World). Each room in the brightly lit bunker contains movie posters and artifacts and memorabilia. Our guide even brought a stuffed dinosaur for our favorite photo of a somewhat realistic, Jurassic World dino encounter. You may also bring your own dinosaur for the Jurassic photo opportunity!

A Jurassic dinosaur graveyard at Kualoa Ranch, Oahu (©Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com)

For pricing and to reserve one of the movie tours and other ranch activities, including jeep tours, e-biking, kayaking, and ziplining, go to the Kualoa Ranch web site, https://www.kualoa.com, or call their reservation line at 808-237-7321. If you are uncertain which tour or activity to book, the knowledgeable Ranch reservation agents when you call will make recommendations that will fit your interests, ages, and level of risk-taking. As tours sell out 2-3 weeks in advance, the Ranch suggests booking early.

Guests are expected to arrive 45 minutes before the registered tour or activity starts – we strongly recommend getting there early, as one long line is used to check in for the many concurrent activities and tours. If you are still in line at your reserved time, you may actually miss the tour or activity.

The Ranch also offers transportation from Waikiki resorts — the roundtrip rate is $15/person, and only $10/person when you purchase any activity package.

3. After the Movie Tour, we drove over to the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), just 20 minutes south of the Ranch. The PCC offers a number of park admission options and packages. We recommend purchasing a package with at least the luau and evening show, for the quality and value you receive. We purchased the “Ali’i Luau Package” ($122.95/adult (12+); $98.36/child (ages 4-11); toddlers 3 and under are free), which includes admission with self-guided tour through the six island villages using a free app we downloaded on our phones and tablets; the Ali’i Luau Buffet & Dinner Show; and Ali’i level seating at “Ha: Breath of Life” evening show. As there is so much to see and do, Park admission includes a free second day of admission within the same week (except Sunday when the Park is closed).

The PCC park grounds is split up into six different island centers: Samoa, Tahiti, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, and Hawaii. The indigenous performers at each center are primarily local college students who were raised in that particular culture. These students help visitors learn about their culture through interactive games, dances, and live demonstrations. We didn’t just watch performances, but participated in many activities that helped us understand the cultural history, traditions, and daily lives of the Polynesians. To bring it all together, the PCC produces a mid-afternoon outdoor show, called “HUKI: A Canoe Experience.” The beautiful, emotional Polynesian music and colorful dancers tell the story of how these nations went from fighting each other to being unified, while on large rafts which float along the river that runs through the middle of the park.

The “HUKI: A Canoe Experience” at Polynesian Cultural Center Oahu. (©Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com)

Our group was booked for the last luau of the day, which worked out perfectly for us, as we were able to get through most of the PCC island centers. We were greeted with orchid leis, then escorted to best available seats. There are no “bad” seats in the large, terraced semi-circle dining around the stage. Some seats, however, may require you to turn your chair around to view the stage. The PCC offers an impressive luau buffet of traditional and colorful foods. Each Polynesian island in the park was represented in the music and dance festivities, as well as an exceptional fire performance by a 12-yr old young man. The emcee also had guests come up for special occasions, such as birthdays and newly married couples.

Our package also included pre-assigned seats to the “Ha: Breath of Life” evening show. The live cast and multimedia performance is in an amphitheatre located outside the main park entrance. The theme is the importance of family in the Polynesian culture – the love of family, respect for elders in life and death, and respect for the land. Bring some tissue, as this powerful story tugs at your heartstrings.

The entire park is stroller and handicap accessible. The Polynesian Cultural Center offers a limited number of wheelchairs on a first-come first-served basis with a $20.00 deposit fee ($10.00 is refunded when the wheelchair is returned). To reserve a wheelchair, contact the PCC Customer Care Center at 800-367-7060 or email your request to customercare@polynesia.com. Electric scooters are rented through the Center’s partner, Scooterville, for $40.00 plus tax/day. Go to https://www.pccscooters.com/ to reserve a scooter. Another tip – if you wish to rent a scooter, do it a few weeks before you plan to go to the Center. When we arrived one hour after the park opened, we were told that they had no other scooters, except for the one we reserved for Marty.

Day Three: Southwestern Coastline

From the Pearl Harbor area, we drove along Route 93 through cute coastal towns to Waianae, where we joined the Dolphin Excursions crew for a three-hour snorkel/swim tour. Dolphin Excursions specializes in small group excursions on their state-of-the-art 34-foot, rigid inflatable boat with a lifeguard-certified crew of marine biologists. The purpose of the tour was to swim/snorkel near wild Spinner dolphins and sea turtles while riding parallel to the southwest, Oahu coastline. The smallest of the Pacific dolphins, the Gray’s Spinner dolphins swim in small pods and frequent the southwestern, calm, coastal waters of Oahu. During the winter months (January through March), you may also see migrating humpback whales making their way to Maui.

Spinner Dolphin off of Oahu coastline (photo courtesy of Dolphin Excursions Hawaii)

Captain Jenna navigated along the coastline using state of the art sonar to locate the pods. We weren’t disappointed – we found green sea turtles and Spinner dolphins doing vertical spins. One of the pods wouldn’t let us get too close to them, as they were protecting a newborn dolphin calf — it was the smallest dolphin any of us in our group had ever seen!

Once we found the dolphins, we put on our life vests and snorkeling gear, and jumped into the calm ocean water from the side of the boat. The crew assisted those in our group who were new to snorkeling, to help them feel comfortable using the snorkel gear and swimming in deeper water where you- we were 20-30 feet above coral reefs.

The “Dolphin Excursion package” ($140/adult (13+ years old), $95/child (4-12 years old)) includes snorkeling equipment for kids and adults and a post-trip meal at the restaurant next door to the Dolphin Excursions office;. Round-trip transportation to and from Waikiki and Ko Olina hotels is also included in the package. The water around the island is cold, so the office also offers rentals of shorty wetsuits for an additional fee. To make reservations, contact the company directly at (808) 239-5579, or go to their web site, https://dolphinexcursions.com.

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