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Welcome to Oahu


Oahu is only the third largest of the inhabited Hawaiian islands, but it is home to nearly three-quarters of the state's residents, most of them living in the ultra-modern capital city, Honolulu, and its adjacent beach resort suburb of Waikiki, on the south coast of the island. Beyond the urban bustle of the south, Oahu is quiet and enchanting; flaunting 23 state parks and punctuated by ancient stone heiau (temples). The island's most recognisable landmark is the 761ft (232m) tall Diamond Head to the east of Waikiki. This mountain is a 'tuff cone' formed 100,000 years ago when an eruption of volcanic ash hardened into solid rock. The extinct volcano is traditionally believed to be the home of Pele, the fire goddess. Oahu means 'gathering place', and the island certainly lives up to its name in its ethnic diversity, which becomes evident at a glance at the annual festival calendar. From the Chinese New Year in late January to King Kamehameha Day in June and the Aloha Festivals in September there is barely a dull moment and always a reason for celebration.

Information & Facts


Oahu experiences constant warm, balmy weather all year round, its tropical climate subject to variations caused by different elevations and geographic exposure rather than seasons. The southern side of the island, including Honolulu and Waikiki, is drier than the leeward side, the rain-bearing trade winds blocked by the mountain ranges.

English is the most common language but Spanish is often spoken in south-western states.

The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.

The USS Arizona was one of several United States battle ships that were sunk by the Japanese Imperial Navy during its surprise historic attack on Pearl Harbour, Oahu, on December 7, 1941, causing the US to enter into World War II. Visitors are carried by Navy shuttle boats to the unusual memorial centre, which has been constructed over the sunken hull that lies six feet (2m) below. The Arizona sank in about nine minutes, along with 1,177 sailors and marines who were on board. The names of the dead are inscribed in stone inside the memorial. Visitors are shown a documentary film and can view artefacts and exhibits explaining the tragedy. The memorial is open daily, but there is always a large queue for the free tickets, which are issued on a first-come-first-served basis, so be prepared to wait. Bookings are not taken.

The main attraction for visitors to Oahu are the range of 139 beaches which, from the pounding waves of the north shore to the gentle swells of Waikiki in the south, offer the chance to bathe and soak up the sun, or tackle a variety of active watersports in water temperatures that never fall below 75ºF (24ºC) all year round. The south shore is favoured by families, offering picnic spots and opportunities for snorkelling, tide-pooling and swimming. Magic Island near Waikiki is a peninsula where the beach is protected by a man-made breakwater offering safe bathing and a stretch of shady, grassy areas on which to picnic. At Ala Moana Beach a half-mile of white sand is protected by a reef, washed by calm shallow waters. Hanauma Bay marine sanctuary is located in the crater of an extinct volcano and is an ideal snorkelling spot while Waikiki Beach, the most famous stretch of sand in the world, draws about four million visitors a year to its sands where sun worshippers can buy fast food, snacks and cocktails to enjoy under their rented umbrellas. On the West coast the Ko Olina Resort and Marina offers seven crescent shaped sandy beaches with palm trees and views of the Waianae Mountains, and Yokohama Bay is a quiet, beautiful spot away from the madding crowds. The North shore is favoured by surfers, particularly during the winter months when waves can reach heights of 25 feet (8m) at beaches like Ehukai with its famed Pipeline, Sunset Beach and Waimea Beach. The East shore boasts lush tropical beach settings with conditions ideal for windsurfing and sailing. Kailua Beach Park is picturesque and usually in the 'top ten beaches in the United States' lists. Lanikai is even better. Sandy Beach is popular for kite-flying, and Waimanalo offers four miles of uninterrupted white sand framed by palm trees.

The Bishop Museum in Honolulu is the largest museum in Hawaii and the premier natural and cultural history institution in the Pacific, recognised worldwide for its cultural collections, research projects and educational programmes. The museum was founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop, in honour of his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last descendant of the royal Kamehameha family of Hawaii. Originally the museum housed the extensive family heirlooms of the royal family, but now the collection includes millions of artefacts, documents and photographs relating to Hawaii and other Pacific island cultures. It also has one of the largest natural history specimen collections in the world. All these treasures are housed in the former Kamehameha School for Boys in Bernice Street, Honolulu, established by the princess, which moved to a new location in 1940.

Enter Honolulu's Chinatown neighbourhood through the Gateway Plaza on the corner of Bethel and Hotel streets in the city's downtown business district, and you step into an exciting and exotic world made up of a colourful and eclectic blend of Southeast Asian cultures. Here Vietnamese, Laotian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Filipino, and a myriad of other ethnic groups work in harmony to sell their wares, serve their delicacies and perpetuate their cultural traditions. The market sells an array of delicacies from noodles to duck eggs, and tantalising smells issue from the numerous inexpensive speciality restaurants in this 15-block area. Visitors can also consult a herbalist, view an art exhibit, watch a dragon procession, make an offering at a Buddhist temple, or perhaps buy a precious jade memento in this rich and memorable part of town.

The only royal residence in the United States, the Iolani Palace, stands on the corner of King and Richard Streets in Honolulu, its opulent interior giving a glimpse into the lives of Hawaii's last reigning monarchs between 1882 and 1893. Initially it was home to King Kalakaua and his Queen, until he died in 1891. His successor, Queen Lili'uokalani, then took up residence until the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893 by the US Marines in a palace coup. The palace has been fully restored. Visitors on guided tours can see the portraits of Hawaiian kings and queens, valuable vases and statuary, the grand staircase, the throne room decorated in crimson and gold, the state dining room and the royal family's private quarters.

Hawaii's top tourist attraction, the Polynesian Cultural Centre, is situated on the Kamehameha Highway in Laie on the scenic north shore of Oahu island. This remarkable venue, visited by more than one million people a year, consists of seven Polynesian 'islands' in a beautifully landscaped 42-acre setting, representing Samoa, New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, Tahiti, the Marquesas and Tonga, all sited in a freshwater lagoon. The centre gives visitors a holistic insight into the culture of the different Polynesian communities, employing students from the nearby Brigham Young University-Hawaii campus to bring various activities, from pageants and ceremonies to tribal tattooing demonstrations, to life. A highlight of a visit to the Centre is the evening show spectacular, 'Horizons', presented in the 2,770 seat Pacific Theatre with its multi-level stages allowing for fiery volcanoes and brilliant fountains to erupt as special effects in this huge Polynesian song and dance revue.

Opposite a bustling shopping centre on the Kahekili Highway in Kaneohe, below the Koolau mountains, nestles a little piece of Japan tucked away in Hawaii. The Valley of the Temples Memorial Park contains oriental gardens and koi ponds, a massive nine-foot Buddha statue, Japanese Tea House and an exact replica of Japan's 900-year-old Byodo-in Temple, the original of which stands in Uji near Kyoto. The temple was recreated to honour the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.

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