“You must be joking!” That’s what we constantly heard when I and hubby told friends that we were going to spend two weeks on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, and not rent a car. It was actually by accident that we ended up carless. You see, we didn’t realise that, here in Finland, it now takes at least a week to get an international driver’s licence (a requirement, we were told, for renting a car in Hawaii) and we only started inquiring 3 days before departure. Oh well, we thought, we don’t mind public transport, we’d be alright.
And we were alright, regardless of our local friends’ doubts and reservations. They had been living on Oahu for 6 months, and never once ventured onto a bus. Yes, we knew what a must your own car normally is, anywhere in the States. After all, we had spent a whole year in Virginia back in the 90s. Yet, in hindsight, even there, in the Washington DC area, the metro trains ran frequently and reliably. But of course, when in the US, you do miss a lot, and life is a pain at times if you aren’t mobile with your own private car.
On the whole, I must say the Oahu buses exceeded our expectations. They were modern and clean, and took you practically all round the small island. Recorded announcements and led screens kept you informed about each approaching stop. NB. a bus stop is usually named after the two closest crossing streets (it took us a while to work this out!). And what an ingenious system they had for passengers to get their bicycles on as well!
On the drawback side, sometimes (especially coming home late at night) the AC was too efficiently cold but that’s easily solved with layered clothing. Also, if you were unlucky to just miss a connection, often the next bus wouldn’t come until one hour’s time. Needless to say, we spent quite a lot of time hanging around bus stops! But hey, when you’re on holiday, you are not stressed with time, and those waiting times were excellent opportunities for people and local life watching.
For $2.50 a piece, a ticket gave you two transfers within a restricted time frame. For example, one day we travelled round the whole southern part of the island, from Kaneohe, through Honolulu to Hanauma Bay, and back round to the north through Kailua – and all this, for the two us only cost 10 bucks! Great value, I would say!
Finding your way (even without a proper map!) was no problem! On some evenings, we checked the routes on Google maps and timetables on TheBus website in advance for the next day but, mostly, we just played it by ear. The bus drivers were extremely helpful, and willingly shouted out for us to get off when we’d reached our desired destination. One useful piece of information we learned after a couple of days was that on Oahu, people look at direction based on the trade winds blowing across the island. Thus ‘windward’ buses go north of Honolulu (i.e. the side of the island where the predominant wind blows from the sea) and ‘leeward’ buses go south (i.e. the predominant wind blows from the interior of the island to the sea). Quite a few times, people would talk to us about ‘windward and leeward buses’, without us having the faintest idea what this meant. Talking about friendly and helpful people, though, they are the best thing, all over America! I’d totally forgotten this since our American year, but how lovely to be, once again, surrounded by talkative and sociable people who don’t ignore strangers amidst them. We only needed to look a little bit lost or bewildered, and soon enough there’d be a friendly face asking if we needed any help. This happened so many times, on every single day of our stay, that it truly filled us with great gratitude and warmth. Sure, there were times when we, more reserved Europeans, would have appreciated our own peace and quiet after the initial small talk and not hear the whole life stories of our fellow passengers but, positively thinking, never a dull moment at a bus stop or on the bus in Hawaii! You’d always have somebody to talk to if you so wished!
Oddly enough, perhaps, we didn’t miss having a rental car during our Hawaiian holiday. True, our friends, who hosted us, took us around in their car during the weekend but we did cover long distances on our own on the buses on weekdays. One more advantage for hubby was being able, for once, to sit back and take in and enjoy all the breathtaking scenery, instead of sweating away behind the wheel on busy roads. All in all, Hawaii on public transport is doable, affordable and even entertaining. Go for it, and travel greener!