We got up at 6.00 to watch the sail in to Honolulu, but we discovered we had already arrived! The reason for the early arrival was that as this was our first port of call in the US, every passenger and crew member had to attend a face-to-face American immigration inspection. People doing tours today (including us) were asked to turn up between 7.00 and 7.45. We arrived at 6.50 to discover the queue was already stretching half way down the ship! We joined it and spent the next hour gradually inching our way towards the room where the immigration was taking place. Just before 8.00 there was a sudden influx of people being fast tracked to the front as they were on the first tour of the day which had to meet at 8.10! Eventually we got seen just after 8.00, and luckily were given permission to enter the U.S. - phew!
We had some breakfast and then went to meet for our morning tour - Natural Highlights of Honolulu (which incidentally we had wanted to do when we came here 4 years ago but hadn't been able to fit it in!) We caught our coach just outside the terminal and set off for our first stop - Diamond Head Crater. On the way we passed some fascinating ships (old and new) in the harbour, and listened to our guide start to tell us the history of the Hawaiian Islands from the beginning of time, which she continued throughout the morning! She was amazing! We drove up the hillside and entered the crater through a long tunnel and emerged into the base of it - it was huge! I had been imagining us looking down into a small opening but in fact you could fit numerous football pitches inside it! Our guide explained that the crater was made by built up steam inside the earth's surface exploding and breaking through the ground, then the ash fell into the crater shape, with one side higher than the others as the wind blew it. It is possible to do a trek to the 763 foot summit of the crater, but not on this tour! So after a few photos of the sides of the crater and the bird life living there, we set off again along the coast, with amazing views of the beaches, cliffs and sea below. We saw the famous Hanauma Bay, which is a spectacular snorkelling area (again, not on this tour!) and lots of surfers in the sea. Then as we rounded a corner towards our next stop, the driver suddenly shouted "Look, whales!!" And sure enough in the sea in the distance were several spouts shortly followed by dark bodies gliding through the waves. We stopped close by and had a magical 15 minutes watching the whales in the ocean, as well as observing the Halona Point Blow Hole just below us, which spurted water spray every now and again as the waves came crashing in. Wow!
We continued our drive along the coast, viewing the volcanic hills all around, and seeing interesting formations like Pele's chair (Pele being the goddess of the volcano) looking out over the sea, and Rabbit Island where once settlers had bred rabbits for human consumption, but none of the Hawaiians wanted to eat them! There were also many more steep cliffs and a lighthouse. We stopped at the Kaiona Beach park to have a paddle in the sea (not quite as warm as the South Pacific Islands!), and then made our way to an archaeological site which consisted mainly of a large pile of sacred stones placed in such a way as to bring good energy to the area. There was also an interesting garden full of typical Hawaiian trees and plants, such as the taro vegetable growing in paddy pools. The final stop of the tour was the Pali Lookout, high up in the mountains, with breathtaking views over the island. There were also a number of chickens and cats roaming around the area, and some pretty red headed birds.
We headed back to the ship for a late lunch before going ashore again to have a look round the city itself. We firstly went to look at the Aloha Tower shopping centre, where JL had bought a lovely Hawaiian shirt 4 years ago, but it was unfortunately being renovated! So instead we walked through the town, past some pretty squares full of trees and outdoor cafes, to see the Iolani Palace, the State Capitol building, and the statue of King Kamehameha, as well as the post office which we found after much searching ("all for one blooming stamp!" muttered JL!). We then wandered to the north of the city, past lots of pigeon families, and some lizards, in search of the Foster Botanical Garden, which we finally arrived at at 3.30 - to find it closed at 4.00! They told us as long as we were out of the grounds by 4.30 we could stay a little longer, so we set off exploring the lovely gardens, seeing the indoor greenhouse full of delicate flowers, the butterfly gardens (unfortunately with no butterflies!), the prehistoric glen (which did look like a scene from Jurassic Park!), the beautiful orchid garden, and more plants than I would be able to name here! There were some incredible trees, some hundreds of years old. I particularly liked the cannonball tree, which lived up to its name as the trunk was covered with round balls! We even saw a descendant of the Bo tree in India under which the Buddha gained enlightenment! And some ducks in the carpark! On the way back we paused to look at the amazing Buddhist Kuan Yin temple and the San Francisco style trolley bus making its way around the city.
Back on the ship we had an early dinner and then went to the Crows Nest for a cocktail, and then on deck to watch the sailaway, with spectacular views of the city lights and Diamond Head silhouetted against the skyline. The show in the theatre that evening was Will Martin, the youngest man in history to top the UK classical charts, who has a wonderful voice, but unfortunately tonight also had laryngitis so wasn't at his best and had to cut his show short. Still, this gave us an early night to prepare for another day ashore tomorrow.