Hawaii is everything you’ve heard and a little bit more. It’s a tropical paradise. It’s laid-back and filled to the brim with surfers. It’s beaches are beautiful and water turquoise. It’s a place you have to visit.
We flew in to Honolulu, Oahu early morning local time. We had left Auckland, New Zealand on March 1st, 2019 at 23:00. We arrived in Honolulu on March 1st, 2019 at 8:00; no jet lag, just living the same day twice. It’s the closest thing to time travel that we’ll ever experience. After a very long passport entry, we were admitted into the U.S. Heading straight to our accommodation, we took the interstate westwards. As you likely expect, accommodation in Hawaii is expensive and peak tourism season, most options can dry up. We had found an AirBnB with reasonable reviews and an attractive price. Thinking we’d hit the goldmine, and being under the presumption that Hawaii is synonymous with paradise, we booked the room. Now, modern Hawaiian history really revolves around Pearl Harbor. It was a major turning point for the world, the U.S.’s role in it, and the underdeveloped islands of Hawaii. In a very brief synopsis, one that will paint us as adventurers not ignorant tourists, I will shed some light on the inner workings of modern Hawaii and then continue with our story.
Hawaii was seized by the Americans during an expansionist phase in the 1800’s. Locals continued to go about their lives and development on the islands was limited at most. During Japan’s imperial and massive militarization period, the Americans began shifting military forces from continental U.S. to Hawaii. Federal investment spiked and began reshaping the islands, especially Oahu. As Japan conquered the Pacific theater these two major forces collided with the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. A whole bunch of very important things happened that changed world and then WW2 was over.
Federal spending increased (for strategic military reasons) and Hawaii became a huge tourist destination. As money poured in, many native Polynesians struggled with the changes. A simple, rural life that was tied to their culture was vanishing. Fast forward to modern day Hawaii and you can see this illustrated by downtown Honolulu versus tent city. Waikiki beach is packed with tourists willing to spend considerable amounts of money on first world amenities while within an hour’s drive there is tent city, a self explanatory name.
Enter Mark and Alayna – happily driving towards the ‘steal of a deal’ they had found. Slowly the traffic on the interstate dwindled to dilapidated jalopies. Then the interstate dwindled to a two lane road. Then the permanent tent structures began popping up. Next the custom license plates “MRZ OG” and old suburbans with tacky rims started showing themselves. After a chicken was spotted roaming a dirt patch on a brown lawn beside a rusted out carcass of a car, the question was thought out loud: “Are we in the right place?”. Indeed we were. Arriving at what Google Maps was telling us was our destination, we proceeded to unlatch the security gate. The yard was scattered with broken car parts and a half torn apart dirt bike. Two rusted pickup trucks sat next to each other, neither had a bumper. There seemed to be an usual amount of car seats lining the stilted house’s side. ‘What does one do with that many car seats?’ It begged many questions but none strong enough to pull our attention from the “Beware of Dog” sign. You can only imagine what type of mutt would inhabit a place like this. Suddenly, from the crawlspace beneath the house, charged a chihuahua and puppy pit bull. Following them came our host, a blonde hair surfer with no shirt on; he had a big smile and welcomed us.
The deal now made a lot of sense. Travel is made of experiences so we weren’t about to opt for a comfortable, safe, enjoyable hotel room. To ease our minds we decided to watch one of Hawaii’s most famous exports: Dog the Bounty Hunter. For those unfamiliar with his great work: he is a blonde haired, mullet baring, Hawaiian bounty hunter that tracks down those who fail to appear in court. He has a T.V. crew that follows his team as they search the island in their SWAT team gear. This particular episode began with an intro while they sped down the interstate towards the west end of the island. They were looking for an addict who was residing in tent city. They continued to explain how this was the worst place in all of Hawaii and how drugs and crime are rampant. Next on the screen was the location of where they were driving to: Waianae. We looked at each other in disbelief. Morbid curiosity kept us hooked as Dog went on to describe the place. The camera then pointed out of the front of the vehicle and we recognized the Taco Bell that is located down our street. We half expected our house to be on the show. We didn’t finish the episode…That night we closed our windows and jammed earplugs deep into our ears to muffle out the persistent sound of car burn outs and cawing roosters.
The following day couldn’t be more different. We had been given an excursion as a Christmas gift and we had chosen a helicopter tour of Oahu. We arrived at the airport full of excitement and anticipation. After some safety training we were standing out on the tarmac waiting to board the ‘bird’. We lucked out and got the best seats on the aircraft, the two front ones. Our pilot was a handsome man with salt and pepper hair and a trim beard. There was an ex-military feel to his confidence. His voice was very calm and collected as he spoke over the headsets. He introduced himself as Christopher.
With a sly smirk he told us to hold on for the best part. The engine began revving and the rotor blasted air downwards onto the tarmac. He lifted us a meter off the ground, tilted us forward, put on Top Gun’s Highway to the Dangerzone, and began racing us across the airport. It was totally exhilarating and awesome. To those who have dreamt of flying after watching Top Gun: it was better than you can imagine. The feeling of freedom and hovering in a helicopter is totally empowering.
Up we soared, over Honolulu and Waikiki. Christopher’s voice chimed in every now and then to explain the sights. He cracked Dad jokes and pointed out the Humpback whales breaching below us. We snaked around the perimeter of the island while listening to classic songs. While flying over the best surfing beaches he played The Beach Boy’s Surfin’ USA. ‘..tell the teacher we’re surfin’, surfin’ USA..’ From the spectacular coastline we headed inland to the dense, green jungle. Around volcanic mountains, close enough to almost touch, and then hovering over a 500m waterfall. Christopher did some fancy footwork, with banking, tilting and swooping. His calm demeanor and playful smile suggested that he was only touching on some of the tricks he could do. After an hour long ride we headed back to the helipad but not before we flew over the U.S.S. Missouri and Pearl Harbor. Approaching the harbour at low altitude, it was hard not to think of the Japanese pilot’s vantage point as they surprise attacked the base. The rusted wrecks of the sunken vessels still remain intact and are fully visible from the air.
From junkyard hoodrats to owning the skies, Hawaii has been breathtakingly beautiful and very interesting. As our journey comes to a close in the next week we are appreciating these last moments.