By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
HONOLULU, Hawaii -- Every American should experience the rich and unique natural beauty and major historical and cultural sites of Hawaii at least once in a lifetime.
But to get the most out of a Hawaiian vacation and avoid disappointment, plan the trip, visit popular tourist attractions early in the day, and allow plenty of time for your visits to these sites. It's also important to wear a hat, use sunscreen, bring plenty of drinking water, and be prepared for rain and rapidly changing temperatures, especially with elevation changes in the mountains.
Getting the most out of this trip is essential because the usual costs of air fare, lodging and meals are compounded by additional air fare (or ferry tolls) to get from one island to another, separate car rental costs on each island one wishes to visit, and various admission, tour and activity fees. Because public transportation is limited, a rental car is almost a necessity on islands other than Oahu (the island where Honolulu is located).
Visiting Pearl Harbor
Those planning to visit the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor should arrive there by 8 a.m. and allow nearly a full day to visit the memorial and board the nearby Battleship Missouri, where the World War II surrender documents were signed, and USS Bowfin, a World War II submarine.
As they arrive at the Arizona Memorial visitors center, visitors are given free tickets for a 20-minute documentary film, followed by a ferry trip to the memorial spanning the Arizona, which has been the tomb for most of its crew since it sank in the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
During the interval of an hour or more between arrival and the beginning of the film, visitors can tour the visitor's center museum and bookstore. Pearl Harbor survivors are often among the volunteers working at the visitors center.
Once the visit to the Arizona is complete, one should buy a ticket and board a trolley to the Missouri, and board the Bowfin last. For security reasons, no backpacks, purses or bags, including diaper or camera bags, are allowed at any of these Pearl Harbor locations.
If time permits after visiting Pearl Harbor, visitors may wish to stop at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (a military cemetery known as the Punchbowl Cemetery), which offers a panoramic view from its overlook. The cemetery, located in an extinct volcanic crater, offers a good view of Honolulu and its harbor, the Waikiki Beach hotels and Diamond Head, another extinct volcanic crater.
Other Oahu attractions
Another crowded location on Oahu is Hanauma Bay, a state park, where a wide variety of colorful fish can be seen in and around the coral reefs. This lifeguarded beach is popular among swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers. Its parking lot may be full by 9 a.m. It is closed Tuesdays.
For those wishing to attend a luau, featuring food cooked in an underground oven and Polynesian entertainment, Paradise Cove on Oahu offers a direct and spectacular view of a sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Call (800) 775-2683 for reservations.
Those planning a visit to the big island, which bears the name Hawaii, should allow at least two days to see the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where the Kilauea Volcano has been erupting continuously since 1983; one more full day to see Akaka Falls and other waterfalls near Hilo; and, perhaps, a fourth day to visit a coffee plantation and see a sunset over the Pacific Ocean on the Kona side of the island.
Visitors to the volcanoes should be prepared for long drives with infrequent availability of food, water and gasoline. The national park entrance is 29 miles from Hilo.
Gasoline and food may be bought at Volcano Village near the park entrance. Overnight accommodations are in Volcano Village or, just inside the park, at the Volcano House Hotel.
Around the craters
From the park visitors center, one can explore Kilauea Volcano's summit and its many scenic overlooks by driving around an 11-mile loop road known as Crater Rim Drive.
From Crater Rim Drive, it is a 40-mile round-trip drive down Chain of Craters Road to the point where a 1995 lava flow blocked the road, and one's one-mile walk to current lava flows begins. Near the end of Chain of Craters Road are sea cliffs and the Holei Sea Arch.
In the park, visitors should use common sense, heeding warning signs, staying on marked paths, and avoiding cliffs, cracks and prolonged exposure to vents spewing steam and volcanic fumes. Those with respiratory ailments should avoid the vents entirely.