Thinking Hawaii? Think big! Everything is big, the drinks, food, shopping and hair for starters. It is well worth the 9ish hour flight to visit this stunning Island for a week of R&R.
I stayed at the Diamond Head end of Waikiki across the road from the beach. The pace was a little more relaxed, the beach less crowded and it was only a 10 minute gentle stroll into the heart of Kalakaua Ave and it’s glittering array of restaurants, bars and high (I mean high) end shopping. There was a bar, restaurant, ABC (dairy in NZ speak), Starbucks and delicious bakery all within a few minutes’ walk and if Zoo’s are your thing, it was right across the road.
Waikiki Beach is all you imagine, gorgeous sand, rolling surf and lashings of sunbathers. It stretches as far as the eye can see in both directions and is pristinely clean. I never saw so much as a shell, seaweed, litter or a cigarette butt anywhere near it. No doubt situating the Police Station on the foreshore and the plethora of beach rules contribute to its sanitary look. Waikiki is fantastic for swimming and caters for everyone, you feel very safe and concrete “reef walls” have been built along one end to cater for the kids and less confident bathers. Serious surfie types will need to venture to the top of the Island for the colossal waves and take note these are only in the winter. I was disappointed not to see them during my visit in May. The customary two deck chairs and a brolly are available for hire if you plan to spend a few hours beachside and crave some comfort and shade. Otherwise, head towards Diamond Head where there is a small park with grass and trees so you could set up under there for free.
I found the service is shops exemplary; everywhere I went I was welcomed with open arms and big, wide smiles. I am sure this is somewhat due to the American tipping culture, but was a refreshing change from the lacklustre service we often experience in NZ. Most establishments will provide a tipping guide with the account, making it a simple task to choose whether you want to subsidise staff salaries by 10, 15 or 20%. Also makes it easy to calculate exact amounts for those of us not blessed with a mathematical brain.
Food was plentiful and reasonably priced, although there are some superb restaurants for that special occasion that calls for a fine dining experience. I didn’t count them all, but there must be about a million cafes, bars and restaurants. BEWARE – small in Hawaii is BIG in NZ so I found you could probably share most meals with a loved one and never order more than one course; unless you are in possession of a voracious appetite, you will be wasting your money.
It took about an hour to stroll along to the mammoth Ala Moana Shopping Centre and its 290 stores, although there is a trolley bus that looks remarkably like an ungainly hippopotamus on wheels, which will get you there for USD$2.50. This could be handy if you are weighed down with mountains of shopping on your way back to the Hotel. The Premium Outlet Shopping is about a 30 minute drive away and is easily accessed with assistance from the copious pedlars eager to help spend your hard earned cash. They roam up and down the Waikiki “strip” shouldering placards and will eagerly take you to a waiting coach for your shopping trip. The cost is USD$20 return and there are regular services in both directions. I recommend at least 4 hours here as the shopping is amazing. Great brands, huge variety and around 1/3 of the price we pay at home.
A couple of Tours I would recommend are the Pearl Harbour and Round the Island Tours. These are both full day tours so you might want to have a day at the beach in between. There are a few options for Pearl Harbour so be careful which Tour you choose as some give a more in depth experience of the entire Park including the Bowfin Submarine and the Museum. The general tour gives a great overview of the Park, the legendary attack, a chance to clamber around the Mighty Missouri Warship and a sombre visit to the graveyard of the Arizona Memorial. I found it informative and interesting without being too monotonous and thought it gave a fascinating glimpse into the lives of these seamen. The Tour concluded with a trip to the Punchbowl Memorial and a downtown tour. The Round the Island Tour was a great way to get a feel for the Island, take in some history and information and snap some exceptional shots of the spectacular scenery. It calls into a working ranch, macadamia nut manufacturer, pineapple factory and the tranquil Japanese Boydo Temple and Gardens. Yes, it was touristy but after all…that’s what we are.
I loved Hawaii more than I expected too and would highly recommend it for a week’s break in our bleak NZ winter and a nice change from the Pacific Islands. I felt it would cater to most travellers and though it was high-risey and commercial, found that was part of its appeal as well.