Lighthouse on a Bluff
In October, we spent 10 days on Maui, Kauai, and Oahu. While it didn’t feel like we did “much,” I still have pages to tell about our trip. Here are some of the highlights:
Even though Rich lived on Kauai for two years and traveled there multiple times, every time he went to the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse was closed. Eager to see the lighthouse during this trip, we showed up 30 minutes before the refuge opened, and were near the front of the line when the gates opened. After driving to the top lot, we hurriedly parked and scrambled to the gift shop to sign up for the lighthouse tour.
Tours are limited to 15 people and are only conducted on Wednesdays and Saturdays, every hour, starting at 10:30 a.m. with the last tour at 2:30 p.m. It’s no wonder Rich previously missed out on touring the lighthouse with only 150 people permitted per week.
The lighthouse was built in 1913 with the refuge established in 1985 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to protect the ‘Ā (Red-footed booby), Mōlī (Laysan albatross), ‘Ua ‘u kani (Wedge-tailed shearwater) and other Kaua‘i wildlife. The coastal front also provides a safe haven for the endangered ‘Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua (Hawaiian monk seal), Honu (Green sea turtle), and Koholā (Humpback whale).
Unlike many lighthouses, the 52-foot high Kilauea Point Lighthouse is the same width from the top to the bottom. There’s no room for anyone to live in the lighthouse, it’s simply a beacon to guide sailors. Most of the lighthouse consists of a metal circular staircase, which corkscrews up to the 800-pound Fresnel lens, originally illuminated using a kerosene lantern. The keepers of the lighthouse had to add kerosene every 30 minutes. They used a pulley system to bring the kerosene up from the basement below the staircase.
The addition of a quartz iodine lamp increased the power of the lens from 250,000 to 2,500,000 candlepower.
Because the lighthouse is metal, which cools down overnight, it was very pleasant inside with the sea breeze wafting through the open windows and sunlight cascading down through the lens, creating slivers of dancing light beams.
We could climb the topmost ladder to view and take pictures of the lens, which is dazzling with beveled prisms, forming a large egg-shaped “jewel” that creates rainbows of color anywhere you look. When I came down the ladder, I commented to the tour guide that I’d previously seen a Fresnel lens when I lived in Oregon. He glared at me, but using the “Google machine,” I discovered Fresnel lenses are installed in lighthouses in Tillamook, Cape Meares and Umpqua River lighthouses.
Pearl Harbor Unexpectedly Somber
Having visited the Pearl Harbor website before flying to Hawaii and seeing the plethora of museums and attractions you can spend money on, I didn’t want to go. However, Rich is a World War II geek, so I decided to have an open mind.
Unfortunately, we didn’t purchase tickets before we left. We therefore had to rely on our small-screened, often pokey-slow smart phones to research options, which meant, we had a heck of a time figuring out what to see and then to buy the tickets (at the last minute). Rich opted for some “deluxe tour,” but didn’t really know what it entitled.
Earlier in the morning, we’d flown to Oahu from Kauai, checked into an Airbnb in Waikiki, and then spent an hour or so in Honolulu’s Chinatown where we had lunch at an open market. We thought we had plenty of time to get to the memorial but didn’t count on a minor traffic jam because of a downpour or realize we’d have to hunt for a parking space. When we got to the gates, it clearly stated, “no purses or backpacks,” so we had to dash back to the car to put my diminutive purse in the trunk Rich put my cell phone in his cargo shorts, and I carried my camera.
By the time we got to the front of the “correct” line to get our tickets (because Rich originally stood in the wrong line), the park ranger shook his head and said we were too late for our scheduled tour. Not deterred, I grabbed the tickets and raced to the auditorium where the tour began. Rich was in hot pursuit.
Happily, we were admitted to the auditorium, and were able to find a seat towards the front, a moment before the lights dimmed and the film began. Deep breath.
The rest of our visit to the memorial went smoothly.
Following the film, we walked outside and boarded a boat with rows of seats, which took us around Pearl Harbor. The tour guide, a sailor, pointed out where the various ships had been docked, attacked, and some eventually sunk when the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service attacked the harbor on December 7, 1941. While I feigned disappointment over not being able to see the USS Arizona Memorial, which is undergoing repairs, I was relieved. The memorial is situated over the sunk USS Arizona, which is the final resting place of the 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed on the ship during the attack.
The weight of the horror of what occurred was enough without standing over the sunken ship, especially after watching the film and learning the incoming Japanese fighters, dive-bombers and torpedo planes had been spotted that morning on the SCR-270 radar oscilloscope. It was the first-time radar had been used in warfare by the U.S. forces. The only reason why the system was operating was because a truck hadn’t arrived to take the radio operators back to their base.
At 7:02 a.m. on December 7, 1941, the operators detected a large echo. They notified the Aircraft Warning Information Center but were told “Don’t worry about it.” The commanding officer believed it was a flight of US B-17 Flying Fortress bombers expected to reach Oahu that day. Less than an hour after seeing the Japanese airplanes on the radar, 353 Imperial Japanese aircraft attacked in two waves.
All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged and four were sunk. Three were later raised, and eventually six were returned to service and fought in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. Additionally, 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed, 2,403 Americans were killed, and 1,178 others were wounded.
The weight of what occurred hung over the memorial. People spoke quietly. Children walked alongside their parents. There was little laughter.
After taking the boat tour, we walked around the memorial, before lingering at the Waterfront Submarine Memorial, which consists of 52 markers, denoting the submarines that were lost during World War II, and the 3,600 submariners who died. Although the submarine service was the smallest military unit, they made the greatest sacrifice in terms of loss of life – one in five of the nearly 18,000 crew members who went into battle never returned to port.
It was alarming to read how many submarines didn’t surface or blew up with everyone aboard killed. Many had mechanical problems, which prevented them from surfacing. Others were damaged in warfare. It must have been frightening, knowing you’re doomed to die in a submarine sitting on the ocean floor or leaking, having been damaged.
Slightly rainy, the Pearl Harbor Memorial wasn’t overly crowded, enabling us to purchase tickets to tour the USS Bowfin, a submarine that was launched a year after the Pearl Harbor attack, resulting in the nickname, “Pear Harbor Avenger.” It became one of the most decorated submarines of World War II, completing nine successful war patrols that culminated in sinking 44 enemy ships.
I’d been on a submarine when we visited Baltimore, so I didn’t have high expectations. The USS Bowfin, however, was fascinating. Every inch of the submarine is restored, polished, and primped to perfection. The self-guided audio tour was engaging, plus an older veteran, who’d been on World War II submarines was available to answer questions.
Nearly every member of the 80-member crew on the USS Bowfin smoked, didn’t take showers for months at a time, and shared bunks in the 312-feet long by 27-feet wide submarine, armed with an array of guns, including up to 24 torpedoes, which were loaded by hand.
Along with visiting four or five buildings filled with World War II displays and memorabilia, there were outdoor exhibits, including a Kaiten manned torpedo from an Japanese ship. Powered by a type 4 oxygen-kerosene engine, the torpedo carried 3,960 pounds of explosives, enough to significantly damage an allied vessel.
The McCann rescue chamber, a 10-foot high metal egg-shaped pod, was tested for rescuing crew from sunken American submarines. It was deployed for rescuing 33 men from the sunk USS Squalus, during a test dive, but was never deployed during World War II.
One of the more interesting aspects of the Naval museum was submarine and unit insignias, some of which were drawn by Disney artists, like caricatures of fish, turtles, sharks, dragons, and other animals holding torpedoes, tridents and other weaponry. Here’s the one for the Bowfin.
World’s largest open-air shopping center
When we booked an Airbnb on the north short of Oahu, the description noted it was within walking distance of Ala Moana, touted as the world’s largest open-air shopping center. While driving to our Airbnb, we passed blocks of high-end stores, including Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, and Saks OFF 5th.
It wasn’t until we set out – on foot – later that evening to “hunt” for dinner and stock up on food for the rest of the week that we comprehended the size of the shopping center, which has over 350 stores and restaurants. Most of the shopping center has stores and restaurants that branch off from the 4-story open-air plaza with anchor stores at both ends and in the middle.
Level two, which consists of the Ewa and Diamond Head Wings were WAY ABOVE our income range, featuring stores like Valentino, CELINE, Prada, Gucci, Channel, Cartier, Diane von Furstenberg, Longines, Burberry, Montblanc, Bulgari, Saint Laurent, Armani Exchange, RED Valentino, Salvatore Ferragamo, Michael Kors, Porsche Design, and many more luxury brands. Stationed at the doors of these upscale shops were guards who monitored who entered, allowing only those with the right “look” to escape the steamy plaza and go inside the air-conditioned stores.
This photo shows the open plaza and the stores on either side.
On a mission, we scurried by the stores, and headed to the food court, which has over 30 restaurants from well-known chains like Panda Express, Sbarro, Jamba Juice and Haagen-Dazs to imaginative eateries like Aja Sushi & Bento, Ala Moana Poi Bowl, Little Café Siam, Nagasaki Champon by Ringer Hut, Naniwa-ya-Ramen, Poke & Box, Yummy Korean BBQ, and Zagu Original Crystal & Pearl Shakes.
We settled on a pedestrian sandwich, which we split, along with a bag of Fritos. Rich was in “cheap mode.”
Less hungry, we headed to the far end of the shopping center to the Foodland Farms to hunt and gather groceries. Happily, the store exceeded our expectations. It was packed with shoppers, a group of people perched on barstools doing a wine tasting, another group participating in a cooking class, and tired office workers choosing from dozens (and dozens) of prepared foods in rows of heated and cooled food bars, featuring poke and seafood, meats, traditional and Asian foods, olives and other pickled yummies, and mochi, along with cases of ready-to-eat produce. Complementing their meat, fish, bakery, and deli counters, they have stations where you could order pizza, bubble tea, coffee drinks, ice cream treats, and other freshly prepared foods.
We left with Spam musubi, containers of poke and sushi, fruit and vegetables, packages of fresh ramen, Hawaiian cookies, and much more! I could have spent an hour or more wandering through the mega-store and “salivating” over the foods.
After our Hawaii trip, Rich found an old brochure for Ala Moana in his mother’s photo albums. At the time, probably in the 1980’s, the anchor stores were JC Penney, Sears, Liberty House, and Shirokiya. Only Shirokiya is still in business and in the shopping center. It’s been rebranded as Japan Village Walk, as a “theme park village” in the image of Monzen-machi, a town built adjacent to shrines & temples with the Guardian Spirits Sanctuary at its core.
Fabulous Honolulu and Waikiki
Outside of snorkeling and walking along stunning beaches, my favorite place in Hawaii was Honolulu. I love Honolulu and wish we had an entire day to explore the city, instead of a few hours, primarily spent in Chinatown.
The capital and largest city in Hawaii, Honolulu is the most remote city of its size in the world with a population in 2017 of 359,870, and nearly a million people in the surrounding county. Honolulu, which means “sheltered harbor” or “calm port,” is ranked high on world livability, and is the second safest city in the U.S.
Honolulu is also brimming with ornate historical buildings, breathtaking skyscrapers – some unimaginably skinny to fit into small spaces – gorgeous civic centers and museums, and dramatic hotels and resorts. In-between are apartments and condos of every size and shape, from elegant low-rise complexes from the 1940’s and 1950’s with wrought-iron staircases and balconies to gleaming towers with floor to ceiling windows. There are also mid-rise tenements with louvre windows and ugly concrete walls, with nearly every balcony, teeming with clothes hanging on lines, water heaters, air conditioning units, rickety patio furniture, and surfeit from cramped apartments.
The income disparity is stark. The farther from the water, the more run-down the buildings. Even so, being able to enjoy the beach, shop at nice stores, and take advantage of community activities seems to be within reach of everyone.
While relaxing in the outdoor hot tub at our Airbnb, we chatted with two women from Peru, one of which lives in a small apartment, owned by the same company that also manages the tower where our Airbnb was located. They shared how they regularly go to the beaches and enjoy living in Honolulu, even though it was obvious neither one had a high-paying job.
Chinatown, which is north of downtown Honolulu, was buzzing with people zipping into storefront grocery stores, herb shops, small clothing and gift stores, bubble tea and coffee shops, and restaurants, perusing produce at open-air stands, enjoying the sunshine in the many plazas, or scurrying to places of work.
One of the oldest Chinatowns in the US, the area is abounding with historic buildings with ornate facades, carved wooden doors, windows with colorful shutters, and vintage signs. Where we parked, a beautiful Asian woman in a fluffy white wedding dress, with bright red high-heels and red lipstick was posing on the steps of a historical building with a photographer and his assistance arranging her dress. I wish I’d slowed for a minute to take her picture, but we had to be at Pearl Harbor at a specific time to take the tour.
Driving back from Pearl Harbor, I spotted a “building” I hadn’t seen earlier. As we got closer, I realized it wasn’t a building, but a huge cruise ship that had pulled up to the dock. It was parked less than 20-30 feet from the highway.
Later that afternoon, while walking near the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, and attempting to take a selfie, a young woman (or maybe effeminate man), offered to take our picture. She claimed to be the photographer on the boat that had docked.
The photos turned out awful, but it was fun talking to her about what it’s like to be on the boat. She said most of the crew came from Asian countries. She was from India and would be on the boat for 6 months at a time with little down-time in-between.
A final note on Honolulu: Waikiki and the North Shore are truly paradise. Gorgeous, wide, sandy beaches, turquoise water, and spectacular hotels, resorts, and houses. I wouldn’t mind returning to Oahu!
Small world: People we met
Maybe because Hawaii is on the west coast, we bumped into numerous people from the Pacific Northwest. While wandering through the Kula Botanical Garden on Maui, Rich struck up a conversation with a man who used to live in Bullhead City, AZ, who helped build the Laughlin Casino.
After snorkeling in Kauai, we got shave ice, and chitchatted with a couple. The wife went to the same elementary school as Rich in Long Beach and was two years younger. They may have crossed paths in the hallways of Cubberly Elementary. Another coincidence was the husband’s friend had just moved to Whidbey Island!
While lounging in the hot tub at our Airbnb in Kauai, we talked to a couple who live in Silverdale, WA. The man knows Rich’s daughter’s husband, Shawn Lee. Also, in the tub was a couple from Alaska who bought a boat in Silverdale, which is close to where Shawn and Stacey Lee live.
On the first day we arrived on Maui, we visited Iao Valley State Park, and spotted a red Tesla. The owner showed up while we were admiring the car. He’d shipped the car from somewhere in California since he and his young “male” companion where staying in Hawaii for three months, and it was cheaper to ship the car rather than rent.
While talking to the Tesla owner, an elderly couple from Oregon joined the conversation. They also owned a Tesla and didn’t hesitate to wax poetic about the virtues of going electric.
While visiting Kilauea on Kauai, we drove by the house Rich and his wife June lived in over 35 years ago. Rich had built the garage and was proud it had withstood several hurricanes. While checking out the house from the parking lot across the street, we saw someone pull into the driveway.
Rich hopped out of the car, sprinted across the street, and started talking to them. A few minutes later, we were invited into the house by the current owner who purchased it last year. Rich showed her where the house had been extended and reminisced about living in Kilauea. While the house has somewhat stayed the same, its value went up from $30,000 or so to over $700,000.