The Island of Oahu
Oahu means “gathering place” in Hawaiian. Not much larger than Kauai, Oahu contains three-quarters of Hawaii’s population and has gathered on the Capital Island and mainly in Honolulu.
Waikiki, the former swamp adjoining Honolulu, has become the tourist center of the Pacific, thanks to its justly famous two-mile stretch of beach. As the political, commercial and cultural center of Hawaii, the rest of the islands are defined as “Outer” or “Neighbor” Islands.
Two parallel mountain ranges, the Koolau and the Waianae, cross Oahu holding the fertile Leilehua Plateau between them. On the plateau are several large military bases and vast pineapple and sugar fields. Honolulu and Waikiki to Diamond Head and Koko Head fill the south coast, reaching up Koolau valleys toward passes to the windward side. Steep vertical valleys in windward mountain flanks resemble the heart-stopping pall of Kauai.
Across the jagged Koolaus from Honolulu is the windward shore and the bedroom communities of Kailud and Kaneohe. Commuting workers from Kailua and Kaneohe see the steep and narrow green folds of these awesomely beautiful mountains every morning from traffic-filled roadways en route over one of two mountain passes and through tunnels to Honolulu.
However, with just a few minutes of patient driving northwest along the Windward Coast, familiar suburban sprawl soon becomes exquisite rural and rustic shorelines, dotted with beautiful white sand beaches and parks, some exposed and others hidden, before reaching the famed North Shore surfing beaches: Waimea Bay, Sunset, and Banzai Pipeline.
Residents of the Neighbor Islands view Oahu and Waikiki as metaphors for all that has gone wrong in paradise in terms of over development, commercialization, military control and influence and population growth. Many former residents of Oahu, including many artists who previously fled the Mainland, now populate the less crowded Neighbor Islands.
However, the realities of Oahu’s landscape run counter to these prevailing notions which equate Honolulu and Waikiki with Oahu. Most o f Oahu is not asphalt but a variety of mountainous regions and pastoral country sides. A visit to Oahu’s many beautiful beaches demolishes unfounded myths about the superior coastal beauty of the Neighbor Islands. A drive to Tantalus Lookout or the less remote lookout at Punchbowl offers dramatic day and night views of cityscapes found on no other island or any other metropolis in America.