Cycling O’ahu, Hawai’i Part 1: Freedom Camping in O’ahu

On the rainforest drive in O'ahu

On the rainforest drive

Deutsche Version hier: Mit dem Rad um O’ahu Teil 1

Cycling O’ahu, Hawai’i Part 1: Freedom Camping in O’ahu

Country: Hawai’i, USA

From Auckland to Malaekahana

Lesson learned: There are no motels on O’ahu.

Laughed about: Creative marshmallow recipes

Most wonderful miracle: A night on a sailing boat

Greatest challenge: Camping permits

Days on the bike: 3 and a bit

Kilometers cycled: 213

Average Kilometers per day: 65.5

Total Kilometers cycled till Malaekahana: 19.256

 

It was hard to leave good old New Zealand behind, but heading towards Hawai’i, the excitement was even bigger than the sadness. The flight was long and we were the very last ones to leave the plane and get our passports stamped. The officer just flipped through our passports, smiled and said “So you’ve spent a while in China! I am originally from China!” We told him, how much we enjoyed our time there, he stamped our passports and that was it. Nobody ever asked us about our return flights.

Freedom Camping in O'ahu isn't easy

Freedom Camping in O’ahu isn’t easy

It was 1 am when we left the airport. The only two hostels we found online, had closed at midnight, so we decided just to go with a cheap motel near the airport.

O'ahu has some stunning beaches

O’ahu has some stunning beaches

But this was Hawai’i. And what we didn’t know was, that there weren’t really any places except for Waikiki’s big hotels. We had had our try on Couchsurfing and Warmshowers, but with no luck. We spent several hours just riding randomly through Honolulu, found 3 open but full hotels and had no luck at all. There wasn’t even a single accommodation in “Hotel Street”.

What we found though, was a stripe of grass where the other homeless people had pitched their tents. I say “the other homeless people” because we were homeless too. But we didn’t know the culture and weren’t sure if it was okay for strangers just to pitch their tent, so we decided to carry on.

Hawaiian Flower

So Hawaiian!

At 3.45 am we finally gave it up. We sat down on a bus station, Roberto tried to sleep a little, and I read. At 5.30 when the bus stop got a little busy, we decided to carry on again. We were headed to the East coast of O’ahu, where we were going to meet Travis and Chelsea. Travis works for the Hawaiian Bicycling League (HBL) and had offered us to stay with him for a few days. The ride to Kailua was very scenic. At first we just stumbled through town randomly, recognizing some streets here and there from the nightly ride. But once we reached Waikiki Beach, it was an easy thing to find our way.

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach

Probably Hawai'i's most famous surfer

Probably Hawai’i’s most famous surfer

We just biked along the sea. The sun had barely risen when we cycled along Waikiki Beach and only a few very sporty runners and busy surfers were out. It was warm and slightly drizzly, but we enjoyed our ride.

O'ahu coast by bike

Scenic ride along the coast. That’s the reason why we decided to circle the island in a counter-clockwise direction

The ride along the coast was stunning and there were several viewpoints to stop at and have a look at the beaches, pancake rocks and blowholes. Just before we reached one of those viewpoints, we were overtaken by a nice group of cyclists. We had a good chat and continued. Them quickly, us at our slow pace.

RHL and friends in O'ahu

Some of the nice cyclists we have met. Jen on the left, just finished a Half-Ironman!

View down into Hawai'i Kai

View down into Hawai’i Kai

There was not much of a shoulder, but the drivers were very respectful. Most of them waited until there was no more oncoming traffic in order to overtake us. We were quite impressed. Many Hawaiians believe that the motorized drivers have plenty to learn about dealing with cyclists, but we had just biked New Zealand, and as much as we love this country and its people, the drivers were definitely not the world’s most bike-friendly ones.

Bike route in O'ahu. There's quite some of these around. You just have to find them!

Bike route in O’ahu. There’s quite some of these around. You just have to find them!

Look out for cyclists! And the drivers really do. It was easy cycling in O'ahu!

Look out for cyclists! And the drivers really do. It was easy cycling in O’ahu!

Every now and then we could avoid the traffic on the village's footpaths

Every now and then we could avoid the traffic on the village’s footpaths

Some viewpoints later we met the other cyclists again and biked together into Kailua. Patricia, one of the founders of the “Red Hot Ladies” (short: RHL) invited us for some sugary treats in a café and we got to know everybody.

Many local cyclists at the Bike Party organized by the HBL

Many local cyclists at the Bike Party organized by the HBL

The RHL are a group of women over 50 who enjoy cycling at about 12-16 miles per hour. They also enjoyed cycling together with other bike groups and individuals. The cycling community was strong here! Thanks to them we found out how to get to Travis’ place. After 60 hilly kilometers along the coast and approximately another 30 or so at night, we decided to have a nap at the beautiful beach.

Kailua Beach

Kailua Beach

We spent the following few days with Travis and Chelsea, their flatmates and their dogs. May was bicycle-month in the USA and Travis was going through the year’s busiest time. We helped the HBL with a mini-presentation at the bike-Pau Hana (party) where we met even more locals. It was our second day in the country and we had already made plenty of friends.

Our hosts for a few days. We had a great time with these guys in Kailua

Our hosts for a few days. We had a great time with these guys in Kailua

Short hike up the Pillbox Trail near Kailua

Short hike up the Pillbox Trail near Kailua

These bunkers are called pillboxes and gave the trail its name

These bunkers are called pillboxes and gave the trail its name

View from the Pillbox Hiking Trail nach Kailua, O'ahu

View down

After a few days it was time for us to start biking again. The Oahu is a relatively small island, but there was plenty to see and explore. We headed south, simply following our guts. Our guts (and noses) stopped us after only 15 kilometers because there was a Huli-Huli Chicken stand right on the side of the street.

Koala Moa Chicken stand at Bellows Beach, O'ahu

Once the smell reached my nose, my bike automaticly rode straight towards the stand. And no, they don’t sell Koalas there.

So we grabbed a chicken, biked 2 more kilometers to the Bellows beach and had a great picnic. Bellows beach was one kind of a beach. From Friday noon to Sunday evening it was open to public. There was a campground, good swimming and lifeguards. But from Monday to Friday Bellows was used for the military training and nobody was allowed inside. It was Sunday afternoon and we decided to rather try our luck at Waimanolo Beach, few kilometers further south.

Campspot for tonight in Sherwood forest, O'ahu

Campspot for tonight in Sherwood forest

Camping in Hawaii is not easy for spontaneous travelers. There was much to plan ahead. In short: There are two types of campgrounds: state owed ones, and county owned ones. There isn’t a single one with a caretaker living on it or with an office situated. The only way to get a campsite is to reserve one beforehand. This can be done online or right at the offices in Honolulu. There are 13 County Campgrounds in Oahu. Some of them open 3 days a week, others 5 days. Not a single campground is “open” on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Between Bellows Beach and Waimanolo Beach it was an easy thing to pick a nice spot for the tent with nice neighbors.

Between Bellows Beach and Waimanolo Beach it was an easy thing to pick a nice spot for the tent with nice neighbors.

If you want to camp on a 3-day campground, you have to reserve your site for the full three days ($32). I your campground opens five days, then you pay $52 for all five days. No matter how long you actually want to stay.

So we decided that the state campgrounds might be a better option for us. They charge $18 per night. But there’s only four of them on the island and none of those were situated nearby us.

Waiting for the night to come.

Waiting for the night to come.

We ended up spending the night in the Sherwood Forest between both county-campgrounds. This place was popular with homeless people and we spotted a couple of other tents between the bushes. Everybody who lived here was very welcoming and nice and made us feel safe.

Packing our stuff early next morning

Packing our stuff early next morning

Early next morning we were back on the bikes, cycling back into the big town. At the harbor we met with Scott, whom we had been introduced to at the pike party. Scott owned a sailing boat and had offered us to take us for a ride. The tour was spectacular, we had great views into town, onto the beaches and over the surfing spots. We met other boaters and Scott even let us maneuver his precious “Symphoon” back into the harbor.

Our first meeting with Scott was back at the HBL Bike Party in Honolulu

Our first meeting with Scott was back at the HBL Bike Party in Honolulu

Short trip out into the sea

Short trip out into the sea

Maneuvring the precious Symphoon back to the harbour

Maneuvering the precious Symphoon back to the harbor

Scott and his beautiful Symphoon

Scott and his beautiful Symphoon

We never thought we would ever sail out of Honolulu!

We never thought we would ever sail out of Honolulu!

It was not easy to find a place to sleep in Honolulu, we had already learned that lesson. But Scott had a great idea. He rearranged the seats in his sailing boat and – voila – we had a floating bed! This was probably the coolest way to spend a night right in town but yet quiet and peacefully.

Most awesome sleeping spot

Most awesome sleeping spot

After a great night's sleep

After a great night’s sleep

Spending the night on a sailing boat in Honolulu

We slept just great!

Next morning we biked to the camping offices. Both, State and County. No, there were no exceptions for touring people. Our best shot was to buy a permit for a beach in the Northeast of the island. Done.

On the rainforest drive in O'ahu

On the rainforest drive

We didn’t want to cycle the South coast for a third time, so we took the short track through the Pali Highway, even though that meant some hills. The highway was very busy and soon we took a turn onto the smaller Nuuanu Pali Drive, also known as “rainforest route”.

The ecosystem changed dramatically up here

The ecosystem changed dramatically up here

Out of a sudden it was dead quiet. We were surrounded by big trees that provided us with shade. We heard the rivers and creeks around us and out of a sudden were attacked by mosquitos. The climate up here was so very different to the one down by the coast.

Huli Huli Chicken

And another stop. Food is our gasoline and we filled the tank all the way up.

Back on the highway we had to cross one busy tunnel, take a left turn and then little by little the traffic got easier. Scott had given us a great city and island map and we got onto every small side street that we could find. It was a very scenic ride through small villages, alongside narrow beaches and small boats for fishing, and under the palm trees.

Mike's Huli Chicken

Mike, the Huli-Chicken-Man

Somehow we had missed breakfast and lunch, and when we reached Mike’s Huli Chicken, we were very hungry. Yet, portions were so big, that one portion was enough for the two of us.

Huli Chicken

Yummi!

Traffic got a bit easier the later it got and the further up north we biked. For the first time we saw sheep and cows, villages and shops, local fishermen and just a tranquil and easy Hawaiian lifestyle.

Short stop at a scenic campground on the East Coast

Short stop at a scenic campground on the East Coast

There are plenty of wild chicken all over O'ahu

There are plenty of wild chicken all over O’ahu

We made it to Malaekahana Camping just before a short but intense downpour. Our tent-neighbors Mark and Angela invited us to join their campfire, their beers and their S’mores.

Mark and Angela shared S'mores, beer and their fire with us

Mark and Angela shared S’mores, beer and their fire with us

Cookie, hot marshmallow, chocolate, another cookie. Pretty much a marshmallow sandwich. I can’t believe that I used to eat my marshmallows plain and cold. Yummi!

Continue to part 2 here: Cycling around O’ahu part 2

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  1. Ted & Norma says:

    Hi guys. Fun to see how you guys got started here! Looking forward to more. It’s VERY hot and humid here now so you came at a good time. Hugs.

    • Hello you two,
      I hope you two are doing fine. We really believe that the weather was the most perfect one we have ever encountered, hot, not too hot either, some rain, but not too humid when not raining. Loved it. We were really lucky with that. Many hugs from Canada!
      Annika & Roberto

  2. Scott says:

    Love your pictures and your stories…A chicken on your panniers one day and on your plate as huli huli feast. Can life be so beautiful as your pictures and stories show us….YES!!!
    Enjoy in Joy !!

    • Haha Scott now you got us with the chicken. They are both cute and delicious.
      We’ve had the best of times in O’ahu. Loved it. Thanks for all your help! And also thanks heaps for the map, you made my day with that one.
      Hugs from Canada,
      Annika

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