In order to break up our long flights, Caitlin and I decided to plan an extended layover in Honolulu, Hawaii on our way to New Zealand. We ended up staying at the Polynesian Beach Club Hostel, one block away from the famous Waikiki Beach. This was both a blessing and a curse. We had easy access to a beautiful beach and all the nightlife nearby, but we were also in the heart of the most touristy area of Honolulu (maybe all of Hawaii), in a hostel that had a healthy supply of bugs. After a couple of days wandering up and down the different high-end shops, resorts and restaurants, we needed a chance to get out of the city for a bit.
On Thursday, we woke up early and hiked to a volcanic crater called Diamond Head State Monument. The hike itself is pretty mild, but Caitlin and I decided to walk to the entrance of the park from our hostel, which added two hours to the excursion. The air was already thick when we headed out at 7:30am. We began our hike along Waikiki Beach on fake cobblestone sidewalks dusted with fine white sand and flowers that had fallen from trees. As we made our way out of Waikiki area and into the suburbs, extravagant stores and resorts gave way to small tropical houses wedged into the side of hills and in the shade of palm trees. Humidity hung in the air and clung to my skin. By the time we began the steep incline up to the park entrance, I was sufficiently sweaty.
As we walked into the park, massive tour buses rushed past, carrying full loads of tourists. The paved trail became more and more rugged, before disappearing entirely into a dirt path. We made our way up and up, past five-year-old boys in baseball hats and 60-year-old women with walking sticks. The sun beat down on us and I was breathing heavily by the time we reached a steep set of stairs. The stairs ended at the mouth of a narrow, dim tunnel through the hill. When we finally emerged from the dark, the view was worth all of the effort. The wind whipped away our sweat as we peered down on Honolulu far below. Across the peak was a squat cement structure, covered in years of vegetation, but still recognizably a lookout bunker from WWII.
We stayed at the top of Diamond Head for a while, but the waves of hikers continued to increase as the morning stretched on, so we started our descent back to Honolulu. When we returned to Waikiki it was throbbing with tourists and buses. It was only 11:30am by the time we got back, so we decided to cool off in the ocean. Every cliche description of Hawaiian beaches applies to Waikiki — crystal blue water, crashing waves, swooping seagulls. Surfers dotted the shoreline, bobbing on waves so far out to sea that they were no more than little specs. Young men were doing backflips off the boardwalk into the turbulent waters. And everywhere you looked were people with cameras.
Hawaii was beautiful, but after four days Caitlin and I were excited to move on to our real destination: New Zealand!