Cruisers’ Guide to Kewalo Basin Harbor (Honolulu, Hawai’i) – Part 1

Illusion at dock in Kewalo Basin Harbor

After Illusion sat in Ko Olina Marina for over a year we were pretty keen to work out somewhere else for her to be. We’d gone there originally because they were the only place to get back to my emails confirming Doug could arrive there and the paperwork seemed manageable. It worked out fine as a place to arrive to from the Marquesas, but overall we had a slightly disappointing time there – it’s right by a resort and is basically a really impractical spot unless you have a car, and even if you do, it’s not that ideal. The restaurants, shops and bars at the resort were crazy expensive and to get to other stores required a longish walk and bus-ride. There were a couple of friendly people on other boats, but it wasn’t a great vibe in general and it wasn’t cheap either – though we had some fun times wandering through the hotels and hanging out at the beaches. Maybe as a live-aboard place with a car it would be better, and admittedly it coincided with not being able to get our engine mended, Doug’s shoulder preventing him from sailing, Doug having a bad back, and me visiting while pregnant and really struggling with the heat – so it’s not surprising it has some bad associations for us! Anyway, last November when Doug went down with his friend Petra (while I was too pregnant to travel!) they managed to get a tow out of the marina and sailed to Honolulu. It should have been an afternoon sail, though they were unlucky with the winds and it took a while longer than hoped, but they eventually got into the harbour and that’s where Illusion‘s been for the last few months.

I figured it might be useful for others to know what’s around so here’s my little guide to being there. Then have a look at part 2 for some fun things to do in Honolulu if you get time to be tourists, too…

There we are, third in. On the left is the Brandi Anne who sadly sunk on her departure to Seattle. Second from left is the very fancy cat, Pomaika’i who’s been a lovely neighbour. On the right of us is the NZ Saliander – again, great neighbours! And SV Full Monty is just along from them.

wpid-wp-1439262472644.jpgKewalo Basin Harbor has a totally different feel to it than where we were before. More coming and going, cruisers arriving from across the ocean, local party boats, charters, Transpac racers…. just a more vibrant, friendly, lively place. It’s much more accessible and much more alive. Ok, so the toilets aren’t as clean and there aren’t hot showers or laundry – but it’s a much easier place to be than stuck in a resort. We’ve met some really lovely people there – including the SV Full Monty crew and Saliander– and have been shown much kindness and support through our ongoing engine work. It’s so great to feel connected to the sailing and cruising world again and keeps us inspired to keep at these repairs. Interestingly when Doug first arrived the harbor master didn’t seem all that keen on having cruisers there, but they’re much more into it now and very supportive.

Around the Harbor:

wpid-wp-1439262451083.jpgSo, first things first, it’s not exactly five-star luxury. There’s a harbor office (with friendly staff and a shelf of books to trade), and that’s pretty much it. There are toilet blocks, which are cleaned daily and there’s always paper, but the stalls don’t have doors! There are outdoor showers, cold of course though that’s fine in the heat. There are friendly security staff who patrol at night. It’s a fairly busy harbor with commercial vessels, tourist attractions like the pirate ship, charter boats, day trippers, cruisers, local fishermen – quite a bit of coming and going. It can get a little noisy, but is fine and we had no problems with sleeping. The promenade and park right between the harbor and the sea is inhabited by quite a few people who live in tents – they were pretty friendly and we never felt any bad vibes walking around there, though it’s quite a bizarre thing to be docked next to both multimillion dollar boats and homeless families. The park is also used for parties and family picnics, but it tends to be fun and lively rather than annoying or disruptive. Kewalo Basin is two minutes to the nearest beach (Ala Moana Park); surfing is right out front!

By the harbour – ‘Ano lani, ‘Ano honua’ (A heavenly nature, an earthly nature) Sculpture by Frank W. Sheriff. Based on a Hawaiian legend – the diamonds represent the major islands of Hawaii.wpid-wp-1439262404385.jpg

Food, drink, and entertainment nearby:

wpid-wp-1439262429674.jpgRIght by the harbour is Street Grindz – a (possibly temporary?) pop-up food place with iced tea, lemonade, bbq, pizza etc. Across the street is the Ward Village complex- this is great, but apparently won’t be there much longer as they’re pulling it down for redevelopment. It’s a shame as it has a good selection of cafes (with free wifi) serving everything from local Hawaiian dishes to noodles to ice cream to iced coffee (basically you can find whatever you’re in the mood for) and quirky shops, including a flag shop where we picked up a Canadian flag having forgotten to get one for our return! They have events like free weekly yoga and outdoor cinema, and various mall areas (indoor and outdoor) with places to eat and drink, including sushi, Mexican and grill. The indoor sections are a good place to escape the heat too. There’s also a store – Farmers’ Market on Auahi Street – with a slightly random selection of stuff, but a good place to pick up cold beer, some tinned stuff, snacks, and fruit and vegetables. There’s also a cool looking pub right next to it – Real Gastropub – which I’m sad to say I never made it into as the timing was never quite right, but it looked great and apparently has good happy hour deals! On Saturdays there’s an actual Farmers’ Market, with great food and drink, live music and a lovely atmosphere, plus loads of yummy free samples of delicious local produce. A nice place to hang out for a couple of hours (8am – 12 noon). It sounded like it won’t be around for much longer either – it could be a very different place in a few months.wpid-wp-1439262435893.jpg

A spot we’ve enjoyed is Wahoo’s on Auahi Street – next door to Starbucks. It’s a fun and friendly place with live music on Wednesdays and Fridays, and tasty, filling Mexican-style food (burritos, enchiladas, salads, tacos, etc.) plus great drink deals at happy hours. It’s become a bit of a favourite spot for Doug! And we had yummy, big breakfasts and a good Hawaiian meal at Big City Diner just along the road from there.


A little further afield – the practical stuff:

wpid-wp-1439262497429.jpgA walk along the beach takes you through Ala Moana Park and to the Ala Moana Centre, a big mall. The whole area has a lot of construction going on right now, so again, will probably look very different before too long. If you carry on around you get to Waikiki which obviously is worth checking out, if you’re feeling touristy. In terms of provisioning, if you’re doing it without a car, there’s the afore-mentioned Farmers’ Market store, but we found it a little limited for some of the basics. I went on a few missions to check out options and decided that the best bet is a mixture of Safeway, Foodland and Walmart (if you can bear to shop there), which are all fairly near each other and between them have a decent selection at decent prices. Bus number 6 works best, with a little bit of walking to get to Safeway. There’s a West Marine, with friendly and helpful staff, just off the number 19 bus route (on the Nimitz Highway), and near that there’s also a decent hardware store (City Mill) and a K-Mart which turned out to be the best spot for cheap unsalted peanuts and some other snack foods!

For some reason, this made me smile – its smart green English-style lawn just seemed so unlikely there.
View from Ala Moana park

Getting stuff done on the boat:

At the risk of droning on, we’ve spent most of our time here trying to sort out the engine – as such we’ve come across a few people and places that might be of use if you find yourself needing repairs. Doug’s done it mostly himself, but has enjoyed help from Aloha Radiators on Ahua Street, Carquest Auto Parts (oil filters & gasket paper), IC Supply (electronic components & coax cable), and POP FIshing & Marine, which he describes as “similar to what West Marine was like years ago with a good selection of ‘real’ parts for boats”.

So there you go – hopefully some of this is of some use, or at least gives a little idea of what you can expect. Obviously, if you’re sailing to Hawai’i you’ll hopefully get out and explore the other islands, which we haven’t been able to do, or even just head off around Oahu. But for provisioning, resting up a little, getting some boat jobs done, or checking out Honolulu, Kewalo Basin is a pretty convenient place to be.

ENJOY! And let us know your top local tips in the comments!

It was fun to be there when the Transpac 2015 boats arrived, including this record breaker! Lending Club 2: 3d 18hrs from LA to Honolulu, almost 25 knot average speed!
Unexpected view one day


Have a look at Part 2 for some of my favourite outings….

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