Lands ranging in colour from white to pink, green to jet black. Mountains of ice and valleys of fire. A mountain that stands taller than Everest and a canyon to rival the Grand. Volcanic action that lights up the sky with an awesome display of power and in the sparkling, turquoise waters, cavorting whales that enthrall the onlooker with their own particular power play.
This isn’t the Hawai’i most Australians hear about. Most of us think of Hawai’i as the Honolulu made famous by Hollywood. Elvis crooning “Blue Hawaii” to raven haired island beauties, Jack Lord’s famous television series “Hawaii 5-0”, and the delectable Tom Selleck as the suave private eye, Magnum, all gave us a peek at paradise, but what we saw seemed vaguely familiar ... ah yes – Surfers Paradise in Queensland!
There are similarities to be sure. Both Honolulu and Surfers Paradise present the same vertical concrete and glass skyline of commercial overdevelopment. Both economies are fuelled by the tourist dollar, and both shopping precincts see cheap souvenir and T-shirt shops jostle for space with designer boutiques such as Gucci, YSL, Ralph Lauren et al. Both are wonderful holiday destinations for tourists who love the glitz and glamour of bars, restaurants, clubs, shopping and lazing in the sun. They’re the same, but different – and the difference is that Hawai’i is so much more than just Honolulu - it is the ineffable beauty of its islands, the eclectic blend of its people, and the magic and drama of its metamorphasis from a kingdom of warriors to the 50th state of America.
Made up of a group of eight main islands and numerous atolls, Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Kauai, Lanai and Hawaii (known simply as the Big Island to avoid confusion), are the six main tourist islands, and each offers the visitor a completely different experience.
The Big Island is the home of the volcanic activity that created this chain of islands – and Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, which still spews forth lava and flashing fireworks. It’s also the home of multi-coloured sands, moonscapes and luxury golf resorts. Maui is the island of rainbows, mountains, waterfalls, lush rainforests and rare fauna and flora ... and also has its share of golf courses, moonscapes and spectacular scenery. Here you can watch the spectacular winter display put on for humans by the monsters of the deep as they cavort, breach and blow offshore.
Kauai, the garden isle, is about splendiferous scenery, spectacular sunsets and submarine wonders. It’s here that you’ll see the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. Nature lovers adore this island and they can hike, mountaineer, snorkle and scuba dive to their hearts’ content. Molokai is the mellow island. This is where Hawaiians come to rest and rejuvenate, horse ride and walk, sleep and eat. Lanai is laid-back and perfect for those who really like to get away from the world. Oahu is the island that attracts most of the six million visitors who journey to Hawai’i every year, and with the sheer natural beauty of its rugged mountain landscape and enchanting wave-dashed coastline, it shines like a beacon to fun and sun starved holiday-makers just itching to throw off their workday blues and hit the turquoise waters of fabulous Waikiki beach.
World class accommodation and internationally renowned restaurants offering an inspired cuisine are just part of the many attractions of Waikiki, famous the world over as a mecca for romance.
From its earliest days, native Hawaiians have revered this place and believed it to be a spiritual centre and place of great healing. Waikiki was once the capital of Hawaii and a playground for Hawaiian nobility, where locals used to gather to play games. Sports such as spear dodging(!) board riding, bowling, ball throwing and kite flying were popular pastimes, but ancient Hawaiians would have trouble recognising this place now. Where once they picnicked in the coconut groves, holiday-makers now laze around the pools of their luxury hotels. Where once they worked the fields to produce their food, buses now disgorge an ever-increasing number of tourists into the highrise accommodation that has taken the place of taro fields and duck farms.
But as much as everything changes, everything remains the same! Outrigger canoes and catamarans still slice through the iridescent waves, gaily coloured kites still dance on the gentle breeze, volleyball nets strung like leis across the sand mark the dividing line between teams of ball throwers, kids on roller blades race each other along the beach side pathways and middle aged men trying to recapture the exhilaration of youth ”hang ten” on surfboards that wallow around the novice-friendly waters. The magical energy of Waikiki known all too well to generation upon generation of native Hawaiians still has the power to heal, restore and rejuvenate.
Waikiki is sometimes maligned as too crowded, too tall and too commercial by visitors who remember it as the laid-back village it was half a century ago, but it’s the tourist dollar that keeps its economy going, and these days tourists want more of everything – from high rise apartments and shopping malls to bars, restaurants and night clubs. Response to these demands has caused concern but now the city planners and architects are redefining the future face of Waikiki so that it remains a successful urban visitor destination.
Waikiki is still one of the premier holiday destinations in the world and when you stroll along the beach at sunset or sit mesmerised by the view, glass of wine in hand at the famous Mai Tai bar, you’ll understand why. Australians can enjoy a holiday here even though the Aussie dollar is at an all time low against the greenback. Shopping is good, especially for clothing and shoes, and the range of items to choose from is vastly different to home. Handmade Hawaiian souvenirs and jewellery fashioned from coral and shells are unique buys, as are the local quilts and bowls made from koa wood. Dining out is affordable and menus enticing, with cuisines as diverse as the population, but the one made famous by local chefs is known as “Pacific Rim” cuisine, which marries European influences with the flavours and produce of the islands.
For those who like to do more than laze their days away on the beach, renting a car to tour the island is a must. The adventure begins as soon as you leave the downtown traffic snarl and make your way into the island’s scenic interior. Here, you will see nature at her most spectacular as you drive past magnificent sculpted mountains, jagged peaks and verdant valleys. Scenic vistas of sparkling turquoise waters peeping through the vivid green forested escarpment are sights worthy of any travel brochure, and if you catch the magenta and orange hues of an Hawaiian sunset across an ocean view, it’s guaranteed to stop you in your tracks.
Dotted around the island are more than 50 beach parks where you can stop to snorkel, swim, surf or picnic, always in the midst of nature’s abundant beauty. Manmade attractions also abound, including quaint little townships with their tottering buildings, ancient sacred sites, the Bishop Museum – where you can easily spend hours engrossed in Hawaiian history – and the poignant sights of the Arizona and Missouri memorials at Pearl Harbor. It’s not surprising that Hawai’i has once again become a favoured holiday destination for Australians, and with cheaper airfares and more frequent flights from Sydney and Brisbane, its popularity is set to soar to new heights.
There are enough accommodation and dining options to suit any budget from backpacker to five star, and whether you use Honolulu as a stopover to North America and Canada, or plan a longer vacation to also experience the other islands of Hawai’i, you’ll find that it will be a journey of discovery that you will want to experience more than once.