Hawaii easily ticks all the holiday boxes of surf, sun and fun, but there is so much more to the island state. It is a destination rich in history and culture. I recommend reading James Michener’s Hawaii before you travel; it’s a great story and one that will make you want to travel deeper into these Pacific jewels. Here, I will tell you of the places I visited and experiences I had on my trip, searching for the culture of Hawaii and trying to find a spot that hasn’t been “Americanised”.
Direct flights are available from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane with a flight time of around 10 hours. Return economy fares are priced from around A$1,250 and business class fares from around A$4,500.
With less than 10 hours in the air, you can fly from Australia and land on US soil at Honolulu on the island of Oahu. Honolulu is the gateway to Hawaii and the rest of the USA. As well as beautiful beaches and the infamous Pipeline, with its world-renowned waves that have broken many a man, it’s also a great destination for shopping. You can find all the usual suspects that are in mainland US cities, including the great discount stores of TJ Maxx and Nordstrom Rack alongside luxury brands.
This waterfront hotel began life as the Waikiki Edition and the relaxed, somewhat quirky design still makes it stand out. There’s a lot of interesting artwork on the walls including a sculpture made from broken surfboards in the lobby. It’s close to the famous white sands of Waikiki Beach as well as the shopping district. The signature restaurant is run by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and serves up an amazing fusion of Japanese and Western cuisine.
Rooms are priced from US$319 (about A$341) per night and suites from US$509 (about A$544) per night plus taxes. themodernhonolulu.com
If you are the kind of traveller who enjoys early starts, you can wake at 2:30am and drive to the top of the Haleakala Crater to watch the sunrise. It is said to be a breathtaking experience. But the volcano will have to wait for another trip; during my time in Maui I passed on the climb and opted for the sleep ins.
Maui is one of Hawaii’s more popular islands; there are direct flights from the mainland, plenty of resorts, beautiful beaches, great golf courses and the historical whaling town of Lahaina. The island is small (just over 40 kilometres across at its widest point), but attractions are spread out, so having a car will allow you to explore, visiting unique towns like Paia. The roads are fine but the challenge is trying to understand your co-pilot and navigator saying the Hawaiian names of roads. We finally stopped trying to pronounce them and opted for matching the first four letters. Try pronouncing “Kamehealeleka Road” and you will see what I mean. The island has two main resort areas, Kapalua/Ka’anapali and Waimea, and we experienced both, staying in two very different styles of accommodation.
I love a bike ride. It’s great exercise, not hard on the joints and you get to have a look around the surrounding area, smell the fresh air and feel the sun. Bike Maui offered us the chance to be driven to the top of this volcano, which takes over an hour, all the while listening to Kimo, our local Hawaiian guide tell us about the unique foliage, fruits, flowers, animals and plants found on Maui with a sense of humour the entire way. If it’s a clear day you can see forever – unfortunately, we were cycling through pea soup. Bike Maui outfits you with warm clothes and rain gear, so you will be comfortable either way. As I said I like a bike ride, but what I like even more is a bike ride DOWN hill. There’s no pedalling on the return journey, though the bikes are outfitted with great brakes so you can go as slow as you like.
Cost: Summit bike tours are priced from US$89.99 (about A$96) per person. bikemaui.com
Maui has great snorkelling and Kai Kanani and crew know just where to go. One of the most popular spots is the Molokini Crater, just off Wailea. Its calm waters make it a great place to see plenty of life without much movement on the top. I came across the largest white tipped shark I have ever seen resting below a rock overhang. After a number of snorkellers went below to get a closer look, the shark decided it had had enough of the intruders and sought solace at another more hidden location. It’s a great excursion and the service is absolutely incredible; the crew really look after you and want to make sure everyone is happy. Breakfast and lunch and all your drinks, from tap beer to hot chocolate, are included.
Cost: Four-hour tours to Molokini are priced from US$144 (about A$154) per person. kaikanani.com
If you’re interested in a more “do some of it yourself” stay, then the Kapalua Villas are what you are looking for. The “some” is having the option of making your own meals in the full kitchen that’s available in each villa. The villas feel like they belong to a friend who has graciously said: “use my place on the beach and enjoy yourself”. The Kapalua Villas offers one- to three-bedroom private villas, and the Gold Villas are the most luxurious with state-of-the-art appliances and granite countertops. The spa has its own private pool and semi-outdoor facilities, which include sauna, steam, cold plunge and rain showers.
One-bedroom villas are priced from US$309 (about A$330) per night with a minimum three-night stay. kapaluavillasmaui.com
I could tell as soon as I walked into the Andaz that it was going to be fantastic. Designed by David Rockwell, I was amazed by the design as I walked up the steps to the entrance with the ocean off in the distance. It’s incredible to take in all of the detail, including a seating area that is floored with sand to get you on the beach as fast as possible.
Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s restaurant is a must and it lives up to the famous chef’s reputation. Try the tasting menu paired with sake for an unbelievable Japanese dream meal. At the Ka’ana Kitchen restaurant, all ingredients are sourced from the island and the chefs have built relationships with the local farmers, fisherman and butchers. Put your faith in Chef Isaac; he will make you what he feels like making, and you are in for a memorable meal.
Rooms are priced from US$549 (about A$587) per night and suites from US$1,199 (about A$1,282) per night, plus taxes. maui.andaz.hyatt.com
Lana’i is one of Hawaii’s undiscovered islands. It was recently purchased by Oracle owner Larry Ellison, who now owns 98 per cent of the island with the remaining two per cent in the hands of the homeowners of Lana’i City. You won’t find McDonalds or Starbucks here, and its 3,000 inhabitants like it that way. There is one petrol station, no stoplights and, hopefully, a movie theatre back in action very soon. This small community is the only surviving plantation city left in Hawaii. Lana’i once supplied three-quarters of the world’s pineapples, but farming the tropical fruit is too labour-intensive with all planting and harvesting being done by hand.
There are two Four Seasons resorts on Lana’i and they offer very different experiences, not least of which is the temperature. The lodge is usually much cooler, sometimes by as much as 20 degrees, and it could be raining in one and blue sunny skies at the other. The two resorts work together seamlessly. Four Seasons provides transfers between the resorts, as well as into Lana’i City, throughout the day and night. When staying at both resorts, once you have checked out of one, your bags will be delivered to your room at the next.
If golf is your game, then both resorts will make you happy as two courses are available, one in the mountains and one on the water. Both are challenging and beautiful. The Experience course at The Lodge benefits from the cool mountain air with woods and trees along the fairways, while The Challenge at Manele Bay makes the most of the stunning coastline.
Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay
The resort sits beside a protected marine reserve and spinner dolphins visit the calm, clear waters of the secluded cove nearly every day. When the dolphins do arrive, the resort stops giving out snorkelling equipment, as they don’t want too many people in the water to scare these beautiful animals. But if you are lucky enough to be in the water, you can swim near them and let them come close to you if they choose. The dolphins are naturally curious and we were quickly surrounded by them. There are seven restaurants to choose from here, including an in-house outpost of the famous Nobu restaurant and an American steakhouse called ONE FORTY. You cannot go wrong for fantastic meals alternating between the two during your stay and the extensive menus mean finding something new to try is easy.
Rooms are priced from US$539 (about A$576) per night and suites from US$2,189 (about A$2,341) per night, plus taxes. fourseasons.com/manelebay
Four Seasons Resort Lana’i The Lodge at Koele
The Lodge is up in the mountains in the centre of the island. It resembles an old plantation home with a lobby decked out in dark woods and large stone fireplaces. The entrance is flanked by pine trees and horse fields, and there is even a giant painted pineapple on the front roof to remind you of the island’s past. The rooms also have fireplaces, which was so nice on a cool night. It’s just a short walk into town to experience the local life, have a bite to eat or pick up a gift.