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The Civilized Explorer

The Civilized Explorer

Honolulu, Christmas 2012

Our hotel -- the Aqua Bamboo

We visited Honolulu again for 10 days as the end of 2012. We stayed at the Aqua Bamboo Waikiki, and we liked it. If you don't know, Waikiki is very noisy, pretty much 24 hours a day, and the Aqua Bamboo is no exception. Trash was picked up in the alley behind the hotel seven days a week, no later than 8:00 AM.

We were in Room 1001, and I'd stay there again. There were three balconies (lanai on Hawaiian islands), one on the side of the room, two on the back overlooking the courtyard behind the hotel. The courtyard held the pool, whirlpool, cabanas, and service area where we had poolside drinks on occasion. One of the back balconies had a couple of chairs and a small table where we ate our breakfasts. The room had a kitchenette: a small sink, under-the-counter refrigerator, coffee maker, toaster, microwave, and one-burner induction range built into the counter. We also had dishes and utensils for four, along with cooking gear.

Our view was toward the ocean, and through the buildings we could see the ocean a block away, and through one gap we could actually see some of the beach. The staff was very friendly and helpful. There were also a concierge and a masseur on site. We have photos and a video here.

The Pacific Aviation Museum

We took a tour of the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, which is located on Ford Island, which most of us have never heard of. It is, however, ground zero for the attack on Pearl Harbor which set off America's involvement in World War II. It was off Ford Island that the Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma, California, and West Virginia were moored. We got the docent-led tour, and we took lots of pictures. The island itself was strafed and bombed, and we saw the bullet holes left in the hangar we visited as a reminder of the attack.

If you visit the Battleship Missouri, you'll have to go to Ford Island, since that's where it's moored. I recommend visiting both, while you're there. There is no access to the Arizona from Ford Island, however; it's entirely a separate tour. Our photos of the museum are here.

The National Cemetery of the Pacific

While we were there, Senator Daniel Inouye died, and a service was held at the National Cemetery of the Pacific. President Obama was there, and we visited few days after the ceremony. It's a remarkable place located in the Punchbowl with marvelous views.

My understanding is that many of the markers are memorials with no remains being buried at the locations. Senator Inouye was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service during World War II.* The area containing the cemetery is known locally as the Punchbowl, and you'll see why from the photos here. Originally, the cemetery served as the final resting place for military members who died in the Pacific Theater, regardless of the war.

Let's go surfing now

Naturally, the big deal in Oahu is surfing, and Surfin' USA by the Beach Boys was our inspiration. We visited Waiamea Bay and did some video at the Banzai Pipeline. The interesting thing I learned is that the Pipeline is just a part of the beach at Ehukai Beach Park; it's the part where the water gets into huge waves and curls over. I have a video of a boogie boarder getting a tube ride on Vimeo, which Wikipedia says many surfers never get to do in a lifetime of surfing. We have still photos of some surfing here.

It's interesting to compare the ease on the board shown by surfers on the Pipeline with those on the smaller waves. Check here and here for examples of the arm-waving and wobbling done on smaller waves.


Waikiki is to Honolulu what the Strip is to Las Vegas. It's trendy, crowdy, and noisy. If you're staying in Waikiki, be prepared. At night, there are lots of street vendors on Kalakaua Avenue, the main drag along Waikiki. They're all on the side opposite the big hotels and the ocean; here's a sample stroll at night showing a variety of wares being offered. There were also some Hare Krishnas out on the street chanting, with quite a crowd around them. It was there that I saw the longest photo ever in front of the famed statue of the famed Duke Kahanamoku.

We have photos and videos of Waikiki here, showing the architecture, beaches, and views. It's a gorgeous location, nestled between the mountains and the sea.


I'm sure the locals will string me up for mentioning Hy's Steak House on Kuhio Avenue, as the tourists don't go there. Three of us shared the 34-ounce Porterhouse, with each of us ordering our own side dishes. It was among the best pieces of beef I've ever eaten. It's a very nice restaurant, and I recommend dressing well if you go -- maybe slacks for the men instead of the usual shorts, with a button-front shirt. Service was not up to par with the food, but my impression is that this was an exception and not the rule for service there.

La Mer, at the Halekulani Hotel, is the only restaurant I'm aware on on Waikiki with a dress code. A long-sleeved collared shirt or jacket is required for gentlemen. They don't mention slacks, but wear them. The food was excellent and the service was almost so: there were two of us, and we got each other's dishes every time we were served our courses. Great views, no kids under the age of eight.

Under the spreading banyon tree is the beach side restaurant of the Moana Surfrider Hotel. (Click the link to the WebCam, by the way.) The restaurant there is called the Beach Bar, and we ate lunch there more often than anywhere else. We also had dinner on the veranda, which is above the Beach Bar and has table cloths, so you know it's a classier place.

Sarento's is at the top of the Ilikai Hotel. Our meal there was interrupted several times by an alarm, which we were told to ignore. Video on SmugMug shows us gamely soldiering on in spite of the woop - woop of the alarm. (Well, it doesn't show us, actually, but you'll get the point.)

The Royal Hawaiian was another great old hotel with a great restaurant on the beach called the Mai Tai Bar. Good food, good service.

While we were on the North Shore, we had lunch at the beach restaurant at the Turtle Bay Resort, at their beach side cafe called Ola. Lunch was fine, but the most memorable part was the music. Someone has either very bad taste or very warped taste. The background music was all Christmas-related, but much of it was depression-era songs on mandolins and "Peace on Earth" by Gregorian and Amelia Brightman. See the video here. (That desert was great, by the way.) We also had lunch in Haleiwa at Joe's Seafood Grill, with a view of a marina.That's where we saw these jet skiers in action. Joe's is very popular, and getting there a little early gave us less wait time for lunch.

Quick links to more photos.

* The action for which the Senator got his Medal of Honor is a disturbing one, for me at least. In October of 1944 in Italy, the 141st Infantry (from the Texas National Guard) was surrounded by German troops, and two attempts to rescue them had failed. There were 230 men in the 141st at the time. A unit of Japanese Americans (the 442nd Regimental Combat Team) was then ordered to attempt a rescue. In five days of fighting, the 442nd rescued the so-called Lost Battalion, suffering almost 900 casualties in the process (dead, wounded, and captured). I have some doubts that non-Japanese forces would have been used in a third attempt, and the cost of about four times the men to save the Texans seems to me to be high. Naturally, they made a movie about it, starring Van Johnson. You can read more about the 442nd at their website here. (Click your browser's back button to return to the asterisk.)