While most people are lucky to visit Hawaii once in their lifetime, we were fortunate enough to return here for the 2nd time. Hawaii as the destination for our vacation came quite unexpectedly while I was shopping around for a warm place to get away during cold Tennessee winter months. Unfortunately, almost all of the Caribbean destinations were unreasonably expensive when flights got combined with car rental and lodging costs, so I had to look elsewhere… As we have family members living on Oahu, I checked flights to Hawaii, but those also approached almost $1000 per ticket. Then I remembered we have a huge amount of flight miles saved up, so I looked up award travel and 'Voila!'; using the flight miles I could buy 4 tickets to Hawaii for just $33.60 TOTAL! That’s all! $33.60 for 4 tickets to see the sun, take in the ocean breeze, and feel the warmth again! And though I was a little hesitant about the 4-hour time difference, 12-hour long flights, and how it would affect the kids’ sleep schedules (and with that – ours), it was not enough to hold me back. Hawaii was where we were going to go!

 

At the time of our travel, our boys were 3 and 1.5 years old. Yes, definitely not the greatest age to be confined to an airplane seat for hours at a time; however, as both of them already had many countries and countless flights under their belt, we were sure we could handle them (and they could handle the flights). While the little one did not have much clue about the upcoming trip, the older one had his own little luggage packed and he was very eagerly looking forward to the ocean and other Hawaii activities we had showed him videos of. So, being woken up at 5am for our 8:30am flight was no issue – he was ready to rock n roll!

''On paper'' everything seemed fairly easy - a 3-hour flight to Denver, short 1-hour layover and another 8-hour flight to Honolulu. Simple enough, right? Well, nothing ever goes as planned! Once we landed in Denver at 10am, it was announced that our plane to Honolulu has a mechanical issue and it cannot fly. There is no other Boeing 777 available so the airline has to fly one in from elsewhere. The soonest they could get one here was 5pm! 5pm?!?!?! It was 10am! What are we to do with 2 toddlers for the next 7 hours stuck at the airport?! Even the airport’s only little kids play area was closed for repairs! There are only so many times we can ride escalators up and down, and I was not going to do it for the next 7 hours! When I was about to start having a panic attack, an idea got thrown our way – we could go see if Denver Airport’s USO has anything to offer. For those who do not know, USO is a military support organization for military service members and military families and they often have lounges in most major airports offering free coffee and snacks, charging stations, WiFi, TV, and sometimes even beds for sleeping, showers, and kids’ areas. Full of hope, we made our way to the USO and it was like hitting a jackpot – there was free warm food, endless coffee supplies AND most importantly – a playroom stacked with toys, books and cartoons playing! And even though we did not believe this would keep our toddlers entertained for the next 7 hours, we were wrong! With unlimited snacks and many new friends to play with, they were in heaven!

Eventually, it was time to get on the plane and by the time we landed and made our way to the house, it was past midnight Hawaii time, which meant we had been up and ''on the road'' for exactly 24 hours! Yes, sleep was our #1 priority at this point.

As far as our accommodations go, not only were we lucky enough to get flights for $33, our Hawaii family had enough spare rooms in their house to host all 4 of us for the whole duration of our 2-week vacation! And if you can believe it, it gets even better – they had a spare car available at our disposal as well!!! We couldn’t be more grateful because how many other people have an opportunity to vacation in Hawaii for half a month without any lodging or car rental expenses??? We are very thankful to them for welcoming and hosting us, and making this amazing trip possible! That’s what family is for, right?! ;-)

As expected, the time zone change had our kids up at 5am (9am CST in Memphis) the next morning. While the rest of the family was still asleep, we tried to keep our 2 wild-men as quiet as possible until at least 7am. Adjusting to the new time zone took about 4 days, and for the first 4 mornings, the kids were up and ready to party anywhere between 4-5am. After that, the long days and outdoor activities kept them sleeping in longer and longer until they had fully adjusted to getting up around their regular time (7-8am). 

Living in the house gave us an opportunity to take advantage of the fully equipped kitchen and make fresh breakfast every morning – coffee, eggs, toast etc. It sure saves a lot of money when a family of 4 does not have to eat out 3 meals a day, every day… And having a decent breakfast put the boys in a good mood and gave them energy (which they didn’t lack anyway!) for the days full of sightseeing and adventure. 

 

Bellows Beach

Undoubtedly, the very fist thing we were going to do was go to a beach! Not so much because I was looking forward to 2 small kids throwing sand in each other’s faces and getting everything as dirty and sandy as can be, but more so because our 3-year old had been talking about the beach and the ocean for weeks (ever since we told him about going to Hawaii). He even practiced extra hard at his swim classes because he wanted to be strong enough to swim in the ocean (lol). I felt like not starting off with a beach would be like betraying him. And why not? Aren’t beautiful beaches and sunny weather what Hawaii is really all about? 

One of the most impressive and beautiful beaches I remembered from our trip to Hawaii back in 2011 was Bellows Beach, so I decided to start with it. Bellows Beach is noted for its clear, azure blue waters, soft white sand and waves ideal for bodyboarding. The almost 1-hour long drive across the island to reach it refreshed my memory about the topography and fauna of the island, and its wild beauty. A quick stop at a local store for some sand toys (2 of everything!) and there we were – staring at the amazingly blue water feeling warm sand between our toes! 

The few hours here were spent digging sandpits and carrying bucket loads of ocean water to the kids’ play area in the sand to build ''castles'' for smashing.  A few dips in the ocean, and the 1-year old even attempted the bodyboarding! Not sure he was as excited about it after the fact as he was before it…

Did I get to sit down? Rest? Sunbathe? Nope! Yet it gave me lots of joy watching my boys loving their life! 

 

Nu’uanu Pali Lookout

Heading home after the beach, we were passing the famous Pali Lookout and decided to stop in. The lookout has a panoramic view of the windward (northeast) coast of Oahu with views of Kāneʻohe, Kāneʻohe Bay, and Kailua. 

The walk from the parking lot is very short and you will get to the lookout within 2 minutes. It is paved and safe for kids as the lookout is fully fenced. And yes, anything I plan is now different than our pre-kids travels, as now I have to worry whether or not the places we go and stops we make are safe enough for 2 rambunctious, wild toddlers… And even with that, our experience shows that they will find a hole small enough to squeeze through to get into trouble! Oh, the ''joys'' of parenthood!

With that, our 1st full day in Hawaii was coming to an end and having gotten up at 5am with just a few short daytime naps here and there, the boys were ready to say ‘goodnight’ by 6pm, which we were just fine with. It gave us time to gather ourselves, get in some well-deserved showers and sit down to chat and have dinner with the family.

 

Hālona Blowhole and Hālona Beach Cove

Another morning of kids getting us up at 4:30am meant we were ready for the day by the time the sun started peeking above the horizon. Although our main goal for the day was a hike at Makapu’u Lighthouse, the road there took us on the scenic Kalaniana‘ole Highway that takes you past Hanauma Bay, Koko Head Crater and along the coastline.

As we snorkeled in the famous Hanauma Bay during our last trip to Hawaii, it was something we skipped this time around as worry-free snorkeling with a 3 and 1.5-year old is not exactly doable; nonetheless, we did make a stop at the Hālona Blowhole. It is said that during winter months this area can be one of the most violent waters in Hawaii, and strong currents and big waves send waters rushing into the molten lava tubes below the lookout, sending geysers as high as 30 feet through the blowhole. However, during our visit, the waters here were so calm there were barely any waves. It was like looking at a huge blue lake – that’s how peaceful and calm it was. That, of course, means no water shooting 30 feet (9m) into the air! It took quite some time waiting to finally see the blowhole in action (somewhat).

Right next to the Blowhole is Hālona Beach Cove. Even though it is usually empty in winter due to the treacherous waters, the unusually calm waters this time around had invited plenty of swimmers. It is undoubtedly very scenic! 

Just a mile past the blowhole is the world-famous bodyboarding destination, Sandy Beach, which can be seen in the photo. 

 

Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail

Makapu’u is a 2.5-mile (4km) long paved trail with about 500 feet (152m) elevation gain. It is said to be good for all skill levels and was a great way for us to start and test out our toddler’s endurance to use it as a gauge for future hikes. Besides, it being paved all the way through allowed us to use the stroller for the 1 year old. The hike up was not all that easy as it had quite a bit of elevation gain, and pushing the stroller made it that much more tiring. There is also no shade; so choosing the mid-day heat was not the wisest idea. However, the hike was beautiful and we could see spouting and breaching whales far off in the distance.

Once you reach the lookout, it is simply stunning with steep cliffs underneath, beautiful Oahu shoreline with green mountains, blue waters, and some uninhabited islands scattered around.

And when it came to our 3-year old, we were just amazed at his enthusiasm and dedication – he hiked the whole trail out and back by himself without a single complaint. We sure expected some resistance and a few ''pick me up'' requests, yet none followed – neither here, nor on any other trail during our whole trip. Quite the contrary – any offer of help was countered with: ''No, I got this!’’ 

On the way home we treated ourselves to some fancy roadside pineapple smoothies which were mostly absorbed by our kids (even the one who didn’t actually hike)!

 

Dole Pineapple Plantation

New day, new adventures! Dole Plantation was another spot we had already visited before; however, this time we decided to enjoy a few extra activities, including a train ride through the plantation. And although I thought the ride would be only something the kids would enjoy, it was actually very interesting and informative for the adults as well, as it told the history of the island and explained the beginnings and the growth of the Dole Plantation itself. 

When riding the train through the plantation, we could also see the typical red Hawaii dirt all around us - it stains everything, yet is very rich and fertile. It's one of the reasons why fruit trees and plants love it here and that's why Hawaii is so green and tropical!

After the train ride, everyone was ready for some snacks, and what else if not pineapples! The Dole market is full of tasty goodies and we tried a little bit of everything – fresh cut pineapples, pineapple ice cream, pineapple smoothie and pineapple cake. 

Full of pineapples in all shapes and sizes, we headed into the Dole Plantation Garden to wander around the lush, tropical plants and let our boys run off some energy on the various paved pathways. 

Another fun thing to do would have been the Maze which was declared the world’s largest maze and it stretches over 3 acres (1.2ha) and includes nearly 2.5 miles (4km) of paths crafted from 14,000 colorful Hawaiian plants. Unfortunately, our youngest was well past his naptime and clearly let us know about it with his attitude. So, it was time to get back on the road to let him take a nap. Thankfully, he has no objections to car seat naps!

 

Turtle Beach (Laniakea Beach)

As we made our way up North, a must stop on my list was Laniakea Beach (also known as Turtle Beach). Why? Because the Hawaiian honu (or Green Sea turtle) come ashore here to soak up the sun.

I have always loved turtles and at one point in the past even considered applying for a volunteer work in Costa Rica saving sea turtles and their eggs. But seeing them here, in the wild, was the next best thing. With the little guy sound asleep (and my husband having not much interest in turtles), I took the 3-year old and we headed across the street down to the beach in hopes of seeing some turtles. And talk about lucky – there were 4 of them ashore, just lazily basking in the sun! What a sight!

Volunteers carefully watch tourists to make sure no one goes too close. And as I stand there admiring the turtles and taking my 100th photo of them, I suddenly feel a gust of sand fly right by me towards the turtles. I turn around and my 3-year old is simply standing there with an innocent look. As I grow more furious while being totally embarrassed about his behavior at the same time, he explains to me that he wanted to give turtles more sand because they like sand. The logic of a toddler! And although he was much too far away to get his little handful of sand on any of the turtles down by the water, I still told him it was not nice and we had to leave.

 

Waimea Falls and Botanical Gardens

Our next big stop for the day was Waimea Valley and its popular Waimea Falls. It is a relatively short hike (less than 2 miles (3.2km) there and back) on a paved road, which again allowed us to use the stroller. And although we did bring the stroller for the younger boy, even he wanted to make the trip to the falls on his own two feet as there were so many interesting things to look at (and touch) along the way. As the road to the falls takes you through Waimea Botanical Garden, it is very lush, green and colorful.

If you look carefully, you can also see different birds up in the trees and down underneath the big bushes. With boys wanting to explore every rock and stick, the walk went fairly slow, however, we were in no rush. It was nice, for once, to just take our time and breathe in a little. 

The waterfall itself is 40 feet (12m) tall and cascades down into the pool below.

Waimea Falls is one of the places where you can safely (and legally!) take a dip into the pool and make the swim to the falls if you’re brave enough. And although we came prepared with kids’ bathing suits and towels, the water just felt much too cold to let the boys in. It was winter in Hawaii, after all! :-D Another factor was that anyone entering the water to swim had to wear big life jackets (provided for free) and that would have been another struggle. Of course, the boys thought otherwise, so we compromised by allowing them to wade and play in the water about knee deep. 

On our way back from the falls, we walked through the Hawaiian village.

The village was re-built in its original site and constructed from natural materials including wood, grass and coconut-fiber cordage using traditional techniques in an effort to provide visitors with an understanding of what this kauhale (village) was like back in its original days. It was very interesting to see the various buildings and their different purposes as well as the original burial site covered in huge, mossy rocks dating back to 1600s.

After the long day of visiting the Dole Plantation, Turtle Beach and the Waimea Valley, everyone was hungry so we decided to just get some late lunch / early dinner right there at the Waimea café. Even though waiting for our food order took a while, the boys were completely entertained by the hens, chickens and roosters wandering around the café looking for food scraps.

Roosters and hens are wild birds here in Hawaii and we saw them everywhere we went.  

 

Shark’s Cove tide pools

And although the day had been long enough already, there was still one thing on my list to do – visit the lagoons (or tide pools) by Shark’s Cove. The Cove is just a few short minute drive away from the Waimea Valley and is a great spot to let little kids swim as the pools are protected from the ocean by a big natural lava wall. And if you stay still enough, the fish will come out from the hiding and you will be able to see them swim right by your feet. Therefore, it is also a fun snorkeling spot for kids.

And although you have to be careful where you step (there are a lot of sharp lava rocks all around), there is also plenty of sand farther off the water where the boys had lots of fun playing again.

 

I think by this point my husband and I were even more tired than the kids, and it was so late it was already starting to get dark. So, we packed up our things, strapped the kids in their seats and were finally on our way back home. As expected, the boys quickly fell asleep in their car seats, and it was a nice, peaceful drive home listening to a local music channel and watching the palm trees pass by… and the sunset!!

 

Manoa Falls

Despite the fact we returned home long after dark the night before; once the morning came, we were up bright and early again. There is really no such thing as sleeping in when you have two toddlers on your hands! 

On my list today, we had a hike to Manoa Falls. It was suggested as one of the ''kid friendly'' hikes when I was researching things to do. Having completed this hike, I am not sure I would classify it as kid ''friendly''. Can children do it? Probably (depending on their determination). Is it kid friendly? I wouldn’t quite say so!

The length of the trail is about 1.6 miles (2.5km) with 0.4-mile (0.5km) paved walk to the trailhead. The start of the trail throws you right into an other-worldly scenery of Jurassic Park or something of the sorts… It is so green, so overwhelming, and just so magical – the trees overgrown with ivy reaching into the sky, a stream covered with humongous plants that I have never even seen before. And all of it backing to a range of beautiful mountains in the distance.

Even for those not willing to do any hiking at all, this would be an easy 10-minute walk to see. 

Afterwards, the trail turns into a narrow path weaving its way along the hillsides and through some thick forest. The worst part of it starts right after the bamboo forest when the trail just starts going up and up and it becomes incredibly slippery. There are muddy slopes and slick rocks you have to climb over.

We went on this trail when there was no rain and it was relatively dry (it is shady there, so it never fully dries); however, I believe that the stories of sinking ankle deep into the mud when trying to hike the trail after it has rained, could be completely true. Also, in some areas the side of the trail becomes a big cliff drop and we also saw spots of landslides, so I was the one walking a little bit ahead and giving my husband a heads-up of what’s to come (like – hold the kid’s hand because there is a cliff-edge). 

On top of it all, I was carrying our 1-year old in the backpack, which also throws one off balance, so I had to be extra careful in spots as to how or where I placed my foot because slipping and falling with a baby in the backpack would undoubtedly end disastrous. Many hikers heading down (while we were heading up) gave me ''warnings'' of how slippery and unstable it was further up and to be careful. I definitely appreciate hikers looking out for each other!

However, despite it all, we made it to the top!!! And once you get there, you are rewarded with a 150-foot (46m) waterfall right in front of your eyes at arm’s reach length! 

Unfortunately, there were people waiting in line to take photos at the base of the waterfall, even though there are countless warnings (and the falls are even roped off from the viewpoint) not to go under the falls due to flush floods and falling rocks. As always, just enjoying the beauty is not enough for some people and there is always the need for that ''perfect'' Instagram photo while endangering themselves and the people who would need to come rescue them… 

After a short while, we started our way back, and this was one of those instances when going down the hill was actually trickier than coming up. Every other step I placed, there was a chance of slipping and falling backwards. Easy does it… 

So, was the hike worth it? Absolutely! Could kids do it? Yes, if you come prepared (no flip flops and white princess dresses), but I would not call it an easy hike for a kid. And yet again, a big high-five to our 3-year old who did all of the climbing, crawling and scrambling on his own, responding with ''No help, I can do it'' to our attempts of assistance. In the end, he did have his fair share of cuts, scrapes and bruises from slipping on the rocks, yet it did not slow him down.  

 

Honolulu Zoo

As the day was just halfway through, we looked for some easier activities to do after such a wild outing. Zoo sounded like a good idea, so having cleaned up our muddy legs and shoes, Honolulu Zoo is where we headed next. We have been to countless zoos in many cities (and countries) before, so it was nothing new; however, kids always enjoy animals and you can never go wrong with a zoo when it comes to entertaining small children! 

As expected, it was a hit! It is not very big, just 42 acres (17ha), and can be easily seen in just a few hours. There are plenty of walkways and grassy areas for kids to run around, and animal enclosures are very kid friendly – even our short 1 year old could see almost all of the animals (whether through bars or glass). 

There is also a playground with a cafeteria and petting zoo, which kept the boys busy until closing time. And there were even some tears shed when it was time to leave and head home…  

 

Polynesian Cultural Center

Polynesian Cultural Center is voted as #1 paid attraction in Hawaii. It almost makes you feel like if you have not been to the Polynesian Cultural Center, you have not been to Hawaii. To start off, it is a big expense just for the entry fee alone. General admission with no extras (like luau, dinner buffets, VIP seating etc.) will set you back $65 per adult and $51 per child. This was the reason we did not come here the first time we visited Hawaii in 2011. This time, however, I felt like it could be something the kids would enjoy and we could afford it, so why not? It is #1 after all, so we decided to dedicate a whole day to this place. 

The Center is really a huge Polynesian-themed park that has 6 island villages representing the unique island cultures of Hawaii, Fiji, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga. Each of the villages have several shows and demonstrations throughout the day exhibiting the uniqueness of each culture through music, dance, and traditions. All of it is set on lush, tropical 42 acres (17ha) of land with streams and ponds. 

When we arrived, we were right in time for the big show on the water. It was very interesting and entertaining the whole 30 minutes, even for the kids.

After the show though, everything went downhill... It started raining right at the end of the performance, and with short breaks here and there, never stopped for the rest of the day. It was the first rainy day we experienced since our arrival a week ago. This meant that lots of time was spent trying to get cover. 

Secondly, what I thought would be exciting and entertaining for the boys, ended up not being so at all. Apparently, moms can be wrong too sometimes! All the demonstrations (like gathering coconuts, traditional cooking, musical instrument making etc.) was exciting for the first few minutes but after that the boys quickly lost interested and were more concerned about breaking loose and running around, which in return kept us busy trying to contain them and not hearing half of what was said or shown. Eventually, we just gave up and did a casual stroll through the villages without trying to see any demonstrations at all. 

The last hour was spent trying to console a crying 3-year who desperately wanted to get on a boat-ride (included in the admission fee). It was his only wish; however, the boat schedule was such that there was an hour gap in-between the rides and we just had to wander around and wait… Once we eventually got on the boat, it started raining again, everyone got soaking wet, cold and cranky. It was time to leave. 

I think attending the Polynesian Cultural Center would give much more value if you can actually sit through the demonstrations, participate in the activities, and pay attention to the information provided. To us, it just really ended up being a rainy day in a big grassy park with a few straw huts and a boat ride for over $150. I don’t think I would have missed much had we never gone there in the first place. 

 

Paradise Cove Beach

To shake off yesterday’s unsuccessful cultural experience, I decided to take it easy this morning and just head out to a beach. As we were planning on exploring the West Coast, I decided to make a stop at Paradise Cove Public Beach. It is a real pain to get parking here (just some 10 official spots for the whole beach), yet after some waiting, we got lucky! This beach is more like a lagoon with a protective natural lava / rock wall, making it calm and suitable for kids to swim in. However, as it is still connected to the ocean, it is not a rare sight to see turtles swim in here and hang out. It was one of the reasons why I chose to go to this particular beach. 

After we had spent some 10-15 minutes playing in the sand and water, I noticed people starting to gather around in a big group in the middle of the lagoon. Sure enough, a turtle had made its way into the lagoon and was carelessly swimming around the people, minding his own business. To me, however, it was a little disappointing to watch that poor turtle being smothered by people from all sides. There were many who tried to watch from a distance, yet there were as many who tried to constantly be barely a foot away, snorkeling and ''admiring'' the poor animal by almost swimming on top of it and just constantly being in its face.

At one point, the turtle tried to come ashore but with the overwhelming amount of inconsiderate people all over it, it just gave up and swam away.  I have never understood why it is not enough to just see?! Why do some always need to touch, push, shove and poke? And with their suntan-sprayed and sunblock-oiled bodies all over the turtle’s immediate waters, I am sure the poor animal had a chemical overload for a long time to come.

**This, by the way, is one of the major problems in Hawaii – the sunblock and suntan chemicals killing reefs and fish populations, which in return drive the turtles away as they have nothing left to eat.

 

The West Coast

A couple hours were enough at the beach and we wanted to press on and keep exploring the West Coast. It was going to be our little mini road trip without a particular destination. To start off, we stopped at a local coffee shop for some iced coffees. I just picked the first thing off the menu and, oh boy!... it’s become our all-time favorite coffee, ever! The coffee shop is called Island Vintage Coffee and their coconut-macadamia nut latte is absolutely the best thing ever! We became obsessed with it for the rest of our stay! 

Having spent the morning part of the day at the beach wore the boys out and they both fell asleep in the car. We were perfectly fine with it as it gave us the opportunity to leisurely make our drive up and down the West Coast, stopping along the way whenever we saw something interesting or when a beautiful scenery demanded a photo stop.

 

A scene we had so far not seen anywhere before on the island (and had already forgotten about) was the amount of homeless and their make-shift shelters. As I stepped over the dunes to take a presumably beautiful photo of the ocean and the mountains, the sight in front of me revealed endless beach tents with their permanent residents. Unfortunately, this is part of life on Hawaii. It is not all resorts and luxury. 

Soon after, it started to rain very hard, and by that time we had already reached the farthest point on the West Coast accessible by car, which prompted us to turn around and head back home. As the rain and wind increased in force, so did the waves. And as we were heading back home along the coast, I was quite surprised to see so many surfers just waiting for an opportunity to catch some waves in this weather. You really have to be just a little bit crazy to be a surfer! :) 

Even though the boys did wake up on the way back, they stayed quite mesmerized by the huge downpour outside the car windows and did not complain much until we reached home and it was time for dinner.

 

Valley of the Temples (The Byodo-In Temple)

I suspect some might wonder why we have so many things to do on our list, rather than just relaxing. Well, there really is no ''relaxing'' when you have 2 boys on your hands 24/7. If we try to just ''relax'' at home, it looks more like keeping them from getting hurt or keeping them away from doing something they should not be doing or getting into. Remember – we are in someone else’s house and it is not exactly toddler-proofed like our own home. So, to keep everybody’s sanity (and the host’s expensive Portuguese china intact), it is much more beneficial to have the boys release their endless energy at more appropriate places, like parks, beach, playgrounds, hiking, sightseeing etc. So yes, every single day after breakfast – off we go! And this day is no different. 

We start the day with a visit to the Byodo-In Temple. Is located at the foot of the Ko'olau Mountains in Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. It was established on June 7, 1968, to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. The Byodo-In Temple in Oahu is a smaller-scale replica of the over 950-year-old Byodo-in Temple, a United Nations World Heritage Site in Uji, Japan.

The entrance fee to the temple is just $5 and is one of the sights that should not be missed. This was my second visit to the Temple, so I knew what to expect (which is why I chose to bring our boys here). The Temple grounds are lushly landscaped with a large reflecting pond, meditation niches, small waterfalls and it is home to wild peacocks, black swans, and hundreds of Japanese koi carp. The little visitors center shop sells fish food to feed the koi, and as you can imagine, it was an absolute hit with the boys! It was a funny sight to watch the fish jump over each other for food and the swan just ignoring everything that’s happening and swimming right through the koi crowd. I think we must have fed some 3 or 4 packs of fish food before we could finally get the boys distracted enough to get them away from the fish. 

The Byodo-In Temple is a non-practicing Buddhist temple which welcomes people of all faiths to worship, meditate or simply appreciate its beauty, so by walking around and exploring its gardens and the actual Temple, we did not feel like intruders. Everyone is welcome. 

 

Waikiki Aquarium

The 2nd stop of the day was a visit to the Waikiki Aquarium. I had read that the aquarium is quite small, yet I did not imagine it to be THAT small. There is a nice building with reefs and a few other salt and fresh water habitats, and 1 seal outside. That is all. 30-45 minutes is the most you can spend here, really. So, if you know this beforehand, you won’t be disappointed as the actual aquariums are very pretty and colorful and the kids had a lot of fun spotting and watching all the fish.

 

 

Waikiki

As Waikiki Aquarium (just like the Zoo) is located right at the start of the Waikiki Beach, we decided to spend the rest of the day exploring Waikiki as we have not yet had a chance to do so. Our general idea was to head up along the ocean and beach as far as the start of Kahanamoku Beach, and then come back down exploring shopping streets and markets deeper inland. 

I was a little disappointed to find out that unless you walk on the actual beach sand, there is really no way to walk and see the water. Most of Waikiki beach is resort fronts open to public, but without a boardwalk or paved path, we could not walk there with the baby stroller. So, most of our walk was spent on the streets window shopping and occasionally exploring the little paths leading up to the beach. The little beach stops we made though revealed amazing views with palm tree lined coastline and Diamond Head crater far in the distance. 

Overall, Waikiki Beach is far from one I would like to spend a leisurely afternoon at – it is very crowded, very loud, full of hustle and bustle from visitors and locals alike. During our 2-week stay we never once came here for ''beach time''; however, it is definitely worth taking a walk here to see the busy Waikiki life and just admire the scenery and the clashing of nature vs skyscrapers and city rumble. 

For those interested in shopping, Waikiki is definitely the place to go – the streets are lined with all the brand stores one can think of. Decide like you want a new car to cruise around? Tesla is right there! Don’t have that much money? Tourist markets with cheap souvenirs and traditional Aloha outfits are plentiful too!

There really is no shortage of anything. As shopping is far from what I like to do, the only thing we purchased was some Aloha shirt and short sets for the boys and a dress for me. And as it was once again approaching dinner and sleep time (for the boys), it was time to make the walk back to the car and head home for the day. 

 

Diamond Head Summit Trail

It was nearing the end of our vacation. As I was contemplating about things to do for the day, I asked the 3-year old if he would like to go on a hike. Where there had always been an enthusiastic ''Yes!'' to anything before (be it zoo, hike, city walk, or anything else), he thoughtfully looked at me and said: ''No…? Maybe I could stay… home?'' Though he did not seem 100% sure about his answer, I could feel that almost 2 full weeks packed with non-stop adventures and activities from morning till night was finally starting to wear him out. I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with everything he had accomplished on this trip, so we agreed to give him a break. While the 1-year old was put down for his afternoon nap, my sister-in-law volunteered to spend time with our eldest at home, so my husband and I could go hike the Diamond Head by ourselves. 

It was so strange not have the kids with us, yet it was a very nice (and probably needed) break. As we had done this particular hike before, there were no big surprises and we knew exactly what to expect and what the view from up top would look like. I just felt like it was something we had to do as Diamond Head hike is one of the most visited and iconic trails on Oahu. And who can beat the views – it is like we were looking at the city and ocean below us from a bird’s eye view. 

One thing I did notice – the sights (Diamond Head, Byodo-In Temple, Paradise Cove Beach, Turtle Bay etc) have become much, much more crowded with tourists than they seemed to be 8 years ago. If in my pictures from 2011 there is not another person in my shot at Diamond Head lookout or Byodo-In Temple gardens, then this time around, even visiting the sights during mid-day on weekdays, there were so many people that an uncrowded picture was absolutely impossible to take. However, who am I to complain as I add to those numbers as well…

Even though we did not spend much time hiking or lingering around the lookout, we decided it had been long enough and we should probably go back home to check on the well-being of my sister-in-law! Dealing with those 2 boys is no joking matter! However, our worries were unfounded and everyone was alive and well and happy! Now we regretted not sneaking away for some other kid-free activities or hikes as such opportunity rarely presents itself! 

 

Whale Watching Cruise

As winter in Hawaii (December through March) is humpback whale season with most sightings in January and February, we were there right for the peak of it. So how do you not use this opportunity, right? We had seen whales spouting and breaching during several of our hikes; however, when viewed from the shore, they are very far away by the horizon, so I would not even count it as whale watching - more like whale spotting. So, we figured if we had seen them from the shore, there is a good chance we will see them from a boat. Therefore, on the day before our departure, I booked one last activity - a whale watching cruise. We had gone whale watching twice before (both times in Canada) but we had no luck either of the times. Never saw a whale. Maybe today was the day?

There were many choices, but we ended up selecting Atlantis Cruises. The boat isn’t too big (which means not too crowded with hundreds of people), the top deck is fully open (necessary for photography) and the price included a light lunch onboard (which would keep the boys busy and happy for at least some duration of the ride). 

Even though the day was overcast and rainy on shore, the skies seemed to clear and the rain stopped the farther the boat went into the ocean. As I did not want to miss my opportunity to finally take a picture of a whale, I left my husband and the kids on the lunch deck (where it was nice and warm and everything could be seen through the big glass walls), and I myself headed up to the windy and cold top deck to stand around waiting for the whales to show up. 

The cruise company’s employees are very experienced in spotting whales so far out that passenger don’t even have a clue yet they are there. Unfortunately, a few attempts at catching up with whales in distance were unsuccessful and they never came up above the water again. The captain tried long and hard but more than two hours went by with nothing. I had already decided this was just our luck and another unsuccessful whale cruise to add to the list. However, as the 2.5-hour long ride was nearing its end, there was one last attempt and YES – a mama whale breached out of the water close enough to see it and catch some photos.

There were a few more spouts of water, a few smaller breaches and just curious peeks above the water. No famous whale tale slaps (so no tale photos); however, I was happy to at least get to see one. As we had cut it so close to the cruise’s maximum time, we could not spend much more time with the whale and had to turn around to ride back to the shore. 

The boat also had company’s photographer on board taking pictures of whatever whales were seen on the particular ride. At the end, passengers could buy a photo memento with the whale – and not just a generic whale picture, but the very particular one seen exactly on that cruise. I think that was a great option for those with just their cell phones on hand, and the long line to order the photo proved it. 

Overall, yes of course I wished there were more whales, closer to the boat, more sightings, more opportunities to see them… but they are wild animals and the ocean is big. Sometimes there are pods of ten, but some don’t get to see any at all. It is a game of luck, and this time we got lucky as one is more than none.

 

Ready for Home

Apart from some last-minute shopping, there was nothing much left to do on our last day. And with just a few hours until our plane departure, I sent my husband and the boys to a beach so I could pack up and gather all the luggage without any distractions. One thing I did ask of my husband, however, was to take photos of the kids for me and their last Hawaii beach-time. He diligently fulfilled his task and said that people were looking at him like he was some paparazzi with a camera in boys’ faces (he doesn’t even like taking photos)! All of this effort, just to find out – I had forgotten to put the memory card back in the camera after downloading previous day’s photos on my laptop! There were no photos, none! Thankfully, this happened only on the last day, not at the start of the trip! Such a rookie mistake!

As we were getting ready to go to the airport, Hawaii bid its 'farewell' to us with an amazing, bright and full rainbow! During this whole trip we saw many of them, and the boys had a fun time trying to see who would spot them first! No wonder Hawaii's nickname is ''The Rainbow State'' and a rainbow is also depicted on vehicle licence plates. Even seeing double rainbows in Hawaii is not at all such a rare occurrence. 

With the flight back being a redeye, boys slept through the whole flight, and then again through the connecting flight. No delays or cancellations this time. It took a few days adjusting back to our time zone and to get rid of the jet lag; however, it went much smoother than I expected and the boys were back to their old routine and sleep schedules within 2 days. 

It has been exactly a week since we came back, but not a day goes by where the boys would not mention Hawaii. And it gives me joy to see that even seemingly so young, they are still able to grasp what they have seen, where they have been, what they have experienced and it has left an impression on them. And it just validates my feeling that taking them along on our travels, even though often inconvenient, impractical and expensive, is the right thing to do. 

As far as my husband and I – I don’t think there is a ''vacation'' in sight for us in foreseeable future. Until the boys grow up and get A LOT more independent, there will be no careless sunbathing for us no matter where we travel. But I will take it for now as I know – one day I will wish these times didn’t go by so fast! 

 

During our stay, we also visited the island of Kauai and spent some time there exploring, sightseeing and being simply overwhelmed by the uniqueness of it. The trip report with many pictures, of course, can be found here: 

Kauai - the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.

 

Related articles from our trip to Hawaii back in 2011:

Hawaii - Aloha Oahu!

Hawaii - Aloha Maui!

 

 

Comments (2)

  1. Becca

Beautiful photos and quite an impressive itinerary with two toddlers in tow! I need to locate some long lost relatives (and air miles) to replicate your fabulous trip soon!

 
  1. Liene

Becca, make sure you get a nice, long layover in Memphis! The boys would love to get together! Miss you all!

 
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