When I compare 2017 to the last three years it has been the quietest yet. We have had the fewest visitors, done the least amount of travelling and things have been… well, normal. That doesn’t mean to say it has been boring and actually I am quite proud of some of the things we have done this year.
It started off with an amazing trip to Hoshinoya Fuji resort for a weekend in February where I saw views of Fuji-san I never thought were possible. March saw the arrival of some much anticipated guests, my husband’s family. We had great fun showing them round Tokyo, spending our first full day at Tokyo Disney and experiencing a cabin hotel for the first time. Shortly after their departure, our final visitor arrived in the form of Greg, Rob’s close friend from his university days. With him we finally got to visit Nikko and my husband got to cycle the Shimanami Kaido route from mainland Honshu to Shikoku and back. A trip with many great memories.
The rest of the year seemed to slow down from that point on (minus the North Korea threats). We both concentrated on work and focused on going home, back to the UK, in the summer so I could see my grandparents. It was there, I finally got to catch up with my Aunty Jenny who I kept missing in between her trips to India. We got to spend time with almost everyone we intended to (we missed some… sorry) for the short time we were home and so returned happy and glad we went. That trip was particularly special for me as it was the last time I got to see my grandad. It didn’t come as a surprise but I am forever grateful that I was given the chance to say goodbye in person. Losses can often change your perspectives on life and mine was to stop worrying. Rob and I had been dreaming of going to Hawaii for the last few years and we had been saving for a while but it was after seeing my grandad that we decided to go for it and book to go over the Christmas break.
Soon December came about and after a successful science sleepover with the children and a great winter performance it was time to start thinking about our next adventure. We flew out of Narita on Dec 21st. We arrived ridiculously early at the airport because of the funny bus times but ANA had an early drop off desk allowing us to check in our luggage as soon as we arrived. We found somewhere to eat and then manoeuvred through security ready for our 21:30 departure time. Everything ran smoothly and by 9:30am (still on the 21st Dec) we arrived at Honolulu airport. The sun was shining and the sky was blue. We were herded like cattle through a poorly set up immigration system which required a machine check in and then a security guard check to process the exact same details anyway. Needless to say it was slow and the staff were short on patience but it was totally worth it. Once through immigration, we collected our luggage and headed out to meet our airport shuttle company SpeedyShuttles. They were recommended by the hotel and were a fraction of the cost of a taxi. We had to wait for about 15mins for other passengers to arrive and then we were led to a very spacious and clean minivan that took us to our hotel. We were one of three groups so it didn’t take very long at all- I would highly recommend them ($16 each way for two people).
When we arrived at our hotel, we had cleverly thought to pre-book early check in, which allowed us to go straight to our room. It was a double ocean view room on the 27th floor so we had a very nice view of the sea.
After a shower, a rest and a quick change of clothes we decided to explore the area around the hotel known as Waikiki. Honestly it wasn’t at all like I expected. I thought, tropical paradise… you know clean, empty pristine beaches with swaying palm trees and and a beautiful blue ocean. The palm trees were swaying, the ocean was certainly blue but the beach was not at all deserted or empty. It was full! Like looking at a beach in Spain, completely full, umbrellas and all! Waikiki itself is so built up and sits on the edge of Honolulu which is a city. In a 2 mile stretch that is 4 blocks wide there are over 100 hotels closely packed together. It was a little shocking at first but once you got used to it, you noticed it was beautiful all the same. The view of Diamond head crater with the beautiful blue ocean in front of it was as iconic as you could get.
Plus, I discovered, there were some great shops and restaurants to explore with our Christmas money so I wasn’t too upset.
On the 23rd December we had booked to go on a Sunrise Circle Island tour with a company called Oahu Photography Tours. I wanted to see the island and at the same time have an expert teach me how to use my new toy, a DSLR handed down by my mum. We were picked up at 6:10am which wasn’t a pleasant experience but by the time we were collected by Christian, our guide, and we had driven to our first spot, we were set up and ready for the sunrise.
After the sun had fully risen we were moved on to our next place, Makapuu Lookout point. From here you could see Rabbit Island and some beautiful scenery.
After Makapuu Lookout, we drove to our next spot and my favourite place on the whole tour… Waimanalo Beach. It was that exact image of Hawaii that I had in my head. The clear, empty pristine beach with the clearest blue sea. I could have happily stayed there all day but unfortunately, half an hour had to be enough.
The trees created beautiful surroundings and perfect for taking some nice black and white images.
Moving on we hit a few more beautiful beaches and some well known spots that were definitely worth seeing including Hawaii’s replica of Kyoto’s Byodo-in Temple…
And Mokoli’i , where you could see the island aptly named the China Man’s Hat but behind you, you could also see the infamous ridged mountains used as the backdrop for the Jurassic Park movies…
We stopped at a few more places after that until we reached the North Shore and the world famous Pipeline. The sand was so fine, and there were some surfers out doing their thing.
We finished the tour at the Dole pineapple plantation, stopping just long enough to see some unusual rainbow eucalyptus trees and to use the restroom!
It was a long day but we loved getting to see parts of the island we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I came away with so many beautiful photographs and plenty of wonderful memorises.
Christmas eve was spent exploring some of Honolulu but we actually ended up just exploring the Alana Moana Centre instead which is a large shopping mall. However we finished the day off taking a nice leisurely walk back to our hotel along Alana Moana beach park and through Waikiki.
On Christmas day we decided not to treat it like a normal Christmas day. There was no point trying to recreate the traditions from home so we abandoned them altogether and just enjoyed the day, eating and doing what we wanted. This turned out to be a day on the beach with Christmas hats and a McDonalds for lunch. We did dress up for a restaurant meal dinner though… we’re not complete savages!
It actually was the perfect day and one I am likely to remember for a long time. Unfortunately the next day, the sun decided to vanish… completely and was replaced with torrential rain. It was so bad a flash flood mobile alert popped up on our phones around mid afternoon. The TV, Starbucks downstairs and Dominoes Pizza across the road helped us to survive the day!
On the 27th December we had booked to visit Pearl Harbor and the memorial. Our driver was very enthusiastic and made the 30 minute journey highly enjoyable with his great sense of humour and fact retelling. We were dropped off at ‘Big Mo’ first which is the USS Missouri. It was one of the naval warships docked at Pearl Harbour during the attack but is most famous for being the location of Japan’s surrender at the end of WWII. We were given 2 hours to look around and at first I thought that was way too long but it turns out I was wrong. It was just the right amount time to take a good look around and it was extremely fascinating. To see all the different rooms and sleeping quarters made it possible to imagine what it might be like to live on a naval ship for any rank. In between the rooms were information boards about WWII, past crew members of the ship and Japanese kamikaze pilots as it was hit by one during the fighting at Okinawa. That information was actually the most interesting and the most shocking. I did not realise that the kamikaze pilots were so young with the oldest I saw being 30. The majority were early twenties and older teens.
After ‘Big Mo’ we were taken to the USS Arizona memorial base where there were plenty of displays and videos to watch about the actual Pearl Harbour attack. At a designated time, we headed to the movie theatre where we watched a 30 minute video with real life footage from the time, before being shipped over to the memorial in the middle of the water in Pearl Harbour bay.
I never realised before going, that the memorial is built on top of the sunken ship the USS Arizona which was never moved after it was hit by a Japanese bomber the morning of the attack. 900 men were instantly trapped in the lower decks and were never removed. Whilst standing in the memorial, looking out into harbour you can see parts of the ship protruding from the water with oil still leaking out onto the surface. It has become a bit of legend amongst the people working there, that the oil will finally stop leaking when the last survivor has passed away. According to the records there are only five remaining survivors.
It was eerie and a little bit uncomfortable to know that those soles were still trapped underneath where I was walking. I found it hard not to think they were just abandoned there but I feel that is just my view as a civilian. According to the museum workers, it is common for survivors of the Arizona to have their remains brought back to the ship to be buried with their comrades after death. I suppose people would not wish such a thing, unless it held some significance to them. What I perceive to be a place of pain and anguish, they must see as a place of peace where they can rejoin the people that are important to them. Its the perfect example of; “unless you were there, you will never understand,”
The memorial is beautifully done and the people working there are extremely passionate about what they do. It is very clear from the way they talk and what they said that it is not just a job for them, it is much, much more. I am truly glad I got to visit here and was inspired by the people who dedicate their working lives to passing on the stories and memories of such a historical moment.
Boxing day was supposed to be the day I got to achieve my dream of snorkelling with turtles but due to the rain it was cancelled. Luckily we got it rearranged for our last day! On the 28th, we were picked up by our shuttle bus and taken to the local harbour where we boarded a catamaran to take us to turtle canyon. It was a beautiful sunny morning so sitting out on the deck whilst we skirted along Waikiki bay was so relaxing. The views were beautiful…
When we reached turtle canyon, we instantly came a across a small pod of dolphins that were swimming by! They were much smaller than I expected but there were so many of them and it was a nice unexpected surprise. Once the dolphins had passed, we put on our snorkelling gear (Rob and I had to wear the beginner’s life jackets which was a little embarrassing. The only other person wearing one, was an 11year old girl!) grabbed my new underwater camera and jumped in! It was a little crowded and because the water was salty, it was cloudy too but it wasn’t long before we saw our first turtle swimming close to the bottom of the reef! I was so pleased! Then one after the other they came by until one decided to pop up to the surface to say hello. I got one OK photo where the sun outlined him but that was all. The sea turtles are a very protected species in Hawaii and you are not allowed to go any closer than 6 feet near them without incurring a $25,000 fine! A close up photo was not worth that much!
After some awesome swimming we decided to return to the boat for some lunch and a sail around the bay before returning back. I’m so glad I did it and it has made me want to try again (without the baby life jacket) maybe in Okinawa on the islands. Who knows, we’ll see. But for now I am very happy…
We spent the rest of our last day shopping for things we wanted to spend our Christmas money on and then returning to the beach for our very last sunset. Oahu must have known and decided to bless us with one of the most spectacular sunsets, I have ever seen. It was a 20 minute colour show in the sky!
And that was our last day! The next morning we got up early, checked out and were picked up by SpeedyShuttles for our 12:00pm flight back home! Before going to Hawaii, apart from the iconic images you have in your head, I didn’t really know what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised! For such a small island, that is actually quite densely populated, there are so many stunning examples of natural beauty from the mountains to the beaches. We had actually planned on our last day to hire a car and travel the island ourselves but the rain and the rearranged snorkelling trip forced us to change our plans and that will be my one and only regret.
Hawaii you were amazing and what a way to end 2017! Not only because we had a great time but because we achieved two big things in our lives too. We pushed ourselves to travel and I got to finally swim with turtles. 2017 may have been relatively quiet but it has been a year of family, friends and achieving dreams which, in reality, is not very quiet at all! We have some great memorises of this year and I will end with some photographs of some of our favourite moments!
2017, we thank you!
As for 2018… we’ll see!