Hawaii is one of the two non-contiguous US states (the other being Alaska), and consists of a series of islands floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. O'ahu is the major island, though it not the largest; that honour belongs to the aptly titled Big Island. O'ahu houses the state capital of Honolulu (which is the inbound port of call for much of Hawaii's sea freight) and has a long history of military importance; Pearl Harbour is just to the west of Honolulu, and several army and air force bases continue to operate on the island. The current US President, Barack Obama, was born in Hawaii, and spent his early childhood attending one of the most exclusive private schools in Honolulu. Whilst the other islands are popular tourist attractions in their own right, I spent my (brief) stay on O'ahu.
I left Los Angeles on a cold December morning. We were away and out of the hostel before 7am, beating most of the morning traffic, and made it to LAX airport well on time. Unfortunately, it took my companion more than twice as long to drive back to the hostel - a sign of just how bad traffic gets in the city. It was my first trip through LAX, and I didn't find it as bad as many people had made it out to be - though that impression may change once I need to spend a lengthy layover there.
Honolulu International Airport is roughly 5 hours flight time from LAX, and I flew on Hawaiian Airlines to get there. So far, Hawaiian is the most comfortable US airline I've flown by a country mile: I took them from California to Hawaii, onto Sydney, and then for the return trip as well. The California-Hawaii leg featured a free (though no-nonsense) meal - a rarity for US domestic flights - and since my itinerary included an international component, I didn't have to pay any fees to check my baggage. There was sufficient legroom in my seats, and I even ended up with several empty seats around me on my return journey to the US. I can very much recommend Hawaiian as a relatively comfortable method of flying (as well as inexpensive; my round trip home was cheaper than the round trip to the States that I booked initially).
Prior to arriving in Hawaii I booked a shuttle service (Roberts Hawaii) to pick me up from the airport and take me on the roughly 45 minute trip to my hostel in Waikiki. I can recommend Roberts very highly; they meet you at the flight gate with a shell lei (I was too cheap to pay extra for a flower one, though that is another option), help you with your luggage, and escort you onto a comfortable bus for the trip. Of course, I ran into a couple on their honeymoon as soon as I stepped onto the bus, and saw several more over the course of my stay. Our driver, a friendly gentleman named Bradford, gave us a running commentary on sights and landmarks as we drove through the south of Honolulu and into Waikiki. (Pictured above is the Ala Moana Center - the world's largest open-air shopping mall - that we passed along the way.) Unfortunately, as we were driving in along the Nimitz Freeway, it began raining. The rain would continue in fits and spurts - sometimes heavy, sometimes light, sometimes not present - for the entirety of my trip, an unfortunate reminder that I had arrived in Hawaii during rainy season.
I stayed in Waikiki, located to the south of Honolulu, in a hostel just minutes walk from the famous beach. About the first thing I did when I arrived was taking advantage of some momentary sunshine and enjoying a dip. It was simply wonderful to be warm again - despite the rain, the temperature was a relatively balmy 25 degrees, and the water was similarly temperate. Waikiki Beach is famous for having extremely flat waves - the kind that are perfect for learning to surf on, but can't even propel bodysurfers forward. It's next to impossible to get dumped by a wave here, and scores of people were out learning how to surf. Being used to the deep blue ocean of Australia's beaches, I was mesmerised by the lovely light blue colour of the water here. The one slightly annoying aspect of the beach was the multitude of sharp coral that dotted the ocean floor; this made wading in and out a little painful.
Tim Tams are a chocolate-covered biscuit prevalent in Australia but difficult to find elsewhere in the world. At home, packets typically cost $2-3. I found these on display in a convenience store in Waikiki - authentic, but quite the rip off!
Waikiki is very touristy. The area is covered with hotels, expensive (and inexpensive) shopping, uniformly expensive food, bars, clubs, and a hopping nightlife. I spent the rest of my first afternoon wandering around the district, eventually making my way towards Downtown Honolulu to the west. The famous Aloha Tower sits at the south edge of the city, overlooking the harbour, serving as a welcoming beacon to ships entering the Honolulu port. Built in 1926, it was the tallest building in Hawaii for forty years even though it stands at just ten stories tall. Just to its north is the Chinatown district, where I ate a very tasty Vietnamese dinner.
As I made my way home from dinner, I passed the City Council building, which was spectacularly lit for Christmas. The park surrounding it was full of Christmas decorations, and families were out in force. I spent an hour wandering around the displays and enjoying the lights. It truly is a special holiday for the young.
The park was full of children. There was a Christmas train, merry-go-rounds, face-painting, balloons, and Christmas trees galore. Trees and buildings were spectacularly lit up, whilst all manner of displays dotted the area.
The front of the city council building was dominated by this eminently appropriate statue of Santa enjoying the warmth of Hawaii, complete with a floating turtle coaster and Mrs Clause by his side.
Within the building, several different public departments (including the firemen, the commerce committee, and the teachers) had constructed Christmas displays, all themed appropriately. A real life Santa was posing for pictures with children (thankfully better clothed than the version outside), and a long, long line snaked around the floor from him.
My night finished with some hot malasadas from a mobile outpost of Leonard's Bakery, a local institution. Malasadas are a kind of delicious Portuguese doughnut, and they come with a variety of very tasty fillings. I highly recommend them (though not too many of them!) if you have the chance. I took a relatively early nightcap because I had a trip to Pearl Harbour the next morning. I'll leave that story for next time.