This entire day was the highlight of my first-time Hawaii experience. I found out about an app called the GyPSy Guide Oahu (notice the capitalized GPS) on one of my favorite travel planning sites (either TripAdvisor or Trippy) and downloaded it a little while prior to my trip. Known as the “Driving app that’s like having a tour guide in your car,” it really delivered on its claim, even exceeding my expectations.
GyPSy currently offers guides to nine destinations in the States and Canada at various prices, with their full Oahu package costing a very reasonable $6.99. Once you download and open the app, it uses your phone’s GPS signal to determine your position on the route and navigates accordingly. It doesn’t even use your cellular network or any data to run! (But you will most definitely need a car charger)
I set out around 9AM in my rental car to begin my driving tour of the island, starting off right in Waikiki. As soon as the app detected my driving along Waikiki’s main avenue, a male voice automatically began by ‘introducing itself’ and giving me the option to turn left to begin a circle tour of the island at large, or keep straight to tour the southeastern region’s beaches and volcanoes. I swerved left for the full circle island tour.
The digital tour guide’s style was surprisingly conversational and a lot more friendly than robotic -- no, you can’t talk back to it and expect a response, but the creators did an awesome job programming the app to sound like a real tour guide, complete with giggle-inducing jokes. It had an informal, tone-conscience voice that dispensed a multitude of interesting facts and information about Oahu and Hawaii throughout the entire all-day tour route. He was actually more entertaining and definitely more informational than some human guides I’ve had over the years! The GPS/Tour guide very accurately directed me with which turns to take and what to stop and see, all the while schooling me on Hawaiian history, surf culture, the significance behind many popular attractions, as well as filming locations for various movies and TV shows (Jurassic Park, Lost, Hawaii 5-0… just to name a few!).
While you’re driving along, you can choose whether or not you want to stop at certain places as GyPSy mentions them. He made everything on the attraction menu sound awesome... I wanted to stop EVERYWHERE and savor each little slice of Hawaii:
The local-favorite Leonard’s Bakery to start off my day, where I could pick up a malasada (or two or three), the sugary confection also known as a Hawaii staple?
Kukaniloko Birthstones, where I could appreciate one of the island’s most significant and ancient cultural sites? (Here is where the births of Hawaiian royalty and the highest ranking chiefs would take place, from as early as AD 1100 to the 1700s. It was believed that mana -- spiritual energy -- at this site and the gods of the lands would christen the birthing mothers and the royal babies at birth. )
Oahu’s North Shore, where the world-renowned surfing beaches are much less crowded and absolutely heart-grabbing? (Here is where you’ll see the huge 20+ foot pipelines and big dawg surfing competitions during the winter months -- it’s where “hanging ten” was born!)
To the Waimea Valley, and up a steep twisty mountain-side road to reach the sacred ruins of a paramount temple from the 1600s, with a view I could have fainted over?
A colorful road-side mobile eatery, where I could refuel at one of the North Shore’s widely acclaimed shrimp trucks? (I opted for the lemon pepper
WANGZ shrimp -- for $13, my heart longed for more than just 6 mini crustaceans. But were they bomb, though? Yes indeed. Yes indeed they were.)
To capture this visually appealing point of land extending out of the ocean from La’ie Point, along with its panoramic views of the Windward Coast?
For a quick peek at the gorgeous Byodo-In, Japanese replica temple situated in a dramatically lush mountain base?
YES PLEASE! I’LL TAKE A PLATE OF IT ALL. Well, I wanted to at least, had time permitted. I was beyond jaw-droppingly awed by the incredible beauty of the island, and extremely grateful for the rich historical lessons I learned while exploring the very location this history took place. I’d barely known a lick about ancient Hawaiian royalty, its distinct language, or the appropriation of Hawaii’s culture by greedy mainland Americans, prior to this day.
If I wouldn’t have known any better, I would have thought I was driving through an entirely different country the whole time. Hawaii may be classified as a State, but it most certainly feels foreign with its evident aura and unique story. This tour is worth a great deal more than 7 bucks. I would recommend it a million times for someone who would like to explore at their own pace!
Believe it or not, there were tons of things I didn’t do or see, places I just had to skip and save for next time, simply because of my limited hours/days on the island. I would have especially loved touring the Dole Pineapple Plantation, which I passed on my way towards the North Shore. From what I’ve seen and heard, it’s a must-visit if you have a few hours to spare. And if you go during Halloween season, please partake in its haunted maze, haunted train, and haunted house so I can live vicariously through you. If Tamika wasn’t a scaredy cat, I would have definitely driven back one night for the spook-tivities.
I also missed out on visiting Pearl Harbor. My guide did however, give a somber refresher, briefly recounting the events that took place on the day of its attack in 1941 as I cruised up the highway. Pearl Harbor will be the first stop I next time I make it to Oahu.
Before I knew it, it was after 4:00. I had to cut my tour short to head back to Waikiki -- it was luau night! Tamika and I had to decide between several Oahu-based luau options: There was the Hilton Luau right at our resort, an option we only considered because of convenience. I’d also heard the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Luau was the most culturally accurate, but its tone is more serious and there is no drinking on site. Then there was Germaine’s and Paradise Cove, two of the more large-scale, touristy productions, but these were apparently the luaus to go if you were looking for fun.
Germaine’s ultimately won because of its audience interaction, location right next to the beach (soft waves crashing in has got to be the perfect backdrop hymn for any occasion), and for the 3 cocktails (as opposed to 2) that come with your luau ticket. Sounded like a party to us! It turned out to be a great time.
Albeit a bit synthetic, Germaine’s Luau lends its guests a sense of participation in the Hawaiian culture, bringing you up on stage to learn a piece of traditional hula choreography. Combine shaking your hips alongside 30 other careless vacationers, the entire crowd cheering you on, the slight Mai Tai buzz you’ve started to develop, plus the fact that you’re experiencing something just so Hawaiian, and you can understand why there’s a lot of fun to be had at Germaine’s.
SN: I never knew luaus were that expensive (Germaine’s = $80 at retail, or $58--$62 + tax through Hawaiidiscounts.com), but no way was this price holding me back from an actual (well, sort of) Hawaiian luau experience. Price of luau includes transportation to/from Waikiki hotels, a Hawaiian food dinner buffet, and 3 alcoholic beverages. It's definitely worth it!
What would your must-do Hawaiian activities be? If you've been, what did you enjoy most in Oahu?