Oahu, The Gathering Island

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Oahu, formed by the volcanoes Waianae and Koolau, is the third largest of the islands, with 597 square miles of land and a population of about 900,000. Across the Kauai channel from the island of Kauai, Oahu is aptly called the Gathering Isle: 75 percent of the state’s population lives here and about 5 million tourists visit annually. It also holds the distinction of housing the only royal dwelling on U.S. soil, the I’olani Palace. Hollywood hasn’t ignored this island. Tom Selleck as Magnum, P.I. and Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett of Hawaii 5-O raced for years around Honolulu searching for bad guys. Then came a beat-up, born-again bounty hunter named Dog, née Duane Chapman, and now a modern Hawaii 5-0 cast has taken over the airwaves. The true star for all these shows is Oahu itself. Besides aloha-shirted TV stars and tourism, Oahu is perhaps best known for big wave riders. In the winter, the north shore’s perfect orientation attracts wintertime swells, making for some of the biggest and waves in the islands. For those who define adventure without the words “killer waves,” Oahu offers plenty of other options. For example, the three-acre (give or take an acre, depending on the tide) sandbar in Kaneohe Bay on the windward side of the island is a world away from the hassles of life (except for the droning of the airplanes from a nearby military base). Look closely and you’ll spot camouflaged flounders undulating in the currents, translucent pencil-like cornet fish, or even a juvenile blacktip reef shark swimming in the distance. Green sea turtles are a common sight, too; more than 500 are said to live in the protected bay. It’s not a surprise that this pristine stretch of sand is on the preservationist radar and soon might be designated kapu (forbidden), which nowadays means “keep out” in Hawaiian. Hiking is a year-round event on Oahu. Certain trails, however, especially those that run along the jagged volcanic cliffs, are best saved for the dry summer months. The Pali Lookout trail is safe year-round because it is paved. This approximately two-mile trail leads through the rain-forest environs of windward Oahu and includes waterfalls and amazing views. For more than 80 trails with descriptions and photos, visit backyardoahu.com and choose according to season and level of difficulty. – By Mimi