Tag Archives: Honolulu

Visiting Hawai’i

I often rant and rave about how much I love South Florida. After spending more than a week in Honolulu however, I’m afraid I’ve found my new favorite domestic destination.

O’ahu, Hawai’i is da business!

Sure it’s far. And it’s quite expensive. But man is it amazing!!!

My trip wasn’t exactly a fairytale vacation, as much as I tried, but I’m happy how the things I planned out actually worked. And therefore I’m excited to share the experience with others. If you are travelling with small children like I was this is some advice you may be interested in (I know when I searched it wasn’t terribly straightforward to figure out, but here it goes from my point of view).

First things first… to pay for the flight I burned some airline miles. The cost: 20,000 each way, per person with American Airlines. Kids younger than two may fly free as a lap child. Older than 2 pay the full adult rate. It’s a long freaking flight, and in my case we had a connection in Dallas which was frustratingly tight. For some reason on our Dallas – Honolulu flight AA served sandwiches in addition to typical domestic freebies like chips and soda.

Upon arrival we were determined to take a taxi to the hotel because it was cheaper than renting a car or booking some kind of shuttle. However, once we got our luggage I noticed the 10 mile ride to the city was to take over an hour because of rush-hour traffic, we ended up taking the $16/person shuttle bus. The last time I visited Honolulu and took a shuttle to my hostel I remember it costing more, but for whatever reason things have changed and now there are full size Roberts Hawaii buses running every 15 minutes serving the airport. As an aside there was a $7/person shuttle can stationed outside Aston Waikiki Hotel but I wasn’t quite sure how they operated. Our bus was super convenient.

Another aside, we did rent a car. Twice! But I chose to do individual one day rentals. Once in the middle of the trip to take a ride around O’ahu (North Shore) and another on our last day, to sightsee and drive back to the airport for our late night flight. The car rentals were expensive. First I booked a $50 van from Thrifty on Saturday (and a $60 SUV from Hertz on same day as a backup which I cancelled), and then a large SUV for $123 bux from Hertz which included two car seats on Friday the day of departure.

More about sightseeing later. But more importantly about our hotel choice. As mentioned previously Hawaii is expensive, very expensive! I’m 2016 when I overnighted in Honolulu on my flight to the Pacific I paid over  $30 for a bed in a hostel. The hotel we chose for this trip was almost ten times as much! We chose Hyatt Place for three reasons: 1. Location was perfect, a block from Kuhio Beach and Honolulu Zoo, 2. Free breakfast which was delicious for the first three days but then it was repeated over and over which lost its appeal and 3. No $25/daily resort fee which most other hotels charged… which is very expensive!

Best part of the Hyatt Place it was convenient in many ways and I would highly recommend it. If the 10 day vacation we only had 1 full day of rain which happened the day before we left so we got extremely lucky. But everything was walking distance from where we stayed and that was super convenient. The Zoo was close and we did it on a cloudy day until it cleared up and then kids went back to the beach. In fact most days we went to the beach twice a day. Kuhio beach is amazing with perfectly still clear water because of a man made breaker, it was so awesome for me and the kids to go swimming in.

Food was amazing outside of the free hotel breakfast. Lots of Asian options. Plenty of American fast food too. Lots of different price points for food. I preferred the cheaper truck good options which were between $10 to $15 a plate. While the restaurants, like one of the Sushi places, or the traditional Hawaiian place Da Ono dishes were over $20 for anything bigger than pu pu’s  (small tapas like plates). I’ll add some restaurant and food truck recommendations later on to this post.

Sightseeing wise, Waikiki Beach is totally walkable and we tried to walk a lot. For lunches and dinners and for shopping. There’s lots of luxurious stores and malls, much like a long Orchard Road in Singapore. But also some good hole in a wall places too. We walked as far as Ala Moana mall for its court, but also to get discounted supplies at Walgreens because closer supermarkets were not cheap for stuff like diapers.

Long distance sightseeing, I quite enjoyed our Saturday single day car rental to go the long way around to the North Shore. I took the cheap city bus to the airport, it was  $2.75/each way or $5.50/day pass.. it took about an hour. Best part I didn’t have to worry about parking overnight, which again wasn’t cheap. The route we followed was simple, counter-clockwise around the island going east, northeast and then back the same way when we ran out of daylight. We saw the blowhole, the lighthouse, the Chinamans hat, macadamia nut farm, horse farm, green turtle beach, etc. Only the Dole plantation was missed out so we left it and the waterfall to the last day. Traffic was bad around rush-hour because of single lane traffic when not on the highway, but overall it was manageable. Speed limits are quite low around the island. Most highway speeds are limited to 45mph and I almost got speeding by motorcycle cops near the airport on our way back to catch the flight, that took me by surprise (the bike cops) so be careful.

I’ll fill this post in with details over time with more recommendations, but I definitely want to encourage others to consider Hawaii as a destination because it really is such an amazing place. I want to go back for sure…

PS. It snowed 6+ inches the day after we got home, so yeah… I wish we stayed longer.

Hawaii Monthly Miata Meet at Pearlridge Center

The stars aligned just right to allow me to check out the monthly Thursday night meet-up of Hawaii Miata owners on O’ahu on my Waikiki vacation…

It’s my young nephews first Hawaii vacation, and for a moment I was thinking of bringing the older boy along, but if I did I wouldn’t have gotten a lift back to the hotel in a gorgeous low mileage Miata driven by a kind Aussie fellow who was recently posted to the islands and clearly missed his own NA back home in Australia

The fellow that sold him the American Miata – Avery, has a fleet of Miatas in Hawaii… is one of the original members of the Hawaii club and a very active SCCA solo and Rallycross member, and for me was the person that invited me to this meet up. For which I’m really grateful.

The meet happens the second Thursday of the month at Pearlridge mall not too far from Pearl Harbor… And if you’re like me trying to get there by public transport from Waikiki Beach, it’s an hour long ride on the bus, that is well worth it.

Here’s some pics from the Hawaii Miata car scene:

That wang…

Very happy to have seen the NC show up… that was sort of my goal for the night.

Also thrilled to experience this altogether, the Japanese car culture is strong in Hawaii. Besides the Miatas there were a bunch of Subies present, and a Trueno-esque Toyota… not sure if real but cool nonetheless.

Fun in the South Pacific: the Debrief – Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands

Another trip of a lifetime is in the books! Although I shouldn’t call it “lifetime” because I know sooner or later I’ll be departing on other one. In fact with an amazing trip of a lifetime just a few months ago to Southeast Asia, I would call this the trip of the year, or at the very least trip of the month: February 2016!

This post will be a brief overview: a debrief, of the trip overall followed by a number of specific posts about the individual events I’ve marshaled, the experiences I had hanging out with the local MX5 clubs and catching some sun in some very exotic places as part of the vacation that tied this trip together. I had such a blast!

To start, I flew to Australia via Hawai’i. And unlike my first visit there a few years ago after Korean Grand Prix, I decided to get off the plane at Honolulu and actually spend the night in Waikiki Beach. The Polynesian theme for the rest of the trip truly began there. Besides enjoying an amazing sunset that I shared with a few folks at home via Facetime, I got to experience some of the local cuisine just outside of the touristy area. I loved it!

ono hawaiian foods poipoi taro pork dried fish
A traditional meal from Ono Hawaiian Foods just minutes walking distance from Waikiki Beach… the dish featured some pork wrapped in taro leaves and poi poi along with dried fish and all the fixing’s.

Of course an overnight stay in Paradise wasn’t enough, at all! But it was just a start to my South Pacific adventure. I’m kind of glad I broke the trip in half because some of these longer flights of 10+ hours have started getting to me, tiring me out completely. This time I was travelling with an extra handicap I hadn’t encountered on previous trips. I had a flare up of Gout Arthritis just a few days before leaving and my right foot was in terrible pain, something akin to walking on glass. The pain wouldn’t really go away for the entire trip but since I couldn’t do much about it I just learned to live with it.

Next stop: Sydney! The flight arrived in the early evening and after a quick clearance at Immigration I headed to the CBD to get some sleep before heading out for Bathurst early the next morning. Like Waikiki I decided to stay in a hostel near Central station for convenience and it worked out really well for me.

sydney mx-5 owner first order of business on the way to bathurst
First order of business while in Australia: meeting an MX-5 owner from the Club of NSW, Sydney Chapter. What an incredible experience!

In the morning I managed to arrange a lift with someone from the MX-5 community in Sydney. It’s really nice to see how close the Miata community is to Motorsport and specifically marshaling. The lady who’s car I got to check out on my first day in Australia volunteers as a Steward while her son is a flag marshal, who was kind enough to let me tag along for the two hour drive to Mount Panorama. While I could have taken the train all the way to town, I found it far more interesting to have some company along the way. It was especially interesting when we were on the hunt for Meat Pies for lunch while passing through Lithgow. That’s where I spotted something I really wanted to see on my trip, a Miata trailer. The owner drove past us as we parked up near the bakery and while he was stopped on a red light I tried to snap a fuzzy shot of his car.

lithgow mx-5 with a trailer
one of Paul Byers creations… an MX-5 trailer made from the rear quarters of an actual MX-5… looks bloody awesome!

I will talk about my experiences at Bathurst 12 hour and Mount Panorama in a separate post but suffice to say it was an interesting experience. While it wasn’t my first visit there, it was definitely a little different from before. For the first time I camped right at the track. A fellow Aussie marshal Paul from Victoria was kind enough to supply me with a comfortable tent, some pillows and a sleeping bag, which helped a lot so I didn’t have to drag all that stuff with me. Not only that he was our designated driver taking a whole group of us out to dinner in town every night, which was fantastic. It was the first time I consistently stuffed my face with proper Australian food including roast lamb and a variety of other local pub dishes.

mount panorama bathurst 12 hour 2016 drive down the front straight
Paul Kelly driving us around every night after the end of track activities.
bathurst rsl pub food during bathurst 12 hour
Australia’s finest pub food in Bathurst.
bathurst 12 hour audi gt3 on mount panorama hells corner
Every year there’s a team promoting tourism NSW and Australia, this year there was a Terra Australis Audi complete with an aboriginal photo shoot that we stumbled upon in pit lane.

After the event I headed back to Sydney for a few more nights in a CBD hostel. I had a few things planned but the stay was way too short. Luckily I did manage to squeeze in a lunch at Bondi Beach which I was really looking forward to as well as a nice MX-5 cruise from Kirribilli to Balmoral Beach with a meeting spot just under the Sydney Harbour Bridge which was pretty spectacular. So many cars showed up! I was pleasantly surprised and very humbled to see so many owners give up their weeknight for a little cruise along the Northern Sydney suburbs for some fish and chips. Again I will write more about it later but I can’t express my gratitude enough to have had this opportunity!

sydney fish and chips run for the mx-5 club of nsw sydney chapter
Tuesday night Fish & Chips run from Kirribilli to Balmoral Beach, with a meeting spot under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney CBD and Opera House in the background.

Next stop: Auckland! A short hop and skip over the ditch (as they refer to the Tasman Sea) and I was in New Zealand. The flight arrived after midnight and I was off to my hostel in the CBD. Early next morning another MX-5 meetup awaited me, and after a short 4 hour sleep I was in a beautiful JDM-import Roadster heading to Papakura for my next adventure which I’ll describe in it’s own post. In a way it was another Fish & Chips run but this one lasted for over 300km visiting some scenic and twisty roads across the entire Northern Island from West (Waihu) to East (Coromandel Peninsula).

new zealand mx-5 owners showing me around the north island waikato coromandel
MX-5 Club of New Zealand MX-5 members Lloyd and Ralph took me around on a day trip showing me the twisty parts of the North Island heading towards Coromandel for fish & chips.

As if this incredible two car road trip (as I jumped out from one car to the other at every stop we made), couldn’t get any better – it did! The day ended on a boat in Auckland Harbour where we had a nice dinner joining another MX-5 owner while he and his family celebrated the mum’s birthday. This was my first time on the water on the North Island something I was putting away until later while living in Auckland and never actually following through with, until now. It was really amazing.

sunset over auckland from the harbour
A sunset dinner cruise with a bunch of MX-5 owners celebrating a birthday. What a way to end my Kiwi MX-5 road trip!

Believe it or not I actually got to marshal while in New Zealand. It was only a one day meeting for Auckland Car Club at Hampton Downs but I certainly got my money’s worth with plenty of spins and spills on Turn 2 where I was lucky enough to work. It was such a good pleasure to catch up with a bunch of people whom I started my marshaling with while living in New Zealand a few years ago. And it was nice to see the improvements done and are currently ongoing to Hampton Downs under Tony Quinn’s ownership.

Besides Hampton Downs, Anna Scott – who hosted me for the weekend, took me to Pukekohe Raceway Park and showed me the improvements done there after Aussie V8 Supercars moved to their event there from the streets of Hamilton. I had such an incredible time I’ll have to write more about it in another post.

visit to pukekohe raceway park the new home of aussie v8 supercars in new zealand
Anna Scott the flag chief for the Motorsport Club of NZ taking me on a private tour of the upgraded Pukekohe Raceway Park including a visit to Race Control and a few laps around the circuit.

Although I had already spent two weeks on the road which seemed to have gone by in a flash, I still had one more exotic stop on this incredible journey: Rarotonga in the Cook Islands! I was really looking forward to this visit because it was something I planned to do while living in New Zealand back in 2012. Now the dream came true. I didn’t know what to expect but the reality surprised me in a very pleasant way. The tiny island of Rarotonga was very clean, friendly and welcoming for my visit. The resort I booked (my first stay in a proper hotel on this trip after all the hostels in Hawaii, Sydney and Auckland I decided to splurge and pamper myself) was fantastic. I got to tour the island, sample some delicious Polynesian food and completely relax on the pristine beaches with baby blue water crashing over the corals just off shore. What an experience!

kia orana cook islands rarotonga on my rainy arrival
Kia Orana Cook Islands! I arrived on a rainy day in a cyclone season thinking that my trip would be rained out but the weather was perfect during my stay on Rarotonga.
rarotonga cook islands exotic flowers
I was very impressed at how clean and organized Rarotonga was, it was very exotic!
rarotonga cook islands conoe with glass bottom snorkeling boat in a lagoon
The beaches were amazing! The water crystal clear. I had such a great time relaxing.
mazda mx-5 roadster rental car hire JDM import at Rarotonga Cook Islands
Of course I managed to spot a bunch of MX-5’s, mostly NA and NB’s.

The trip home at the end of this vacation took me back through Auckland where I was a total zombie while shopping for souvenirs to take home. Luckily I was able to meet up with friends for lunch and dinner and that kept me awake long enough for some much needed sleep on my 11 hour flight back to LAX.

Huge thanks to all the people that helped me along on this trip. I couldn’t have done this without you!

The Logistics Behind Planning a Trip to Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands

Very excited to say that the 2016 Grand Prix Road Trip of a lifetime has been booked! This post is a follow up to the previous two posts I made on the subject while planning the trip, and it’s nice to see the evolution of the plan over a period of time. Have a look at the previous post at the start of the planning stage here: “the logistics behind planning a trip to Australia & New Zealand,” and a follow up here when I discovered it’s cheaper to fly home from the Cook Islands via New Zealand than directly from New Zealand: “booked a flight to Rarotonga, Cook Islands.”

the trip should look something like this, image from Great Circle Mapper
the trip should look something like this, image from Great Circle Mapper

The planning process went from a mock-up above to the actual route depicted below on this beautiful Great Circle Mapper image. The difference being the addition of Hawai’i stopover on the way to SYD.

dream trip to exotic pacific cook islands australia new zealand
the trip will actually look like this, image from Great Circle Mapper

For those that didn’t read the previous planning posts I’ll explain the process of selecting the routes based on the frequent flyer programs I used. Initially my plan was to burn some Virgin America frequent flyer points I had accumulated on a redemption on Virgin Australia to fly from Los Angeles to Sydney. I’ve determined that that was a poor use of those points, so instead I’ll save them for next year to fly on Singapore Airlines A380 between NYC and Frankfurt for one of the European events. Instead, I used American AAdvantage program to book the trip. My dilemma was that I had already used up 8,000 miles in rebates from booking this year’s European trips, and that 1,750 miles would be wasted as I would only get 2,000 back with the 10% rebate that AA offers for AA credit card holders (10,000 max/year). But in the grand scheme of things I’d rather waste 1,750 AA miles which I could earn back relatively quickly (use one of the many AA video promos or dining promos that give 1,000 bonus) instead of paying money on a connecting flight between NY and LA to position myself for the Virgin Australia alternative that I had dismissed earlier. The two options with AAdvantage were to fly Qantas from JFK-LAX-SYD or Hawaiian Airlines JFK-HNL-SYD. And while I was very much looking forward to another flight on Qantas on one of their soon to be retired Boeing 747’s, I chose the stopover in Honolulu instead. I’ve flown Hawaiian before on the way back from the Korean Grand Prix (ICN-HNL-LAX) and always wanted to step out of the Honolulu airport to see a little bit of the island, and now I’ll finally have that chance… I’ll spend the night in Honolulu arriving at 4pm and departing 12pm noon the next day.

kirribilli australia sydney
G’day Australia! Sydney Opera House from Kirribilli

The trip back home is just as convoluted as on the way over. I’ve blogged before that I booked a $21 USD flight from Auckland to Rarotonga and that was done for positioning purposes. You see, to fly from Auckland to New York requires 40,000 Mileage Plus miles to fly Air New Zealand, a United partner in the Star Alliance. Whereas it only takes 35,000 miles to do the same trip from Rarotonga to NYC. So it seems like a no-brainer, Kia Orana Rarotonga! The caveat is to fly home from the Cook Islands you actually fly via New Zealand, and a further caveat it is possible to spend the entire day in Auckland before heading home (with a 5am arrival and a 10:45pm departure). So I was absolutely sold on that deal. But since I didn’t have enough Mileage Plus miles in my own account, I asked mom for help. Signed her up for a new United credit card, spent very little time charging all the house renovation expenses on her card, and in a month I had the mileage at my disposal with enough miles left over in her account to book a round trip flight within the US. Great deal all around.

I have yet to book a flight between Australia and New Zealand mainly because the flights are quite pricey right now ($300+ with AirNZ direct or $149+ with AirNZ through a third party like Expedia). I will wait closer to the travel dates to book that leg of the trip hoping to use the remainder of my soon to expire AirNZ Airpoints. Luckily they’re spoiled for choice with connecting flights between the two countries, so if SYD-AKL doesn’t work out I can do SYD-WLG, MEL-AKL, MEL-WLG, etc.

auckland skyline new zealand nz
Kia Ora Aotearoa! Auckland Skyline from Westhaven Marina

So, compared to the previous trips I took to Oceania/Pacific with my numerous flights to Australia and New Zealand, I think this will be by far the most exotic one I’ve ever done. I’ve read great things about the Cook Islands and look forward to that being the highlight of my trip. But I’m also very excited to see my Aussie and Kiwi friends on their turf. Bathurst 12h is going to be an amazing event. Unfortunately I won’t get a chance to do the NZ V8 Supertourers (or just V8 Touring Cars since competing NZ V8 Supertourers and NZV8’s series merged), but I’m sure there will be a club event I could attend at Pukekohe or Hampton Downs while on the North Islands.

It’s going to be awesome!

For anyone needing help planning their next trip using a combination of frequent flyer miles and other cheap flights, please get in touch… I love a challenge.

 

Some stats on this trip, total mileage flown: 24,098 miles according to the Great Circle Mapper.  Honolulu is almost exactly half way from New York to Sydney, JFK-HNL 4,983 miles vs. HNL-SYD 5,066 miles. I will depart Auckland at 10am on a Monday morning and arrive the Cook Islands at 4pm Sunday afternoon, the day before! (giving me an extra day to spend on the island). Caveat: I will celebrate two Valentine’s Days one in Auckland and one in Rarotonga…

Bucket List: Island Hopper Flight UA154/UA155

If not for encouragement from the Aviation Geek community my Motorsport marshaling hobby would be very limited. But thanks to a recent post by an Uber-AvGeek Seth from NYC I now have a bug in my mind to do something crazy: an Island Hopper tour of the Pacific on United Airlines flight #154 from Hawaii to Guam via the Marshall Islands and a few states in Micronesia (and flight #155 on the way back). Seth recently shared a few posts: click here and here; as well as a bunch of photos from his awesome Boeing 737 adventure from NYC area all the way to Guam:

EWR > LAX > HNL > MAJ > KWA > KSA > PNI > TKK > GUM

And so with practically no consideration or rational reasoning behind whether this trip makes any sense whatsoever for me, I have my mind made up that I will do it! Soon…

I want to go marshal in Asia this year. I also want to go back to New Zealand. Perhaps this trip will work itself nicely into that planning. There will certainly be road blocks along the way. A major one among them is that I don’t have enough United Airlines Mileage Plus frequent flyer miles to secure this otherwise expensive flight. I’ve used up most of my UA miles in 2013 for my two round the world tickets on Singapore and Thai Air to go to the Singapore GP and the Korean GP. But miles can be earned and collected quickly.

I’m also not the biggest fan of United or the Boeing 737 aircraft. The quickest way to cross the Pacific is to fly direct, like the NYC to Hong Kong I flew on my way to Singapore, which takes about 16 hours (and goes via the North Pole instead of west via the Pacific Ocean). Seth’s experience lasted more than 47 hours factoring in the transit and layover time and the inevitable breakdown. According to Seth, a mechanic travels on the plane on this route, just in case things go wrong… but if parts are required they must be flown in with a relief crew. And when using miles I’d rather take the trip on Cathay Pacific like I did last time rather than flying United. But that’s the only option. Similarly, when it comes to single aisle aircraft I much rather prefer the Airbus A320 which feels far more comfortable to me in Economy class than a Boeing 737 does, but again that’s the only option on that route. Still I can overlook both of those personal preferences to experience something this unique that Seth says should be on the “bucket list” of any AvGeek. To me it’s more of a “fuck it, let’s do it!” list than anything else.

So what does the trip actually involve?

Let’s break it down:

island hopper ua154 hop 1

crossing the international date line, arrive a few hours later next day

island hopper ua154 hop 2

island hopper ua154 hop 3

island hopper ua154 hop 4

island hopper ua154 hop 5

island hopper ua154 hop 6

And visualize it:

island hopper ua154
map courtesy of the Great Circle Mapper gcmap.com

What does it cost?

A random date search in November yields $1400+

island hopper ua154 price

Or when booked as award flight using United Mileage Plus frequent flyer miles (randomly selected based on availability in January):

island hopper ua154 award miles

Not cheap either way, considering $1,400+ can easily get you NYC to just about anywhere in Asia, round trip! Similarly, 25,000 miles will get you a Domestic round trip flight from NYC to anywhere in the Continental US and some parts of Canada.

Seth also mentioned that it’s possible to book NYC to Guam award ticket forcing flight UA154 for about 35,000 miles with a stop in LA and Honolulu like he did on his trip, but availability on those flights is extremely rare. And so it’s a challenge… which seems quite exciting from any angle I look at it, and that makes me want to do it even more. A trip like this makes any other “Island Hopper” flight, like those in the Caribbean on little puddle jumper planes look exactly like that… little puddle jumping endeavor.

island hopper from nyc to la to guam
map courtesy of the Great Circle Mapper gcmap.com

So stay tuned…