Walking down the plane aisle, we were stopped by a man, bent over on his hands and knees in the space, picking up items his child had dropped. Like any plumber or builder his backside was showing, in particular the day of the week emblazoned around his waistband reading; Wednesday. It was Tuesday 7th March, 9pm. Mitch commented; “You’re a day ahead of yourself mate!”. A little bewildered, the man eventually caught on and explained that he had this pair ready for when we landed. Crossing the dateline to Hawaii we were landing at 6am, on Tuesday 7th March. Looks like he was getting more wear out of Wednesday than he thought…
So the next adventure has begun. This time we are headed to North America. The once wild frontier, which is still a little wild in a few places. Mainly the mountains, arctic tundra and the children’s ball pit in a fast food joint (there will be plenty). Here, we plan to do mostly travel, no desk jobs or rented shoe boxes. We will have to keep a much tighter budget as traveling vagabonds; for we will be burning and learning, not earning.
Our first destination is a tiny town in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Prince George, British Columbia. We were leaving the end of the New Zealand summer to the end of a far north winter, so a bit of adjustment was in order. To settle us in to the sub-tropical weather, a short stop in Hawaii, the American jewel of the Pacific, was in order.
Arriving into customs with dark rings under the eyes, we hadn’t managed a single wink of sleep on the flight. Mitch used to be able to sleep on any form of transport, despite his height, but now seems to struggle. Tam was sat next to an overweight woman, who spilled over into her seat and writhed around regularly. Little sleep for her this time around. Picking up the rental, Mitch was in a horrible mood. He didn’t trust the rental car company because they didn’t want to inspect any of the scratches already on the vehicle. Then the traffic signals were all over the place. This tiny island was all highways. He just wanted a nap.
After a dazed ride north to Haleiwa Beach, we stopped and slept for an hour on the sands. Watching about thirty locals flock together on surfboards – searching for swell. After a few hours, we were in a somewhat better mood. That was before we got something to eat. Checking nutrition labels in the 7eleven was an eye opener. Half of the goods were made pretty much out of corn, high fructose corn syrup or other corn-based derivatives. They had spam sushi, not for the faint hearted. Fruit was probably the most expensive thing there – grown nearby at the Dole plantation.
Ambling along the Kamehameha Highway in our rented economy sized vehicle (which in the US, was a 3.5L Nissan Altima – that was the smallest car they had!), we found the promising Waimea Valley. It offered a hike to a waterfall and seemed like a good option. Avoiding the $16 tickets by sneakily crossing the river downstream, we made it through the gardens to find the rock pool and cascading water. It was spectacularly underwhelming, with patrons forced to wear life-jackets to swim in the muddy waters. We couldn’t bear to be patronised to that level and just watched families grumpily throw their children in for a few moments peace.
Another beach-side sojourn took us to Ehukai Beach where we watched the Banzai Pipeline. A few tourists walked back and forward with surfboards, definitely looking the part, but failing to get wet. One blonde Australian girl on a towel in front of us made 3 Facebook friends in the half hour. Impressive.
Our accommodation at the Malaekahana Beach Campground was particuarly spartan, but at $67 a night, we couldn’t argue. It was about 2m by 3m, no windows, one bunk and a double bed with plastic mattresses. Down the road was the Kahuku fast food shrimp joints and after sunset, we became the main course for mosquitos. However, despite the sparse luxuries of this budget Hawaiian resort, there was the pineapple on top. That was the beachfront location. We were about 10m from the surf and overlooked the reef for a spectacular sunset. This was the Hawaii we imagine in Jack Johnson songs.
We woke about 10 hours later, having slept through our alarm, to undertake our covert operation; climbing the Haiku Stairs. Well, we hoped to go unnoticed, but at 9am there was a lot more daylight to expose us.
The Haiku Stairs are infamous in Hawaii as “The Stairway to Heaven”. Built in 1942 as a staircase to a US Military Communications relay, the stairs invite adventurers from around the world. They are also somewhat, illegal. There is a security guard stationed at the base and we had to get past him, through dense jungle to start the steep ascent to the top.
We pretty much followed the guidance in the well researched blog below, taking option 2 as listed; http://www.1lifeonearth.com/stairway-to-heaven-oahu/
Our recon around the sleepy suburb of Kaneohe didn’t help much. We were looking for a drain which we were to start walking up. It wasn’t until we saw a group of six skinny kids in yellow rain-jackets climb out and over a fence, we knew we had found the spot. As soon as we got out of the car, the dogs started howling. We had the option here of running back into the car, or alert the neighbours that we had arrived. We took the chance, scaled the fence and were off!
After the drain, we found a road through a hole in the wire fence. Halfway down this road, we were supposed to go up and through a bamboo forest to get to the start. We, however, went a little early and found ourselves bush bashing for an hour up the wrong valley. Tracking across and back down, exhausted and muddy, we got onto our first section of steel staircase.
The general condition of the sections are varied. Each 7 step piece is bolted together and riveted into the rockface. It was safe to say, that the structure wasn’t safe. Some parts are a little rusty. Some are a little bent out of shape. One section, we found, was entirely wiped away by a landslide. To call it a staircase was a bit of an understatement – it was more of a step-ladder.
We met no other souls brave enough on the way up. Down below, the security guard could be seen. Frowning in his car. Probably on the phone to someone. Shaking his fist. Eating a shrimp and pineapple pizza. He was clearly there as a deterrent. If this was commercialised, we could see hundreds wanting to make the climb, which then would make it really dangerous!
A helicopter buzzed overhead. Tam whimpered and cowered, trying to hide from the spinning rotors. Mitch heard it coming a long way off and in Richard Kimble fashion was about to put his hands in the air; “You caught me”. Today, we were lucky. It was a tourist charter, inspecting the same sights we would have to climb for. Once at the top, we saw a few relics of past climbs. Mainly cans of beer and graffiti. A swing had been installed, but that was now taken down. The rest of the staircase is also in for removal, for safety reasons, which would be a real shame. The mystery and adventure of the Haiku Stairs makes it for us the main attraction on Oahu.
On our descent, we met another couple of hikers, some wearing face-masks to conceal their identity. Why didn’t we think of that!!! Luckily we were able to evade the waiting guard and make it back down the drain to our car. Tired, muddy and in need of a swim.
We took this oppourtunity at the Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve. A sheltered reef home to a wide plethora of fishes, all tame. We didn’t have a snorkel and mask, but the water seemed crystal clear and didn’t sting the eyes. Well, immediately anyway.
With a few short hours to spare, we tried to get into the Pearl Harbour area, which to no surprise is still a fully fledged naval operation. Crossing the Ford Island Bridge we were turned around by a polite man carrying a decent sized machine gun. Tourists…
Having had our fill of Hawaii, we returned our “compact” car back to airport terminal and went about the second flight in our journey to Canada. The next few weeks would be a far cry from the islands of the Pacific. Snow and forest as far as we could see. The thermometer reading a cool -15 degrees C.