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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Road-trip Oahu: One-tank adventures from Waikiki

Pretty in paradise: Explore Kualoa Ranch's lush landscape via horseback or ATV tour. Credit: mporter5.

By Amy Drew Thompson

Recent weeks have seen gas prices dropping, even in the Rainbow State — where fuel costs rank among the country’s highest. In Honolulu, prices have dipped below $4 per gallon, making conditions ripe for cruising the scenic Kamehameha Highway to hit out-of-town attractions on a self-guided loop that’ll have you back on the beach for dinner. Fuel up and say aloha to cheap Hawaiian vacations with these Oahu attractions:

USS Arizona Memorial
Paying respects to lives lost during the infamous attack that brought World War II to American soil marks a somber beginning to an otherwise carefree day on the road, but visiting early makes sense. Timed programs run from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. and waits aren’t uncommon. Being first will have you there before many of the tour buses arrive.

Kualoa Ranch
About 45 minutes from the memorial, this isn’t merely the unspoiled Hawaiian paradise you’ve dreamt of, it’s the one you’ve seen. This 4,000-acre working cattle ranch has hosted shoots for projects including “Jurassic Park,” “Lost” and “Magnum, P.I.” Kualoa has its own private beach and offers myriad tours (hiking, ATV, water-based and more) on which you can explore its history and magnificent terrain. Adult prices start as low as $15.

Dole Plantation
A spectacular hour-long coastal cruise will wend you around the northern tip of Oahu, bringing you to the famed plantation that began as a roadside fruit stand in 1950. Ride the Pineapple Express train, take a Plantation Garden Tour or, depending how long you want to stay, get lost in the vast Pineapple Garden Maze, billed as the world’s largest. Finish among the fastest and you’ll win a prize. Admission is free and the above activities are a la carte. Adult costs for all three total just $19.

Where to stay: The Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, built on the former estate of a Polynesian royal, welcomes guests interested in cultural immersion. On-site activities include lei-making, ukelele lessons and pineapple carving. The Holiday Inn Waikiki, just two blocks from the beach, also offers access to serious shopping: Macy’s on the on the first floor, and the International Marketplace is next door. The Aqua Waikiki Pearl offers a quiet, budget-friendly stay just steps the Royal Hawaiian Center.

Related resources:

Freelance writer and avid road-tripper Amy Drew Thompson has driven Maui’s Hana Coast once and US-1 to Key West more times than she can count. She recommends ukulele music for the former, Jimmy Buffet for the latter.

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