Few national cemeteries can compete with the dramatic natural setting of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. The "Punchbowl" was formed some 75,000 to 100,000 years ago during the Honolulu period of secondary volcanic activity. A crater resulted from the ejection of hot lava through cracks in the old coral reefs which, at the time, extended to the foot of the Koolau Mountain Range.
The ancient Hawaiians used this bowl-shaped crater for very different purposes than it is used for today. They called it Puowaina which means the hill of human sacrifices.
It is believed that the Kapu breakers were killed at a hidden heiau. Now the area is sacred for another reason. It is home to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
Over 33,000 soldiers lie in rest under the endless rows of stone markers. A large marble memorial is dedicated to more soldiers missing in action. This cemetery serves as one of the Nation's two honored resting places in the Pacific. The American Military Cemetery at Manila is the other. It is a resting place for the recovered remains of those who gave their lives during World War II. Also, the unidentified remains of 800 servicemen who died in Korea. The cemetery was in 1986 also dedicated to the service persons who fought in Vietnam.
The easiest route to get to Punchbowl coming from the West (or from Diamond Head), is by the Pali Highway and Pacific Heights Road. Turn left on Pauoa Street and down to Lusitaina Street. Follow the road until you come to Auwaiolimu Street, cross the intersection and take a left. You are now on Pouwaina Drive, the road leading into the cemetery.
If you are coming East or (Ewa) along Ala Moana Boulevard, turn left on to Ward continue until you come to Prospect Street, turn left and continue until Prospect changes into Pouwaina Drive.
Our morning started out as usual and this was the 3rd time we drove this route, so we felt confident on our arrival time. There was no traffic going into town and once we got to our destination, we were the only ones there. When you first enter, bear to the left and continue up the hill until you reach a lookout that offers views of Diamondhead and Honolulu. The view from Punchbowl was inspiring!
The entrance to Punchbowl is breathtaking and always requires a moment of solitude and reflection as you pass through. Once we parked, I wanted pictures of the Honolulu view, so we made our way back out on foot. As I was snapping pics of the views and entrance, my mom was resting under this amazing tree. After a few seconds I hear my name being called several times (you know when your mom calls out to you in that mom-tone.…you better hurry it up!) so I came over to see what the issue was. All she did was point down to the plaque beneath the tree and after I realized what I was looking at, the world stopped for a second.
We lost a dear friend back in December, someone who was amazing, funny and big-hearted. He was a part of this motorcycle club in Hawaii and my mom and I spent many years hanging out with him and the club. He was a Vietnam Veteran and I remember coming to Punchbowl on the back of a Harley years ago. I don’t ever remember him mentioning this tree…. but looking at this plague now…I felt him riding by in the heavens and throwing up his signature middle finger! Miss you Wolfman……
After gaining our composure we headed towards the top of Punchbowl to take in all the memorial walls and chapel. This is such an amazing place, rich in historical information as well as an expansive area to honor the fallen. I highly recommend a visit. We decided it was time to grab some lunch, so we ventured over the Pali into Kaneohe to hit up Zia’s Café…. which, coincidently, Wolfman turned us on to years ago. We couldn’t remember the name of the place, but a quick internet search of the area produced the restaurant, and it was decided. (The café choice came a few days before this trip, so it was quite the full-circle moment after finding that tree). The drive over the Pali was peaceful and full of majestic visions of the mountains shrouded in light clouds. It’s always mystical looking when the weather does that over this mountain range. We found Zia’s and inside we went.
What’s interesting is, no matter how long you are gone form an area, when you return there will always be things that have never changed. Zia’s is one of these places. The only change we could see was the tablecloths went from red checkered to black checkered and some of the art hanging on the walls was different. Other than that, it was like walking back in time. This place had amazing food back then, and we were happy to see that tradition is still going. We decided that this will be our stop for lunches every time we are in the area (and we have many Oahu Jar picks in the area!) Once we were done with lunch, it was time to head on home. This is where some real shenanigans began!!
We were cruising right along over the H3 and then H1 west. We were talking story about how amazing Punchbowl was and how much my mom enjoyed it. I turned a slight corner and briskly thew the protective arm out to my mom as we braked hard. What the hell??? What was this…traffic at this early hour? We were dead stopped, so I grabbed my phone to find out how long this delay was. We were literally 20 mins from our houses and the little navigator lady (I would really love to change her voice to someone like…. Matthew McConaughey or my husband Gene!) said we would be home in 50 minutes. WTF?
Welcome to Oahu traffic hell. We sat stunned for a few minutes, then decided to take some action. We proceeded to clean up the inside of the car, my mom found the tiniest pair of Swiss Army scissors and went to work making some alterations on the shirt she was wearing, and we learned how to use the word “ass” colorfully in multiple sentences. We even thought about bringing a deck of cards next trip in case of this delay again. It was a funny 50 minutes and I really enjoy times like this with my mom.
Traffic and all, it still was a wonderful day and we are looking forward to our next Oahu Jar pull, but we both secretly hope it’s for a place in a new direction! Stay tuned for more Oahu shenanigans…….