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Oahu, HI

Alaska & Hawaii

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DescriptionO‘ahu is nicknamed “The Gathering Place,” and the name is apt. In addition to its residents—nearly 70 percent of the population of all of the islands combined—a million visitors a year land on O‘ahu, then proceed to explore the other islands. To many, O‘ahu is Hawai‘i. Hawai‘i's capital, Honolulu, with its commerce, industry and celebrated Waikīkī resort beach, is the heart of both the island and the state.

Honolulu is a true melting pot of people; Polynesian, Chinese, Japanese, European and native ancestry all are represented in an array of shopping, entertainment and cuisine. While the city looks to the future, it celebrates Hawai‘i's past with cultural, historical and educational attractions.

Yet O‘ahu offers more than just a booming metropolis. Other aspects of the island—wide-open spaces, spectacular vistas and uncrowded beaches—are found “over the pali,” which encompasses the windward coast, along the deserted stretches of wild-surf beach on the north coast and among the quiet fields of the central plateau. The pace of life in these regions is more leisurely. Many islanders enjoy the best of both worlds, residing on the windward side and commuting to work in Honolulu.

O‘ahu covers 597 square miles and comprises two parallel mountain ranges: the older Wai‘anae on the west coast and the younger Ko‘olau along the windward shore. Flowing lava from the Ko‘olau eventually reached the eroded Wai‘anae slopes, linking the ridges into a single isle. The highest peak on the island is 4,046-foot Ka‘ala Peak in the Wai‘anae; 3,150-foot Pu‘u Konahuanui tops the Ko‘olau. Pineapples flourish on the intervening plateau, the fertile, well-watered Leilehua Plain.

There was little evidence of O‘ahu's importance during the early years of exploration. Capt. James Cook spotted the island during his first voyage (1778), but O‘ahu remained undisturbed until Kamehameha I, in the process of conquering the archipelago, invaded it in 1795. The king's trade with the outside world brought attention to Honolulu Harbor, which now handles millions of tons of freight a year. Deep Pearl Harbor, similarly important for military reasons, is the hub of a group of military installations that compose almost 25 percent of O‘ahu's acreage.

Commercial, governmental and military jobs are the primary economic force. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard installations employ thousands, and federal expenditure ranks first as a source of the island's—and the state's—revenue. Tourism is a close second. Although the pineapple industry began on O‘ahu, it is small and relatively unimportant economically.

Recreationally, O‘ahu has become synonymous with surfing. Movies, television, popular music and more have brought the Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay and other legendary North Shore spots into living rooms across the nation and beyond. World-class surfing and bodysurfing championships are held at Mākaha and other beaches. While these are only for professionals, there are plenty of places where less proficient surfers can perfect their skills. Windsurfing also is popular.

Gray Line offers a variety of sightseeing tours departing from Waikīkī; phone (808) 833-3000 or (888) 206-4531.

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Oahu, HI

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