Road Trip Around Oahu Hawaii

Visit Makapu’i Beach, Lanai Lookout, Valley Of The Temples, Kualoa Ranch And The North Shore

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Great Sights On A Road Trip Around Oahu Hawaii

On our luxury stay in Waikiki Beach, we enjoyed a great road trip around Oahu in Hawaii.  This was the perfect first glimpse at what Oahu had to offer.

Our private tour started before sunrise on the East Coast.  We travelled counter-clockwise around the island towards the North Shore with several beautiful stops along the way.  And then returned through the valley between the two mountain ranges in Oahu to Waikiki.  We added many places to our list for a return visit to Oahu.

Planning A Day Trip Around The Island

When we visited new places, we often booked a car and headed off on a road trip on our own.  On this visit to Hawaii in the Fall, we decided to look for a private or small group tour instead on our stay in Waikiki.  We did not want to be navigating and searching for parking around Oahu.  And we wanted some local expertise.

We checked out several different options for Oahu island tours.  The large bus tours were instantly discarded.  We found several smaller group tours and some tours that specialized in photography.  We saw that an 8 hour day trip had many great stops around Oahu.

When Blue Hawaii Photography Tours had a private tour available for the day we wanted, we booked our tour online.  We saw so many great sunsets on our luxury stay in Waikiki.  So when we found that sunrise departures were offered we immediately took that option.  This road trip around Oahu would give us a good first look at the island. 

A First Stop For Sunrise At Makapu’i Beach

Jenny picked us up well before the sun was up and we headed along the Kalanianaole Highway to the East Coast of Oahu.  There were several great spots to enjoy the sunrise.  Jenny stopped at Makapu’i Beach with a view out to the Makapu’i Lighthouse perched on the edge of the dark cliff.  In the dark, we carefully made our way out over the lava rocks and found the perfect spot.  We watched the crashing waves and off in the distance we saw Kohikaipu Island.

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We settled in and watched the sky slowly light up as the sun rose.  Jenny and David set up their cameras on tripods for just the perfect wave and sunrise shots.  I was happy wandering around with my iPhone.  I won’t tell you which pics were shot on which camera!

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Makapui Beach Sunrise - Road Trip Around Oahu Hawaii.jpg
Makapui Beach Sunrise.jpg
Makapui Beach Sunrise.jpg

Before we left we checked out the crescent beach area at Makapu’i Beach.  The currents and surf were often strong at this point.  So maybe not a great snorkelling beach.  But probably perfect for a return visit to watch people enjoying bodyboarding/bodysurfing here.  And the easy hike to Makapu’i Lighthouse was definitely something to plan.

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A sunrise stop at Makapu’i Beach was a great way to start our road trip around Oahu.

Wander On The Lava At Lanai Lookout

For our next stop, Jenny backtracked a bit and found a spot in the small parking lot at Lanai Lookout.  On a clear day, off in the distance the islands of Lanai, Molokai and even Maui were visible.  We saw scuba divers in the parking lot ready to climb over the rocks for what must be a fascinating underwater experience.

Behind us stood the Koko Crater.  We saw the ridges down the sides that at one time must have been lava flows now covered with greenery.  The hike up the Koko Crater was a challenging route along an old tramway.  Certainly one of the popular hikes on Oahu.

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We found a vast and fascinating lava field that stretched into the sea.  In many places, the pounding waves had polished the rocks and the layers were visible.  When we looked closely we even found lava rocks embedded in the surface.

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Lanai Lookout Lava Field - Road Trip Around Oahu Hawaii.jpg

When we carefully climbed down to the water level, we found the waves crashing into a tide pool.  There we found coral embedded in the lava.

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Lanai Lookout Tidal Pool.jpg
Lanai Lookout Tidal Pool - Road Trip Around Oahu Hawaii.jpg

We got such amazing views to start our road trip around Oahu.

Visit The Valley Of The Temples

After a quick stop for a breakfast sandwich, Jenny headed for the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park at the foot of the Koʻolau Mountains.  The gardens honoured many different religious beliefs from Christianity and Buddhism. There was also a Japanese WWII cemetery on the grounds.  We wound our way through the grounds and saw grave sites on the hill.  

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Valley Of The Temples.jpg

Jenny parked by the Byodo-In Temple.  This was a replica of Japan’s 950-year-old Byodo-In located in the city of Uji in Kyoto Prefecture. ‘Byodo’ means ‘equal’ and ‘-in’ means a ‘temple.’  It was erected in 1968 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.

As we parked, we saw the first of five large buses start to arrive.  So we ran to get ahead of the crowds.  We walked across the bridge and got our first view of the Byodo-In Temple behind a large pond filled with Japanese koi carp.

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Several people stopped to ring the massive bon-sho or “sacred bell”.  This bell was six feet high with a bottom diameter of 57 inches and it weighed over seven tons.  It was believed that the unique tones of the bon-sho cleared the mind of negativity, imparted deep peace and brought happiness, blessings, and long life.  

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We passed by the bell and went inside the temple.  We were alone and got to enjoy the peaceful scene around the massive Amida Buddha statue.  The statue was constructed mainly of copper and bronze and finished initially with a 24-carat gold leaf. This Amida Buddha represented the infinite life and light that surrounded all beings.  We went back outside and wandered slowly around the temple.  And were delighted when we found the black swan.  

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Valley Of The Temples Byodi In Amida Bhudda - Road Trip Around Oahu Hawaii.jpg
Valley Of The Temples Byodi In - Road Trip Around Oahu Hawaii.jpg
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We escaped the temple as the crowds descended.  Jenny drove us up through the gardens up to the Oceanview Terrace.  From the top we got our first view out towards the Kualoa Ranch over the graves on the hill.

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Valley Of The Temples Ocean Terraces.jpg

It was a great stop at the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park.  We sure wished we saw the original Byodo-In Temple when we visited Kyoto.  But we were so glad we saw it in the Valley of the Temples on our road trip around Oahu.

Different Views Of The Kualoa Ranch

We got our first view of the Kualoa Ranch on our stop at the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park.  As we moved closer, Jenny had a few more stops for other views.  The Kualoa Ranch nestled under the Koʻolau Mountains is a 4,000-acre private nature reserve and working cattle ranch.  This site became famous when popular TV and movies were filmed there – Jurassic Park, Lost, and Hawaii Five-0.

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Jenny found a spot on Kāneʻohe Bay and we looked out over the water.  From there we got another distant view of the Kualoa Ranch.  And our first view of Molokai (also referred to as the “Chinaman’s Hat Island”).  

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We moved next to Kualoa Regional Park.  And got an even closer look at Mokoli’i.  The Koʻolau Mountains loomed above us on this stop.  And Jenny even brought her own dinosaur so we could re-create a Jurassic Park scene.

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Kualoa Ranch With Dinosaur from Kualoa Park.jpg

On this road trip around Oahu we did not get closer to the Kualoa Ranch.  But there were many fun activities to book there on a return visit.

Sea Views On A Road Trip Around Oahu

As we drove along the coast, we got amazing views from the car.  On one side we saw ocean vistas.  And on the other side we found different mountain ranges.  Whenever we stopped, we were amused when we saw the scattering of wild feral chickens.  

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Jenny had one more stop for us on the east side of Oahu.  She found a parking spot by Laie Point State Wayside Park and we walked out on the lava.  In the water we saw the naturally formed arch or “Lizard Rock”. The hole in the arch was punched through in 1946 during a tsunami.  The rock punched out sat on the shore with a plaque that explained the story.  A local legend suggested the rock represented a giant lizard that once patrolled that section of the ocean.

Laie Point State Wayside Park Lizard Rock Hole - Road Trip Around Oahu Hawaii.jpg
Laie Point State Wayside Park Lizard Rock Hole - Road Trip Around Oahu Hawaii.jpg

We wandered up along the rocky shore.  And then looked along the bay.  The ripples of the mountain range sat above.

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Laie Point State Wayside Park.jpg

We loved the variety of the shore views we got on our road trip around Oahu.

Visit The North Shore

We cruised north from there and went through the beach town of Kahuku.  We were running late so we missed the stops at the shrimp trucks we passed.  That was definitely something we would return for!

We saw our first surfers when we wandered along Waikiki Beach.  But Jenny had a few surfing beaches on the North Shore she wanted to show us.  The waves on this side of Oahu were at their peak for surfing in the winter.  So we were a bit early to catch the wild waves.  But it was a great time for people to practice on the smaller waves.

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We stopped at the Haleʻiwa Aliʻi Beach Park and found a large grassy area.  Jenny took us to the water to see the infamous sea turtles.  We had images in our mind of a beach covered with lounging sea turtles.  But all we saw was a large number of turtles in the water with their heads popping up.  We saw a few snorkelers at this spot and more surfers enjoying the small waves.  

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Oahu Road Trip North Shore HaleIwa Alii Beach Turtle - Road Trip Around Oahu Hawaii.jpg
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We knew we visited Oahu at the wrong time for wild surf on the North Coast.  And one day would return in winter for a surfing treat.  We knew there were lots of spots for turtle viewing that we missed on this tour.  But we were still glad we got across the island to the North Coast on our road trip around Oahu.

Enjoying The Local Products

We had one final stop on our road trip around Oahu.  We have tried coffee around the world and did not want to leave Hawaii without sampling some local coffee.  And when we stopped at Waialua Coffee Mill we even got a treat.  The coffee and cacao were grown on the Waialua Estate.  The coffee plant we visited was located in the Old Sugar Mill Waialua.  They even dried and roasted the cacao on-site. 

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Wailua Coffee Cacao.jpg

We passed on buying coffee or cacao.  We really wanted to try the Hawaiian shave ice.  I had the strawberry and still found the natural flavouring too sweet for my tastes.  But David had his with dark cacao and coffee flavouring.  And that was just the perfect mix for him!

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Our trip home took us on the highway that ran through the middle of the island.  We went past the Dole Plantation and did not stop for the tours or the Dole Whip that was available.  But we did pull over and saw rows and rows of pineapples growing beside the road.  We were fascinated when we learned that none of the pineapple farmed was exported out of Hawaii!

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It was fun to see some of the local products on our road trip around Oahu.

Much To See On A Road Trip Around Oahu Hawaii

We had a perfect day for a road trip around Oahu.  We started early in the day with some great sunrise views.  Each stop gave us yet another amazing sea view.

We were glad we visited the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park and enjoyed the Byodo-In Temple without the crowds.  Our visit to the North Shore gave us a view of the surfing waves with a stop for some local products.  

This was a great first excursion on our fall visit to Hawaii.  We found many places to visit on a return trip to Oahu.

Have you done a road trip around Oahu in Hawaii?  What other road trip stops did you make?

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About TravelAtWill 697 Articles
Travel blogger and photographer! Scuba diving, luxury cruising, chocoholic, sea and sunshine addicts, camera attached and just generally curious! Join us on our adventures!

72 Comments

  1. Your trip to Oahu, Hawaii looks so exciting indeed. Hawaii is a landscape of contrasts.The surreal lava rocks at Lanai, the Byodo temple featuring Japanese culture. The array of surfboards neatly displayed with a backdrop of surfers sailing on the waves.The beautiful waves crashing at sunrise at Makapu’i beach, the green nature reserve at Kualoa ranch of Jurassic Park fame. And of course a taste of the Hawaiian shave ice completes the picture.

  2. Now, this is a side of Hawaii that I haven’t seen before, especially the Byodo temple. I don’t blame you for making your first stop at Sunrise At Makapu’i Beach. To see how rough the tide is in the early morning is definitely not a place to snorkel but maybe to surf. There’s nothing better than hearing the sound of water thrashing against the rocks like that. The second stop that Jenny brought you to is another hidden gem – Lava At Lanai Lookout. You almost are afraid to share these sites with others so they don’t come overrun with tourists.

  3. Very captivating pictures of Oahu. I would love to visit the Byodo-in Tempel. It is an exact copy of the Byodo-in Temple from the 9th century, in Uji near Kyoto. Even the famous Amida statue is there. I usually show a picture from the Hawai tempel when I guide tourgroups at the temple in Japan. The whole architecture should look like a Phoenix. The Byodo-in is featured on the 10 Yen coin in Japan! Visiting coffee planatations and drinking a lot of Blue Mountain coffee would be another highlight for me.

    • We were glad we got to the Byodo-In Temple ahead of the 5 tour buses! Fun to show the Hawaii temple in Japan. We had a great day seeing a variety of sights in Oahu on our road trip.

  4. Hawaii is one of our favorite destinations. These are really great locations and you have stunning photos. We will definitely consider this private tour from Blue Hawaii should we have a chance to visit again.

    Your dino picture is soooo cute!

  5. I can imagine, Oahu in fall to be incredibly picturesque. Blue Hawaii Photography Tour sounds perfect when you don’t feel like driving around. the sunrise shots are fantastic and I guess I know which are the tripod camera shots! Haha. Hiking over lava rocks in the dark is totally worth it! I’ve never seen these lava rocks in real life. I really hope I get a chance some day. I wouldn’t have expected to see a Buddhist temple here, so that’s pretty intriguing. As someone who loves both Cacao and coffee, this is perfect for me!

  6. I actually envie everyone who experiences Oahu in the sun. We spent two weeks around Christmas there and had terrible weather. Since we still kept exploring the island, I got a terrible cold. Since eventually, my daughter got food poisoning, my memories of Oahu are…mixed. Hence, I enjoyed reading your far more agreable experience there 😉

    • We were indeed happy we had so much sun on our 3 weeks in Hawaii. We did get a few days of bad weather on the Big Island that hampered our exploring. But overall we were happy we had lots of sun.

  7. What a great trip you had. I haven’t been to the North Shore for some 20 years but your photos are getting me thinking I need to return. And soon!

  8. It’s so strange to see the replica of Byodo-In Temple it looks sooo good (just strange to see the Hawaiian trees and mountains in the background rather than Japanese scenery!) I am also really fascinated by the lava flows – it’s amazing how you can see all the layers. I have never seen lava quite like that before… it’s really cool!

  9. Your article bring back some memory visiting Oahu. My twin brother and I stayed there for two weeks, so we had the chance to visit a lot of places. We got the chance to hike on top of Mountain head and see a beautiful view of Waikiki beach. We have done snorkeling, It was an amazing experience.

  10. Your photo tour showed so much more than my brief afternoon’s bus tour around Oahu. But the tour leader did take us to the spot where the famous beach scene with Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity was shot. That was kind of fun. I would have loved to have seen the Valley of the Temples, though and many of your other shots.

  11. This looks amazing. I’m very jealous of your road trip I’d love to head here. I’d never heard of the valley of temples before it’s great to see another spot to visit. One day I’ll get there

  12. A great itinerary to Oahu! I had tickets to Oahu, and I was to Maui when the Covid pandemic started. The islands closed, and we had to leave them. We had not realized our Oahu plan at the time. But we want to go back to Hawaii, and I will use your itinerary because it is well thought out and you give a lot of valuable tips. Sunrise at Makapu’i Beach seems a perfect idea. Photographing Koko Crater is also on my list. And of course, I want to see Jurassic Park scenery at Kualoa Ranch.

  13. What a treat to re-visit my own Oahu trip through your tour. Our family went to many of the same sights. But I especially like the idea of taking a photography tour. I’m glad you were able to stay ahead of the crowds and get some great photos.

  14. Oh my goodness what a beautiful road trip! And you guys are so fun that you brought your own dinosaur for a Jurassic Park picture!!

  15. What an amazing and beautiful time you had. I feel like I’ve traveled through 3 countries looking at the photos and changes in landscape. Absolutely stunning.

    • The small tour worked perfectly for us. We stopped for as long as we wanted and got some great treats that large tour groups never get to see. Definitely glad we got up early for the sunrise views.

  16. Love this guide to all the cool spots to check out on a road trip around Oahu. We’ve been to Maui and Kauai and have only been to Honolulu on a day trip where we visited Pearl Harbor and the Dole Plantation. Would love to see the North Shore especially.

  17. Such a variety of things to see around Oahu! I never realised. I wouldn’t mind doing a road trip there. Love the rock formations. It reminds me of other places around the world, especially the ‘honeycomb’ rocks at Lanai Lookout pool.

  18. This looks like a fantastic trip around the island & always love when you can get ahead of the large busses when you’re in a smaller group. Love your photos too…particularly the dinosaur one – lots of fun. Makes me want to go back to Oahu & see what I missed.

  19. What a fun road trip! I love Oahu. We didn’t have the chance to visit the temples or Kuola Ranch on our trip, but we loved the North Shore! Excited to hit some of these stops my next time on the island!

  20. I wanted to go on a photography tour with Oahu Photography Tours but it was kinda expensive. I did a tour to the North Shore on Groupon and our guide was terrible. Love your photos!

  21. What an epic road trip. Oahu is a feast for the eyes. I never heard of Valley of the Temples. One thing to check out next time I’m there.

  22. I love the interesting rock formations where the lava flows met the ocean! Also your Jurassic Park recreated scene made me chuckle – note to self, must bring my own dinosaur for my Hawaii trip. 🙂

  23. I’ve always wanted to go to Oahu, and this guide just put it right at the top of my list. I had no idea just how diverse it could be – not only does it have so many different beautiful landscapes – from ocean views to the layered rocks and lava fields and mountains – but also temples! Thank you so much for putting this together!

  24. Wow, booking the small group tour focused on photography certainly paid off! You got some amazing photos and it looks like you made some lovely memories – like spotting that sea turtle <3

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