Most of the time we like to think of ourselves as seasoned travelers. Not experts by any means, but we are careful planners and know exactly what we are getting ourselves into. This is a story of our three-hour tour (I know you are signing along to Gilligan’s Island with us, so sit back and hear our tale.)
While planning our family trip to Hawaii, we looked at the Viator website for boat tours. We wanted to take our crew out on the ocean and see the island from a different perspective. The great thing about that search tool is they bring up many comparable tours so you can choose the one that fits you best. Most that popped up were four hours and a bit pricey. One caught our eye that was a full day outing, stopped at several hot spots and was half the price. Rather than question and read the fine print we hit BOOK and patted ourselves on the back for being so savvy. Look at us getting the best bang for our buck.
Through the Viator app we had been in contact with our Tour Operator, John from The Pineapple Express Tours, a few times and arranged hotel pickup for the day. We have booked several tours this way and it is generally one of the most laid-back times since we let someone else take the reins. We were looking forward to our day on the ocean with stops along the way. Also, our kids were psyched for the day (as psyched as young adults can be.)
We were watching the forecast like a hawk fearful that a windy day would cancel our day on the boat. FYI, every day is windy in Hawaii, some days worse than others. Our weather was picture perfect -sun and a mild breeze. We had our bathing suits under our clothing, boat shoes in hand, and beach towels packed. Now, we just needed to be picked up for our adventure.
The Pineapple Express and Our Three-Hour Tour
We are excitedly awaiting our driver, John, outside our hotel and even receive a phone call that he will be arriving in a few minutes. The large white van pulls up and we all jump in, claiming our seat for the drive to the dock. He informs us that we need to stop to pick up one more family and then we will be on our way. A short ten minutes later and we are starting our day.
After a few minutes we can’t help but notice we are driving away from the coast, and we exchange a curious glance with each other. Our guide is a local, so our complete faith is placed in this man. He drives us through “The Beverly Hills of Hawaii” or Kahala and gives us some interesting facts of famous residents and price tags on the properties. Then he points out to us public walkways that run along the properties that everyone has access to, which drives the owners crazy. He even parks the van and says we have a minute, let’s go check something out on one such path.
Jen and her nervous giggle make an appearance. She mouths, “What is happening?” to Craig, and he is just as clueless. Ok, totally fine. Let’s just go with it. We will walk down this path and see something cool and then get on the boat. Totally fine.
Ok, the view was pretty spectacular. Plus, we got to walk down a small hiking trail and see some locals fishing off a cliff. We even spotted a sea turtle floating around soaking up the sun. This side bar was worth it, and we saw something that not everyone will have the opportunity to see. Points to you John.
Loaded back up, we are headed to the dock…..right?
Where’s the Boat?
John continues to point out landmarks with quirky commentary. He pulls over on the shoulder and exclaims we are at our first stop, the Amelia Earhart lookout point. Again with Jen’s nervous giggle and everyone is now sharing questioning looks. All wondering what is going on and when do we get on this proverbial three-hour tour?!
As with everything in Hawaii, beautiful view, picturesque scenery, and incredible photo ops. We all take a moment to enjoy the surroundings and then begin to whisper frantically, “When do we get to the boat?” “What is happening?” “Did we get picked up by the wrong guy?” “Ask him, no you ask him!”
As we return to our seats, Jen finally finds a way to ask without asking. “Boy John, I am glad you picked us up at the hotel because we would have never found you at the drop off location.” John laughed and said, “What do you mean? How could I not have picked you up?” Craig and Jen could have become a very popular GIF with the looks they were giving each other. Jen thinks to herself, I have an easy solution. Let me pull up our booking and get this matter settled.
With confidence she had no business having, she pulled out her phone and tapped on the Viator app. She clicked on her booking and prepared to gloat and demand the driver take them to the boat immediately. As she delved into the details of the “Breathtaking 8-Hour Circle Island Tour” that big confidence bluster faded quickly like a helium balloon flying to the sky. Of course, Jen sunk into the seat more than flew, but you get the great visual of what is happening.
Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. The word boat appears exactly nowhere. Not at one point is the word boat mentioned. Ocean views are mentioned frequently, but not that you would be floating while witnessing those views. Here was our face palm moment of the trip. You must have one at each destination. It is a rite of passage. Here was ours.
Everything slowly began to click…. the lower price, the stops they were making and quirky commentary. We booked a land tour that circled the island, not a sea tour. As we have talked about repeatedly, you must be flexible and roll with things. We were still in Hawaii. We were still getting an incredible tour with incredible views and we were still together for this incredible experience.
Deep breaths, this is fine. At the end of the day, we were still going to snorkel with sea turtles in Hanauma Bay and get a pineapple fresh from the Dole plantation. We explained the snafu to our kids and with acceptance we embraced the rest of our day. Kudos to the kids for staying upbeat and rolling with it too.
Rolling With the Punches
So, when he pulled into the next parking area to have us see the next spot, we did not bat an eyelash. We jumped out to see the next wonder. For any fans of the movie “From Here to Eternity” we were overlooking the location of the famous beach scene (you know the one…cue the blushing.) In this same stop we also saw the famous Halona Blowhole. Everyone climbed the cement wall to lean on the railing to get a better look. Photo ops galore.
Our next stop became one of our favorites for a couple of reasons. Upon entering the parking lot for Makapu’u lookout, it appeared to be another set of amazing views. John had us hop the fence as we approached and follow him to WWII bunkers still intact on the side of the mountain. Boys in tow and the words War Bunker are spoken. They flew in to check it out and get some pictures. If you are in this spot in the winter, you will even see the humpback whales passing through. Great spot for our group!
Our next stop was a treat. Literally. Some of you may have heard of the famous Leonard’s Bakery and the hot malasadas (a Portuguese doughnut without a hole.) We passed their main location in Honolulu the day before and saw the line wrapped around the building and down the adjoining street. Good indication of something good inside.
Unknown to many tourists is they have a couple of mobile locations in shopping centers. John had the insider knowledge and brought us so we could taste for ourselves what all the fuss is about. We arrived with not a soul in line and were able to quickly get our order. It was even better than we imagined and we are still craving them two months later. If you get the chance while in Hawaii, hunt down the mobile locations and save yourself the wait.
A Buddhist Temple in Hawaii?
Our next stop was more than we thought we would ever see in Hawaii. The Byodo-In Temple in Kaneohe is nestled at the bottom of the Ko’olau Mountains in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. It is a smaller scale replica of the Byodo-In Temple in Japan. While it is a replica, it is a non-practicing Buddhist Temple which allows people of all faiths to enter its doors to worship and meditate. Due to time and the line, we were not able to enter the Temple, but walked the immaculate grounds and fed the Japanese koi carp. Each of the boys took a turn to ring the Bon-Sho Sacred Bell) with the wooden log because they could not resist. It is truly a remarkable place.
When you think of Hawaii, a few foods come to mind, one being the macadamia nut. Our next stop was Tropical Farms and sampling some fresh macadamia nuts and flavored coffee. This is a great little country store with a great variety of unique gifts to bring home. They even do hot sauces which made their way back to our home.
Back in the van we were headed to do some snorkeling! Finally, we were getting in the water, and we were all ready to see the sea turtles. As we are driving along, John is again pointing out different beaches and great places to swim and ones to avoid. He slowed down as we were passing a popular beach with a lot of traffic. He was being waved down by someone he appeared to know. We came to a stop and the gentleman approached our vehicle. Small van, we can hear every word. “You can’t go down there. There has been a shooting!”
I’m sorry, come again? A shooting?! We are in Hawaii on our vacation, so shootings are not a part of the deal. You must be mistaken. The man continues, “The highway is closed, so you can’t get down there. It is crazy.” John questions him and is taken aback by the news. He thanks the man, and we drive to the next convenient store to find out the truth of the matter.
John walks out of the store with his head hung low, defeat heavy in his limbs. God love him, he jumped back in trying to be positive. “Well folks, there is in fact a gunman sitting on top of a building further up the highway, so everything is shut down. We can’t get to our final two destinations because there is a single road that gets you everywhere on this island.” (For our readers – no one was shot, they disarmed the man from the building quickly.)
The highlight of our day slipped through our fingers and now we had a decision to make. Everyone wanted to get to the ocean. We have worn our bathing suits all day and we were jumping in the Pacific Ocean. He offered to take us back to the popular beach we passed, Sunset Beach on the North Shore and all agreed.
The North Shore
Let’s prelude this with the fact that we had only swam in the carefully walled off beaches of Waikiki. They are more of a kiddie pool in the world of beaches. Soft waves come in and you can float along in a relaxing atmosphere. Jen was under the impression that she could now swim in any ocean.
The North Shore is a whole other beast. In fact, most beaches have big warnings to not swim even if you are experienced,. The rip tide in this area is no joke along with the crashing waves. This is where professional surfers go. The beach our guide took us to was the mildest of all spots in this area. You now have the picture.
Despite the waves crashing onto the shore, we confidently took our steps in, and Jen was swiftly knocked down and rolled out to sea. Well, not way out, but enough to remind her the ocean is the thing of her nightmares. The friendly compromise she thought they had agreed upon was clearly over. The boys dove in and wrestled amongst the waves while Jen simply tried to stay standing without being pulled to her untimely death. We laughed and laughed while waves of sea water and sand infiltrated our bathing suits. It is a wonder there is any sand left at this beach from the amount we carried back to our hotel in our suit bottoms.
While the unexpected continued to happen throughout our day, it turned out to be the most memorable for many reasons. We have stories and laughter we can still hear today. Be ready to roll with your own three-hour tour and laugh at your mistakes. We are still making them and still learning.
Thank you for reading, and #NeverStopPlanning.
Jen and Craig