After being "closed" for several months, some Hawaiian islands have begun to reopen. Significant precautions have been taken by the local government to keep this archipelago as safe as possible.
Looking for some first hand Hawaiian travel insight? Read on for a recap of a recent travel experience.
Getting To Hawaii
The Hawaiian islands created strict pre-travel requirements for travelers, with the hope of keeping travelers safe. In order to travel to Hawaii, you must upload a negative COVID test result within 72 hours of your arrival, along with a traveler form outlining details about your local accommodation and length of your stay. One added caveat is that Hawaii only accepts test results from authorized labs, so you must test with one of these providers.
On paper, this sounds like an easy task to complete. However, as I found in the days leading up to my departure, guaranteeing the COVID test will return within that 72 hour period was difficult. Most places, such as CVS, say their test results will arrive 3-5 days after the test is administered; I needed a 72 hour guarantee. I also tried a service called “The Vault” which strives to return results within three days but it took slightly longer due to anticipated shipping delays around the holidays. Tip: Try to avoid scheduling your arrival flight on a Tuesday or Wednesday, since most labs and shipping services do not operate on Saturday and Sunday; hence your test may be delayed.
My flight was scheduled to depart at 8 am and by 5 am that morning I still had not received my test results. I canceled my 8 am flight, and at 9:30 am that morning my negative test result arrived in my inbox. Thankfully there was a 2:30 pm flight departing and I rebooked on that flight. Phew!
It was a rather stressful process with the timing of the test and after that, it was smooth sailing. Gratefully the airlines currently offer free change fees, so we were not financially penalized for the unanticipated changes.
Arriving in Oahu
Once I landed in Oahu, everyone on board the plane was placed in a line to have their information verified, check that they had been tested and that their results were uploaded into the data system. The process for me took only 15 minutes, but a friend of mine who arrived at a busier time had about a 30 minute wait. Beside the wait to validate my information, everything related to travelling by air was the same as any other time: obtain your boarding pass, check your luggage, wear your mask, etc.
The Oahu Vibe
I assume that because of the strict testing requirements to enter the Hawaiian islands, it seemed like people on island were more comfortable when it came to COVID and mask wearing. Hawaii has worked hard to create a healthy "pod" of travelers and residents.
Like most destinations, masks are required in a store, restaurant, or when ordering at a food truck. Beside that, it was mostly mask free since so much of the Hawaiian experience is outdoors in the fresh air, and there is lots of space to maintain distance. When we were at the beach we were not required to wear a mask, nor did we see anybody wearing one. The same case applied when hiking or dining outside. For the most part, COVID's visual presence on the island was when we were inside stores or eating indoors for a meal.
Tips for the Recreationalist
For this trip, I stayed at a friend's house just outside of Haleiwa on the North Shore. Our days mostly consisted of trips to the beach to surf and swim, go on hikes, and visit local shops and food stands. Haleiwa is a very nice, historic town, with a long history of surfing. The overall vibe of the town matches the charm. There are lots of little surf shops, surf rental places, and small food trucks or restaurants. Each building had unique colors to it, with no one building looking the same as the next. We spent most of our time in Haleiwa, going to just about every shop and restaurant we could.
My top food recommendations would be a restaurant called Breakers, owned by Benji Weatherley who was a legendary surfer, and Japanese Food Truck #7. Both had a variety of foods to choose from, and each meal I got from these two places blew me away.
As for beaches, we spent most of our time at Waimea Bay Beach Park. This beach was a bit touristy but it was very spread out and never felt crowded. There were plenty of things to do at this beach, the waves were big enough for surfing (though dangerous at times due to the shorebreak), there were large easy rocks to climb, and there was a rock that you could jump off safely into the ocean water below. The only struggle with Waimea would be parking, as there were not many spots and it could take a while for one to clear out. Besides parking, this beach was perfect for relaxing, swimming, surfing, bodyboarding, and cliff jumping.
Occasionally we made the trip into Honolulu and went to Waikiki beach, which was a much smaller and more mellow surf beach. Along the beach were plenty of stores and places to eat, as well as places to rent surfboards. The surfing at Waikiki was much smaller than that of Waimea, and was a much farther paddle out. If you are looking to start surfing or try it for the first time, I would recommend Waikiki. The waters are clear and calm, and the waves are perfect for getting the hang of standing up on a surfboard.
The main beach where we surfed, which I would say is good for beginner-intermediate riders, was Chuns. This beach was right in between Haleiwa and Waimea and had a variety of wave sizes. Closer to shore there were very small and mellow waves,
and farther out were the larger and steeper waves. At Chuns you could find a large variety of surfers, and on a really nice day there’d be dozens of people in the water. I would recommend going early in the morning to get the most out of your time in the water. Chuns was also not a very good beach for swimming or relaxing, as the ground is rather rocky and the strip of sand is small and narrow. If you are looking to surf, I would recommend Chuns, but otherwise Waimea Bay Beach Park is probably the best bet for a great beach day.
As for hikes, we did two which were very fun. The first was Sacred Falls. This hike was actually closed off a few years ago so the path is a bit tricky to navigate as it isn’t maintained anymore but once you are on the path, it is very easy to follow. The hike goes through the woods and follows a small rocky stream through a valley. The final destination is a beautiful waterfall and a large swimming hole to cool off. The water was very deep and safe to swim, and the overall difficulty of the hike wasn’t too taxing.
The second hike we did was called Crouching Lion, and this was far more difficult than Sacred Falls. This hike was very uphill, and required some climbing skills at the top parts. I would recommend a good pair of shoes for this one as the trail can be slippery at times. This hike starts off on the more intermediate side, and there are plenty of places along the way to stop and take in the view, but as you climb higher it becomes stepper and more narrow. If you are looking for an intermediate hike with a beautiful view, I would recommend going a little more than a quarter of the way up and stopping there. Anything past that point will be much more difficult and there is more risk. However, as long as you stick to the trail you should be fine as it has been carved out and hiked by thousands of people.
Worth the Logistics
As a whole, my trip to the North Shore of Oahu was nothing short of spectacular. The water is clear and warm, the hikes and views are breathtaking, and the food is world class. Each day surpassed the previous day, and there was never a dull moment during my visit. There is always something new to do, and a new place to visit. Additionally, I found the Hawaiians follow the safety guidelines and managed the restrictions reasonably. The trip was as stress free and as normal as possible during these strange times. Overall, it felt great to be active outdoors, and still carve out time to relax and enjoy beautiful weather and picturesque scenery.
Photo Credit: Copyright 2016 Pierre BRUMDER