Honolulu, Hawaii – April 2015
By this time in our round the world journey we’ve had many tours by bus, van, taxi, car, tuk-tuk, boat…. so we welcomed the opportunity to tour from two slower moving wheels, tour by bicycle. We discovered a bicycle tour called “Hidden Honolulu” offered by Pedal Hawaii. We’ve toured many historical sites, ruins, churches, mosques, museums, art galleries and so on, so we were looking for something a little different. Hidden Honolulu fit that bill because it was by bicycle and it involved seeing things off the beaten path which we normally may not have seen in a tour by vehicle. Getting a little exercise and fresh air while seeing and learning about Honolulu, peaked our interest in this tour.
We booked the tour thinking we would be going with a group, but when the time came to depart, there was only one other person with us. It turned out great as we ended up with an almost individualized tour.
Our bicycles were very nice and were well maintained. When we booked the tour, we identified our ages and heights, so that when we arrived they had assigned bicycles with the appropriate sized frames, seats and handlebars set to the appropriate heights for each one of us. Before we left they had us sit and try out our bikes to ensure we were comfortable and that they were properly adjusted. Each bike had a zippered handlebar bag to store our water, cameras and personals. The bikes rode smoothly, quietly and shifted easily, you could always find a comfortable gear. These bikes were the nicest we’ve ever rode. Len said it almost felt as if his had shock absorbers, it was that smooth. We were given a complimentary bottle of water, and our guide was kind enough to ensure we were properly sun-screened (we had forgotten). By the end of the tour we were glad to have been sun-screened as it prevented some burns.
I wasn’t sure how well Aurora would do with the tour as she doesn’t have a lot of riding experience, and wasn’t a confident rider. She was a little nervous and uncomfortable at first and believed she couldn’t keep up, but after some coaching by our guide and adjustments to her bicycle, she did much better and felt more confident about her cycling as the day went on.
Our ride began from Pedal Hawaii’s shop. Our first highlight wasn’t far from the start, being the Honolulu Zoo. Unfortunately, we didn’t stop at the zoo, as that would’ve been a tour in itself. The zoo originally began as a compilation of King Kalakauna’s collection of exotic animals in approximately 1876. We could also see Diamond Head Mountain from the start of our tour. Well, all along the beachfront, you can see it from a distance, still it was a nice backdrop to start the tour.
Just past the zoo we rode by the Ala Wai Canal, which was constructed to replicate the style of canals in Venice, Italy and to manage the water system that turned the original shoreline wetlands/mangroves into “usable” land for development. Obviously there are pros and cons to this and it was done prior to current emphasis on conservation and environmental impact. That being said, if not for the canals, the current beachfront city, tourist industry, resorts and all associated businesses wouldn’t exist. The canals create a very picturesque area with very nice green spaces, alongside with unique building architecture and the backdrop of the beautiful Ko’olau Mountains.
During our tour one of the most noticeable and disturbing sights was the homeless population. We saw many tents and makeshift tarpaulin homes, including a designated tent city for the homeless. Our guide told us that one week previous, the tent city was only half the size of what we saw today. He said homelessness is a significant issue, partly because Hawaii’s great weather draws the homeless. Unfortunately for them the cost of living in Honolulu is very high, our guide said Hawaii is one of, if not the most expensive, US state to live in.
The tour took us through some older neighborhoods in which we got to see some late 1800’s and early 1900’s homes, “plantation era” homes. Sugar cane, coffee, pineapple, fruit and corn was the industry at that time. Housing is so expensive and limited that often it is willed from generation to generation and is rarely sold. The land value often far exceeds the home’s value. Our guide said the only agricultural land that still exits on the Island of Oahu is the Dole Pineapple Farm and there has even been talk of converting that land into more housing or business. The housing demand has used up almost any potential space for agriculture. In the early 1900’s the Island was self-sustaining with its own business and agriculture, but as tourism and the need for housing grew usable land just was swallowed up. We saw numerous cargo ships on the tour and our guide said if there were three consecutive days without incoming cargo goods, the Island would run out of necessities. The Island is completely dependent upon imports.
Along the white sandy beaches of Ala Moana were palm trees and beautiful green spaces and another interesting sight, the celebrations of beach luaus for children’s 1st birthdays. Our guide said, a 1st birthday is a huge celebration for Hawaiians. Not long ago, many children didn’t survive a year, so when a child did, it was cause for great celebration. We saw a number of these luaus occurring in parks as we rode by. They had it all, blowup slides, bouncy castles, tents, food, music and masses of people and presents. What a wonderful tradition.
Down as we were closer to the water we got to see some of the harbor area and the Honolulu Aloha Towers. We “climbed” those beautiful architectural beauties by elevator and took some very nice panoramic shots. We saw the world’s largest surviving metal hull sailing ship, docked in the harbor, although it was not seaworthy and was in need of major restorations. In keeping with Hawaii’s multiple dining choices, we saw a docked ship, called the Star of Honolulu which offered dining on three levels, beginning with casual dining at sea level, followed by “Second Class” dining above and at the top, “First Class” dining by reservation.
Following that we rode past the Oahu Island headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security, which in my opinion was quite an unremarkable building with no visible signs of security other than a “Restricted Area” sign. Shortly after that we arrived at Chinatown and its market. As it was the afternoon the market was very slow and unpopulated, the best time for the market is mornings. We got to try some “apple bananas” (local fruit) which was a first for all of us. In parts of Chinatown, the only vehicles allowed are bicycles and busses.
Our guide said the mayor of Honolulu is an avid bicycler and the city is becoming more and more bicycle and pedestrian friendly, to the delight of many but to the dismay of drivers. Part of our last section of the tour was along a bicycle lane on a busy commercial street, which took away parking and vehicle access to the businesses on that side of the street. It is understandable why some of the business community is unhappy about bicycle lanes. However, as a cyclist and tourist, it was nice to ride and sightsee without worrying about the danger of constant vehicular traffic. I think the mayor is headed in the right direction.
Speaking of vehicles, part of the tour took us along a stretch of street along which many high end car dealers were located, BMW, Audi, Maserati, and Mercedes and so on. Our guide said the colloquial name of the street, but I can’t recall what it was, but it was along the lines of Million Dollar Alley. Noah was very attentive on this part of the tour as he is very interested in vehicles especially the really expensive ones. Cycling by these expensive luxury vehicles is as close as I think I’ll ever get to these kinds of vehicles, but that’s OK, those vehicles are all about “image” and I’m not too worried about that.
We got to see the Royal Iolani Palace (from the outside) which was used by the Royalty of the Island, and the powerful and iron fist ruler, King Kamehameha. At over 7 feet in height and over 300 lbs. he was an experienced and successful warrior and held rule by brutal means. For example, it is said if you were unlucky enough to have crossed over his shadow, he would have sentenced you to death along with all the members of your family. On the positive side, if you consider it that way, he united all the tribes of Hawaii under one rule. His statue outside the Palace was an impressive sight. Following Britain’s arrival and overtaking of Hawaii, the power and leadership of the Royal Class came to an end.
Further along our tour we saw the building which was used and portrayed as the police headquarters of the television show, Hawaii Five O, I can hear the theme music playing in my head now.
We got to see “Point Panic” Surf Spot and the surrounding surfing area with many surfers. While there we saw a local fishing, who caught a fish, showing it to us and explaining it was the Hawaiian state fish, the Hawaiian Triggerfish. This is such a beautiful stop, but I can understand why they call it Point Panic, from where I was standing to looks a little risky.
We also got to see (from the outside) some Mission Houses and Oahu’s 1st Church, Kawaiahao Church. Construction of the church began in 1836. Interestingly the church contains about 14,000 pieces of coral rock from locals who dove cut and transported the pieces to the church. We also rode by the Neal S. Blaisdell Centre (previously known as the Honolulu International Centre) which is a world class center, additionally of fame because it was where Elvis Presley held his 1973 “Aloha from Hawaii” concert, which was broadcast worldwide. Of course we took the time to pose with Elvis’s bronze statue outside the arena, as that is as close as we’d ever get to him. We believed we were going to see some mural artwork of Urban Kaka’ako, which we never did. Honestly I was disappointed as I had been looking forward to seeing it. As we cycled for almost 4 hours, seeing “Hidden Honolulu”, we learned much about the Island of Oahu, for example that not surprisingly the most popular sport is surfing followed by kayaking. We knew about surfing, but the kayaking was new news to us.
We thoroughly enjoyed the tour, all the sites (despite the disappointment of missing the mural artwork) and the information we learned. Seeing Honolulu by bicycle is definitely something we would recommend. Next time we are in Honolulu we would love to take the “Explore the North Shore” tour or definitely rent a bike for a day and go exploring on our own.
Our “Hidden Honolulu” tour was sponsored by Pedal Hawaii, all opinions are our own.
150 Kapahulu Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815
Located at Queen Kapiolani Hotel