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Hawaii: driving a Mustang around Oahu

If you’ve been to Hawaii, you’ve probably stayed on the island of Oahu (the main island) and enjoyed the fabulous beach views from the line up of hotels along Waikiki beach.

You will have trawled the shops (probably spent longer and more money than you intended to at Ala Moana!) and you’ve sprawled on the sand, swum in the ocean, drunk the cocktails with umbrellas in and eaten out.

But now it’s Day 3 or 4 and you’re wondering what else to do on Oahu.

Maybe you’ve got the family with you and you’re looking for things to do on Oahu with kids.

Here’s an idea: rent a car and drive around the island. Cue the Ford Mustang convertible…

View of Waikiki from Diamond Head
View of Waikiki from Diamond Head

We rented a Mustang convertible!

Driving at the speed of Hertz is the company tag line. But there must be some kind of trick to getting the car and leaving on time that I didn’t master. Ours was booked for 9am.

We got there about 9.20am and there were no Mustangs. They were being brought in to the depot at the Hyatt Regency on Waikiki from the airport and disgruntled people were being told to come back in an hour.

It’s hard to believe that this is the way business is done every day here, but if it is, make sure you show up at your allocated time and be prepared to kick around for a bit.

Apparently they hold your car for an hour in its booked slot, but either they let ours go to someone else or just never got it in.

Mustang Hawaii
Just call me Mustang Sally!

Anyhoo, we “chose our attitude” (like I also had to do in this filthy villa in Bali) and decide to be happy to be on Island Time and just after 10 were in the Mustang, plugging in the GPS and pulling out, slowly, on the wrong side of the road. Which is actually the right side. See what I did there?

We had our own GPS from home because after Hawaii we’re driving from Nashville to Memphis and New Orleans. I’d definitely advise adding the GPS to your booking if you don’t have a free data plan to use your phone, but our paper map was also essential for locating which points we wanted to stop at so we could plug those names in.

Oahu map

Driving anti-clockwise means the ocean is on the right hand side and therefore easy to slip off and stop along the way. Beaches, views, shrimp trucks, quirky tourist attractions, shopping outlets and Pearl Harbor, which I’ll list below.

You can tell who the tourists are – we’re all in convertibles and the brake lights are on at the most ridiculous curves in the road.

Alas the sky was a moody grey and sprinkles of showers meant we didn’t peel the convertible top down except for a few minutes just to say we did.

Kailua Hawaii
Swimmers, sunbathers – and a wedding – on Kailua Beach

Deciding we wanted to be back by about 5pm, we decided not to go to the southern point of Oahu, but cut through on the Pali Hwy to Kailua Beach on Highway 61 from Honolulu.

The sea was as calm as a mill pond all the way around – which disappointed me when we got to the famous Pipeline on Banzai Beach. I had to take this pic of the warning signs as kids played in water like a bathtub.

If you’ve packed your swimsuits, you’ll love to read my post on 5 of the best beaches on Oahu.

Surf Hawaii
Beware this dangerous surf!!

Heading north we next plugged in Kualoa Ranch

This enormous cattle ranch spreads over 4000 acres from the sea to the mountains and today it’s under a thick mist that hides the mountain top.

It’s also the movie set of 50 First Dates, Lost, Hawaii 5-0 and Jurassic Park and you can jump on an open top tour bus and take the 1 hour tour through this prehistoric land.

You can take ATVs (quad bikes) and go for a tour, or book a 2 hour tour and head back towards the way you’ve come to an ancient fishing lagoon which is still in use today on their private beach.

Kualoa ranch
The lush movie-set view at Kualoa Ranch

Next stop: The Polynesian Cultural Centre

Celebrating 50 years this year, this place was highly recommended. I didn’t have enough time, but whipped in for a look so I can tell you about it. Inside you’ll find 7 “villages” including Aotearoa, Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti, Marquesas and Tonga. Wander through each and meet natives from each island nation as they demonstrate their music, dance, spear throwing, jewellery making and other activities. Add a buffet lunch or luau dinner if you come later. You can also book a tour here and be picked up at your Waikiki hotel if you just want to see this place.

Polynesian village, Hawaii
Aloha, Kia Ora, Io Rana, Bula…

Shrimp trucks for lunch

By now I was getting hungry and had my heart set on the famous shrimp trucks. They’re dotted up the coast from about this point on and you’ll see tables set up under awnings.

Here are a few worth noting, as reviewed in USA Today: Big Wave Shrimp, Romy’s Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp, Giovanni’s, Fuji’s Kahuku Shrimp, Famous Kahuku Shrimp Truck, Honos Shrimp Truck, Jenny’s Shrimp

Mmmm, shrimps!

We stopped at Fumi’s blue shrimp shack which have shrimp breeding ponds in the back.

Salt and pepper shrimp was our choice and they were deep fried with shells on then seasoned and served with rice and lettuce. We got a dozen for $12 and the trick to getting the full goodness out of them is to suck the salt off then peel and eat. Love.

Fumi's shrimp shack
The truck has been upgraded to this blue shack with tables to the right

Just a little bit further and we’re at the northern tip of Oahu. Turtle Bay Resort is another great spot for lunch. Albeit posher than a shrimp truck.

For great snorkelling, stop at Turtle Bay or Shark Cove

Spoiler: there are no sharks here. We’d bought snorkel and masks from one of the plentiful ABC Stores near our hotel for $6.99 each. But in the end, with the weather threatening and wanting to get to the shopping outlets, we didn’t even get wet!

However visiting Turtle Bay Resort for a bite to eat and a swim would be fun on a sunny day.

Turtle Bay resort
Turtle Bay Resort

The famous Banzai Pipeline is also up here which attracts extreme surfers in the winter months (October to April), but today the water was so calm people were paddleboarding despite the signs warning of immiment danger.

A bummer because yesterday swells were 8-12 feet. Today 1-2.

Waimea surf
This is what I was expecting in Waimea, but it was May and the wrong time of year

No worries! Heading south on the Kamehameha Hwy, I insisted on a pit stop at the Dole Pineapple Plantation.

With more time we could have taken a train around the orchard and if we’d really had hours, could have lost ourselves in their huge maze shaped like a giant pineapple.

Dole Pineapple ice cream
Mmm Hmmm

The place was heaving with people as it’s not far from Honolulu if travelling the other way. Their snowfreeze pineapple ice cream is sweet as, and I added fresh pineapple to it just to be sure!

The gift shop is huge and stole my husband’s will to live. I found him a few minutes later in the car. Worth a stop tho, even if just to see how pineapples grow – on the ground.

Pineapple growing
Did you know pineapples grew like this?

Next stop: Waikele Premium Outlets. Here you’ll find 50 outlet stores including Armani Exchange, Adidas, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, Coach, Guess, Michael Kors… Alas I left empty handed.

Pearl Harbour was our final intention, but it was about 4.30pm by now. Unfortunately we were too late. But the car is hired for 24 hours so my advice would be get up early for the 7am opening and get tickets to get out on the USS Arizona ship which is now a memorial for the sailors who perished that fateful day.

If you’re planning a trip to Maui, read this post on 5 things to do in Maui for first-timers.

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!