The best of Waikiki

Sometimes you just have to love airline timetables. Hawaiian Airlines' Honolulu flight flies out of Sydney in the evening and has you in Waikiki in time for a day at the beach on the morning of that same day. Put together with the airline’s new lie-flat Business Class beds – or the very good value Extra Comfort class that matches others’ Premium Economy – and you’re ready to go.

Does it reflect that you have been travelling too long if you remember when most flights to the West Coast of North America stopped at Honolulu? Qantas once had a clever schedule where flights from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and converged in HNL before continuing to Vancouver, San Francisco and LA. It worked well unless one of the flights was delayed – and that happened quite often.

Since those days, Hawaii has evolved a lot and is now attracting renewed interest from Australia. If you haven’t been for a while, you’re in for a surprise. The views of the volcanic crag of Diamond Head and inland rainforest-covered slopes remain strikingly beautiful.

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The sunset over Diamond Head

Food
For a start, Hawaii has a booming food scene and has come a very long way from its standardised fast food days. Of course, the popular chains are still everywhere but you can find much better if you look.

Poke (pronounced ‘Poke-eh’) or fish salad is Hawaii’s contribution to culinary culture. Many locals recommend the quite basic Alicia’s Market between Honolulu and Waikiki for good poke (this sentence is more acceptable if you remember the correct pronunciation).

There’s a whole Asian/Polynesian/western fusion food scene happening, too. Chef Chai who is originally from Bangkok and is now Executive Chef for Hawaiian Airlines has two restaurants, one in Waikiki and his original at 1009 Kapiolani Blvd Honolulu. Both are excellent and I’d particularly recommend the whole ginger fish.

Shopping
Some things don’t change. I once wrote a travel article for a woman’s magazine about how canny shopper savings could cover the cost of your airfare to Hawaii. Today the tourist office says the most popular activity for Australian travellers to Hawaii is shopping. The Australian accents I heard in every shop suggest they’re right.

The islands’ main shopping venue is the huge open-air Ala Moana Center that’s just $US2 away from Waikiki on the pink bus but many of the same shops can be found around Waikiki itself.

If you’re really keen, head to the Waikele Premium Outlets that’s more than 30 minutes away. Here you’ll find many major brand names for a fraction of prices at home.

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Locals say that bulk macadamia nuts are cheapest at Costco but you’ll need your membership card.

Hawaiian old hands will be gratified to know that the International Marketplace recently reopened in the heart of Waikiki – the giant 160-year-old Banyan tree is still there but the tacky tropical bazaar atmosphere has faded. If you seek a stylish Hawaiian shirt or dress visit Tori Richard but it won’t be cheap.

In the water
Of course a splash at Waikiki Beach itself is obligatory on any Hawaiian visit. But to see some reefs and tropical fish head to Haunama Bay just past Diamond Head. The coral isn’t spectacular but there are a lot of fish around and you may even see a turtle or two. The setting is superb. However, to protect this attraction you must sit through a briefing video (and pay an entrance fee) so allow a few hours.

Accommodation
There’s no shortage of accommodation options in Waikiki, from apartments and AirB&B to lodges, motels, and grand beachside hotels. It all started with the Moana Surfrider Hotel that opened on the beachfront at Waikiki in 1901. It was the height of Victorian elegance and technology and even featured Hawaii’s first electric elevator. Today the hotel has evolved with state-of-the-art tower rooms overlooking the beach. It’s part of Westin but still has its own private beach and a beautiful banyan-shaded bar as well as the original Beaux-Arts architecture.

Surfing Safari
If the words “Waikiki” and “Hawaii” start a Beach Boys’ sound track in your head, you need to hire a car and head for the North Shore. The dramatic East Coast is where many movies, including Jurassic Park, were filmed. The North Shore is renowned for big winter waves during November through January. Names such as Sunset Beach, Banzai Pipeline and beautiful Waimea Bay may already be familiar.

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You can also see the pristine marine life at Hanauma Bay from Waikiki via a shuttle bus

While there’s no doubt that Hawaii is a US State, the unique Hawaiian culture is thriving so expect to be greeted with an aloha and thanked with a mahalo. Surf’s up.

Have you been to Hawaii? Where’s your favourite spot?

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