Earlier this year, in April, my boyfriend and I visited the island of Oahu in Hawaii for the very first time! I always felt like Hawaii was overrated because I know so many people that vacation there, but WOW WOW WOW!! This trip was easily one of the best ones I’ve ever gone on. We took our first-ever surfing lessons there, went on our first doors-off helicopter ride, and conquered the most extreme hike we have ever attempted. The whole trip was just an absolute dream, including the misadventures! Hawaii, you had me at aloha!
In this post I’ll be discussing some of the best things to do in Oahu, Hawaii and my ultimate favorite experiences on the island!
My Top Seven Moments in Oahu
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is a lush 400-acre garden and rainforest. It’s SO gorgeous! Driving or walking into the garden you’ll see palm trees along the road and an incredible mountain backdrop…it’s just to die for! We took so many pictures here because the beauty was endless. Everything was so green, the plants were flourishing, and the clouds sat still above the breathtaking mountain ridges.
The garden is, usually, not overcrowded so you won’t have to try so hard to get a good picture. It’s also free so you got nothing to loose and everything to gain!
Door-off Helicopter Ride
I cannot even begin to describe this extraordinary experience! Seriously…THE BEST! My boyfriend and I booked a one-hour, doors-off helicopter tour with Magnum Helicopters. We paid $200 per person and it was the best $400 we ever spent! We had the funniest and coolest pilot that shared the best random fun facts about the island. He even flew through areas he wasn’t technically supposed to (like Kualoa Ranch because they’re a private nature reserve) simply because we asked if we would be able to see it from above. What’s that quote? Ask and you shall receive? 😀
Our one-hour ride took us around the entire island and we got to see every single beach, every mountain ridge, every beautiful corner of Oahu. We flew through sunshine and we flew through clouds and rain. We got to see a school of dolphins, waterfalls, the Dole Plantation, Diamond Head State Monument, and of course, Honolulu’s gorgeous skyline and beach! I cannot stress this enough, if you’re on a budget and only have a certain amount to spend, spend on THIS!!! I swear it felt so unreal, I thought I was dreaming. It still feels like that!
Read more about my helicopter ride adventures here!
Stairway To Heaven Hike
Okay, this one was our craziest adventure yet! If you haven’t heard of Stairway to Heaven, please go read about it here, first. So now that you are more familiar, you must know that it’s illegal to climb Stairway to Heaven and also very dangerous. A lot off risk-takers and adventurers will do it anyway and wake up super early to make it in before any locals, security guard, or police officers stop them. Well, we didn’t want to get in trouble with the law but we still could NOT leave Oahu without hiking the stairs, so…we went the back way.
Apparently, so many people want to climb but not get in trouble so they found a route through the back of the mountain, called Moanalua Valley Trail. It’s an extremely strenuous hike and is only recommended for experienced hikers. It’s a total of 9.3 miles in and out, a 3051 feet elevation gain, and a lot of near vertical, muddy sections.
My boyfriend and I woke up at 5am to make it up by sunrise. SPOILER ALERT: there was no sunrise because it ended up raining and we were surrounded by clouds. We started hiking while it was still night out and that alone was terrifying. The further we hiked the steeper it got. When we first started we were below the clouds and were only experiencing light rain. But we hiked so high that suddenly we were amongst the clouds, where the rain was hitting us directly, and the 20mile/hour wind was knocking us off balance. I guess I should mention that this trail requires you to hike on a narrow mountain ridge that has steep drops on both sides!
The trail was wet, muddy, and slippery! And we were TERRIFIED!! But we couldn’t go back now, we are not quitters, so we continued. We reached sections where we literally had to rock climb and carry our weight over vertical ridges and all we had to aid us was rope that was tied down and that others had left out of the kindness of their hearts. Thank you kind strangers!! Anyway, 6 hours later, we finally made it to the top and tried to capture Stairway to Heaven but we were so nervous for the hike back down that we couldn’t really soak up the awesomeness of what we had just accomplished!
The hike back down was probably even scarier than the hike up. Let me remind you that it was raining and muddy and this hike, aside from it being long and dangerous, should not be attempted when it’s wet. So yeah, we were freaking out a bit (a lot)!! But we made it! Elven hours later, but we made it safe and sound! And, although I’m not encouraging you to hike this trail in the rain, I am encouraging you to do it when it’s COMPLETELY dry! It was scary, but it was EPIC!
Surfing Lessons and Turtle Encounters
Let me start by saying that this whole time I was a professional surfer and I didn’t even know it 😉 hahaha! My first time ever and I rode out so many waves, all the way to the end. GOSH! It was so much freakin’ fun! I definitely recommend that everyone tries out surfing. I purchased a Groupon with Moku Hawaii Surf Shop for a 60-minute private lesson for two for only $90. Our instructor was a blast and so helpful. For an additional $10 he took a kazillion photos and a ton of video footage. We even encountered a sea turtle and we were able to capture it on video. He was the cutest little guy.
Cliff Jumping in Waimea Bay
In Waimea Bay, North Shore, you’ll find a huge rock on the shore of the beach that is super popular for cliff jumping and diving. I am an adrenaline junkie and I love adventures like these. It’s not a super high jump so it’s actually pretty fun! It’s easy to climb and once you’re up there, you can appreciate the beauty of this beach. The first time my boyfriend and I climbed, we were pretty nervous. But once we jumped, we kept going back over and over to jump again. Haha! It’s a great FREE activity to do in Oahu.
As I mentioned before, Kualoa Ranch is a private nature reserve and a working cattle ranch. It is also a very popular filming location and some of the biggest blockbuster movies have been filmed here, like Jurassic Park. My boyfriend and I are huge movie nerds and things like these excite us so much. So, of course we had to visit.
We originally booked the ATV tour, which was a whole hour of riding through the ranch (it’s a 4,000 acre ranch). It was raining at the time and they don’t accept cancelations or refunds (rain or shine) so we had to ride in the rain. I was a little disappointed because I wanted to take cute pictures but we couldn’t after riding through the mud and slipping on the hills. We were soaked so we decided to forget about any pictures and just enjoy the ride in our soaked clothes and muddy shoes. Haha! That ended up being a blast, too! But we did return a second time during a sunny day to do the movie tour.
* If you’re going to visit Kualoa Ranch, make sure you book AT LEAST two weeks in advance because they are always booked and all the tours sell out. You are also not allowed in the farm without booking a tour. Basically, you’re not allowed to wander around freely.
A luau is a traditional Hawaiian party or feast-like event that will, most of the time, feature entertainment. Initially, this wasn’t on our itinerary but we heard it was a must-see so we caved in. I’m so glad we did, too, because the whole experience really embodies the essence of Hawaiian culture and the performances are outstanding!
My boyfriend and I reserved seats for the buffet and night show at the Polynesian Culture Center. They’re pretty pricy, but worth it. And the food was pretty good! Even though pork is the highlight of the feast, they offered vegan and vegetarian food. 😛 While we ate we got to see a six-year-old kid perform and do crazy stunts with fire batons. Like…what? My niece is eight and I can’t even imagine her using any kind of fire!
After dinner, we headed over to a large auditorium-like building where the show was being held. You should know, picture-taking and recording is not allowed. But at least it will keep you off of your phone and you’ll be able to direct your full attention to the wonderful stories, passionated singing and dancing, special effects, and celebrations from across the Pacific, performed by hundreds of natives!