Just a city girl who dreams of dusty trails and endless oceans.
Published September 12th 2017
See Mighty Mo's mighty guns at Pearl Harbour
There are a lot of moving monuments in the world in memorial of trials and tragedies, but few are as poignant or as stirring as Pearl Harbour. Almost everyone has heard the story of the day the Japanese attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbour, drawing the world superpower into WWII. Far less people have had the privilege of seeing firsthand the power, politics and destruction it caused. If you are lucky enough to travel to Oahu, Pearl Harbour is a must-see, not only to remember the fallen but also to witness the past, present and future of the American Navy.
Pearl Harbour is a huge complex, consisting of two galleries, a theatre, a submarine museum, a gift shop and bookstore, the USS Arizona memorial, the moored USS Bowfin submarine, as well as the off-site Battleship Missouri memorial and the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island. It is well worth the money to visit all 4 exhibits, and you will need an entire day to take in everything. However, if you are on a tight budget then admission to the Pearl Harbour Visitors Centre and USS Arizona memorial is free. If you are going to be renting a car and don't want to take a tour, then I definitely recommend you avoid arriving during the morning peak hour if you are travelling from the eastern side of the island (we planned to arrive at opening and got stuck in highway traffic for half an hour).
The exact spot where the peace treaty was signed
As you arrive in the complex, to your right is a bag storage area. It is important to remember that as Pearl Harbour is still an active naval base, bags are not allowed on the complex and there is a small fee to use the bag storage on site. Once through the gates, directly in front of you is the ticket counter. It is here that you buy tickets for the exhibits with admission prices, and you are allocated a time to visit the USS Arizona memorial. I recommend you take the first available time, so you can spend the rest of the day at your leisure.
The tour of the USS Arizona is an incredibly moving experience, so much so that I had wished I had tissues. You start with a movie detailing the events of that fateful day. This film helps to remind you that what you are about to visit is essentially a graveyard. Many of the bodies of the men lost still rest at the bottom of the wreck, so the families of the fallen regularly visit for services. Visitors are asked to be mindful of this and to be respectful as they board the navy-run ferry service over to the memorial. The memorial itself, a graceful white open-aired structure, is built directly over the wreck. Looking over the side you can see the remains of the ship laying in the clear harbour waters. An airy oil slick drifts over the surface of the water, slowly leaking from the hull. Some people say that the oil will stop leaking the day the last surviving crew member of the USS Arizona passes away (sniff!). At the end of the structure is a beautifully crafted wall containing the names of all the fallen crew members. In front of this are the names of the surviving crew members whose last wishes were to be buried with their fallen comrades when they passed. This serves as a strong reminder of not only the lives lost, but also the lives of those who had to carry on living.
When you return to dry land, you can take a turn around the Remembrance Circle, reading the information boards or gazing out at the harbour. Next to the theatre, behind the USS Arizona bell are two galleries containing photographs of a bygone era. It's worth a look to get an idea of what life was like during WWII. There's a snack shop and book store next door, and across from these is where you can pick up an audio guide.
On the other side of the entrance, you will find the USS Bowfin and its museum as well as the submarine memorial. Being able to walk aboard the USS Bowfin and go below decks is definitely a highlight of the experience. You can take as much time as you like wandering above and below decks of one of the most successful submarines in WWII. Getting up close and personal with a torpedo in such close quarters is an experience you won't forget quickly. The old recruitment posters in the museum are another highlight and are sure to give you a giggle.
After taking in all the sites of the submarines and USS Arizona, plus a quick trip to the gift shop, it's time to board the shuttle bus that takes you over to Ford Island. Again, the island is still on naval land, so these shuttles are tightly regulated. The island is home to the Pacific Aviation Museum, a collection of aircraft and memorabilia stretching from Japanese bombers to one of Amelia Earhart's precious planes. Our favourites were the giant troop-carrying helicopters that now call this small patch of runway home.
The final stop in this superbly created complex is my all-time favourite – a site you simply cannot miss. The Battleship Missouri has a long and turbulent history, but has found peace and quiet in its final mooring spot in Pearl Harbour. Known as the "Mighty Mo'", she is the darling of the US Navy and has played a significant role in history, the pinnacle being when the peace treaty to end WWII was signed on her deck. Her massive guns will leave you speechless as you wonder her decks or take a free guided tour. You may also recognise her from the cheesy Hollywood film Battleship.
The mighty guns of Mighty Mo'
With so much to offer, there really is no reason to miss visiting Pearl Harbour. It is by far one of the most comprehensive museums in the world, and stands out as one of the most memorable. There are plenty of tour options if you are not willing to risk Honolulu's traffic, and you can customise your day to suit your time constraints and budget. Being in the tropics means Oahu can get stiflingly hot, so drinking plenty of water is a must. There are a few food options available, but don't expect salads or fine dining. I would also recommend comfortable shoes, we witnessed a couple of near falls on tight stairways due to flip flop shoes. The Pearl Harbour Visitors Centre is located at 1, Arizona Memorial Place, Honolulu. H1 will take you there, it is well signposted. Tickets can be pre-booked online here or you can just pay when you arrive (note that only 1,300 free USS Arizona tickets are available on a daily basis so arrive early if you do not want to pre-book).