Christmas Hawaii Family Trip
This was a Christmas present to ourselves, made simpler through use of United Airlines miles to acquire our family's tickets. And of course, the desire to return to those beautiful Hawaiian Islands at a time when our home in Virginia is cold!
Kauai is roughly 33 miles at its longest point, and 25 miles at its shortest, the island averages 26 miles in diameter and encompasses 554 square miles. Because of its relatively old geologic age, Kauai's 90 miles of shoreline have more beaches per mile than any other Hawaiian Island.
Because Kauai lies at the edge of the tropical zone, it technically has only two seasons, both of them warm. The dry season corresponds to summer, and the rainy season generally runs during the winter from November to March.
Above image is the property of the Weather Spark Web Site
Could there be a more iconic symbol of Hawaii than Diamond Head? Beautiful from every direction! Not only is it a beautiful sight from the ocean direction, but inside the cone is a large state park with an amazing walking trail up to the top - where the views of Honolulu are stunning!
Our game plan was to stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel again (and use up those Hilton Points!), as it is on Waikiki Beach and is really a nice place to stay being right on the beach, large pools, good entertainment, etc.
Who is ready for the Luau
If you are visiting Hawaii, you have to have at least one Luau Dinner! In image # 1 we are waiting for the main course to be brought to our table. Without a doubt, the main course was going to be a bit of roast pork!
In image # 2 you can see the final rays of the sunset, and perhaps also see that some of the luau attendees are dreading the arrival of their poi.
This is a Great Bakery!
We stopped at Leonard's Bakery on the way to Diamond Head, as they have the most fantastic Portuguese baked goods there. The menu here is very, very good; malasadas, doughnuts, pastries (including cream puffs & strudels), cookies, cakes, pies, coffee cakes, pao doce (large & mini size), wraps, various coffees and espresso, fountain drinks and milk.
Everything we've ever had here has always been of the highest quality and we highly recommend stopping here if you are in the area - you won't regret it!
Click here to go to their website.
After we finished our excellent Leonard's baked goods, our next step one was to complete our desired Diamond Head hike, and even though it is only 760 feet above sea level, the final portion of the hike is via a very steep set of stairs to the WWII Army observation post - and the view from the top is incredible! Waikiki is immediately to the north, and all the hotels and beach are easily seen (we brought binoculars this trip), and to the south you can see the next bay and it's beautiful beach.
This was the "easy part" of the trail! See how the trail descends off to the left? That brings you back down to the parking lot area, and that part of the trail is a much more modest descent.
Diamond Head Hike near the Summit
Image # 1 is the set of stairs on the way up to the old Military bunker, perhaps 99 or so steps, but very steep! From there, 54 more steps will lead you to the final lookout point.
After you climb those final 54 steps, you will reach the summit of the Diamond Head Crater, giving you one of the finest panoramic views on Oahu - take a short walk around and savor the moment.
On a clear day, you see forever. Standing atop the lookout, viewing Oahu’s entire leeward (western) side, feeling the trade winds and hearing waves crashing far below, one can’t help but feel humbled to be on this beautiful island.
Diamond Head Summit: Looking West
This is the payoff for getting to the top, this is looking down the slopes of Diamond Head after we had ascended to the very top of the trail. Those houses are next to the Pacific Ocean and they are located at the southern edge of Honolulu as it bumps into Diamond Head.
Diamond Head Summit: Looking North
This is the view you get of Honolulu from the top of Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor in the left center area of this picture. It is only 14 miles to Pearl Harbor from where we were standing, the height of Diamond Head (762 feet) provides you with a gigantic panoramic view of the surrounding area.
We toured about the island extensively again, traveling south from Honolulu to the Blow Hole and Sandy Beach. These images are the Halona Blow Hole and you can just see Sandy Beach beyond it. The day we were at Sandy Beach, they were having a boogie board contest, and we saw some amazing examples of all ages riding (standing and laying down) those boards!
Waimea Bay is a beautiful area, with a very nice beach. Obviously in image # 1 , the big surf was not present that day, but you can see everyone climbing up on that rock (known as "the Rock") in order to jump into the water - which seemed to be how Hawaiians amused themselves when the big surf was not available.
In image # 2 the surf there was high the day we were there , but since it was breaking right onto the beach, it was just not ride-able for we mere mortals. You can see in this picture, how high the waves are, Waimea surf can be as high as 30 feet, but generally is between 10 and 20 feet on good days.
As each wave broke on the beach, it made a sound like thunder because the waves were so large and so broad! The "lay on the sand area" of the beach there is probably 8 to 10 feet "above" the actual water line, but there were waves that sometimes required you to look up at their crests !
Later that week, we got caught in the "great Oahu blackout" of Friday December 26, 2008, and because Obama was on the island, it was initially scary wondering if what we were going through was the initial phase of a terrorist attack!
Hilton Hawaiian Hotel
Our stay at this beautiful hotel on Waikiki Beach, was marred by the great Oahu Electrical failure of 2008.
The Hilton Hawaiian Hotel with it's 4 very tall towers, was not prepared to deal with such a major electrical outage (the entire island was blacked out). We are big fans of Hilton Hotels, but this event was not their "finest hour".
All the stairs were locked, all elevators were of course not working, and only after my wife went to the main desk and asked them why the locks were not opened, were we able to gain access and walk up to the 16th floor to get to our room ? I don't know how many of you guys have walked up 16 floors before, but I can tell you that it is a long, long hike! Imagine if you will, that every hotel customer was left milling around the hotel building area waiting for someone to open the hotel doors !
Our society depends upon electricity, yet when it is not available, we do not seem to have an alternate plan in place! Imagine if you will, a world without electricity; no elevators, no stop lights, gas pumps in gas stations do not work, and Starbucks would not be working either!
The power was still not on the next morning, but we managed to pack our suitcases via flash light and got everything downstairs via a bell boy, a service staff elevator and a luggage cart. No traffic lights were operating, but we knew the way to the freeway and got to Honolulu International without any further problems. Our rental car was supposed to be re-filled with gasoline prior to returning it, but with all of the city's gas stations out of service due to no electricity, we had to deal with a very angry car rental clerk at the airport!
On to Kauai
We departed Oahu for Kauai Saturday morning 12/27/2008 and flew to Lihue Airport, to stay on Wailua Bay at a condo located on Papaloa Road.
This picture is a view of the beach next to our Kauai condo building, our room was perhaps 75 yards from the beach and at night with the sliding glass doors open, we would enjoy the surf sounds!
Our Condo Rental on Kauai Hawaii
Our goal was to try and replicate the type of condo we had on Maui during our 2005 trip (ie; on the beach, first floor unit with a sliding glass door walk-out to the beach a few steps away, etc) and we nailed it perfectly (kudos to my wife who always plans these things incredibly well !).
Image # 1 is a view of the condo we rented, just a few steps away and you were on the beach! Image # 2 is the beach adjacent to the condo.
Kauai was everything we'd read and then some, just a large, lush and incredibly verdant island. Somewhat bigger than Guam ( which is 30 miles in length and 4 to 12 miles in width ) at 33 miles wide by 25 miles long, it has roads around 75% of the island.
Maniniholo Dry Cave
Our drive on Hawaiian Route 560 (Kuhio Highway) took us past Haena State Park and we noticed this cave, named Maniniholo Dry Cave. Naturally, we had to stop and explore the area.
Waimea Canyon is a 41 mile drive from where our rental was in Wailua, but the road takes you past some varied geography; beaches, forests, and then finally you are at the Waimea Canyon Lookout!
It is no wonder that Waimea Canyon is known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" You can see quite a bit of the canyon from the lookout point where we stopped.
Our short walk into Waimea Canyon (note that it is difficult to get an idea of how large the canyon is from a Google Map, bear in mind that it is 3,000 feet deep!). As Kauai is the oldest geologically speaking of all eight Hawaiian Islands, there has been sufficient geologic time to create Waimea Canyon via the same mechanism as Arizona's Grand Canyon - erosion. We walked only a short way into the canyon, as the majority of the trails are just too steep & rugged for our kids. If it had been just Celeste and I, we might have tackled it, as it is quite unique.
We are not in this picture, but this is what it looks like to take part in a kayak tour of the Wailua River on our way to Secret Falls. We selected Wailua River Kayaking because they were close to where we were staying.
We had two 2 person kayaks, so on the way out to the Secret Falls, it was Chelsea and me in one kayak and Jeremy and Celeste in the other. We reversed that order on the way back.
This was the payoff; after a kayak ride from near Wailua, and a hike across a severely muddy trail where the mud was thick & sticky enough to pull your sandals off, we finally reached the Secret Falls! The water was cool & refreshing and it felt really great to wash off all the mud we had accumulated.
As you can see by these pictures, there were a number of people visiting Secret Falls that day. Turns out that Hawaiian Route 583 was behind & above the Falls and a number of people had just walked down from that area.
See that "muddy feet" picture? The trail to Secret Falls was completely mud the entire way, not just ordinary mud, this mud was nuclear powered and it would grab your sandals or shoes and pull them off!
This is Kauapea Beach (AKA "Secret Beach") that we had read about, and we stopped here from our driving adventure along Hawaiian Route 560. This route takes you to the "end of the road" and from there you can only hike the western side of Kauai.
On the way back, we exited Hawaiian Route 56 and drove to the Secret Beach Trail Head and hiked down this steep trail to the beach. Beautiful beach and area, and almost completely devoid of people - quite possibly because it is not simple to get there !
As we walked about Kauapea Beach, we noticed that some of the trees on the hills next to the beach, had their root systems "washed out" by the Pacific Ocean waves. This made us realize that since this tree was quite a ways away from the surf line, that obviously the surf would occasionally have to get very large to reach this tree! And then we realized that somehow this tree had managed to "cling" to the ground via it's root system, such that even in the face of the obviously gigantic surf waves, that it was still standing!
The beaches and bays on Kauai are numerous and beautiful, perhaps one could say that all the Hawaiian Islands are "similar" but Kauai is so much less developed than the other islands, so it seems more like "getting back to nature" than the other islands. Even the beaches that at first glance seemed like they might be more "commercial" were great. For example, Kalapaki Beach is next to the Marriott Hotel, but was quite nice. If you get there, have lunch at Duke's, as it has a good menu and all four of us enjoyed the food.
One side issue of going there in December is that it is rainy season, which really wasn't an issue for us as we were in bathing suits or shorts the entire week. But on two of our hikes, the trails were quite muddy in places. The Wailua River Waterfall hike (after we got out of the kayaks) was pretty muddy, but not steep, so we didn't have any problems on that trail.
Sleeping Giant Mountain
The last hike on Kauai that we made (to a mountain named "Sleeping Giant") was quite steep in places, so although going up wasn't an issue, coming down was a challenge because of all the slippery mud. I wound up doing a couple of "butt plants" on the mud, but there were a lot of places where we just slid down on our shoes, as though we were skating!
Return Trip Wrangle
United Air Lines (UAL) once again attempted to change our seat assignments on the return flight, even though we had made the reservations many months prior. Because we had utilized miles to pay for the flights, UAL acted as though we were "fair game" to change our seats whenever they felt like it. We explained that we had minor children flying with us, and oh yeah, the seats had been assigned for a long time. The UAL desk clerk tried to tell us that "seat assignments were not guaranteed" Which is a joke, because if we had paid for these flights, our seat assignments would not have been changed.
The flight back to DC (via Chicago again) was okay, but somewhat disappointing in that UAL used an older Boeing 777, which meant that the backs of the seats did not have a separate video screen for each passenger. The newer model 777's do have the separate screens ( on any trip to Denver, we've always had newer aircraft ?? ), but since we were flying back at night, perhaps not having the separate screens wasn't a big deal.
United put me into first class from Chicago to DC, it is only 1.5 hours duration flight, so there wasn't much to enjoy except for the much better seat. Gave me a chance to relax and get a bit of a nap, cause the economy plus seats were not quite comfortable and the man immediately in front of me had an Olympic quality snoring thing going on ! Still not sure why I was given first class, thought perhaps it was because I've been a member of their mileage club for 30+ years, or because I filled out an online questionnaire ? Oh well, best to not look a gift horse in the mouth right ?
So the trip overall rating is "exceedingly excellent" and was typical for our family - ie; lots of adventures!
POST EDIT: Since this airplane seat assignment issue caused such heartburn, we researched it once we got back home and found that airlines can do pretty much what they want with your seat assignment. Click here to read what United Airlines says about it.
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