What do you think of when someone says “Hawaii”? Hula girls? Surfing championships? Palm trees, volcanoes and pineapples? Those are just some of the images I associated with my ideal picture of Hawaii, a place that had intrigued me for a long time.
The archipelago of volcanic islands is the only American state that isn’t actually located in the Americas – as it sits within the Oceania region, in the Central Pacific Ocean. After a long history of self-governance, several political changes made it the final addition to the United States in 1959. Nowadays, the group of islands is heavily linked to tourism and for a good reason.
Oahu is home to Hawaii’s biggest city, Honolulu, as well as its most famous beach, Waikiki. Nicknamed “The Gathering Place”, this is the heart of Hawaii, with flights from all over the world landing at its airport.
Aside from its beaches, Honolulu has an interesting variety of attractions and neighbourhoods. Its Chinatown was bigger than what I had imagined, and even its “Wall Street” area – Bishop Street – was full of skyscrapers and businessmen walking around in suits, something unimaginable to me before going there.
It’s a great place to spend a few days lazing around on the beach, or to get more active, through learning how to surf, enjoying other water sports or taking to some of Oahu’s great hiking trails for stunning panoramic views of the island.
Driving around the island to check out different beaches and getting away from Waikiki’s hustle and bustle was definitely a decision I am happy to have taken. There are countless beaches worth checking out, some of them offering incredible sunsets, great snorkelling and the unique opportunity to watch professional surfers in action. Snorkelling in Hanauma Bay is an experience not to be missed, and Banzai Pipeline is the perfect place to observe surfers breaking into waves more than 20 metres high.
Oahu manages to combine incredible landscape with very rich history and culture. Mixing Japanese, Korean and Chinese migration along with the culturally rich original Polynesians who resided there turned the place into a truly diverse land. The Polynesian Cultural Centre is filled with insightful exhibitions about Hawaii’s past and the traditional music and dance performances held at the end of the visit are truly entertaining. For those interested in history, the memorial at Pearl Harbour is an informative source, providing details of the historical incident that put Hawaii in the spotlight during World War Two. As mentioned previously, Hawaii’s beaches are incredible – you can easily spend most of the time just enjoying their beauty, sunbathing and swimming.
It took a long time and a lot of effort to pinpoint any lowlights of Honolulu. It’s a big, busy city, hosting a fair number of visitors throughout the year and, at times, the crowds at beaches such as Waikiki can affect the plans of travellers looking to do nothing other than relax. Much quieter beaches are within easy reach, though, making this potential “lowlight” easily manageable.
Shopping in Honolulu is a full on experience. There are countless shopping malls worth visiting as they are beautifully designed with many outdoor areas ideal for strolling around. The taxation in the State of Hawaii is lower than the rest of the country, making prices more affordable than those in the continental United States. Souvenir shops selling summer dresses, flower lei necklaces and macadamia nuts can be found around Waikiki beach at surprisingly reasonable prices.
Honolulu is lined with hotels of all ranges and travellers can choose from youth hostels and camping grounds to incredible five-star properties. The Halekulani Hotel is one of Hawaii’s most well-regarded properties, boasting elegance and style for those looking for a luxurious experience. I found the Outrigger chain of hotels to be excellent value, offering spotless four-star properties just a few steps away from the beach.
1. Learn how to surf, or at least give it a fair try
2. Visit the highly informative Polynesian Cultural Centre
3. Enjoy snorkelling in the clear waters of Hanauma Bay
4. Dance the night away at one of Waikiki’s many top-notch nightclubs
5. Visit the centre of Oahu and its many pineapple plantation fields