Sparkling beaches and energetic luaus are probably the first images that come to mind when you think of the Hawai'ian island of Oahu, but it would be a shame to overlook the one-of-a-kind experiences that can be found in the lesser-traveled parts of the island. Be sure not to miss them during your next Hawai'ian getaway.
Light incense at the Valley of the Temples
Also known as the Byodo-In Temple, this Buddhist temple – a replica of the centuries-old temple of the same name in Japan – is open to all, regardless of religion or faith. Nestled among a large expanse of lush grounds that house the well-tended graves of generations of Japanese, the temple is a beautifully crafted structure that evokes a general sense of serenity in those who visit.
Before you enter the grounds, ring the three-ton Peace Bell to purify your mind of evil spirits and bring yourself a long life and many blessings. Then, after you cross the bridge, take off your shoes and step inside the temple itself to visit the 9-foot-tall "Lotus" Buddha sculpture. Be sure to walk through the mausoleum hallways and light a stick of incense for the dead. The experience holds a beautiful solemnity unlike any other. Last but not least, make sure not to leave the valley without exploring the many hidden meditation niches, koi-filled pond and tiny Tea House Gift Shop.
Build your own local treat at Matsumoto Shave Ice
Located in Historic Haleiwa Town on the North Shore, this tiny dessert shop has been serving the best shaved ice (or "ice shave," as the locals call it) on the island since 1951. Often seen with a line out the door, Matsumoto's offers the exotic (lychee, lilikoi, and li hung mui, for example) alongside the traditional (such as mango, pineapple, and coconut). Add fun toppings like mochi, condensed milk and Japanese azuki beans to round out the mouth-watering treat, perfect for a hot day.
Stand on top of the world at Tantalus Lookout
Often overlooked by the average visitor, Tantalus Mountain offers one of – if not the – best view of eastern Oahu, a mere 1,048 feet above sea level. The drive to get there is steep and a little treacherous, but the payoff is worth every second. At the end of the road, you reach Pu'u Ualaka'a State Park, which offers a lovely hike, various camping spots and even a dog park, but there are many little off-road inlets along the way where you can park your vehicle and sit along the small stone wall for a peaceful interlude. A bird's-eye view from Diamond Head to Ewa Beach stretches out before your eyes, providing an unforgettable panorama.
Let the wind carry you at the Nu'uanu Pali
The site of the historic battle in the fight for Oahu between the invading King Kamehameha I and the resident Chief Kalanikupule, this lookout oversees the breathtaking Ko'olau Mountain Range. There are two levels to the lookout: The top is completely open to the elements, while the bottom provides a bit of shielding from the famous winds, which are often so strong that you can lean into them and find yourself held up. As it is located on the windward (east) side of Oahu, you can see Kailua, Kane'ohe and Kane'ohe Bay, a paradisaical view like no other.
Explore local traditions at the Macadamia Nut Farm
While popular tours such as the Dole Pineapple Farm and the Polynesian Cultural Center are definitely worth a visit, be sure not to miss a tour of the Macadamia Nut Farm Outlet. Located a bit out of the way on the windward side of the island, right on the coast, this little farm provides a great family experience.
An hour and a half long, the Ali'i tour begins with a bus ride through fields of the plantation, where your tour guide, "The Chief," points out crops of coconut, poi and other locally grown foods. A great deal of Hawai'ian history and fun jokes are to be had before you stop off at a small amphitheater. Here, The Chief teaches a few traditional customs, such as opening a coconut with your own hands and lighting a fire without the aid of matches. After you return to the Farm's home base/gift shop, spend some time trying to break open a bounty of famous macadamia nuts the local way. Don't forget to peruse the wonderful selection of island-grown and locally made coffees, treats and even soaps before you leave!
Peek through the puka at Makapu'u
Right across from the famous Hanauma Bay snorkeling inlet along the eastern coast of the island is the well-traversed, well-paved Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail. And right next to that is the less-traversed and much less well-paved hike to the large stone puka (literally Hawai'ian for 'hole') that gives you a picturesque scene of the untamed jungle leading up to the peaceful ocean. Around a mile and a half to two miles long, the hike is an experience in itself, winding up and down and around the jungle along the mountain face. Be sure to wear a good, gripping pair of tennis shoes, as there is a lot of hoisting to be done and slippery slopes abound. It's all worth it when you reach the puka, though, which is large enough that you can cradle yourself inside and stare out at the breathtaking scenery for as long as you like.