Adventures on the other side of Oahu

It would be tempting to stay on the touristy side of Oahu, catching a gentle wave on one of Waikiki’s beaches, or doing a luau at one of the many fine hotels in Honolulu. Nothing wrong with that. But it’s not us.

We wanted to go where no one else does, because that’s how we are. (After all, we’re in search of the real Hawaii.) So we headed to the North Shore area, to Waimea Falls and Kualoa Ranch.

First, the bad news: Tourists have discovered these places, too. We found ourselves on a boat full of very polite Japanese visitors on the Hawaiian Fishpond and Garden Tour at Kualoa Ranch.

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After driving out to the island, a tour guide named Halam pulled us aside and asked us if we wanted to see the rest of the ranch. We did. Kualoa offers a number of tours, including horse rides, movie site tours (see where the movie Jurassic Park was filmed) and Hula lessons.

The fact that these place have been “discovered” shouldn’t stop you from seeing them. This is quite possibly the most beautiful part of the island, with its jagged mountains and picture-perfect beaches with monster waves.

Speaking of waves, if you come to Oahu, plan to spend at least one day hitting the North Shore surfing hotspots, like Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay and the Pipeline. My kids watched in astonishment as the ginormous waves came crashing onto Sunset Beach.

One surfer told us it was the first good day for waves of the season. Check it out. Awesome!

We headed up to Waimea Valley after that encounter with nature and hiked up the mountain to Waimea Falls. Our guide, Jenny (pictured above with Aren), told the kids traditional Hawaiian stories that explain how this place came to be.

Hawaiian folklore features plenty of war, fire and angry deities to keep the kids attention, although in complete fairness, it is considerably more peaceful than the Greek and Norse mythology that Kari and I were raised with.

We had an argument all the way back to our hotel about which gods would win if there were a war — the Greek or Norse gods? — and the Norse gods won. Now you know what travel writers talk about when they’re off the clock.

Waimea is enchanting. When we got up to the waterfalls, they were just finishing a free Hula lesson for visitors. Then the instructors got a chance to cut loose and dance their Hula, and they looked like they were having a blast.

So what do I think of Hawaii? I’m smitten.

We have loved every minute of this visit. The real Hawaiians I’ve met have been welcoming, friendly and endlessly patient with our questions. They’ve been genuinely hospitable to our three Keikis — that’s Hawaiian for “kids” — even when they weren’t on their best behavior.

I have lived everywhere, but have never felt quite at home until I visited Hawaii. We will definitely be back.