Island Life on Hawaii

Hawaii is a reasonably modest introduction to US culture – but it’s unmistakably American. Arrival in Honolulu is mildly shocking – the terminal decor was in the dilapidated “Love Boat” style and the cars, of course, enormous. Immigration was surprisingly painless, although trying to answer the border control guy’s questions about where / who we were staying with – without mentioning that they are total strangers we “met” on the Internet – was tricky.


As a tropical paradise Honolulu is in some ways underwhelming for an Australian. Waikiki, the main beach precinct, has a charm roughly on par with Cairns. The rest of the capital is a congested, bustling city like any other, dominated by high-rise buildings and sprawling freeway systems.

I celebrated the lax road laws by riding in the back of our hosts’ pickup truck (“ute” for the Aussies) from the airport to their place. No motorcycle helmets are required, and countless drivers update their Facebook status from iPhones. Nice.

After a couple of days staying in suburbia on the military base we had confirmed that Honolulu is not the walkable tropical island we had imagined it to be, so we hopped on an small jet to the much smaller island of Kauai, home to permanent population of perhaps 60,000.

Imagine our surprise, then, as we drove our hire car out of the airport and into a long line of traffic chugging its way along the coast, apparently going nowhere in particular (since there’s not really anywhere in particular to go on such a small island).

Again, first impressions were very much at odds with our expectations. But as we’re well aware, managing expectations is a major part of the travel experience.

Kauai did come around for us, though. For starters we found real coffee, albeit very expensive as with all food products in Hawaii (not surprising when you’re floating in the middle of the Pacific ocean). Most of our photos confirm that Kauai does contain the sort of stunning natural beauty we had come here for, as well as some quaint little townships albeit still dominated by cars, traffic and parking lots.

Kauai / Hawaii

A highlight was spending a couple of days with Jason, a San Diego native (and long term traveler) who is currently flogging $16M houses on the island to various celebrities. Sadly we didn’t find our way into any of the said houses.

Our food adventures began disastrously, but improved quickly. The barefaced excess on display here with fast food is quite hard to come to terms with – how can anyone proceed to order a bowl of fries covered in melted bright yellow cheese and bacon bits with a butter & cheesy “ranch” dipping sauce after they’ve seen a 6 inch photograph of it and read all the gory detail?

Korean BBQ looked after us for the most part; it contains substantial quantities of green stuff and is readily available on the islands thanks to the large numbers of Korean & Japanese residents and tourists. Remember it’s only an 8 hour flight from East Asia to Hawaii.

Coffee is a real struggle. I don’t understand why; many places (such as The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf) use real manual espresso machines (Cimbali in their case), real coffee beans that smell great and must be fresh, yet the output is inoffensive but almost entirely tasteless. It baffles me – perhaps they somehow extract all the flavor from the beans in order to pipe the great coffee smell out onto the street to catch the consumer as she walks past. Starbucks is, of course, substantially worse. Once and once only, I promise.

I hear the “coffee snob” scene in San Francisco is quite strong, so I’m looking forward to some discoveries there.

The food was expensive. I know I’ve already mentioned that. I’ve been led to believe the mainland is not so much, which, as I sit on the plane to San Francisco, I’m hoping will be the case.

A couple of times we did the proper tourist thing; the Diamond Head Crater “hike” was a couple mile walk along paved paths, steps and tunnels, going heel to toe with several hundred other tourists of, shall we say, varying fitness levels. The views were worth it:

Kauai & Oahu

Hanauma bay – apparently a leading snorkel & dive site – came complete with an instructional video on how not to trample coral and a catchy little ditty about not feeding the fish. Somehow I think we were the only people laughing during this production. For the record, there appears to be no coral left in the bay at all, and I suspect the park only continues to operate to keep a bunch of state park workers employed. Their marketing people are doing a stellar job, though, the place was absolutely crawling.

We had the proper American Hawaii experience, hiring a Harley Davidson “Fat Boy” for a day so we could ride a lap of the island. The scenery in parts was spectacular, certainly on par with the Great Ocean Road. But we didn’t manage to find any cafes, pubs or any other public spaces to sit and enjoy the views between rides. Not sure if that’s another impedance mismatch between us and America, or if we just couldn’t find them.

We did wear helmets. A couple of other riders presumably did not and actually died on that road not long after we passed through when a rented van turned in front of them.

Kauai & Oahu

American customer service is stellar. No doubt about it; they earn those tips. Very, very impressive – American Airlines notwithstanding. In general, also, people are friendlier than just about anywhere I’ve traveled. They seem genuinely happy to help in almost any circumstances. Saying “hi” as you pass the 500th fellow hiker on a walking trail can get tiresome. But it is the way here.

So at the end of the first week, I can say that we’ve adopted our travel routine quite successfully. We’ve been eating well (no easy task!), haven’t lost anything important yet, and have been out running most days. Hawaii at least (and I suspect much of the rest of the country) is very “jogger friendly”. However I suspect that maintaining the regime will prove trickier as we head south in terms of both infrastructure and the increasingly harsh weather in the tropics. Oh and no swine flu yet, either ;-)

And finally, the tally of different beers we have tasted so far:

Michelob Dark
Blue Moon Belgian white
Kona Firerock Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Anchor Steam Beer
Kona Big Wave Golden Ale

Note: No Bud, no Coors, no Fosters and No Miller! Let’s see if we can keep it that way.

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