Hawaii short break - feature photo - palm tree silhouettes against a twilight ocean view just after sunset on Waikiki beach

Hawaii Short Break

I feel like I’ve seen images of Hawaii for as long as I can remember, thanks to the number of movies that feature it. Honestly, it wasn’t super high on my bucket list, as I associated it with over-tourism and all-inclusive resort-style travel, which isn’t my thing. However, it has a culture and a history unique to it, and which is fighting to remain present, and conservation work to protect its natural ecosystems. So, when I was planning my flights to leave Canada after my year living there and move to New Zealand next, I realised Hawaii was a convenient halfway point across the Pacific. It’s perhaps not likely I’ll be this far around the world again once I go home, so I figured this was the best time to try a Hawaii short break trip. Plus it ticked off yet another USA state!

Hawaii short break - second feature photo - palm trees and tall buildings along Waikiki beach on Oahu

Day One


Since I was only in Hawaii for a short break, I had to pick just one of its many islands to visit. I ended up on Oahu, largely out of convenience since I could get a direct flight to Honolulu. An early morning and a change of time zone meant I landed by the early afternoon. I was staying in Waikiki, which is almost a suburb of Honolulu proper I guess. The city was fairly spread out, so I didn’t come back into Honolulu itself again, partly due to the time it would take on a bus. It also looked to be a lot of concrete buildings and I was more interested in the natural landscapes. The thing I missed that I wish I’d had time for was ‘Iolani Palace, the royal residence.

Waikiki is definitely tourist-central, full of hotels, shops, restaurants and other amenities for visitors. Certainly not an area locals frequent unless they work there! But it had the most accommodation choices, especially for budget-friendly hostel options like where I stayed. Plus it was easy to get around the area on foot since I wasn’t renting a car. I had dinner somewhere along the main street, usually followed by a walk each evening.

Diamond Head Crater Hike

That afternoon, I headed to Diamond Head, or Lē’ahi to local Hawaiians, an iconic volcano crater that overlooks Waikiki. No longer active, the crater is covered in trees and plant life, all across its basin and around the rim. You need a ticket from the State Parks division if you’re not a resident, which I’d bought online earlier that week. I actually walked to the park from the hostel, passing through the tunnel into the crater’s basin, so I didn’t need to book parking. That probably doubled my total hiking time, but Diamond Head itself doesn’t take too long.

From the middle of the basin, the well-marked trail snakes up the side of the crater in a series of switchbacks towards the edge. It was hard to tell where the path ended, with all the weaving ahead! Then it suddenly disappeared into another tunnel through the rock. The tunnel takes you more or less to the rim, where there is a short loop you can walk before returning the same way. No matter which direction you pick, you’ll have to go up and back down a large flight of stairs!

Facing inland I looked down into the crater I’d hiked up from, and the vast mountains rising in the island’s centre. Next to them, the coastline snaked back to Koko Head, another volcanic crater, and as I walked clockwise, the Pacific Ocean stretched out to the horizon. From the oceanside lookout, I could see the many buildings along Waikiki beachfront, as airplanes flew past to or from the airport. I ended up not staying too long, mostly due to the teenagers blasting music. I also still had to go all the way back down and to Waikiki for dinner, before collapsing in bed!

Day Two

Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve

The second day of my Hawaii short break was all about beaches and ocean. I’d heard about Hanauma Bay while researching Oahu, and luckily so, as it’s closed at the start of the week so today (Sunday) was my only chance. Non-residents need a ticket too, to control the over-tourism the bay has suffered in the past. You also have to watch a mandatory video before entering about the rules for safeguarding the marine life. I actually booked a half-day transport & snorkelling package that included the entry. The driver gave us a bit of information on the way over, as well as the snorkel gear, but once we arrived, it was entirely self-guided until pick-up again.

The bay is tucked into the coastline, formed from an ancient volcanic crater, and the views on the way down are breathtaking! There is a little trolley if you don’t want to walk, but I wanted to take my time and be able to take photos too. White sand and palm trees, crystal clear blue water and surrounded by dramatic, volcanic landscapes (even if it was cloudy)… Yes, this was definitely Hawaii! I spent the morning alternating between snorkelling and lounging on the beach.

I’ve snorkelled in a few countries, but this was the first time in several years now. And it was incredible! The coral reef was thriving with marine life, and many of its fish species are native to Hawaii. I saw so many bright colours and unusual patterns and shapes, which kept me totally enthralled! Only when I started to get cold did I have to take breaks. I’d been worried that tourism might have damaged the reef but the conservation efforts seem to be working from how much I saw. It was a beautiful place to explore!

Waikiki Beach

The transport dropped us off again in Waikiki in the early afternoon. Hanauma Bay closes quite early anyway, again to manage the crowds and prevent over-tourism. I ended up using the afternoon to explore Waikiki itself a bit more. Wandering up through its streets, I passed endless hotels and restaurants. I actually wound up at the International Market Place mall, in search of a recommendation from our driver that morning. It was a pretty mall, with lots of terraces and courtyards filled with plants! Liliha Bakery has a massive range of baked goods and I drooled over them for several minutes before choosing a haupia malasada, which is type of doughnut filled with Hawaiian coconut pudding. With an iced coffee to go with it, it was the perfect sweet treat afternoon pick-me-up!

Then, I headed down the beach and slowly ambled my way along it, stopping to sit from time to time. It wasn’t the hottest or sunniest day, but that wasn’t stopping plenty people from swimming and sunbathing. I enjoyed watching the surfers a bit further out too, waiting to catch one of the many large swells. There’s a section of the beach where rocks have been used to break the waves and form a pool of calmer water. A better option for those wanting to swim without battling the currents! Palm trees line the beach, of course, but alongside huge, ancient banyan trees dripping with vines.

As mentioned, it’s a very busy, tourist area which isn’t my favourite thing, but it was fine to while away a few hours. After a quick freshen-up at the hostel, I returned to the beachfront for dinner and stayed for sunset. Seeing the sky glowing with colours, as the silhouettes of surfers dance along the waves, certainly makes for a scenic evening!

Day Three

Full Day Island Circle Tour

I was venturing away from Waikiki today to see more of Oahu. I’d booked a small group day tour which would take us on a circular tour of the whole island. Plenty of companies offer this so I’d done plenty of online comparison before choosing. I ended up with Hawaii Turtle Tours, largely because I was eager for the chance to see Hawaiian green sea turtles! They also had good reviews overall, were fairly-priced compared to others, and seemed to have an ecological focus.

The main downside was that while the company is locally-owned and both our guide and driver now live in Hawaii, neither were indigenous Hawaiians. I would have loved to get more of that cultural aspect during my entire Hawaii short break to be honest. I couldn’t seem to find an indigenous-owned supplier during my research. And the main “cultural” option was the many luaus in Waikiki, which I was concerned might be more gimmicky than authentic. Anyway, our guide and driver were still great and I enjoyed the day tour overall!

Hālona Blowhole & Mokoli’i

Heading out of Waikiki and driving anti-clockwise around the island, our first stop was the Hālona blowhole. Blowholes work when the wind is strong and the tide is high, forcing the water to come shooting up through the rocks, like a geyser. Unfortunately, conditions weren’t right that day and we didn’t get to see it. However, the lookout point still offered some nice coastal views, including down into the neighbouring Hālona Cove. This pretty half-moon of sandy beach and turquoise water has been used as a filming location for many movies. Gazing down at it, we suddenly spotted our first sea turtle of the day, swimming around in the crystal clear waters!

Further around the coast, we stopped off at Kualoa Point to see Mokoli’i, a small island also known as Chinaman’s Hat due to its shape. Hawaii isn’t always a sun-drenched paradise, and the weather can be totally different on one side of its mountains to the other. This stop turned into a rather drizzly walk along the beach, but it was certainly dramatic! Palm trees blowing in the wind against a backdrop of volcanic landscapes remind you how remote and rugged it really is, far-flung out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Although we weren’t visiting, we also passed by Kualoa Ranch, where scenes for Jurassic Park were filmed.

Pua’ena Point

After a lunch stop at Tanaka Kahuku Shrimp for, you guessed it, shrimp in a variety of flavours, we arrived at our main destination. Pua’ena Point is a small cove along the coast from Hale’iwa. It can only be reached on foot, a short walk from the main road. The North Shore is a popular area for surfers. We could see many of them, including a surf school, catching the waves off Hale’iwa beach. However, Pua’ena Point is more sheltered, making it the better choice for swimming. And, most importantly, this was where we were hoping to find some Hawaiian green sea turtles!

Donning the snorkel gear, I hopped into the water, keeping my eyes peeled for them. Like any wildlife encounter, there was no guarantee we’d see any turtles, and luckily I have snorkelled with them before in Mexico. After a while swimming around with no luck, I started to get cold so headed out. I dried off and dressed, preparing to spend the second half of our time here walking and photographing the beach.

I headed to the far end of the cove, where we’d been alerted to the presence of a Hawaiian monk seal laying on the sand! The lifeguard roped it off to prevent people getting too close and distressing it. You could still get close enough, and this was super exciting as these are pretty rare! And then we finally got a turtle sighting. Several, in fact! We spotted about 3-4 of them bobbing around in the waves, heads occasionally surfacing to breathe. It didn’t really matter than I hadn’t snorkelled with them, I was just delighted to see any at all! Spending that time watching them in the wild was definitely a highlight of my Hawaii short break.

Macadamia Nut Company & Dole Plantation

Our next destination was right across the road from Pua’ena Point, at the Macadamia Nut Company. While not native to Hawaii (they’re Australian), macadamia nuts thrive here and are a huge export. This place was really just a small hut amongst the trees, with chickens roaming freely around it (as they do all over Hawaii). THey sold various macadamia nut products, along with other souvenirs and gifts. We got to try free samples of different flavoured macadamia nuts, with bags of them available to purchase, as well as a free coffee sample which was a perfect afternoon pick-me-up. I didn’t buy anything myself, just browsed the goods until we were ready to go again.

Hawaii’s other large export is pineapples and the Dole Plantation is famous for them. Honestly, a plantation visit wasn’t on my radar at all for this trip but we weren’t actually touring the whole thing. No, our sole purpose for stopping here was for the Dole Whip. Oahu is the only place you can get this non-dairy pineapple ice cream outside of Disneyland California and Disney World Florida. I’ve been to both but never knew it was such a popular thing, so I hadn’t tried it before! It sure is delicious though so I’m glad I got the chance here. I had a quick stroll through the pineapple-themed gift shop, before it was time to hop back in the van.

From there, we headed back to finish the tour and be dropped off at our hotels. It was a busy day but certainly allowed me to see a lot of Oahu’s scenery beyond the tourist strip of Waikiki.

Day Four

Lanikai Beach

By sheer luck and coincidence, someone else I knew was in Hawaii at the same time as me. I met her back in New Orleans on the jazz tour and we exchanged Instagrams. She’s from Hawaii and now lives on the East Coast but happened to be back visiting the same week I was here! She reached out and we arranged to meet up. I took advantage of her offer to drive to check out another area of Oahu. We ended up heading to Lanikai Beach, not far from Kailua, which I’d read good things about and she said was one of her favourites.

Sure enough, we were greeted with a stretch of perfect white sand, leading into clear turquoise waters. Truly an idyllic scene! The ocean is also much calmer in this part of Oahu, so it’s a more popular beach for swimmers than for surfers. We went for a quick dip then chatted on the beach for a while. Sadly, as is typical for Hawaii, the weather wasn’t quite on our side. It had been overcast all morning and the rain had finally starting drizzling down. We packed up, hopped back in the car, and went to check out Kailua itself.


Kailua is a small town on the other side of the mountains from Honolulu. While the rest of Oahu still has tourist accommodation, there’s nowhere near as much as in Waikiki, so Kailua is a town where more locals live. So it was good to get to see a more typical side of the island! There’s not a huge amount of attractions, so we really just wandered around some of the shopping and dining streets, stopping for lunch and a drink. While not particularly exciting, it was a chilled afternoon and nice to catch up with her again!

Back in Waikiki for the evening, I grabbed something small to takeaway for dinner after our late lunch and took it down to the ocean again. While I’d had some beautiful nightfalls on my entire Hawaii short break so far, tonight’s sunset might have been the best! The overcast weather had led to these large stormy looking clouds dancing on the horizon, which turned super dramatic. I was also sat along a stretch of wall where the waves would crash against it, splashing up in front of me, which was fun to try and catch on-camera. And then as night fell, the clouds cleared up, leaving dazzling purple twilight skies. A gorgeous final evening before my onward flight in the morning!

Hawaii Short Break

My trip was brief, but I think I packed a decent amount in! It’s definitely a busy destination, especially around Waikiki as mentioned, but I expected that going in. I’m glad I was able to get out and explore other parts of the island though, especially its natural scenery and wildlife. Being such a remote group of islands way out here in the Pacific means that Hawaii evolved uniquely. This fascinating landscape of volcanoes and coral reefs, supporting its precious ecosystem, and later, the distinct Polynesian culture of its peoples. I would love to get a deeper understanding of the local history and culture if I ever return, but for a quick Hawaii short break, I think I got a decent first taste!