by Kim Papole

Haoles can find local pleasures, if they look in the right places.

Dawn breaks over tropical mountains as the Pacific turns from inky black to azure. Morning warms the body even in the shade of nodding coconut palms and it's time to swim, kick back and enjoy. Romantic images of moonlight on the beach with someone special as rollers crash in say Hawaii too. You can enjoy this sans expensive hotels and tourist restaurants or, save perhaps for a day, rental vehicles. Stay with Hawaii's unique attractions and lively locals and a couple can spend a week or more for less -- sometimes much less -- than $100 a day each. Here's how!

To start, stay on one island so you don't double airport shuttle time and costs, suffer late flights and the dubious joys of packing and unpacking. There's good reason why Oahu is the traditional introduction to the islands even though it's got 80% of the islands' population. Waikiki, while crowded, is still one of the world's best beaches, and you can find anything in the islands on Oahu excepting an erupting volcano.

Since air and lodgings eat most of your budget, realize that Oahu lodging and air packages from hotels and condos or a tour packager minimize your outlay at the price of a beach view. But if you're out and about the beach all day, who cares if you can't see it at night?

Diamond Head, palms and sandy beaches say "Hawaii" all over the world.



If you book air on your own, stay over a Saturday to get the lowest possible rate. Look for deals. Hawaiian Air Lines offers specially low air rates from Seattle, San Francisco and LA. Check on "two for one" and "stay for four, pay for three" specials during summer off season when kids -- variously defined as "under 2" up to "under 17" sometimes stay free. Check airline and lodging 800 numbers and shop for the best deals; Check TV's travel channels too. Spring and fall deals abound.

All beaches in Hawaii are open below the high water mark, even those in front of the Royal Hawaiian and other beachfront posh hotels.


Booking your own air opens up the many options on Oahu. You can find B&B lodgings in Waikiki or away from the tourists as suits your fancy -- see listings. You can even, with the seven day advance permit application, camp.

Some packages include cars. Car firms like Budget have a host of passes, "two'fers" and the like. Car rental agencies plug you into the Electronic Voice Information Exchange(EVIE). EVIE offers "Fun, food, shops and transportation" information via any touch tone phone. You also get street by street directions to and from major destination points. So the only problem left for drivers, aside from Oahu rush hour traffic and locking car doors at the beach, is the $25 fine if you don't buckle up.

However, the exceptional Hawaiian bus system takes you  106 miles around Oahu for about a dollar -- do bring exact change. Drivers and friendly riders steer you to local bargains and activities. Friends who bused last visit came home with glowing reports from their eight and ten year olds who "got to meet real surfers." There's even a (slow) bus into town from the Airport -- you don't have free airport shuttles in Hawaii. These run $17 or more for shared limo and $20 or more via cab.

Why not Waikiki?

So on arrival slap on the sun screen and head for the beach or check the free shows in various shopping areas, plazas and malls. The Fort DeRussy end of Waikiki at Fort DeRussy avoids hotel front crowds, and the Fort has a fine  military museum that's free. Active and retired military can stay at the Hale Koa Hotel here, and should investigate other military island lodgings.

At the Diamond Head end of Waikiki Beach, Kapilolani Park offers a free Kodak Hula Show, a Natatorium, refurbished Aquarium and the wonderful bird displays in the zoo. It's a dandy place to bash tennis balls or stroll under the banyan trees. There's a trail up to the Punchbowl and the wonderful view off the top of Diamond Head just on the other side of the park too.

Exercise does build an appetite, and tourist restaurants can consume anyone's budget. So consider a bus ride or a half-mile walk to the Ala Moana Shopping Center (AMSC) from Fort DeRussy. If it's too far to walk, take the Kuhio or most other buses as the "Ala Moana" is the main transfer point for the island's exceptional bus system -- get route maps and schedules at the Bus Information Booth here.

We shop Ala Moana to stock our cooler and hotel fridge with fruit, wonderful pastry or the makings for lunch at Foodland or "crack seed, " -- unusual oriental items better tasted than described -- from the Crack Seed Center. Breakfast treats include ripe papaya, guava or pineapple or our favorite Portuguese malasadas -- a sort of sugared donut. We splurge on a bottle of rum, some Mai Tai and Pina Colada mix and POG, the wonderful local combination of papaya, orange and guava juice that's the "secret ingredient" in some of the $7.50 Mai Tais in Waikiki.

Eating Oahu

The Ala Moana's Makai Market food hall is the affordable way to sample at least twenty kinds of ethnic munchies. For example, Chinese roast duck costs a third of Waikiki prices and tastes at least as good on rice even if you don't tote the "goldfish container" across the street and enjoy an al fresco lunch in Ala Moana Park. Korean, Philippine, Portuguese, Hawaiian and many other ethnic options suit varied tastes. Order at least one dish for everyone and share.

Other food favorites include Japanese "Bentos" -- various raw and cooked oddments, some in rice and seaweed wrappers, some without -- that keep food costs down too. If raw fish seem a bit much try the California rolls with crab or prawns, avocado and the like to start. Shirokiya, a Japanese department store in the AMSC, offers a huge platter that feeds at least two famished folks for less than $20, and their French bakery sells wonderful breakfast rolls. You can also buy Bentos in most markets -- check the dates to see they are fresh. Expect to pay from $2.50 to $4 or so. Another Hawaiian delicacy is "Shave Ice" that haole's call "snow cones" but that comes in exotic flavors like coconut.

Away from your hotel food stash, check out incredibly filling, Hawaiian plate lunches sold for $5 or so from wheeled stands all over the island. These slap copious scoops of teriyaki chicken, mahimahi or beef curry, etc. over "two scoops rice" with a macaroni salad. It's not unusual to see the suit and tie set sharing the line at a favorite stand with blue collar locals.

Do try the smaller ethnic restaurants in more modest neighborhoods like Kaimuki along the 15 blocks of Waialae Street in the hills east of Waikiki. Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and, of course, Italian spots offer good food for under $10, and Kaimuki's typically "Old Hawaii." A couple of questions about the "best" plate lunch or local restaurant as you ride the bus may produce more spots than you can cover in one visit.

You can also cut restaurant and many other costs with the Hawaii edition of Entertainment guides. These are available for over 150 destinations and, after you buy the first one at list, you get 50% off additional guides ordered direct.

Finally, don't overlook "shave ice," the gourmet's snow cone in tropical flavors, ideally suited to cool you on hot days.

Lusty Luaus & Hearty Hulas

Luaus might be your big food splurge. Most feature roast kalua pig, lau lau pork and fish and other island delights. Venues run from the upscale offerings of the Royal Hawaiian on down to Sunday church picnics. Check the Honolulu paper for church luau listings. You'll get real Hawaiian food in a laid back atmosphere with, or without, beer and such depending on the denomination.

Of the commercial luaus, try Paradise Cove or Germaine's, both out past Pearl Harbor a 40 minute drive or ride on their shuttle. There's a beach with Hawaiian activities of all sorts, and a four hour luau happening like none other on Oahu. Watch hulas here and you get an idea why the Missionaries put Hawaii's lovely ladies into Muumuus (even though the dancers' ethnic variety demonstrate their ecclesiastical plot didn't work). If you can, check seasonal hula contests, or visit a hula school to see the most authentic island dance. Downtown, the best Luau is Chuck Machado's.

Life is a Beach

If you swim with the fish, Hanauma Bay's underwater park offers some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii a short bus ride from downtown. If you only snorkel one day, try Snorkel Bob's Early Bird Special that, for $9 includes a mask, fins, snorkel, gear bag, map n'tips, No fog for the mask, fish food and more from 7-8 a.m. only. Snorkel Bob's is on Kapahulu Avenue on the bus route to Hanauma Bay and compulsive snorkelers can rent gear for $15 for the week. Early trips weekdays improve fish viewing, decrease your chance of sunburn and traffic jams and minimize the usual crowds. Unfortunately, fees are in the works here, but it's worth the price.

While Waikiki Beach gets crowded on weekends, you'll find fewer crowds on beaches near the Ala Moana Shopping Center. Kailua Beach on the Windward Channel offers safe swimming and nifty windsurfing too. Tip: either take lessons if you want to windsurf or ride a surf board, or expect to fall down a lot.

Big time surfing spots include Makaha, Sunset Beach and others a couple of hours by bus or car on the windward side of Oahu. Check with local surf shops, or listen to the surf reports on the air to pinpoint the action, but to learn to surf, stick to Waikiki. If you want to go on your own, try a belly board and swim fins, if the waves are at least five feet high to offer a good push.

Cheap Treats

The Ho'omaluhi Botanical Gardens on Luluku Road offers 32 acres of gardens. Musically, the Royal Hawaiian Band has free concerts on the Iolani Palace lawn near the Coronation Pavilion on Fridays at 12:30 p.m.. There's Big Band Music at the Waikiki Community Center for dancers from 2 to 4 p.m. Mondays. Friday night offers a free Ukulele Tree Hawaiian Music Show at the Outrigger East Saturday, Sunday or Monday from 5-7 p.m. There's lots more like the free hula shows in Kapiolani Park. Check Oahu This Week and the Honolulu Advertiser listings. Frances Carter's Hawaii Free offers hundreds of island freebies. It's about $7 in most Hawaiian bookstores.

Splurges Worth the Price

After saving on air, lodgings, food and free attractions you've earned a splurge. Our favorites include one Mai Tai at the Royal Hawaiian's beach bar or a romantic dinner in their Monarch Room. Wonderful Sunday brunches at the Moana or Royal Hawaiian offer the best Waikiki and Diamond Head views in the islands. You can also break any budget at upscale shops like those in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center which stretches for three blocks along Kalakaua.

The Atlantis Submarine trip offers a solid value even at $79 -- there are usually $40 "couple's, afternoon dive and other discounts. The specially-made subs feature big viewing ports, and take you down to 100 feet or more around man-made reefs that attract schools of colorful fish. NOBODY forgets this one! Ask about their free video.

Another aquatic diversion worth considering is the Royal Hawaiian Cruise's Navatek sunset or whale watching cruises in their special vessel that rides smoothly over the waves on submerged tubes to avoid seasickness and such. If you've never tried it, you might consider parasailing too.

One thing seems certain, you will remember the good times, the good people and the good values that you can find in the Islands long after you've returned to the mainland.

Hawaiian Chic & Tote Your Own Toys

Since Hawaiian "formal" usually means a shirt with a collar for men, and Oahu shops make more tropical garments than one can imagine, it's silly to bring more than shorts, slacks, tops, bathing suits and cover ups from home. You can gear up in the Ala Moana Shopping Center, Hilo Hatties', or even F. W. Woolworth in Waikiki or the Fort Street Mall downtown.

Toss in an air mattress, inflatable beach toy or beach pads, a cooler to tote lunch and drinks, and at least two big beach towels into the luggage space you save. Borrow fins, face masks and snorkel. Bring at least one pair of sun glasses, and lots of sun screen -- it's cheapest at Woolworths. Consider a light hat with a brim.

Don't forget your tennis rackets, golf clubs, blade skates or fishing gear. Tennis on public courts in Ala Moana or Kapiolani Park may require a wait, but it's free. Golf isn't expensive at public links like the Ala Wai or most military golf courses. There are excellent skate paths on Magic Island on the ocean side of the Ala Moana Shopping Center. Many shops rent bikes too.

While offshore fishing runs to big budgets at $600 a day and an average 11 days per billfish boated, your usual bass or trout gear can catch exotic saltwater species without the need for a license off most docks, piers and seawalls. Do handle saltwater fish carefully. Most come with teeth, coral crushing plates or sharp parts in odd places. There are even freshwater exotics like peacock bass on the island, if you care to invest in an inexpensive freshwater license.


These "big ticket" island activities didn't make it for us. Waimea Fall's Park ($20) offers decent hula and eco-attractions, but it's a long bus ride and kills a whole day. Like the Polynesian Cultural Center's ($25 and up) sanitized for tourist's shows, its "Polynesian" seems plastic and a bit dear even if you tote lunch. Sea Life Park's $19.95 admission seems steep for any visitor to the much larger mainland marine parks. Other museums need a group rate. For example $7.95 seems steep for the Bishop Museum. If you consider any of these, check on "twofers," discount and free days.

Odd Ends

Granted there are lots of other chances to enjoy Oahu. You can challenge the local chess players at the beach. You can rent a bike or take a hike. You can wander the smaller neighborhoods, sample ethnic foods and check the shops away from the beach and downtown. We particularly enjoy the bus, getting off where it looks interesting and talking to the folks we meet. For as scenic as the islands remain, it's their multicultural and almost uniformly friendly residents that make them special.

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