A short flight, cheap airfares and the promise of golden weather and azure blue seas make Waikiki on the Hawaiian island of Oahu a great year-round getaway destination for Kiwis. Here’s why it’s worth the visit:
A is for ALOHA.
Aloha, the word for love, but also hello and goodbye, is imbued into everything about Hawaiian culture. Expect to see it, hear it and feel it all around you.
B is for BEACH.
Waikiki Beach is world famous for a reason. Its golden sand, palm trees and gentle rolling waves make it perfect for families, sun worshippers and surfers combined. Heading out further, Oahu is packed with beaches worth exploring and offering good spots for swimming, surfing or relaxing on the sand.
C is for COCKTAILS.
Mai tai is Hawaii’s classic cocktail and is served everywhere. Head to the rooftop bar at SKY Waikiki and soak up the view at sunset (worth making a reservation). After dark, visit the Lava Tube where cocktails are served in coconuts and pineapples in decor that’s unashamedly kitsch.
D is for DIAMOND HEAD.
Work up a sweat and reward yourself with a fresh breeze and stunning view atop this extinct volcano. The walk takes about 40 minutes but do yourself a favour and get an Uber or bus to the start of the trail. From the base, it’s a boring extra hour of meandering through suburbia from Waikiki.
E is for EAT.
The Pig and the Lady in Honolulu’s China Town is worth the visit for contemporary Vietnamese – be sure to try the pho and the fried chicken. Goofy is a great brunch option for fresh, locally sourced food (much of the food in Hawaii is imported). And expect plenty of diners, hamburger joints and chain restaurants that serve monstrous meals – as one server said: “You’re in America now, honey.”
F is for FINE.
On average, there are 271 sunny days a year in Honolulu so chances are you’ll get plenty of fine weather on your stay. It rains in the mountains of Oahu more regularly, leaving them shrouded with mist and giving you Planet of the Apes vibes, which is not an accident: the 2011 film was shot here along with many others.
G is for GOLF.
It’s good enough for Barack Obama and John Key, right? Hawaii is home to plenty of stunning spots to work on your game, from the oceanfront Ko Olina Golf Club 45 minutes outside Waikiki to the Palmer Course – designed by Arnold Palmer himself – at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore just a stone’s throw from legendary surf spots like Pipeline and Sunset Beach. Work on your handicap then hit the beach for a sunset surf – dreamy!
H is for HISTORY.
From its Polynesian roots to a fateful visit from Captain Cook, the annexing by the United States and the attack on Pearl Harbour, Hawaii has had its fair share of upheaval and change. Visit Iolani Palace, the former residence of the Hawaiian Royal family, to delve into the Hawaii of the past.
I is for SHAVED ICE.
A popular treat to cool down on hot Hawaiian days, try the shaved ice at Island Vintage Coffee or Waiola Shave Ice. Sweet, tangy and refreshing, you’ll be hard pressed to stop at just one.
J is for JEEP.
The vehicle du jour, you’ll see classic Jeep Wranglers across the island. And with good reason: what better car to tie your surfboard to the roof and hit the road with? You can grab your Jeep from Avis at the International Market Place or through your hotel concierge.
K is for KUALOA RANCH.
With steep mountains jutting skyward and lush green valleys, it’s easy to see why Kualoa Ranch has been such a popular location for movies, particularly Jurassic Park, Godzilla and Jumanji. The 4,000 acre private nature reserve and working cattle ranch offers a zip line and ATV and e-mountain bike tours for the adventurous as well as yoga, horseback riding and movie set tours.
L is for LANIKAI.
Most Kiwis are spoilt when it comes to secluded beaches with just a smattering of people, but it is possible on Oahu, you just need to get out of Waikiki. Lanikai Beach in the east coast town of Kailua is the answer. Translated to ‘heavenly ocean’, Lanikai offers lapping waves, crystal clear seas and no crowds.
M is for MALLS.
Whether or not you like shopping, chances are you’ll find yourself at Ala Moana, the world’s largest open-air mall. An easy walk from Waikiki (or jump on the trolley bus), all the American chain stores and department stores you’d expect are here. Warning: it is enormous, so be prepared to find yourself a little lost (a nightmare for some; a dream for others).
N is for NATURE.
A traditionally sea-faring culture, some of the best of Hawaii’s natural features can be found under the sea. Hanauma Bay is a great leaping off point – literally. The former volcanic crater turned marine conservation area provides easy snorkelling right off the beach, making it easy to get up close with more than 400 species of Hawaiian fish including the state fish humuhumunukunukuapua’a. It’s a popular place so expect crowds, but for good reason.
O is for OUTLETS.
If you want your shopping designer and your prices bargain, look no further than Oahu’s myriad outlet shopping opportunities. From Nordstrom Rack in Waikiki to the Waikele Premium Outlets mall, this is the chance to get a bag, shoes or jacket from a big-name designer at a fraction of the price.
P is for PEARL HARBOUR.
History buffs will not want to miss a visit to the site where the Japanese launched a surprise attack, leading to America’s entrance into World War II. The battleship USS Missouri has been transformed into a museum ship along with the USS Arizona Memorial.
Q is for QUICK.
Just an eight-hour flight from Auckland, Waikiki is a holiday destination that serves maximum relaxation for minimum fuss. From Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, your airline will offer transport services that will quickly whizz you to Waikiki where, within an hour, you can be dipping your toes into the Pacific.
R is for ROAD TRIP.
Grab some wheels for a day or two of exploring the east and north of the island. A convertible Mustang isn’t a bad way to do it, with roads meandering along the coast and allowing access to Hanauma Bay, Lanikai Beach and the northern beaches such as Turtle Bay as well as some of the best surf breaks on the island.
S is for SURFING.
Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing, so whether you’re a keen amateur, an expert or a first-timer, you can ride a wave on Oahu. Surf lessons are available at Waikiki such as Big Wave Dave. Waikiki’s gentle rolling waves are a great place to get your sea legs and practise once you’ve nailed the basics.
T is for TURTLES.
Swimming with turtles is a special experience and one that’s possible in Oahu. Take a boat trip like Captain Bob’s in Kaneohe Bay where you can snorkel on a barrier reef, which you have to yourselves. Guides on the boat point out any nearby turtles to observe, along with thousands of tropical fish, rays and maybe even the odd moray eel.
U is for UKULELE.
No sound evokes a vision of a tropical paradise more than the ukulele. The small four-stringed instrument is synonymous with Hawaii, and you’re likely to hear its sweet tones on the breeze during your visit. Ukulele (pronounced ‘oo-koo-lay-le’ ) means ‘jumping flea’ in Hawaiian, and if you’re keen to learn, there are plenty of places to get a free lesson.
V is for VOLCANOES.
As part of the Ring of Fire, the impact that volcanic activity has had on Oahu is everywhere. From extinct volcanoes like Diamond Head and Punchbowl to coral reefs formed by craters that have collapsed into the sea, it’s a place to get a sense of the power of Mother Nature, although this will be best seen by visiting the Big Island where the active volcano Kilauea erupted in 2018.
W is for WALKING.
Waikiki is compact, and most places are within walking distance. If you feel like stretching your legs further, there are walks to waterfalls including the Maunawili Falls, a four kilometre round trip through lush forest, or Manoa Falls, a short trip from Waikiki and a shooting location for Lost and Jurassic Park. Being in the mountains means the tracks are often muddy, so wear some good shoes and pack your togs for a swim when you arrive.
X is for XERISCAPE GARDEN.
Halawa Xeriscape Garden features an extensive collection of xeric – or dry – plants. It was created by the Board of Water Supply to show the possibility of creating a beautiful garden that doesn’t require as much water as traditional gardens. No dry brown trees and plants here. The garden remains a visual tropical paradise despite minimal irrigation.
Y is for YOGA.
End your day with yoga on Waikiki Beach for a centred and truly beautiful experience. The warm climate and stunning surrounds make sunset yoga a great way to build your strength and flexibility as the sun sets over the Pacific. Book a class with Sunset Yoga, or get an unlimited membership for the period you’re staying and make it part of your vacation ritual.
Z is for ZZZZ.
You’re on holiday which means permission for lie-ins and naps, so you’ll want to book a hotel that allows for some R&R. The priciest hotels are beachfront, but just a few blocks back, you can get an affordable price at a midrange hotel such as the Waikiki Sand Villa Hotel or Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club.
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