Exploring the Windward Coast: Kaneohe and Kailua

After having explored the food scene in Waikiki, seen the street art in Kakaako, and driven around the northernmost tip of Oahu; we set our sights east to the Windward Coast of Kaneohe and Kailua. I packed an entire day full of sights, tastes, and hikes. I’ll argue why this probably isn’t the best idea—to do all of these items in one day—but it’s definitely doable.

Let’s go!

After enjoying a small breakfast at our hotel in Waikiki, we took highway 61 through the Pali Lookout to our first destination, a replica of a historic Kyoto temple.

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Byodo-In Temple (平等院 / byou dou in) is a large replica of the famous 900-year old temple by the same name in Japan. It is located in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, a cemetery, at the end of a short, windy road.

Once in the temple, you simply drive straight along the same road. It will curve around twice before leading to a parking lot. There is an attendant at the end of the parking lot who takes money for the entrance fee. The entrance fee is pretty nominal and helps support upkeep of the temple.

After crossing a bridge, the temple will seemingly appear out of nowhere.

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The temple grounds includes a sacred bell house (鐘撞堂 / kane tsuki dou), meditation pavilion, gift shop, and a large lake with seemingly hundreds of koi. As you enter the grounds, you can ring the sacred bell. Ringing the bell, in addition to spreading the teachings of Buddha, is said to bring happiness and a long life.

The main draw, of course, is the temple itself with a large, 9 foot tall golden Buddha. This statue is thought to be the largest carved outside of Japan.

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To enter the room with this statue, you walk up the steps or ramp above. Before entering, you must take off your shoes. There are dedicated places at each entrance to place your shoes as you pay your respect.

One of the unique things I noticed on this trip is the emblems of different types of faith. Next to Nishi Hongwanji, for instance, was a Christian Cross. Fittingly, Byodo-In means equality temple.

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Outside the temple, there was a place to purchase pellets to feed the fish. The fish were a ravenous bunch of creatures. Except for the occasional tolling of the bell, the fish splashing around were the only loud sounds around Byodo-In.

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After paying our respects and feeding the koi, we headed south of the cemetery to a local okazuya.

Okazuya can be likened to a Japanese deli, where you will often find dozens of items that you can eat, oftentimes in a refrigerated glass environment. On the lookout for andagi, fried Okinawan donuts (or Okinawan dango), we headed to Masa & Joyce Okazuya in Kaneohe.

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Inside, the decor is no frills. There were a bunch of trash bins lined up inside on a far wall. I wasn’t here for the ambiance though.

I was here for the okazuya and andagi. Sadly, they ran out of andagi earlier in the morning. Undetermined, I got a bunch of small items to try including a somen salad, shoyu poke, tofu poke, nishime, spam musubi, and kabocha (Japanese pumpkin).

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Except for the futomaki, everything was amazing. They tasted like many of the dishes my grandma would have made when I was growing up. It’s funny too because the older woman who helped me, sensing I wasn’t from Hawai’i, asked how I stumbled into her shop. I told her about how I wanted to eat more food that reminded me of my grandma’s. She humbly obliged with a bunch of the recommended dishes above.

If you’re looking to experience yet another type of local cuisine, give okazuya a try at Masa & Joyce Okazuya.

Parking can be hard as there is a popular Chinese restaurant nearby, but the taste and quality of the food is well worth the visit.

After lunch, we headed due east to hike the hills above Lanikai Beach.

The Lanikai Pillbox Hike (a.k.a. Kaiwa Ridge Trail) is local gem. Where many visitors stay in Waikiki and do hikes like Diamond Head or Manoa Falls, the Pillbox Hike is often overlooked. This intermediate difficulty hike is amazing, if just in terms of the stunning views of the Mokulua Islands and surrounding bay.

The term pillbox is in reference to the bunker used to keep watch for enemy activity. These pillboxes and many others were created on all of the Hawaiian islands after US annexation out of fear that Japan would attack the islands. Today, these structures stand as a reminder of a bygone era.

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After parking in the neighborhood adjacent to the beach, we walked to the entrance to Pillbox Hike which is located across from the Mid Pacific Country Club on Kaelepulu Drive. It partially looks like you might be going the wrong way, but soon enough you’ll see a dirt trail on the left with sparse trees and ropes attached to those trees.

The ropes help people climb up the somewhat slippery, steep slope. Eventually the angle of the slope decreases and it becomes easier to hike up the trail without crouching and crawling up.

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Even before reaching the first pillbox, the views are amazing. Love that crystal blue water.

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As we climbed higher and higher, the wind coming from the ocean got more intense. Gusts sometimes made it hard to stand without moving around slightly.

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As we continued up the hill, the terrain also started to change with more dry brush and cacti scattered about.

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There are a few places where the trail becomes a little more ambiguous. You’ll have to climb up a few rocks, for instance, but the trail continues after these points.

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Almost there!

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Once we made it to the first pillbox, I was done. I felt like I shouldn’t have hiked on a full stomach and that I should have brought water along with me. There were a few times where I questioned whether or not to progress onward. Still, having made it slowly to the first pillbox was a nice reward. The views are sweeping and stunning.

There is another pillbox that people will often continue onto. The hike to the first one was enough for me.

Some parts of this trail get surprisingly dry. Water is a must. Stay hydrated if you plan on taking on this trail.

Once we got back down to sea level, we changed into swim gear and headed a block north to Lanikai Beach.

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Lanikai Beach is probably one of my favorite beaches on the island because of how (relatively) quiet it is, the breeze of the ocean, how soft the sand is. The color of the sand and the warm temperature doesn’t hurt either.

After spending some time building a sand castle structure and playing in the water, we headed off to get some shave ice at a local shave ice shop, Island Snow.

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Island Snow is part surf shop, part shave ice store. What makes this location special though are the selection of natural flavors and this local celebrity.

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Apparently, this local shave ice shop is an Obama family favorite.

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We got two large shave ice with ice cream (because when in Hawai’i). We elected to go with Welch Brother’s all natural locally grown flavors. Specifically we tried the Jaboticaba and Haiku Mountain Apple. The mountain apple was a little light, but the flavor was still there. It’s always nice to get a little reminder of Taiwan, even when over 5,000 miles away.

Overall, I really appreciated these more natural flavors. It’s a stark departure from the typical shave ice flavors you can get around the island.

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Having hiked Pillbox Hike, this was a refreshing way to cap off our adventures in the town of Kailua.

By now, it was the late afternoon. I drove us to our last destination for the day, Koko Head.

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Koko Head is large crater created as a result of volcanic activity. Like the hills around Lanikai, it has a pillbox on top. The railway above was used to transport supplies up to summit. Nowadays, it’s a deceivingly strenuous hike that’s popular with locals and tourists alike.

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The first 10th of the hike is pretty easy and level. Soon enough, the hike becomes more steep.

Because the hike uses old railway tracks, many parts of the hike are in disrepair.

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Local efforts have helped improve the quality of the hike for future use, but there are many steps that still missing or simply replaced with cinderblock.

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A little around halfway through, the steepness tapers off a bit. Don’t let your guard down though. The railway creates a bridge that has a 40 foot drop underneath it. Because I didn’t feel like dealing with the heights, I found a pathway on the right side of the trail that ran in parallel to the tracks. I took this pathway until the bridge ended and there was solid foundation under the tracks again.

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90% of the way up is when things get super steep and super difficult. It’s not uncommon for people to walk a few steps at a time before resting.

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Once you get to the top, you’re treated to more amazing views—this time of Hanauma Bay and surrounding Hawaii Kai.

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As the sun was beginning to set, we doubled our pace heading down the crater. Going down is much easier, but it’s still easy to miss a step or two.

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Keeping track of your feet and where they are going can make all the difference for this hike, turning it into a fun albeit strenuous one.

This was the second time I attempted Koko Head. The first time, I couldn’t make it beyond that 90% mark because of heights. I persevered this time though and made it to the top. It was so nice to actually experience the top of Koko Head and to feel the breeze coming from the northeast.

Definitely, if you’re doing this hike, have water on hand. Actually, have water on hand for all of these hikes. These hikes can get surprisingly dry and hot, making them even more challenging.

One last note, though we did two hikes in own day, if you can split up the hikes, you’ll probably enjoy the experience more. At the end of the day, we were thirsty, hungry, and just ready to pass out. It was a fun last (full) day on Oahu, but boy was it a tiring one.

Byodo-In Temple

Masa & Joyce Okazuya

Pillbox Hike

Lanikai Beach

Island Snow Hawaii

Koko Head Hike

My Rating:

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