I should start by saying I'm not really a beach person. In fact, I'm not really an 'outdoors' person, but beaches specifically I've always found too sunny, too salty, too sandy and just generally not enjoyable. So you can imagine all the ribbing I got around the office when I announced I was off to Hawaii for 2 weeks. Despite my aversion to the ocean (did something just touch my foot!?), I've always wanted to visit Hawaii. Perhaps it's the images of amazing sunsets and over-the-top cocktails or maybe it goes back further to my childhood and my mother's obsession with Elvis' Blue Hawaii, but whatever it was Hawaii beckoned me.
I landed in Honolulu and headed straight for the hotel to check in, strangely keen to get to the beach. Wandering the palm-lined streets I couldn't get over all the designer shops! As I window-shopped (and dreamed) I came across a quaint little alleyway lined with surfboards and at the very end I spied gorgeous blue water. I'd hit beach! As I strolled down the alley I couldn't help but giggle as I noticed all the surfboards chained to their stands, just like a bike rack. I guess that's how they do things in Hawaii.
As soon as my feet touched the sand, a grin spread across my face and I hurried over to the water like an excited kid at Christmas. As luck would have it I'd emerged on possibly the best part of Waikiki beach, where the big pink palace of The Royal Hawaiian rose up behind me and the view of Diamond Head is exactly like the postcards. The sand was soft and warm and as the crystal clear water lapped at my feet and the sun sparkled off the tops of the waves, I knew that this was a beach I could enjoy!
So for the rest of the afternoon, that's exactly what I did. I set myself up at Duke's, at the bottom of the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. This is probably the best bar on Waikiki Beach. The views are unbeatable and you can suck down a Pina Colada or an ice cold beer while being almost close enough to reach out and touch the waves. Paradise! It's hard to hit the ground running after a long haul flight, but Hawaii makes it pretty easy. I settled into 'island time' immediately and to be honest, I'm finding it hard to settle back into 'work time'. Shhh, don't tell my boss!
The next few days were spent shopping up a storm at Ala Moana Centre, checking out some old school tiki bars, eating my body weight in cheeseburgers and shrimp and discovering some of the more unique and hilarious nightlife around Honolulu. Of course no trip to Hawaii would be complete without a visit to Pearl Harbour and so I joined a tour that took in the history of all the major monuments.
The Pearl Harbour - USS Arizona - Honolulu City Tour was a great way to spend the day and probably the easiest way to get to the attraction, given that it's located about an hour from the major Waikiki resorts. It was a really interesting insight into the events that unfolded on that fateful day and the Arizona Memorial is a lovely dedication to those who were lost. I was also lucky enough to climb onboard the USS Battleship Missouri Memorial where I spent hours discovering its secrets. The claustrophobic conditions these sailors lived in gave me a whole new respect for them. I also understood why Cher decided to stay up on deck (yep, it's THAT ship).
After 4 nights in Honolulu, I was ready to leave the 'city' behind and head for some more relaxed vibes. The 1 hour drive to Oahu's North Shore delivered just that and I was glad that I wasn't behind the wheel because the gorgeous views commanded my attention. It's an easy drive, and not a long one in the grand scheme of things, but I would encourage you to allow more time. I guarantee you'll want to get out and take pictures at the very least or, if you're like me, you won't be able to resist dipping your toes in at one of the many stunning beaches along the way. Who is this beach person I am becoming?
The North Shore was great for doing not very much at all, which was one of my main goals for this holiday. I stayed right next to the Polynesian Cultural Centre and was always within minutes of great food and gorgeous beaches. Over the next 4 days, when I wasn't flat out by the pool I was enjoying iconic Matsumoto Shave Ice on a day trip to Haleiwa (the 'w' is pronounced as a 'v'), climbing waterfalls and discovering colourful birds, giant snails and gorgeous flowers in Waimea Valley or swimming myself sunburnt at my favourite, Sunset Beach. I also called into Banzai Pipeline but as it wasn't surf season, it was pretty flat.
About 10 minutes north of the hotel, I also tried the locally-recommended Giovanni's Shrimp Truck, where I went to hot fresh garlic buttery shrimp heaven. 12 of the biggest, meatiest, most garlicy and delicious shrimp I've ever eaten were served up over steamed rice. I pity anyone who had to speak to me for the rest of that day but it was totally worth the garlic breath. Sorry not sorry. If you're on the North Shore of Oahu, you simply MUST stop here. I stopped in on my way to Turtle Bay, a luxury resort on the North Shore famous for its incredible location and multiple appearances in movies. Here I spent the day drinking beers by the beach and watching the surfers ride the waves into a gnarly sunset. Bliss.
Sufficiently relaxed, it was time to start exploring another island. Kauai is known as the 'Garden Island' and its striking natural beauty beckoned. After perhaps the shortest flight I've ever been on (35 minutes including take off and touch down), I was delighted to learn I'd been given a free upgrade on my rental car - my first convertible! With the top down, I cruised the 15 minutes from the airport to a lovely beachfront condo at Lae Nani Resort Kauai by Outrigger which would be my home for the next 4 nights. It was a pretty great view to be greeted by every day. I couldn't hang around to admire it for too long though, as I had to high tail it back to the airport for what is certainly one of the highlights of my trip - a 1 hour helicopter flight.
This was only my second time in a helicopter (if 15 minutes over the Grand Canyon even counts?) and it was even better than I could have imagined! If there is one thing you do on the island of Kauai, it MUST be this. 60 minutes felt like 6 as we soared over some of the most inexplicably beautiful terrain I have ever seen. Lush green valleys gave way to ancient rock canyons and silvery ribbons of waterfalls seemed to appear out of nowhere. My eyeballs struggled to remain in my head as we floated over the Napali Coast, a spectacularly rugged stretch of the island's edge where the ocean crashes up to meet the cliffs and sea caves. Inaccessible by vehicle, the only way to admire the beauty of this spot is by boat, air or for the dedicated few, a 2-3 day hike.
I spent that night sipping Coconut Mai Tais on the beach, reflecting on what an amazing day I had had. This world of ours is truly beautiful and we must venture out to explore it. So I did just that the very next day, visiting some of Kauai's most famous filming locations including Opaekaa Falls, King Kong Mountain, Jurassic Park Ranch, Gilligan's Island and Hanalei Bay as well as locations from Tropic Thunder and the iconic Blue Hawaii. The tour guide was very entertaining and the clips from each movie were played as we arrived at each famous spot, making it easy to relate the movies you know and love to the exact spot where you were standing. Pretty cool.
A little bit more downtime in Kauai would have been good but as they say, no rest for the wicked! I was up early the next morning for the 40 minute drive to Port Allen for a full day aqua adventure onboard a 65' Power Catamaran. This 7 hour tour was an incredible day full of fun which included sightseeing around the majestic Napali Coast's waterfalls, lush valleys and sea caves. As the catamaran sliced through the water we were delighted to see Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins, Bottle Nosed Dolphins and Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles playing in the water. Although our trip was supposed to include a snorkelling stop at the 'Forbidden Island' of Niihau, conditions on the day weren't right and so our friendly and experienced crew picked a different spot for us to explore. Floating in the water, it was exciting yet relaxing to watch the comings and goings of the aquatic world beneath the surface.
After a much-needed afternoon nap I joined the festivities of the Smith Family Garden Luau, which provided a charming insight into the food and cultures of the Pacific. Run by four generations of the Smith family for over 50 years, the luau was set in the sacred Wailua River Valley, amid 30-acres of stunning gardens. The blowing of conch shells signified the beginning of the luau feast and we were serenaded with traditional Hawaiian songs as we indulged in a buffet of authentic island favourites including kalua pork, beef teriyaki, chicken adobo, sweet n sour mahi mahi, lomi salmon, fresh poi, Hawaiian sweet potato, namasu salad and scrumptious tropical desserts.
The Hawaiians say that if food is the heart of the luau, then music is the soul. With a history that has been preserved by ancestors who passed down song and dance, the torch-lit open air 'Pele Amphitheatre' (complete with erupting volcano!) celebrates these traditions. Over an hour we were treated to colourful and authentic performances that represented the cultures of the Pacific including Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, Philippines, New Zealand, China and Japan. The costumes were incredible, the music powerful and the show both interesting and entertaining.
With my last full day in Kauai free at leisure, I headed back up the coast to Hanalei Bay for some final sightseeing. I stopped in at an oceanic and tribal arts galleria which featured some incredible (and expensive!) treasures including some traditional Polynesian and Melanesian wooden and mother of pearl tattoo tools as well as a number of ancestor skulls from tribes in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea and a rare king ebony totem depicting ancient cannibal tribes from the Solomon Islands priced at US$11,500. Deciding the Tahiti Nui bar across the road was probably more my price range, I stopped in for a mai tai (a recipe that's been in the family for 50 years) and some delicious Tiki Man Pizza. If either of those names sound familiar, it's probably because you've seen the George Clooney film The Descendants. Filmed on Kauai, this bar makes an appearance in the movie.
Speaking of Hollywood celebrities, many of them own property in Hawaii, particularly on Kauai. So I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to run into Peirce Brosnan at Lihue Airport on my way back to Oahu, and yet I was. The charming thing about these little islands and their even littler airports is that even if you're James Bond, you still have to mix with the locals and tourists to get in or out. Arriving back in Honolulu after another ridiculously short flight, I checked into Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort to spend my last couple of days in relaxation. I started close to home at Shore Bird Restaurant & Beach Bar at the bottom of the Outrigger. Incredible views, grill-your-own hand-carved steaks and $6 mai tais from 12-6pm - what's not to like!?
I decided to spend my last full day at the beach (who am I?). After a king tide the night before, the surf was up and the water not as calm as a non-beachgoer like me would prefer, so I alternated between short spells in the clear blue water with some relaxing time on the beach watching the mesmerising waves and a few more ice cold beers at Duke's. It was the perfect way to spend my last day and I tried hard not to think about going home.
Alas, all good things must come to an end and so it was after one last breakfast of loco moco (a Hawaiian specialty of steamed rice, beef patty, fried egg and gravy) I headed to the airport to board the 9 hour flight back home. 9 hours gives you a lot of time to think, and I wondered how someone like me who 'hates' the beach, dislikes the outdoors in general and considers a 3 star hotel 'roughing it' could have enjoyed swimming in beaches and climbing waterfalls so much. There's something about Hawaii that will forever have my heart. I'd never been before and yet somehow it felt strangely familiar to me. Unlike anywhere I'd ever been before, yet comfortable - like your best friend's house. Not yours, but close enough.
Perhaps it's because the people themselves are so welcoming. When you're in Hawaii, you really are part of the family. Get used to being called sis, cousin, uncle. Strangers smile and greet you with a familiarity that speaks of us all being connected in some way. Tour guides introduce themselves simply as Cousin Shannon or Auntie Wendy, and before you know it you're still referring to them the same way weeks later. All the travel brochures speak of the spirit of aloha and it's easy to roll your eyes and pass it off as a marketing gimmick, but when you're actually in the islands, it's an energy that runs through everything and everyone. You won't truly understand it until you experience it, but once you do you will never be the same.
Published by Sheri, TravelOnline.com Marketing, Media & Content Creator