Oahu is Hawaii's most developed island, known traditionally as "the gathering place." It is an amazing mixture of big city life and pastoral beauty. Honolulu, its main city, is an action town, with lots of people, great restaurants, clubs and hotels. It moves, night and day, and there's never a shortage of activity. But, if you wish to be out of the city, into natural beauty, in 15 minutes from downtown you can be hiking a trail on Mount Tanelus, high above any sign of civilization, deep in bamboo and guava forests, where every turn reveals a new arrangement of exotic, tropical plants and some vibrant birdsong you've never heard before.
Waikiki Beach has become synonymous with tanning, boogie boarding and Diamond Head Crater. Running parallel to Kalakaua Avenue is Waikiki's famous white sand beach; a favorite for strolling, swimming and sunbathing or just people watching. It is renowned for its high-rise hotels, tourists' shops and a seemingly endless night life.
A drive around Oahu shows its many distinctive moods. The long coastline changes from jungle greenery to dry, volcanic rock and back again. There are long stretches of quiet beach along a glassy-smooth ocean, and golden sands swept by huge surf-the waves can be more than 20 feet high in the winter months-along the north coast. Tall interior mountains hide waterfalls and dark meandering rivers, and everywhere are the splashes of color and wafting, sweet fragrances of the tropical flowers Hawaii is known for-hibiscus, jasmine and plumeria.
Good diving is found all around Oahu, though most sites are along the southern and western shorelines. The diving is varied, with wreck dives, walls, caverns and lava-tube tunnels.
The modest reef structures do not have a great proliferation of coral growth, but are enhanced by diverse aquatic fauna. A number of ships and barges have been sunk to attract marine life to a relatively sandy bottom. The success of these projects is measured by their popularity as dive sites, and the healthy communities that have been established in a relatively compressed time frame. To spare visiting divers to O'ahu the unique problem of contending with congested traffic conditions on unfamiliar roads, most dive operators respond to these needs by offering hotel pick-ups and transportation to and from the harbor.
The south shore of O'ahu extends from Makupu'u Point, on the east, to Barbers Point. The majority of sites in this area are concentrated in Maunalua Bay and along the Waikiki/Honolulu shorefront.
The five mile wide Maunaloa Bay area is protected from the current in relatively shallow water, which is perfect for novice divers. A good variety of marine life and a couple of exciting wrecks can appeal to the most seasoned enthusiasts.
The North Shore extends from Ka'ena Point on the west to Kahuku Point on the north. There are several sites along this coast, but conditions are weather dependent and usually accessible during the summer months (May through September) only. This is the winter home of the Bonzai Pipeline-renowned in surfing circles for its legendary swells and offshore breakers, but when the water is flat, several dive operators fix their sights on the North Shore.
Some of the very best diving that O'ahu has to offer is on the windward side of the island, between Kahuku and Makapu'u Points-but it comes with a price. The sites are relatively unspoiled and not overfished because they are rarely dived, but most of the sites need a boat for access. Vulnerable to the predominate tradewinds during the summer months, and affected by the north swell during the winter months, the surface conditions can get rough and uncomfortable. Even during a calm day the swell can be so bad that the underwater world can be less than desirable. But when all of the conditions are right, its pure heaven.