We finally did it… we found a snorkeling spot that lived up to our expectations. The funny thing is it wasn’t recommended in Lonely Planet or by the snorkel rental shop. The recommendation came from a Hawaiian family that we met at the swimming pool along with suggestions for local cuisine and other helpful tips. The beach was called 49 Black Sand Beach and is a part of a golfing resort but in Hawaii the development companies can buy the land next to the beach but they can’t actually block access to the public, even if that means only providing 10 parking passes in a gated community. What separated 49 Black Sand Beach from the other spots was that the bay included a sheltered cove that minimised turbulence from the swell and that we got to swim with a green sea turtle. By law you have to stay 50 yards away, but this turtle swam up next to me to check me out, so surely that’s not my fault. We didn’t get a great shot of it because Anna was on the other side of the coral stack, but it was quite an experience when he snuck up on me.
We went to several other snorkeling hotspots over 2 days including Hapuna Bay, 2-step and Mau’umae Bay but these weren’t as good. Hapuna Beach was the best swimming beach we came across with nice white and and lovely aqua coloured water. Being a nice beach also made it very popular with tourists and locals alike. It was a nice touch that residents swam for free and the tourists paid US$5. We did enjoy the coastal walk from Spencer beach to Mau’umae beach where we found our own little private beach to swim and snorkel. We appreciated the beaches but it does make me realise how lucky we are back in Sydney though because we have so many nice beaches scattered along our coast.
One of the best things with Hawaii are all the North American restaurants that we don’t have in Australia. Unfortunately this means that over the 2 week period we visited Denny’s, Cheesecake Factory, IHOP, Bubba Gump, Charley’s Cheese Steak, Cinnabon and there are probably others I’ve forgotten about. We did implement some self control by sharing an appetizer and main only, but the carbs still add up. It wasn’t helped by the fact we weren’t walking as much since you need to drive everywhere. We still checked out the local food scene though, like for some reason they’re into shaved ice, which I thought would just be shaved ice covered in fruit flavoured syrup. The shaved ice there was much more elaborate with ice cream and cakes/brownies etc added to it. When in Rome…
On our last night on the big island we went to the Kona Brewing Co for dinner. We arrived and were told that it would be 1.5 hours for a table. We decided against waiting, but I really wanted to try their beer so they said we can sit at the bar. It turns out that not only can you drink at the bar but you can eat too, so we cheated the system a little. We ordered the 8 beer sampler which comprised of some of the main stream options like golden lagers and pale ales but also included some seasonal varieties like vanilla ale and another ale that actually included Kona coffee. The seasonal ones weren’t that great but the regular offerings were very solid for a boutique brewery. So much so that we decided to do the brewery tour the next morning before we flew out. It did include taste testing beers at 1030am, but I managed… after all it’s not my first time having a beer before midday. The tour was ok, but I’m yet to find a better brewery tour than the Carlton United tour in Melbourne.
We had 1 night back in Waikiki before our flight to Shanghai. To save some money we decided to stay in an 8 person mixed dorm down towards the zoo. The facilities were ok, but for some reason they didn’t have curtains on the windows and it was very noisy. That combined with a 6am start and gaining an additional 6 hours on the flight meant we were fairly tired on our arrival into Shanghai. We caught the MagLev (Magnetic Levitation) train from the airport into town. It was peak hour so the train only reached 300km/h, but hopefully on the way back it’ll reach closer to the 450km/h top speed. Still buzzing from the train, we went for a stroll around the neighbourhood and had some dinner before returning to the hotel for sleep. We had been awake for 22 hours by this stage so we were ready for it.
In our first 2 days in Shanghai we’ve taken the sightseeing bus as an orientation of the city and then walked and walked and walked. It’s surprising how much we missed walking. The bus was the cheapest one we’ve ever taken at only AU$6 – admittedly the audio commentary didn’t work on the first day but it is China after all. At night time we’ve explored Pudong and the Bund with the tripod and Anna has taken some awesome pictures. The modern architecture of Shanghai has really blown me away and it’s something I wasn’t expecting. The Oriental Pearl Tower is right up there as one of my favourites, especially when it is lit up at night. The new skyscrapers that are being built aren’t just about being the tallest, but more about uniqueness without being over-the-top. It’s not just the buildings though, even the manicured gardens and waterfeatures choreographed to soundtracks all add to the overall impression. We’ve still seen areas of what I think is most likely the real Shanghai, being housing that looks a little ghetto, but I’m sure over time the urban renewal will spread to these areas. The urban development of Shanghai hasn’t happened by accident though. There is a museum of sorts that outlines how the city has been developed so far and where the city is heading.
We were told that the Shanghai Museum is a must and we tend to agree. It showcased many different historical artefacts dating back to 17th century BC and outlined the different eras in bronzing, porcelain, furniture design and art. The casting techniques used in making the early bronze designs was amazing and far more advanced than what the Japanese were doing at the same time. Quite funny how it has changed now with the Chinese following the Japanese in electronic and car design.
Another thing that has really surprised us about Shanghai is how many western brands are here. From fast food to fashion to high-end designer brands they’re all here. We’re staying right on the Nanjing shopping mall district and there are 4 KFCs within 5 minutes walk and Starbucks is everywhere! Everything is cheaper here though, so we’re enjoying sit down Chinese lunch for AU$3.50pp. What we’re eating is a bit of mystery but it tastes good.
We visited the Yuyan gardens yesterday and we were both surprised at how different they were to the Japanese gardens that we visited a few weeks ago. These gardens are over 400 years old and are a maze of jagged uneven stone walls, halls, shrines and ponds. The design seemed to lack structure which makes it so unique. The design also made it feel very crowded and confined however this does make the environment very secluded as it cut out all the hustle and bustle of Shanghai. Just outside the gardens the streets are alive with locals trying to sell anything they can to the tourists. This can be anything from food to knock-off bags, watches etc. To buy knock-off goods you typically have to follow the merchant to a nearby alley or unit as the police are on the lookout for counterfeit goods, apparently. We don’t have the luggage space for shopping though.
Tonight is our last in Shanghai, but we’re meeting up with Anna’s friend Florence for dinner which should be fun. We’re flying to Beijing tomorrow and we’re both looking forward to checking out the great wall.
Until next week…
Fail of the Week
As we’ve previously discussed, Asian countries don’t really cater for people my height. China is better at this (so far) and I haven’t near knocked myself out on any door frames yet which is good. But they do tend to make their bollards to stop vehicles entering pedestrian areas quite short. Well we were checking out the area surrounding the Yuyan gardens yesterday and it was packed. As we exited an alley, I was making my way through a sea of people when all of a sudden I drove my left shin straight into a sphere rock bollard and toppled forward like a fallen tree. After a few grumbles I hobbled off probably to the amusement of others. No serious damage, just a big egg on the shin and some bruising. But still, who decided that a 1 foot tall dark grey sphere rock would make a perfect bollard. Surely I’m not the first.
Our tips for touring Hawaii:
- It is definitely worthwhile visiting one of the islands other than Oahu – although Oahu is beautiful it’s crowded and it can be hard to find a nice beach (Waikiki is beautiful but very developed, North Shore beaches have big waves and snorkeling spots like Haunama Bay are crowded).
- You will need a car to visit Kona. We thought about returning our rental in Kona to save money but in hindsight we’re glad we booked it for the whole week as the nice snorkeling spots are at least 3o minutes away by car. Hiring a car works out much cheaper than taking a tour bus.
- Watch out for the ‘resort fees’ charged by hotels in Waikiki. These are often included in the small print when booking and are paid directly to the hotel at checkout (on top of the regular nightly fee).
- Diamond Head in Waikiki is a great hike – but the park closes it’s doors at 4.30pm (all visitors must be out by 6pm) and the entry point is quite a bit off the main road. If you plan to visit in the afternoon make sure you give yourself enough time.
- They say that you’re not allowed to take luggage on the bus between Honolulu airport and Waikiki, but you can provided that you’re bag can be tucked under the seat.
Average spend for Hawaii AU$126.50pp per night for everything including car hire and internal flights.