Friday, March 13, 2015

Aloha Oahu: Wai'anae & Chinese New Year


Want to start from the beginning of the "Aloha Oahu" series? Make sure you've read: 
Waikiki & Luau 
Manoa Falls, Pali Lookout, Kailua Beach, & Diamond Head
Pearl Harbor
A Waikiki Wedding
Ash Wednesday & Polynesian Cultural Center


Thursday was one of our earliest mornings on the island because we were scheduled to catch the shuttle for that day's adventure at 6:05am. Because we were so tired from our long (but fun!) day at the Polynesian Cultural Center, I groggily turned off my 5:30 alarm. Imagine my surprise when I woke up and discovered that it was already 6:00am! I immediately woke my husband and what happened next is both comical and nothing short of a small miracle.

Thankfully, we had laid out our swimsuits, clothes, and shoes the night before. I also had every item we needed to toss in our backpack (water bottle, sunscreen, sunglasses, our on-the-go breakfast, snacks, camera, etc.) sitting in a row on top of our hotel room's desk (sometimes it pays to be a neat freak). After hurriedly putting in our contacts, brushing teeth, getting dressed, and gathering our belongings we rushed out the door and set off on a mission to catch that shuttle. Our pick-up location was at a hotel 2 blocks away, so the few people that happened to be out in the dark on the street at 6:05am were treated to a rare sighting: a 25-weeks pregnant woman jogging and then running to flag down a shuttle bus at the last minute.

Fortunately, most shuttle pick-up times have a grace period of 10-15 minutes and our driver wasn't actually scheduled to leave until 6:15. Whew! We made it and were actually considered early. Apparently I ran for nothing, but I'm incredibly grateful we didn't miss that bus because we were soon on our way to Wai'anae for snorkeling with wild dolphins, sea turtles, and more! If you want to see dolphins, whales, or sea turtles in their natural habitat then Wai'anae is one of the best places to go on Oahu.

Considering it was humpback whale season, we were really hoping to catch a glimpse of the whales but had no such luck. Still, our boat sighted pods of spinner dolphins on more than one occasion and we were given the chance to hop in the ocean and see them from below surface level with our snorkeling gear. It's really fun to say we technically swam with dolphins, but the downside of trying to see wild dolphins is that the entire ordeal is unpredictable and those fast swimmers do just that - swim fast. Michael barely caught a glimpse of a dolphin as he peered below the water and it rushed past him and I found myself constantly at the back of our tour group, unable to see for myself. This was doubly disappointing because our guides saw my baby bump and started telling me that dolphins love pregnant ladies because they can sense the baby's rapid heartbeat. I wanted so badly to get close enough for them to notice me, but it wasn't meant to be (not for lack of trying on our guides' part, though - they worked very hard to do their best to give everyone a good view of the dolphins under water).

View from the boat. Don't let the cloudy skies fool you - the weather was absolutely gorgeous.

Next our boat took us to an area filled with beautiful coral where turtles were commonly found. Pretty quickly the guides found a group of Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, which were much more my snorkeling pace. Michael snapped some amazing photos and we had lots of fun snorkeling in that area.

Then, our boat pulled into a shallow area and gave everyone a chance to paddleboard and/or kayak while they served some food. Michael and I have done our fair share of kayaking, but one thing we had both wanted to try for a long time was paddleboarding. I was so happy that this was included on our snorkeling tour!

A few people (ourselves included) had only seen the spinner dolphins from the boat, so our guides found another pod to give everyone a second chance to see them while snorkeling. Instead of hopping back in the ocean, Michael and I chose to stay on the boat with a couple others to just relax, soak in the sun that had finally broken through the clouds, and enjoy the spectacular view of the dolphins circling the boat while everyone else tried chasing after them in the water. In all honesty, I saw far more of the dolphins and had way more fun doing this than desperately trying to keep up with them in the water.

Taking in the view
Spinner dolphins in their natural habitat. There were at least 20 in this pod and we saw one that was definitely a baby!

Pretty soon it was time to head back to Honolulu. We ate (once again) at Heavenly, spent the rest of the afternoon on Waikiki Beach, then met up with Michael's family to enjoy some of the Chinese New Year festivities.

Just another gorgeous day at Waikiki Beach....

One of the big shopping plazas on Kalakaua Avenue hosted several performances and traditional festivities for Chinese New Year, so we met up with everyone there before heading out for dinner.

This former Miss Chinatown (Honolulu) and former Miss Hawaii was the emcee
Lion dance!
Traditional Chinese dancing

Instead of eating in Chinatown as originally planned, my father-in-law admitted that he didn't care what kind of food we ate - so we decided to trust one of our previous cab driver's recommendations and hit up a hole-in-the-wall restaurant for some authentic Korean food. We had 8 people in our party, but judging by how many dishes were ordered and plates had to be taken away to continuously make more room you'd probably think we had at least twice that number. The food was delicious and I was/am so grateful that, despite the fact that I'm (once again) very sensitive to spicy foods, I've been able to eat some Korean food during this pregnancy (which was completely out of the question during my pregnancy with Gabriel).

Very full and happy after an incredibly satisfying meal

The Korean restaurant happened to be close to the Ala Moana shopping mall, so after dinner we spent some time walking around window-shopping with Michael's family before heading back towards our hotel. That night we simply enjoyed one another's company as we walked up and down Kalakaua Avenue searching for the perfect souvenirs. Just like that, we were doing our best to soak in what would be our final night in Hawaii after a beautiful whirlwind of adventure after adventure on Oahu.

"Aloha! wherewith they will greet

Their own or others on the way,
That in their rambling they may meet,
But would prefer the live-long day
To slumber 'neath a banyan tree,
Or eat their poi near Waikiki....
When twilight's silvery moon appear,
And twinkling stars with brightness gleam,
Naught but the murmuring waves we hear.
'Tis then that near me angels seem
That smile on me, lull me to sleep
Within the cradle near the deep."
-excerpt from Hawaiian Islands by August Wilhelm Wern


Want to read more about our time on Oahu? Next up: all about our Final Day & Returning Home!

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