Honolulu, Hawaii: A Visit with Ohana on Oahu

On our way from New Zealand to Argentina in preparation for our Antarctic voyage, we planned a very special stopover in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Our oldest son, Zack, is stationed at Schofield Barracks with the U.S. Army, and we were excited to visit him and his wife, Autumn, in their current hometown.

Knowing how much we love local food, Zack planned lunch for us at Pancakes & Waffles and a special dinner at Hale’iwa Beach House, just down the road from their house on the North Shore.

As we caught up over cocktails and fresh fish, they told us about their latest adventures, spending much of their free time hiking and off-roading on the island’s many trails.

Sunshine, waves, and Jeeps. Three of Zack’s favorite things, and not necessarily in that order. (image via Zack Ballard)

And while we could – and did – visit all of the usual tourist haunts, including Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head Crater, we were much more interested in some of the island’s off-the-beaten-path beauty.

Two of our favorites were Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens and Valley of the Temples.

The botanical garden was designed and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide flood protection for Kaneohe, but its mission — and its name, Ho’omaluhia — is a bit more magical: “To make a place of peace and tranquility.”

The 400 acres include a 32-acre lake with a stunning view of the remnants of the rim wall of Ko’olau Volcano, and the gardens feature rare and endangered plants from Hawaii, the Philippines, Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Polynesia, Melanesia, Malaysia, and tropical America.

Just a 10-minute drive from the botanical gardens is the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, with its stunning Byodo-In Temple. This replica of a historic Japanese Buddhist temple sits among manicured grounds and meditation sites.

Before entering the temple, you’ll stop by the bell house, or kanetsuki-do, to ring the five-foot, three-ton brass bell. It’s a replica of the one hanging in a twin bell house at the Uji Byodo-In in Osaka, which is more than 900 years old and was originally from India. Ringing the bell involves pulling ropes to swing a wooden log, or shu-moku, that strikes the brass with a deep gong-like tone. The action is meant to create an atmosphere of tranquility that cleanses the mind of evil and temptation.

I rang it a couple of times for good measure.

The Aloha State is beautiful, and it’s easy to see why people flock to the islands for sunshine, sand, and beautiful sights.

But our favorite sight to see? These two smiling faces.