Friday, December 11, 2009

Can only be Waikiki

Hawaii has thousands of versions of paradise, secret spots to call your own and live the tropical dream. But only one location creates instant recognition, like the Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, or Space Needle: This shot can only be one place on earth, smack dab in the middle of the Pacific, and it's Diamond Head from Waikiki Beach. Many visitors will poo-poo Waikiki as being too touristy, and they have a point. On the other hand, you can never truly know Hawaii without spending some time here, standing on your own bare feet and taking in this iconic view.

Although the area is largely a post-WWII tourist invention (a swamp was drained and a canal dug to form the beach) it does have it historical roots, both for the ancient Polynesians and as the homesites for Hawaii's last King, David Kalakaua, and its first Congressional representative, Prince Jonah Kuhio.

But even taken for what it is, a kind of Vegas minus the slots, plus the ocean, Waikiki delivers. It is like what you would expect it to be, only more. It is Hawaii, the calabash of Islanders, military, and post-sugar immigrants mixing with planeloads of sun-scorched visitors having a good time amid high rises and hula skirts. From here, from this cliche' personified, then you can branch out to different parts of Honolulu and Oahu that you have know idea existed.

Start with a the short drive and weird hike to Diamond Head itself, to the rim of this dormant crater via a series of tunnels, steps, and ladders. Then take off to try some of the many trails and beaches that rim the island. See Oahu Trailblazer, both for the touristy stuff (you gotta see the Polynesian Cultural Center and the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor) as well as the adventurous backroads.