Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 26, 2021

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Hawaiian punch

Take the kids for an action-packed family vacation on the Aloha State's most underrated island

Mo-o-om,” my daughter lamented, “I miss Oahu.” Well, so do I. When we first flew to the Aloha State’s third largest island, my family’s goal was just to forget winter for a week. We didn’t expect to fall in love, but that’s exactly what happened. Although some malihini (visitors) view Oahu as little more than a launch pad for less developed Maui or Moloki, it retains Hawaii’s trademark features from glorious weather (average highs hover between 27 and 32°C year-round) to world-class watersports and a compelling culture which extends far beyond those easy-to-mock muumuus and pupu platters. Moreover, it combines dramatic, untouched vistas with a full complement of kitschy tourist activities that travel snobs deride and kids — especially those in the tricky tween/teen category — adore.

Catch a Curl

Oahu is blessed with over 125 beaches yet North Shore ones steal the spotlight each winter when they stage the world’s most prestigious surf competitions. Vans’ Triple Crown of Surfing (, for example, pulls in all the Big Kahunas and watching won’t cost a dime. Actually joining the action at Sunset Beach or the Banzai Pipeline may, on the other hand, result in mega medical bills.

So trade monster barrels for the more manageable waves of Waikiki Beach. That’s where Duke Kahanamoku (the Olympian credited with popularizing the sport in the early 20th century) learned to surf, and you can follow suit at a local surf school. Hans Hedemann’s (tel: 808-924-7778;; from $78), which promises to get you on your feet in two hours, is a case in point. It also gives classes in body boarding or, for those who want to take a stand, paddle boarding.

Dive Right In

This island showcases native species at the Waikiki Aquarium (tel: 808-923-9741;; $9 adults, $4 kids 13-17). Nevertheless, purists agree that the optimal way to see denizens of the deep is by snorkelling at the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve (; $7.50 for ages 13 and up). Poised on Oahu’s southeast tip, 16 kilometres from Waikiki, the shallow horseshoe-shaped bay occupies a sunken volcanic crater and has a narrow mouth which helps keep water conditions bathtub-calm.

Better still, it’s teeming with tropical fish (cool laminated cards, available for $5, let you identify them underwater.) Masks and fins can be rented onsite, but do bring swim shoes. While sand on the broad beach is soft, coral on the bay bottom isn’t.

Float Your Boat

Sailboat excursions, kayak trips, amphibious tours, traditional outrigger canoe rides… year-round opportunities abound for anyone who’d rather be on the water than in it. November through April, whale-watching is another possibility. As many as 2000 humpbacks migrate from their Arctic feeding grounds to breed off Hawaii’s coast and dedicated operators will take you to see them.

North Shore Catamaran Charters (tel: 808-351-9371;; $80 adults, $60 kids 4-11) on the top of the island and Wild Side Specialty Tours (tel: 808-306-7273;; $195) on the Leeward Coast are both highly recommended. Numbers are so plentiful, though, that we managed to spot whales, as well as sea turtles and spinner dolphins, simply by taking a quick cruise out of Honolulu aboard the Makani (tel: 888-462-5264; Typically priced at $38, it was free with our Go Oahu cards (see below).

Pay Your Respects

Sadly the USS Arizona (, Oahu’s most lionized vessel, is famous for sinking not floating. On December 7, 1941 Japanese bombers sent her to the bottom of Pearl Harbor, thereby propelling America into the Second World War.

A stark memorial (accessible only by boat) marks the spot where 1177 sailors died that day, and a new interactive visitors’ centre puts the “date which will live in infamy” in context for contemporary kids. Both are complimentary; however, the compact site draws 1.6 million people annually, so it’s wise to arrive early to avoid long lineups.

Otherwise, maximize your wait time by touring the adjacent Submarine Museum Park (tel: 808-423-1341;; adults $10, kids 4-12 $4) or hopping a free shuttle to the USS Missouri (tel: 877-644-4896;; adults $20, kids 4 to 12 $10), the battleship on which the treaty ending WWII was signed.

Go Native

Put away your passport. The Polynesian Cultural Center (; general admission: adults $50, kids 5-11 $18; packages: from $70 for adult, $27.50 kids 5-11) allows you to sample the traditional lifestyle of Hawaii and six sister islands — including Fiji, Tahiti, and Tonga — in a single stop. The state’s top paid attraction mixes education with good clean fun (and I do mean clean… the centre is Mormon-run and most staffers are students at Brigham Young University’s satellite campus).

Hence the 17-hectare property rather resembles a tropical version of Epcot’s World Showcase complete with themed villages, engaging activities, plus high-energy entertainment. Sticking around for the over-the-top buffet lets you cross “luau” off your list; and Hā, a 90-minute musical extravaganza with hula dancers, haka dancers, firewalkers and more, is well worth staying late for.

Get Oriented

Dubbed the "Crossroads of the Pacific," Hawaii has been home to a large Asian contingent since the 19th century when Chinese and Japanese immigrants arrived en masse to work the sugar plantations. Today, ample evidence of the former can be found in Honolulu’s Chinatown ( which features herbal medicine shops, dim sum diners and markets hung with dripping ducks and pig heads.

Prefer to drink in some Japanese culture? The Urasenke Foundation (tel: 808-923-3059; $3) in Waikiki hosts an authentic chanoyu tea ceremony presided over by kimono-clad ladies on Wednesday and Friday mornings. Continue the Zen experience at the swoop-roofed Byodo-In Temple (tel: 808-239-9844;; $3 adult, $1 child under 12). Backed by the Ko'olau Mountains, this stunning re-creation of a millennium-old shrine in Uji, Japan is graced with koi ponds and peacocks.

Feel Reel

If you think Oahu’s scenery looks familiar, you’re right because it has provided the backdrop for many movies, among them popular kid picks like Jurassic Park, Blue Crush, Soul Surfer, and, ironically, two Pirates of the Caribbean installments. One of the island’s busiest filming locations — the Kualoa Ranch (tel: 808-237-7231;; adults $23; kids 3-12 $15) on the Windward Coast — even runs hour-long themed tours of its leafy 1600-hectare “back lot.”

Down in Waikiki, the Hilton Hawaiian Village (tel: 808-949-4321; offers an urban alternative. Once Elvis Presley’s playground in Blue Hawaii, it now routinely appears in the rebooted Hawaii 5-0 TV series (in fact, we watched an episode being shot our first night there). Elsewhere in town, the Sunset on the Beach program ( lures film fans by screening free outdoor movies on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Pig Out

Kalua pua'a, the pit-roasted pork that serves as the centrepiece of every self-respecting luau, is only one of Oahu’s signature dishes. SPAM musubi qualifies as another. Combining Japanese culinary techniques with the Hawaiians’ odd affection for luncheon meat, this nori-wrapped rectangle is the fast food of choice among islanders.

Craving fresh seafood? On the scenic Kamehameha Highway, you can pull over at any of the vividly painted shrimp shacks (bright red Romy’s in Kahuku was our favourite) to feast on crustaceans pan-fried in garlic or crusted with coconut. All of the above are best finished off with a “shave ice.” It’s essentially an oversized snow cone drizzled with fruity psychedelic syrups and an optional dollop of adzuki beans. A retro Dole Whip ( from the eponymous North Shore plantation is a second sweet choice.

Do Market Research

Unless your children have a larger allowance than mine, the capital’s ubiquitous luxury boutiques are off limits. No problem. They’ll find vestiges of the old “tiny bubbles” days at suitably tiny prices in the International Marketplace (tel:808-971-2080; Tucked behind the Guccis and Bulgaris that line Kalakaua Avenue, this alfresco bazaar has been the primo place for souvenirs since the 1950s.

The emphasis is on trinkets (imagine T-shirts, tikis, puka-shell chokers and enough hula-girl bobble heads to keep Don Ho happy). Yet there are treasures too, such as classic quilted items. Hagglers may hunt for further bargains at the Aloha Stadium (tel: 808-486-6704; on Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday from 8AM to 3PM when a massive flea market sets up at the NFL Pro Bowl venue.

Snag a Deal

Tourism here has had a tough few years. The economic crisis deterred US travellers; then earthquake-generated woes in Japan (which accounts for 18 percent of visitors) created a double whammy. On the plus side, the downturn spells deals.

Take the Go Oahu Card (, from $60 adult, $45 child 3-12). Sold in one- to seven-day increments, it can save you 55 percent on attractions and activities — and using it also saves you from fretting about costs for each individual “experience." The 40-plus options include most noted above, along with family-oriented alternatives like Wet'n'Wild and the Bishop Museum. Scouring local publications also pays off. Event calendars list freebies (the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center’s ukulele and lei-stringing lessons are two examples); while back pages are crammed with coupons for parasailing, jet skiing and such.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.


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