Day 2: Koko Crater and Hanauma Bay
In the second of these 4 days in Honolulu and Oahu, we’ll leave the city behind but not venture too far. We’ll start the day with a hike and finish off in one of the world’s most beautiful bays.
Pro tip: wondering what happened to the Pearl Harbor Museum visit? Scroll back up to the itinerary outlined at the start of this travel guide. Below the outline, you’ll find a recommendation on how to “squeeze” a museum visit into this sample itinerary.
Logistics for the Day
Today’s itinerary can be done either with a car (recommended) or with a bus (take the #22 from Waikiki Beach). Whatever the case may be, pack for hiking, beach, and snorkeling (plus a change of clothes). Don’t forget adequate sun protection as this part of Oahu is very sunny. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and snacks, as these are expensive in Hanauma Bay.
Breakfast in Waikiki
Start your morning at Tropical Tribe on Ala Moana Boulevard with the best acai bowls in Honolulu. If you can’t make it here, a good acai bowl is never too far away in Honolulu. Just have a look online.
Hiking the Koko Crater
Oahu boasts many hiking trails and the Koko Crater Trail is definitely one of the more challenging and rewarding hikes. I’m talking about a steep mile-long climb over 1,000 “steps” that are actually the remains of an old railway built during WWII to construct and supply a lookout tower atop the summit of this tuff cone – Diamond Head’s little sibling.
The more you climb, the finer the views get, even if you don’t make it to the summit. On a good day, you’ll enjoy exclusive views of Hanauma Bay and the coastline!
Logistics: park at Koko Head District Park and pick up the trail leading up (hard to miss). The trail is exposed throughout the journey so be sure to protect yourself from the sun and drink plenty of water. Don’t forget to do a bit of stretching before and after!
Spectacular Hanauma Bay has to rank among the prettiest in the world, certainly when it comes to the tropical ones. Its perfect crescent of golden sand meeting turquoise waters is protected from the outside world by tall cliffs. As with Waikiki, the bay was the playground of Hawaii’s royal family in the past, and it was off-limits to tourists for many years until rebranding itself as a marine reserve.
The name of the game in Hanauma Bay is the snorkeling, thanks to an ancient coral reef that is almost completely sheltered from the violent forces of the Pacific Ocean. But even if snorkeling isn’t your thing, I highly recommend visiting Hanauma Bay, even if just to enjoy the views from the top before continuing your road trip along the coast.
The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and Marine Park is no ordinary park. Due to the delicate marine ecosystem and the high tourist demand, visitor numbers are restricted and you might need to wait at the scenic lookout before being admitted ($7.50). You will then be requested to watch a video explaining just how delicate this marine ecosystem is and what is required from you during your visit.
Please respect these rules and even if you get “pissed off” for being forced to watch this video, remember that Hanauma Bay was off-limit for so many years and it is thanks to the staff that you’re even able to splash in its waters!
Once you’ve cleared the video, you’re free to either walk down to the beach or use a paid motorized service. The busiest section of the beach is the closest to where the trail ends/begins and this is also the best snorkeling spot. The further you head along the beach, the more quiet things get but you will by no means have a large patch of sand all to yourself.
Logistics: paid parking is available or you can take the #22 bus from Waikiki Beach. Hanauma Bay is busy throughout the day but especially during weekends and holidays when it is best to avoid. Full facilities are available at the beach and up top. Bring water, food, and snacks as those are quite overpriced in the restaurant by the entrance. Lastly, it is best to bring your own snorkeling gear because, as you may have already guessed, renting here is quite expensive!