(This is the last in a series of articles
that tell the stories about our three-week holiday
to San Diego, Hawaii and Australia.)
We stayed in Honolulu for two days on the way back from Australia. By stopping in Hawaii both coming and going from Australia, we broke up that killer of a plane ride that we had endured on previous visits Down Under. The last time we returned from there in 2010, we traveled for 34 straight hours from leaving Sydney to arriving in La Farge, most of it flying or waiting in airports. It is brutal travel! (Interestingly, because of crossing the International Date Line again, it was still the same date when we returned to the Kickapoo Valley as when we began the day.) Besides making the air travel easier, stopping in Hawaii is a beautiful place to visit.
While in Hawaii, we stayed at the Hilton Resort, which is the largest hotel complex on Waikiki Beach. It has four huge high-rise buildings full of rooms, an expansive beach along Waikiki, several pools on the grounds and restaurants, and bars and shops everywhere that you turn. It is also one of the most expensive hotels in the Hawaiian capital city. Everything is expensive everywhere in the 50th state, but our hotel seemed to take it to another level. (Another guest at our hotel told me that he had a breakfast at one of the hotel’s restaurants of Spam (Hawaiians are crazy for that Midwest delicacy (?) from Hormel), eggs, hash browns and coffee. The guy was from Las Vegas, so he was used to things costing plenty, but was a tad taken back by the $57 bill for his breakfast.)
On our first day on Oahu, we took a tour of the east shoreline. Our first stop was going to be at a beach just outside the city where there was always lots of surfing action. But the beach had been inundated with poisonous jellyfish the day before, so it was closed. We stopped at an overlook above the beach to admire the view and saw some humpback whales in the distance.
Our tour van drove up to Diamondhead, the dormant volcano that looms above Honolulu. We went down into the crater of the old volcano where hundreds of people were taking nature hikes on the many trails around the crater. As we descended from the volcano crater, we made another stop at an overlook of Hanauma Bay where we saw more whales cavorting in the Pacific.
We continued our drive around O’ahu’s East Shore to the Holona Blowhole & Cove. The blowhole is a creation of the lava rock on the shoreline. When the waves crash into the rock, the lava blowhole located far above the surf, shoots a water spray like a geyser up to thirty feet into the air. Since the surf was very high the day we were at Holano, the blowhole was spectacular!
Next to the blowhole is Holona Cove, a favorite swimming beach on O’ahu. It is also where the love scene in the 1953 movie “From Here To Eternity” was shot (Remember those waves crashing around Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr as they made out in the sand? I watched that movie at the Mars Theater in La Farge.), and there were lots of young couples on what is known locally as “Eternity Beach” emulating the movie stars. From the view above Holona Cove we could again see lots of humpbacks breaching near the shore.
After a brief stop at Sandy Beach (which had recently posted signs warning about the jellyfish) and at Makapu’u to view the lighthouse sitting out on the rocky point, we ascended Pali Mountain. We stopped at the top to walk over to the overlook, which has a fantastic view of Honolulu. There is an old railroad tunnel next to the overlook and on the way up the mountain we had driven through a couple of tunnels that the highway passed through. When constructed, the tunnels had allowed the road and railroad to cut through the mountain, shortening the trip to Honolulu for people and trade goods from the other side of O’ahu.
An oddity of Pali Mountain is the wildlife or should I say wild tamelife? The place is famous for its feral cats and chickens, which roam around everywhere. The two species have adapted to the mountain and each other in perfect harmony, even lying down next to each other as we walked along the paths of Pali.
On our last day in Hawaii, we visited the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. There were 25 people from our hotel who boarded the ENOA tour bus for the trip out to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument located at Pearl Harbor. The park is operated by the National Park Service and is first rate in every respect.
Before starting our tour of the USS Arizona, we walked around the park looking at other exhibits and displays. A World War II era submarine, the USS Bowfin is also anchored at the park, but we did not have time to tour the boat. Last September, we had toured the submarine USS Cobia at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc. That submarine is the same class of WW II subs as the USS Bowfin. The shipyards at Manitowoc built 28 submarines of that class during WW II, four of which were sunk during the war. The USS Bowfin was built at the shipyards in Portsmouth, Maine. There is also a submarine museum located in the park at Pearl Harbor.
We walked along the Pearl Harbor East Loch to look at the various displays. There was the Waterfront Submarine Memorial, USS Arizona Anchor, Remembrance Circle and Contemplation Circle, all of which presented displays that told the gripping accounts of that fateful day of December 7, 1941. Usually there is an actual living veteran of WW II on the grounds giving a narrative of the war. On our visit, a veteran who was at Pearl Harbor on the day of the Japanese attack was selling a book written about his memories of that day as he talked with visitors to the park.
We joined people from other tour groups and at our scheduled time, were escorted into a small theater next to the docks. The USS Arizona Tour begins with a 23-minute video about the Japanese attack on the bases at Hawaii on December 7, 1941. It is an excellent presentation of the events as they unfolded that day and includes film footage of the attack on Pearl Harbor that I had never seen before. Retired veterans serve as ushers and guides in the theater and an aura of reverence is soon felt. When the moving and emotional film concluded, many people (myself included) were wiping tears from their eyes.
Then we were ushered onto a boat that was waiting dockside next to the theater building. The US Navy operates this shuttle over to the memorial and reverence is maintained on the short ride over to the fallen USS Arizona. The memorial itself is a 184-foot long structure that rests on the water’s surface immediately over the sunken battleship. It was designed by architect Alfred Preiss and was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1962. At the far end of the memorial, away from the loading docks, there is a wall that contains the names of all of the 1,177 crewman of the USS Arizona who died on the day of the Japanese attack. Nine hundred of those sailors remain entombed in the sunken hull below the coral waters. At the end of the list of names, there is another growing column of names that really surprised me. It is a listing of forty-some names that were survivors of the attack on the USS Arizona and have returned to rest with their fallen comrades. I talked to one of the National Park Service guides working there at the memorial about this list and she said that the cremated remains of those former sailors has actually been lowered into the sunken structure of the battleship, where they remain for eternity. I found this very special and was emotionally touched by the revelation. As you watch the spots of oil leaking to the surface from the sunken ship below, one is reminded of those fallen sailors.
Another special moment occurred on the USS Arizona Memorial when we bumped into two other Kickapoogians while we were out there on the waters of Pearl Harbor. When I was admiring the memorial’s wall of names, I noticed this guy wearing bright neon green tennis shoes and shorts. I thought the guy was a dead ringer for Frank Kopecky and sure enough – it was! Frank and his wife Margot were also in our tour group and we visited with them as we all took the shuttle ride back over to the park. They had been staying in Honolulu for a month, visiting Frank’s son who works in the city. They just happened to be out on a Pearl Harbor Tour on the same day and at the same time that we were. It is a small world.
Later that day, we were aboard our Delta Airbus 330 and headed back to the snowy Midwest. Our seven and a half hour flight covered the 4,000 miles to Minneapolis seamlessly and we were soon driving home to La Farge. Our amazing three-week holiday to the Pacific was over (although the jet lag would continue on for several more days). San Diego, Maui, Sydney and Honolulu had been our destinations and now were grand memories of pleasant times.