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Hawaii State Department of Health Community Resources Section. This department provides a free "Honolulu Walking Map" and "The Fitness Fun Map," which list more than two dozen walking and jogging routes and suggested itineraries. 1250 Punchbowl St., Room 422, Honolulu, HI, 96813. PHONE: 808/586-4488. www.healthyhawaii.com/.
A great way to see the island is atop a horse, leaving the direction to the pack while you drink in the views of mountains or the ocean. It may seem cliché, but there really is nothing like riding a horse down a stretch of beach to put you in a romantic state of mind.
The trails of Oahu cover a full spectrum of environments: desert walks through cactus, slippery paths through bamboo-filled rain forest, and scrambling rock climbs up ancient volcanic calderas. The only thing you won't find is an overnighter, as even the longest of hikes won't take you more than half a day. In addition to being short in length, many of the prime hikes are within 10 minutes of downtown Waikiki, meaning that you won't have to spend your whole day getting back to nature.
Unlike on the Neighbor Islands, the majority of Oahu's golf courses are not associated with hotels and resorts. In fact, of the island's three-dozen-plus courses, only five are tied to lodging and none of them is in the tourist hub of Waikiki.
Camping has always been the choice of cost-conscious travelers who want to be vacationing for a while without spending a lot of money. But now, with the growth of ecotourism and the skyrocketing cost of gas, it has become more popular than ever. Whatever your reasons for getting back to nature, Oahu has plenty to offer year-round.
Oahu's coastal roads are flat, well paved, and unfortunately, awash in vehicular traffic. Frankly, biking is no fun in either Waikiki or Honolulu, but things are a bit better outside the city.
Japanese pub-restaurants, called izakaya (ee-ZAH-ka-ya), are sprouting up all over the Islands like matsutake mushrooms in a pine forest. They began as oases for homesick Japanese nationals but were soon discovered by adventurous locals, who appreciated the welcoming atmosphere, sprawling menus, and later dining hours.
Waimea may get lots of press for the giant winter waves in the bay, but the valley itself is a newsmaker and an ecological treasure in its own right. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is working to conserve and restore the natural habitat. Follow the Kamananui Stream up the valley through the 1,800 acres of gardens. The botanical collections here include more than 5,000 species of tropical flora, including a superb gathering of Polynesian plants. It's the best place on the island to see native species, such as the endangered Hawaiian moorhen. You can also see the remains of the Hale O Lono heiau (temple) along with other ancient archaeological sites; evidence suggests that the area was an important spiritual center. Daily activities between 10 and 2 include hula lessons, native plant walks, lei-making lessons, kapa cloth-making demonstrations, depending on how many staff members are working on a given day. At the back of the valley, Waihi Falls plunges 45 feet into a swimming pond. Bring your board shorts—a swim is the perfect way to end your hike. Be sure to bring mosquito repellent, too; it can get buggy. www.waimeavalley.net. COST: $15. OPEN: Daily 9--5.
This amazing little attraction harbors more than 3,000 organisms and 500 species of Hawaiian and South Pacific marine life, endangered Hawaiian monk seals, sharks, and the only chambered nautilus living in captivity. The Edge of the Reef exhibit showcases five different types of reef environments found along Hawaii's shorelines. Check out the small new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands exhibit that explains the formation of the island chain, the Ocean Drifters jellyfish exhibit, outdoor touch pool, and the self-guided audio tour, which is included with admission. The aquarium offers activities of interest to adults and children alike, including the monthly Aquarium After Dark program when visitors grab a flashlight and view fish going about their rarely observable nocturnal activities. Plan to spend at least an hour at the aquarium, including 10 minutes for a film in the Sea Visions Theater. www.waquarium.org. COST: $9. OPEN: Daily 9--5; last entrance 4:30.
Though they may look like piles of rocks to the uninitiated, heiau are sacred stone platforms for the worship of the gods and date from ancient times. Ulupo means "night inspiration," referring to the legendary Menehune, a mythical race of diminutive people who are said to have built the heiau under the cloak of darkness. www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/oahu/ulupo.cfm.