Something moves offshore, huge and colored, the only thing between me and a million miles of Pacific Ocean. I’m driving, catching glimpses of the water and fiddling with the radio dial — past Schofield Barracks, past the Kukaniloko Birthing Stones where for centuries the ruling class was born, past Dole Plantation. Radio reception sucks out here, but that’s OK. By the time the Kamehameha Highway drops down into the tiny town of Hale‘iwa, it’s time to listen to the ocean.
12:30 p.m. The whine of jet engines rings in my ears as I watch everybody else turn east out of the airport, heading to Waikiki. That’s a classic choice, but in my rental car, I go west. And that’s the kind of decision that makes a trip, or even a long layover. Skip Pearl Harbor this time. Save the Bishop Museum for when you have an entire day. Instead, in one afternoon, I can reach the end of the world.
1:15 p.m. Hale‘iwa looks like a movie set: a single main street of restaurants, art galleries, people hiding from Honolulu’s sensory overload. The traffic jams of people gawking at the Lost crew are almost gone, but that doesn’t seem to hurt the town any; it remains itself, unimpressed and as laid-back as an old pair of slippers. I’m not sure how many times I’ve come here over the years, but it’s not Hawaii to me until I’m walking through this town, ignoring tchotchkes and kayak rental shops ...
1:20 p.m. ... and cursing because I never seem to catch the open hours of the North Shore Surf and Cultural Museum. I want to honor Eddie Aikau, the legendary surfer who was lost at sea in 1978 while trying to rescue the crew of the voyaging canoe Hokule‘a. The phrase “Eddie would go” adorns T-shirts and bumper stickers all over the islands, memorializing his selfless courage. And there I’d almost let the hassle of renting a car stop me from seeing Oahu.
1:30 p.m. The last food I saw came wrapped in plastic five-thousand miles from where it was prepared. This kalua pig, slow-cooked in a pit dug into the ground I’m standing on — Hale‘iwa has a gazillion kalua options; find your favorite — delivers flavor that makes hard-core barbecue lovers think they’ve found the holy grail. Put it in a taco, add a mango shave ice, and I’m having a perfect day.
2:45 p.m. Pu‘u o Mahuka Heiau, a sacred structure, lies a few miles east of Hale‘iwa. Covering almost two acres, it’s one of the biggest remaining traces of ancient Hawaii on Oahu. I’ve been in temples and cathedrals around the world but none quite as eloquent as this black rock platform dotted with offerings wrapped in ti leaves. And no cathedral can match this view, the full curve of the earth over Waimea Bay.
3:30 p.m. On the soft sand of Mokule‘ia Park at Ka‘ena Point — the end of the world — ocean spray coats my glasses. When I clear them, the shapes I’d seen from above resolve themselves into kite surfers and their colored canopies, turning the waves into a playground. Out past the end of the road, I’ve never seen another person. Humpbacks sunning themselves in winter might be my only company.
5:30 p.m. It’s a last-minute change, but I want one more jaw-dropping Oahu view, the verdant eastern pali seen from Makapu‘u Point, easily worth the end-to-end scenic drive. Later at airport security, as I take my shoes off and sand spills out, my fellow travelers will see the sun in my eyes. And I’ll see the envy in theirs.
From the April/May 2010 issue of ISLANDS magazine.