A whirlwind adventure it was not, but Hawai’i was a dream holiday spent in great company and beautiful weather.

We had a few days to “recover” from our vanning during which Dan got into the habit of mixing me pre-holiday Pina Coladas to get me properly in the mood. We were flying out on Monday which meant we had to get a COVID test on Friday in order to be accepted into the island state. As a reasonable person, I presumed that this would be a fairly straightforward affair. For me, it was since I could easily get testing through work but for someone off the street (i.e. Dan), it took at least an hour of research on Thursday to generate a shortlist of where we could get a test within 20 miles of us without paying over $150 for the privilege and to have confidence we’d get the results within 72 hours.

Friday morning came and we were off swab-chasing to San Francisco on the train. It was another disgusting weather day in the city with winds pushing against us as we rode our bikes a few miles across the dilapidated suburbs of South San Fran. We found the Alameda testing facility easily, there were cones all around and thankfully not many cars in the line-up. We rode around to the entrance only to find it blocked off with cones. They weren’t accepting people without appointments. Well, I rode straight through the cones and up to the man in a vest to seek clarification. The website said while appointments were available, they were not necessary. He said they couldn’t help us, they’d done so many tests today already that they’d essentially run out. I was pissed. The fact we’d had to go further than our closest pharmacy was already a joke and now this bullshit. Dan coaxed me away from the man and I looked up the location of the #2 option. We rode another few miles across town to a small church that was thankfully accepting people. A man directed us to a barcode outside which we scanned on our phones to do a thorough survey in which I swore I confessed what type of underwear I was wearing. Am I asking too much to expect a “Hello”, or “Welcome” when entering an establishment? Anyway, end of rant, we got our tests done and we rode on home to sunnier skies.

Over the weekend we watched a dramatic F1 race take place in Hungary, I went for a long run and we got in a round of climbing at Guadalupe Rock. Our negative test results also came through and we were able to upload them along with other information to Hawai’i’s “Safe Travels” website and get our unique QR codes that would grant us entry to paradise.

We were up early Monday morning to drop Cleo off to a Rover sitter in San Jose before coming back home to catch an Uber to the airport. Having not worn a mask in over a month, it felt strange to don the face wear again. At SFO I was excited to show my QR code to somebody but sadly we were never asked. I kept Debi (Dan’s Mum) updated on our progress right up until we took off, travelling over the big blue Pacific for over five hours. Our descent and landing was commentated by a great kid a few rows back from us who shouted many “weeee!”’s and “whoooaa”’s as the plane dipped and rose. Dan pointed out some landmarks on Oahu’s south shore as the plane turned and after landing the kid declared, “We nearly didn’t make it!” to which he received a round of applause.

Our excitement to be in Hawai’i ebbed when we were directed towards the exit of the open-air airport only to be shown to the back of an extremely long queue. Now was the time to show our QR codes! We must have got our phones and IDs out and at-the-ready at least three times before reaching the head of the queue. Giving Debi the blow-by-blow again, I guessed an hour’s wait but thankfully it was only half that. Once it was our turn, I was determined to have one of the fastest pit stops and we were done within a minute. Aloha, welcome to Hawai’i.

Debi, Jody and P3 (Peter Gooding the Third, Jody’s 4-month old) were waiting for us outside. After hellos and hugs, we were soon on our way driving north up the middle of the island of Oahu. Peter Gooding Junior and Jody had been living on Oahu for eight years, moving our shortly after Dan left the island having lived there for two years. This was our first time meeting P3 and my first time to any of Hawai’i’s islands.

Towards the end of the drive, we passed the Dole plantation (the company that makes all the tinned pineapple you’ve ever bought) which had a line out the door, some beautiful beaches with tourists lining the shores to see sand-going turtles and a LOT of cars. It was very obvious that Oahu is a tourist-heavy place. I can only imagine what the past 12 months had been like when no one was visiting.

We arrived at the Northshore to a vacation home that Debi had arranged and the usual confusion ensued regarding where to go and how to open gates and doors. We figured it out eventually and were soon joined by Peter Sr. and Peter Jr.. With them came Kemo the dog. We were all here.

The girls had been to Costco and bought the shop and so the fridge was soon stocked and bedrooms were taken. We didn’t waste any time getting onto the front back porch that sat right on top of the beautiful blue ocean. We were confused by the lack of beach access but soon found our way around the side of the house for that and we set up a much-needed shade structure on the porch which was a new toy for P&J. It took some reinforcement with ratchet straps so it could stand up to the wind but with that up we were set.

The next week we had a couple of outings but it is otherwise a blur of sunny days spent out on the deck, swimming, surfing, snorkeling in the ocean, sitting down to dinner and for me, getting to know the Gooding family a little more. During my deck time, I read three books and managed to convince Dan and Debi to play Rummikub (provided with the vacation home) with me. When we weren’t reading or playing, we found we could easily pass the time just by looking out ove the ocean. There was always someone on the water that we could watch and military aircraft were a regular sighting.

The Sandbar

On Wednesday, Peter Jr. offered to take Dan and I out on his boat to the Sandbar. This spot was a local favourite and according to Jody, one I had to experience. The three of us set out early and took an hour to drive to P&J’s home in Kailua. Peter gave us a tour and it is a beautiful little family home that they have extensively renovated and decorated to bet their own. We met their tenant in the rear unit, Abe, a young and happy ex-military man with bright red hair and a wicked smile. Dan and I were soon out of the house to hike up a small mountain behind the house to leave Peter to do some work for an hour or so.

The weather was cloudy, as is typical for Oahu but it was humid and hot – just how I like it! We walked a few streets before climbing up a gradual hill navigating rooty and rocky terrain in our sandals, slightly covered by short dry trees but getting great views back down into Kailua.

We could see the military base to our left and the towering volcanic mountains that formed Oahu’s spine to our right. I’m sure “mountains” is not the right word – they formed a huge wall dividing the east and the west. I’d never seen anything like it. Waterfalls had worn down the black volcanic rock over time creating chutes between columns that were covered in lush greenery.

At the peak we saw the expanse of the Pacific Ocean before us and wow is it a pretty ocean. We looked out over “the Mokes” – two large islands just off the coast and as I scanned the coastline, peering down into the backyards of the rich and famous, Dan duly pointed out the landmarks he’d come to know during his time living here and I was happy to learn.

We meandered back down the hill then had a beer on P&J’s front deck while Peter finished up his work. Now to get the boat ready! The small inflatable boat needed a top-up of air which was easily done, but when Dan noticed the flatness of the left trailer tire, that wasn’t such an easy fill. The tubeless tire was completely flat and wouldn’t seat onto the rim so we ended up stealing another wheel/tyre from an old jockey wheel and installed it onto the boat. This was all under the supervision of Kevin, P&J’s Hawaiin neighbour who was always keen to lend a hand. We were soon on our way to a private boat dock that Peter knew about and into Kaneohe Bay.

Peter’s is a great little boat that gets pretty well up to speed with only three people aboard. We were soon jumping across small waves and approaching the bar of sand out in the middle of the bay. Dan promptly pushed me overboard where I landed knee deep in the ocean. It was uncanny to be so far from land but essentially on land! We cracked a few beers, had some lunch and enjoyed our surroundings. There were others out enjoying the sandbar, with come being commercial outfits, but mostly it was just people like us but on larger party boats. I snorkeled over to the edge of the sandbar to see the sand drop away into the deep ocean and Dan did the same.

With the sun behind some thick storm clouds, the warmth had gone from the day and now wet, we were feeling cold but we pressed on to Secret Beach. Along the way Dan and I got out for another snorkel, this time along the edge of some reef. It was here I saw my first turtle in the Pacific Ocean and he was beautiful. Not fussed by us, he swam below us in slow motion. Along the reef there were plenty of colourful fish and we saw two more turtles in our short adventure, each much older and larger than the last.

Back on the boat, Peter pushed the boat to full throttle now in an attempt to skip over the open-ocean waves and at one point had to come to a full stop to avoid hitting a large turtle. The skies opened up on us halfway to the beach and massive pellets of cold rain hit us all over. We made to take shelter under the shade structure, but it soon passed and we returned to getting hit only by the ocean waves pummeling the boat.

At Secret Beach, we put an anchor out in the sand then followed Peter’s suit of climbing up a large wooden structure tied together with rope and jumping off the top. Another round of beers here and with the wind picking up, we had to stay in the water to keep warm.

I was almost dreading the trip back for fear of the cold, but Dan kept close to keep me warm and we held on for dear life as Peter flew us back into the Bay. The wind had picked up so the waves were proper big now and at one point I grabbed onto both brothers to keep myself grounded. We were laughing the whole way at the roughness of the trip, Peter is a very fine captain.

We were soon back at the boat ramp, loaded up and sitting in a nice warm car on our way back to the Northshore after unloaded the boat at P&J’s place. Back at the vacation rental, we couldn’t get into the hot tub on the deck fast enough.

Pill Box

After our Thursday morning swim, Dan and I took a walk up to the pillbox (a wartime bunker) behind the vacation rental. Walking out of the house, we started up the trail behind the local school joining a few other tourist climbing through the mangrove-like forest. Having not lived in a humid climate in a long time, I was thoroughly enjoying being amongst tropical plants again.

The hike was steep and took us back to an adventure we’d had finding a lagoon in Tonsai, but it was only a short pinch up to a flat ridge. As we meandered along, saying hi to everyone we passed, who should we see but an ex-military man with a bright shock of red hair?! It was P&J/s tenant Abe with his visiting brother and family doing a “Northshore” day. Surprised to see a familiar face, we stopped at chatted a while and he gave us a hot tip to carry on hiking past the first pill box to another one with no crowds and a better view. Thanks Abe!

We carried on through the trees and passed a crowd of people at Pill Box #1 to eventually come to Pill Box #2. There were two girls there, but we could still easily enjoy the view. The reefs near the North shore shone beautifully and we were able to spot our vacation home amongst the rows of houses lining the shore. We stayed a fair while just taking it all in – I’m sure I could have stayed there for hours.

We had a quick explore into the first pill box which had become a graffiti’s artist’s canvas and then made our way down the hill to fill the rest of our day with the usual deck activities.

Shark Cove

On Friday we’d managed to get in touch with the vacation home’s maintenance man Brad, who lived onsite, and confirmed we could take the two bikes in front of the house for a spin. A side note on Brad – he was a very friendly man, though he wasn’t living up to his maintenance title. Dan discovered a light fitting that would shock you with 120V if touched, all of the fire extinguishers were out-dated and without pressure, the deck was slowly falling down and the trip hazards were innumerable. As I said, a lovely guy, but he was the butt of a great many jokes whenever we came across anything haphazard with the rental.

We found the bike pump inside the shed to pump up the tires then had to makeshift our own bike lock out of padlocks and a ratchet strap when Brad confirmed that the last renters had lost the bike lock (he obviously hadn’t thought to replace it). Then we were off! The bike path that split the highway from the residential road was beautifully shaded by tropical plants and frequented by families of wild chickens at its edge much to our amusement.

We rode a mile or two before arriving at Shark Cove – a very popular touristy spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. I was glad to have ridden the bikes because there wasn’t a car park to be seen! We wandered away from the crowds, walking our bikes onto the sand and stashed them behind some trees. While attempting to lock the bikes together Dan managed to break one of the tyre tube stems and so we heard a big “ssssshhhhh” as a tyre lost all of its air. Oh well, we’d be walking back! No one was going to steal the bikes now!

Snorkels in hand, we made our way over some very sharp volcanic rock to the water. As we made ourselves ready, there were two snorkelers right by the rock where it dropped off like a cliff into the water. By the time we were ready to jump in, they’d disappeared into an underwater tunnel the went somewhere underneath us. No thank you – it looked mighty dark down there! They had big flippers on so we only hoped they knew where they were going!

As soon as we jumped in we were surrounded by a multitude of sea creatures. P&J had very nice snorkel masks so the view was clear as we floated around the underwater rock formations, going wherever the wildlife took us. We swam on top of scuba divers and busted their huge oxygen bubbles as they rose to the surface, we saw yet another turtle chilling in a small cove before coming out to chew on some reef and the fish were endless.

We were working our way into the cove and the crowds, but I hardly noticed the other humans around us. There was just so much to gawk at, I was in awe at the movement and colour of everything. In one especially shallow spot, our bodies were being gently pushes towards sharp rock by the waves and we were amongst a huge school of silver fish, each about the size of my hand. There must have been at least a hundred in this tiny shallow pool, all moving as a unit. I poked my hand through a school of much smaller fish, never able to touch a single one.

We stayed in about an hour before the water became too cool for us and we found a sandy spot to de-water. Snorkeling is such a simple activity but it is so much fun and I told Dan as much. We retrieved our gear from the water’s edge, fished the bikes out from behind the trees and started our walk back to the rental home.

Trying to be smart, Dan tried riding the good bike with me sitting on the handlebars while holding the flat tyre bike but after a couple of stacks, we gave that away. I walked the flat tyre bike while Dan cruised slowly on the good one. It was a pleasant walk, it gave us more time to observe the chickens along the path and for me to admire the tropical plants shading us.

Fishing Tournament and Friends

Debi, Dan, Peter Jr. and I were all up before 6:30am on Saturday. Much of yesterday’s deck conversation had been centered on the fishing competition Peter Jr. had entered with his mates Cliff and Govi. It was a logistical magic show they were putting on and this morning was to be a critical part. On Friday evening, Peter drove form the North shore over to Waianai (a 2 hour drive each way) to register his team, pay the entry fee and listen to the usual speeches and rule-readings that go along with fishing comps. He returned fairly late that night and thanks to P3, didn’t get a great rest. That same evening, Cliff motored the boat from the east side of the island over to the west side in preparation for the 3:00am inspection where the boat’s coolers were checked for fish so that no one could bring along an already-caught fish and cheat for the win. Following that, Cliff and Govi lined up at the start line with 75 other boats and sped away from the west side over to the Northshore where Peter Jr. was waiting with a surfboard to paddle out and meet them.

This paddling part was something I wanted to see and Debi and Dan felt the same way. I woke to find Peter Jr. out on the deck, looking up-shore for an approaching boat. Dan, Debi and I joined him and when we didn’t see anything, I figured I get a swim in before the action started. By the time I’d made it down to the water, I saw a boat speeding along the coast towards us. It was Cliff and Govi! Peter Jr. was soon off the deck and down onto the sand with a Wavestorm longboard under one arm and his thongs, wallet and phone in his free hand. The boat killed its engines as it approached the reef and Peter left the shore atop the board. After getting through the white water and protecting his valuables from getting wet, he was paddling easily towards his ride. It probably took him all of five minutes to reach his mates and pull himself onboard. They did not linger. We could see Peter and Govi on either side of the boat checking the fishing lines, then they were off, out into the open ocean.

We didn’t see Peter Jr. again until 8:30pm that night. He was a tired man and though they’d caught a decent-sized Mahi fish, the chase was for Ahi tuna and so they didn’t taste any champagne or share in any of the $13,000 prize money.

Following that morning’s fascinating display of boating logistics, we were sitting out on deck when Dan noticed that waves were forming in front of us. The North shore is a very famous big wave surfing spot in the winter, but Summer produced barely anything surf-able. We’d found this out a few days before at Rocky Point, which was a short walk down the beach away from us. Peter Jr. and Dan had managed a few rides and I’d paddled out for a short one, but the reef was just too close to the surface of the water for my liking.

Capturing the opportunity, Dan and I got into the water with the two Wavestorm foam boards. These are incredibly buoyant long boards that are perfect for beginners and a dime a dozen – they came with the vacation home. Almost immediately Dan was up and surfing and I surprised myself by following suit, catching a short ride before the rolling wave dissipated. I spotted a turtle in the waves then, poking his head above water to say hi. This really was Hawai’i.

We caught a “party wave” next, both of us riding the same wave for a few seconds which scored us some cheers from Debi watching from the deck. Another turtle (or the same one again) and I took that as a good omen. I caught the biggest wave of my life then with Dan watching on. The biggest wave for me is NOT huge, but it was at least a couple of feet and though I was disappointed to have ridden it on my knees, it was a great ride from the moment my board tipped over the crest of the wave to the moment the wave faded. Yeeha, surfing the North shore.

Shortly after our surf session, we were treated to a visit from Govi’s wife Kaitlyn and her two kids Ryder, 4yo and Indie, 2yo. Dan had been friends with Kaitlyn and Govi when he’d lived in Hawai’i and when he’d left, P&J took up the friendship. It was Dan’s first time meeting Kaitlyn’s kids and Debi’s and my first time meeting all of them.

The kids were in the hot tub quick smart while we all sat on the deck getting to know each other and catch up, then we ventured down to the beach with as many shade instruments we could find at the vacation home to dig some tide pools.

Kaitlyn and the kids got stuck into making a tide pool playground while Dan and I set up two umbrellas for shade so that Debi could sit with P3 and watch the goings on. When Dan went to dig up a rock to hold down an umbrella, he returned with an inflated tube! We’d seen a couple of these escape from Sunset Beach and cross the ocean in front of our deck and figured this must be one of them! We both had a good float in it when we weren’t helping to build the tide pool or chasing after an umbrella that had flown away. It was a good couple of hours spent in the sand and water.

All of a sudden it was nap time and so the kids were hurried back to base while Dan and I pack-horsed all the gear back home. It was our turn for a hot tub now and lunch followed soon after. With the kids put to bed for a couple of hours, the grown-ups got to talking and sipping Pina Coladas out on deck. The kids provided the entertainment for the rest of the afternoon – Indie discovering the joy of the outdoor shower and Ryder showing Dan how to win at corn hole (you stand very, very close to the hole).

The house was very quiet after they left, but for P3’s cries when he woke himself up from his frequent naps.

After closing the gate after Kaitlyn drove out, I decided to hit the beach for a quick swim and after getting out and heading back to the house, Dan accosted me because he’d gotten FOMO and now wanted a swim. Well, the next half an hour turned into a rolling, tumbling and laughing fest. Thanks to the steep wall of sand that met the incoming waves, we were able to float up and down the shore getting jostled around in huge waves, swallowing a bunch of sea water and generally playing like kids in the water. Debi watched on, partly in horror, partly in humour. She’d experienced this same thing a few days ago when she’d gone in for a swim, though her experience hadn’t been voluntary. We couldn’t contain ourselves, finding new ways to let our bodies get tossed around in the violent shoreline waves. By the time we got out, we were exhausted with Dan’s pants and my bikini FULL of sand. Nothing a good drink and a session in the hot tub wouldn’t fix!

We treated ourselves to dinner from the Panda Thai truck just across the road, but before we could go collect, we had to look for the International Space Station. Dan had seen a satellite or two over the last few nights and so yesterday, for the first time ever, I’d looked up whether the ISS might be flying over during our stay. Unbelievably, it was due to fly over at 7:51pm at 84* above the horizon to be visible for 6 minutes. Not only that, by my reading of the NASA information, it would appear over the ocean right in front of the deck. Debi had never witnessed it and Dan is a space nerd so we were all leaning against the railing (probably a bad idea considering its state of disrepair) and looking to the horizon. It was Debi who spotted it first, rising up out of the orange haze of sunset and straight up into the sky. There it was! We were looking at six people orbiting the earth over our heads! We craned our necks to watch it fly over, brighter than any star that had dotted the sky, enjoying the full six minutes and watching the light fade just before the ISS disappeared behind the mountains.

Now for dinner! Dan and I walked over the road and collected a huge bag of hot food that we shared out and thoroughly enjoyed (obviously, while sitting out on the deck – I really don’t think I spent more than an hour inside the house the whole week).

Shaved Ice

Debi had an early morning taking Peter Sr. to the airport for an early flight back to the mainland, but it was otherwise business as usual. Peter Jr., Dan and I wandered down to Rocky Point for a morning surf and snorkel – the boys taking to the waves while I snorkeled. It was a pleasure to watch them navigate the shallow water above the reef and catch some beautiful little waves, staying crouched low to avoid any big falls into the sharp rock. Unlike my knee ride of yesterday, they were artists. Dan rode a beauty to end his session, almost matching his last “last” session on the island six years ago where he’d ridden a barrel for the first time in the exact same spot.

On our way back to base, Dan told me that he and Peter were pretty sure they’d seen Jack Johnson (Hawai’i born and raised musician and surfer) as he’d launched an outrigger boat into the water with a few people and I was incredulous! Apparently a while later when we were driving out of base, they’d also recognized Jamie O’Brien (a big wave competition surfer). I could see how they’d rarely leave the place.

More hot tubbing filled the morning until Debi grilled up some burgers for lunch which was soon followed by more Rummikub. As afternoon came, P&J starting packing up their things to head home in preparation for the upcoming work-week. When they were ready to leave, they each drove a work truck (part of the fishing competition logistics) while Debi, Dan and I piled into Jody’s car and drove south along the highway until we came to Rainbow House. Debi had mentioned this place more than once having visited it with Dan when he’d lived here before. Their service? Shaved Ice.

We showed up at the roadside hut just before the crowds and deliberated over which flavour we would all get. It was a delicious sweet treat and Debi said it was just as she’d remembered it. P3 nearly got himself a bite and I know Kemo got a few drips from Dan’s cup.

After a quick peek in the souvenir shop, we said our goodbyes to the young family and Debi, Dan and I drove back up the coast. We stopped in at Turtle Bay for a sticky beak – this was another place Debi and Dan had frequented before but it had since been remodeled and wow was it a posh resort. Kaitlyn had mentioned the cheapest room available was $800 per night which meant I couldn’t believe they allowed the public in to use the beaches, the poolside bar and the magnificent surf spot!

We had a great time wandering around just sticking our noses in, stopping a while to watch a few surfers take advantage of the beautiful rolling waves. We considered getting a drink but decided we’d be better off drinking cheap beer on our deck and so we returned “home”.

The place really felt empty now with just the three of us and we had a wonderful evening watching the sunset (no green flash) and “talking story”. I miss my family and I am so grateful to be able to spend time with Dan’s, especially in such a beautiful place.

Found Wallet

In the morning, the three of us slowly packed up house and found we were done by about 9am. Not wanting to rush away from this beautiful spot, we whiled away a couple of hours chatting on the deck before cleaning up properly and heading south. Instead of going straight to the airport, we followed the east-side highway to P&J’s house where Dan’s lost wallet was located. He’d realized he lost it a few days before and having turned the house upside-down, our best guess was that he’d stashed it somewhere at P&J’s place not wanting to take it out on the boat when we hit the sandbar. Sure enough, it was on top of their fridge. It was a relief that Peter found it because it meant we wouldn’t have to explain our way onto the plane without photo ID. It also meant we got to see Jody one more time as she was working from home. It was only a quick pit stop, we were soon on our way to the airport and Dan, still playing the tour guide, pointed out the now illegal “Stairway to Heaven” hike that I could see climbed steeply up onto the peaks of those mountain walls I talked about.

It was all too quick saying goodbye to Debi at the airport – our masks were soon on and we were checking in. We took a quick turn about the Cultural Garden within the airport before taking up station at our gate and going through the usual pre-flight rig moral.

It felt like a long flight home and I already miss that big blue ocean. I can’t comprehend how we are based on the same ocean, but it does not have the same welcome feel as the crystal waters of Hawai’i.

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