Driving along the H-3, Likelike or Pali, you can’t miss it—the lush, picturesque mountain range bathed in an early morning light, or shrouded by low-hanging clouds from a passing storm. Sometimes it’s decorated in ribbons of waterfalls; other times, it’s beautifully green and shimmering under the bright sun.
The Koʻolau mountain range is verdant and unique, as synonymous with the island of Oʻahu as the craterous Diamond Head and historic Pearl Harbor. Yet aside from keeping their eyes peeled for its unmatched beauty, visitors tend not to explore the surrounding area beyond the natural wonders on land and at sea. Typically, East Oʻahu sightseeing is limited to a trip to Kailua Beach or a stop to observe Mokoliʻi, or “Chinaman’s Hat,” before returning to town following a drive back over the Koʻolaus.
Little do people know, such a limited Windward itinerary means you’re missing out on the complete Oʻahu experience. At This Week Hawaii, we always challenge people to travel beyond the Koʻolaus and enjoy all of the truly unique offerings this special island has to offer. Here are some of our favorites:
Byodo-in Temple (Valley of the Temples)
This Hawaiʻi State Landmark is both breathtaking and tranquil, boasting an iconic design and a lush landscape. Situated at the foot of the Koʻolau range, the Byodo-In Temple was designed after the nearly 1,000 year old temple in Uji, Japan, and is open to people of all faiths and beliefs. In fact, many Hawaiʻi residents and visitors from Japan use the temple for their wedding ceremonies! When unoccupied, Byodo-in Temple invites visitors to stop, explore and meditate in its hallowed halls before wandering its verdant grounds, unique gardens and large reflecting pool with Japanese koi.
Cinnamon’s in Kailua
No trip to the Windward side is complete without a stop at Cinnamon’s, a local breakfast and lunch spot popular with visitors and locals alike. Cinnamon’s breakfast specialties include the sweet yet tart Guava Chiffon pancakes, signature Kalua Pork Eggs Benedict and mouthwatering Loco Moco, which you can upgrade to the ‘MoeMoe’ Moco, featuring kalua pig, homemade beef stew and lau lau! If you’re looking for a true taste of Hawaiʻi, then Cinnamon’s is the foodie joint for you.
Visit Kualoa Ranch to get a better sense of Oʻahu’s truly diverse landscape. Far removed from the bustle of downtown Honolulu and other urban meccas, Kualoa Ranch is a thriving natural respite made up of 4,000 acres of dense rainforest, wide-open valleys, Hawaiian cultural sites and pristine beaches. As a visitor at the Ranch, you can spend your day enjoying ATV tours, ziplining, horseback riding, beach activities and so much more, all with sweeping, panoramic vistas and the picturesque Koʻolau Mountains as your backdrop. For all the movie buffs out there—Kualoa Ranch is also home to some of Hollywood’s most popular Box Office hits, including Godzilla, Jurassic Park and Jurassic World! PC: Kualoa Ranch.
Lanikai Beach Park
The aptly named Lanikai Beach, translated as “heavenly sea,” is a pristine luxury—sparkling blue waters, sprawling white sand and curved palm trees straight from a postcard. From Lanikai Beach you can spot the majestic Mokulua Islands, two islets just off of Wailea Point to where you can kayak or canoe. Whether you enjoy aquatic sports, swimming, paddle boarding or simply lounging on the shore with a good book, Lanikai Beach offers something for everyone. PC: HTA / Daeja Faris.
Waiahole Poi Factory (drive a little further)
Drive a little further for authentic Hawaiian food from Waiahole Poi Factory. This family-owned business cooks up some of the island’s best poi, made fresh and on site daily. Located in lush and accessible Waiāhole Valley, Waiahole Poi Factory is also known for its traditional Hawaiian plates featuring lau lau, kalua pig, squid luʻau and haupia. Don’t leave Windward Oʻahu without sampling Waiahole’s delectable, hand-pounded poi!