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Foster Gardens, Byodo-In Temple & On to Turtle Bay

Foster Gardens, Honolulu, Oahu - Saturday, October 26th, 2013

The Maritime Explorer Score:
8.5/10
See full scoring

It was time to leave Honolulu for the last time, but before doing so I wanted to visit Foster Gardens to see its renowned specimen trees and orchids. Bequeathed to the city by the Foster family it is now a 13.5 acre Garden of Eden not far from the historical district and Chinatown.

After paying the modest admission fee you are free to stroll around or, as we did, follow the  path on the map that you are given on admission. This will take you through all the major areas in about an hour. On the day we visited there were few other visitors and little traffic noise, despite being located right in the city.

The specimen trees truly are exceptional and some are simply gigantic like the kapok, baobab, earpod and quipo, while others like the cannonball tree with its gigantic nuts are something you don’t see every day. But, the one that blew me away was the royal palm. This is always a majestic tree wherever you see it, but the one at Foster Gardens had to be 200 feet high. I’ve never seen one remotely as big. Looking straight up from the base caused a reverse sort of vertigo with the clouds streaming by the dancing fronds.

In addition to the ‘exceptional trees’, there is a great collection of orchids, a prehistoric garden, and an economic garden with varieties of fruit and nut trees as well. The allspice tree (who knew?) has an appropriately exotic aroma.

Super tall Royal Palm
Super tall Royal Palm
Kapok Tree
Kapok Tree
Cannonball Tree
Cannonball Tree

We spent an easy hour and a half strolling through the grounds and got back in the car refreshed and ready to leave town once and for all. You can find more pictures of Foster Gardens in the photo gallery.

We crossed the Koolau Mountains again, this time on the Likelike Highway which ended at Kamehameha Highway that runs up the eastern side of Oahu and then across the North Shore. Our goal was Turtle Bay Resort at the very northernmost tip of Oahu, but there was one last site associated with Hawaii Five-O that we had to visit – the Byodo-In Bhuddist temple in Kahuluu . This is a modern replica of an ancient temple that is a World Heritage Site in Japan.

First, the association with Hawaii Five-O. It was here that McGarrett had Wo Fat trapped like a cornered rat with no possibility of escape, except for the fact that Wo Fat always escaped. Ever since seeing the episode I was struck by the sheer architectural beauty of the building and was glad to get a chance to visit it in person. Trust me. the building loses absolutely nothing when seen up close and personal; crossing the wooden bridge that leads from the parking lot to the temple you pass into a world of tranquility, harmony and peace that rightly or wrongly, is attributed to the Bhuddist religion.

Byodo-In Temple
Byodo-In Temple

Of course I could not resist breaking that peace and quiet by tolling the Bon-sho or Sacred Bell which apparently is a tradition before entering the temple proper.

Bon-sho or Sacred Bell
Bon-sho or Sacred Bell

The interior of the temple is dominated by a huge golden statue of Bhuddha. It’s not real gold of course, but paint which has flecked in a few spots which shows that even Bhuddha is not immune to aging. Seriously though it is a pretty awe inspiring sight and one that does promote inner reflection. We couldn’t help but speak in hushed tones in the presence of this  transcendental figure.

The grounds of the temple were immaculate except where the roving peacocks did their business. A small stream full of huge ornamental koi and lily pads added to the ocular treat that makes this place so special. Even so, there were not many visitors and we had no problems getting our pictures taken with Bhuddha. The one thing I did not see was a fat little bald oriental gentlemen peering from behind a curtain.

Byodo-In Bhuddha
Byodo-In Bhuddha

Shortly after leaving the temple we reached the eastern side of the island and followed it on a very scenic drive up to the Oahu’s fabled North Shore. Along the way we noticed that the towns we passed through were getting smaller and smaller and decidely poorer looking than  any that we had seen so far in Hawaii. There was also a palpable ‘anything but Honolulu’ feeling to the area. In the few days we spent on the North Shore we learned that this was not an incorrect perception. Whereas Honolulu is modern, cosmopolitan and fast paced, the North Shore is the opposite and the reason became pretty obvious very quickly – virtually every vehicle we saw had a least one surfboard on it. Woody wagons are not vehicles from a bygone era on the North Shore. They and countless imitations are the transportation of choice here. I guess what I’m really trying to say is that the North Shore is to surfers what Mecca is to muslims – a place where they all have to go at least once and from the looks of the place a lot have come to stay.

However, we weren’t here to surf, but rather to golf and the only place to do that was at Turtle Bay Resort . It was always our intention to spend a few days on the North Shore to check out the famous surfing spots (from the safety of dry land) and to see if the surfer culture was truly as laid back as it is portrayed in movies and songs (it is – in spades). I was surprised on checking out the choices of places to stay that there was no choice – Turtle Bay is the only resort on the North Shore. As it turns out surfers really don’t care where they stay (a lot seem to actually live on the beach or in their wagons) and they’re not famous for having a lot of money so although it attracts people from around the world, the North Shore is paradoxically not a tourist destination. Turtle Bay is it and reading some of the signs posted on local homes, a lot of people think that it is one too many. I don’t want to give the impression that the people of the North Shore are unfriendly, far from it – it’s just that if you are staying at Turtle Bay then you aren’t experiencing the same North Shore as the surfer dudes.

Turtle Bay is a large full service resort that has quite a variety of accomodations including a beautifully situated hotel on a peninsula surrounded by bays on each side, some really nice, but expensive, cottages almost right on the ocean and condos surrounding one of the two golf courses on site. We had reserved a two bedroom condo which backed on the 7th hole of the George Fazio course. It was quite acceptable, but the views were pretty bland compared to Hanalei Bay Resort or the Royal Hawaiian.

We’d packed a lot into the day and were too tired to pick up supplies for cooking so we opted to try take out at one of the freshwater shrimp joints we had passed just a few miles from the entrance to Turtle Bay. There were a number of large impoundments where the shrimp are raised and each had a small building where the shrimp is cooked for the customers. We opted for Romy’s  which offered shrimp or prawns deep fried, steamed, sauteed or sweet and spicy.

Romy's Shrimp House
Romy’s Shrimp House

I think we all went for sauteed and took them back to the condo. I wish I could say that they were the best shrimp I ever had, but like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie. Maybe it’s just me, but I find freshwater shrimp to have no taste or substance. I recognized this on the first bite as it brought back memories of buying it once at our local fish counter and realizing that it just didn’t stack up with salt water shrimp. However, the others professed to find them just great so don’t take my word for it.

We turned in not long after with thoughts of 300 yard drives dancing in our heads as tomorrow it was back to golf.


  • Botanical Gardens

    8.5/10
The Maritime Explorer Score:
8.5/10
“This is next on your list!”

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