Hawaii Travel Guide

Why Hawaii…?

The Aloha State as it is commonly known has been a bucket list destination for a large number of Australian travelers.

The state of Hawaii derives its name from the name of its largest island, Hawaiʻi. Named after Hawaiʻiloa, a legendary figure said to have discovered the islands. Images of sun-kissed beaches with warm inviting weather year round, the home of surfing, rugged volcanoes and hula dancers have always had a strong appeal to the Aussie market. Only a direct 10 hour flight from Sydney with little time difference (if it’s 8.00pm in Australia, it’s only 6.00pm the next day in Hawaii), so jet lag is not so much of an issue for most Australian travellers.

With very few destinations safe & open for travel over the Christmas / New Year period in December 2021 it seemed like the most practical & perfect of choices for my festive adventure. In saying this, although my flight with Hawaiian Airlines was comfortable enough, you will need to bear in mind that as this is a very popular destination for families during school holidays, there are a lot of young children travelling, even in business class! Perhaps like travelling to Queensland in school holidays if I had to compare the journey to one here in Australia…albeit a lot longer. I do recommend you bring noise-cancelling headphones for the flight.

In general hotels I found here were on the expensive side for the quality of accommodation / services received. In saying this I stayed at the iconic Royal Hawaiian Hotel, affectionately known as ‘The Pink Palace’,. One of the first hotels established in Waikiki, the Royal Hawaiian is considered one of the most luxurious and famous hotels in Hawaiian tourism, and in its 90-year history has been host to numerous celebrities and world dignitaries.

The hotel has had multiple refurbishments over the years and I personally recommend the ‘Historic’ section of the hotel, as this exudes the charm and style that made this property iconic. The newer tower section lacks this ambiance. The hotel location is sensational right on the beach within a short walk to The Royal Hawaiian shopping centre, restaurants & the entertainment hub of Waikiki.

I also inspected the neighbouring historic property, The Moana Hotel and despite the welcome beachfront classic ambiance…I found the actual rooms to be lacking in quality for the price (USD$600 per night over this peak period), fitted out with somewhat underwhelming and dated décor. In saying this, I enjoyed the live music offered by the hotel on the beach each night & this created the exotic tropical atmosphere I was seeking.

I spent 10 days in Waikiki, perhaps it was the time of year & not unlike a Queensland family holiday…there were a lot of family groups so perhaps avoid this time of year if you are not travelling with kids.

An island circle tour is helpful for first time visitors, this gives you an overview of the history & culture of the island. This full day tour picks you up from your hotel & takes you to the most well-known Diamond Head – a volcanic tuff cone on the Hawaiian island of Oʻahu and known to Hawaiians as Lēʻahi, Kahala Estates, Halona BlowHole Lookout, Nuuanu Pali Lookout, Chinaman’s Hat, Dole Plantation, various more secluded beaches & the islands iconic coffee farm Waialua Estate.

I will warn you however, if you have your heart on seeing a turtle on the North Shore…there is no guarantee. This is more of a sightseeing & shopping tour than an opportunity to swim with turtles (although the marketing materials for the tour often features turtles). I must admit I was disappointed with this aspect.

Every first-time visitor to Hawaii should experience the cultural opportunity to enjoy a Luau Show – just make sure you pre-book from your hotel a few days before as it’s always in high demand. We booked at the Sea Life Park, it’s like an aquarium – where we finally managed to see some amazing turtles. The show itself was highly energetic & thoroughly enjoyable with a stunning ocean backdrop. The food…is very sub-standard to put it nicely…with a meal served in a ‘lunch box’ with plastic cutlery. Ensure you book your return transfer back to your hotel as it’s a long drive from Waikiki with no alternatives to get back to your hotel.

With regard to my food experience overall in Waikiki, the main go-to for all different budgets is the International Marketplace, which is also a shopping centre. You can find a wide range of eating options from all over the world, however if you are looking for a more a-la-carte experience you need to head to the top floor where restaurants are excellent & the live music creates a delightful atmosphere.

The highly acclaimed Marukame Udon Waikiki is a much anticipated experience, however the queue was so long I failed to find the patience in over my 10 day stay…maybe next time.

Tips for travelling over Christmas & New Year… most hotels help you celebrate with a Christmas lunch, however you must pre-book on arrival to your hotel. We spent Christmas day at Moana Surfers who offered excellent live music, the food on the other hand was ‘average’ at best. I was both surprised & delighted the iconic Macy’s was open on Christmas day.

For New Years Eve you can watch the fireworks on Waikiki Beach, although I do recommend you snag yourself a position at The Hilton lagoon area or Magic Island. I must admit, we are spoiled for fireworks as Sydneysiders…nothing else can really compare to the spectacle over Sydney Harbour. The experience was enjoyable & festive…just not spectacular.

Waikiki is known worldwide for shopping, this draws travellers from near & far. Although Waikiki has mostly ‘tourist souvenirs’ the Ala Moana shopping centre about a 10 min drive or shuttle bus ride from the centre of town offers a variety of high end brands. If you are looking for a bargain try Ross chain stores, heavily discounted prices for clothing, shoes, jewellery & food.. or take the journey out to the outlet centre approximately one hours drive out of the city centre.

Wanting a break from the crowds of Waikiki, we spent 2 nights on each of the smaller, more relaxed islands of Maui & Kauai. Maui Hawaii’s second largest island is home to the world’s largest dormant volcano – Haleakalā Volcano. In Maui the best resorts are located in the south at Wailea. Here you will find the stunning beachfront Four Seasons, Grand Wailea and Fairmont properties.

Here on Maui I felt like we got more of the quiescently tropical experience we had envisioned. Lahaina town is definitely worth a visit however you will need a car in Maui to make the most of exploring the surf beaches & towns.

Kauai nicknamed the ‘Garden Island’ is beautiful, the abundance of nature & wildlife makes it perfect for birdwatching, trekking, diving & water sports. About half of Kauai’s 111-mile coastline is made up of beaches. This means that Kauai has more beaches than any other Hawaiian Island with 28 beaches. These beaches range along the North and South Shores and the East and West sides of the island. I would recommend you stay again in the south, near Poipu Beach, however if you are a surfer the north has more waves over December / January.

I booked the ‘must do’ heli-tour to see this stunning island from the air, however due to weather it was cancelled twice at the last minute…Travel tip, during rainy season or when weather is unpredictable, don’t schedule your flight at the last minute. We almost missed New Years Eve in Waikiki as we were stuck in Kauai for hours with flights delayed due to the weather.

Our friends who were on honeymoon at the same time experienced a day tour to the Big Island known as the Volcano National Park Safari, for a birds eye view above the volcanos. They raved that it was fantastic and a once in a lifetime experience.

In summary, I enjoyed my time in Hawaii, although would have preferred less time at Waikiki given the crowds, and more time to explore Maui and Kauai by car. I wouldn’t call Hawaii a ‘foodies paradise’ but it is great for families, keen shoppers and the less intrepid traveller. It doesn’t present excellent ‘value for money’ as hotels can be expensive given the more average quality…but it has more appeal and activity options than its rival family tropical destinations like Fiji.

Current travel advice for travel to USA – Hawaii