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Wheels down in paradise

Published: 02/11/2015 - Filed under: Home » Archive » 2015 » November 2015 » Lifestyle » Home » Features »

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What happens in Hawaii stays in Hawaii – that is, if you want to escape the wrath of Pele. The goddess of fire and creator of these far off islands in the Pacific will follow you home and turn your life into your own personal volcano if you fill your suitcase with lava stones and take them back to Kansas. The good news is Hawaii is mostly about fun in the sun, spectacular beauty, and a rainbow of experiences to be had, whether adventurous, languorous or just plain quirky.

For airline cowboys flying across the Pacific and who want to stopover in Paradise, here is a quick guide to Hawaii – what to find and what to do. For road-weary warriors ready to turn off the always-on for a week, Hawaii is a good place to return to nature and re-acquaint self with self. Hawaii is not just for honeymooners, but if a little romance should happen to come your way, Hawaii says, “Bring it on!”

Hawaii is mostly about four islands and all the “ests” that go with them. Oahu is the most populated and the easiest to manage for those who just want a “taste” of Hawaii. Maui is the most popular for vacationers who are on their honeymoon or re-commitment moon and want the full resort experience. 

Hawaii or the Big Island is the largest in the archipelago and offers diverse ecologies, lots of history and some excellent resort options along its Kohala Coast. Then there is Kauai, known as the Garden Isle. It is small enough to move between the north and south coasts with convenience, and it is not overrun with mainland vacationers and the malls they bring. Kauai is full of natural wonder – often captured in seminal films of the last century. 

Happening in Oahu 

Honolulu is where the action is – then, and now. Hawaii Five-O still solves seat-of-the-pants murders along the shores of Waikiki. Sunset Beach projects old Elvis favorites onto a big screen by the breakers every weekend. There’s plenty of culture to be found amid the city’s art and history museums. The central Chinatown District looks like it dropped in from a 1940s film noir. And then there is shopping aplenty – some of the best and most compact boulevards of designer fashion to be found within a 2.5 square mile radius. 

Do: Consider this island to be made up of two huge parts: the North Shore and Honolulu. Waikiki in Honolulu offers some of the island’s most crowded beaches, along with a phalanx of swank resorts, shopping and top restaurants and all the touristy fanfare one could want (free torch-lighting ceremonies and hula shows at sunset on Kuhio Beach Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, for starters). 

For a poignant touch of American history, a visit to Pearl Harbor is a must, even for the most ardent of anti-tourists. The rusted USS Arizona rises like a ghost from the shallow waters while a sophisticated museum complex fills in the gaps with compelling interpretive exhibits. And yes, you can board the USS Bowfin submarine and the Battleship Missouri.

Hikers can take the 1.5-mile roundtrip walk to the summit of iconic Diamond Head, or they can opt to drive up to the summit to see the 475-acre land caldera that was formed 300,000 years ago from a single explosion. 

Not far from the hustle of Waikiki is the Doris Duke house, which, along with the Bishop Museum, may be Hawaii’s top cultural take-ins. On the North Shore watch crowds of surfers catch waves at Waimea Bay, Ehukai Beach (Banzai Pipeline) and Sunset Beach (sorry, pros only in these spots). 

Try the shrimp plates at Romy’s Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp or at Giovanni’s – trucks parked along the road near the surfing spots. Order Poki or Loco Moco (nitrates at the ready) at local cafes for true island tasting traditions. Don’t leave without a cone of shaved ice, preferably at Matsumoto’s, even if the lines are long.

Eat: Alan Wong’s: One of Hawaii’s most celebrated chefs. Go for lunch in the Pineapple Room at the Ala Moana Shopping Center or for dinner at the location on King Street. Try “Da Bag,” an inflated foil packet of seafood, kalua pork, and vegetables, or kiawe wood-grilled mahi-mahi. 

Stay: In Waikiki, The Royal Hawaiian, of the Starwood Luxury Collection, is still an elegant flash from the past. The Halekulani, built in 1907, also offers a sense of royal history. Use your HiltonHonors points at Hilton Hawaiian Village, or take in the views from the upper floors of the Outrigger Waikiki Beach. 

Maui in Mind 

Maui, like Oahu, divides into two main areas of interest for visitors. The Ka’anapali Coast presents a very walkable three miles of uninterrupted white sand and waves along a line-up of resort hotels. Nearby, Lahaina is the honky-tonk town worth wandering for its bars and restaurants.

The other center of tourism life is on Wailea, but this is a more upscale center with a Four Seasons, an Andaz and the Grand Wailea as honeymoon faves. The compact fashion complex, the Shops at Wailea, keeps the wallets busy while an easy and scenic beachwalk provides the other ambulatory entertainment. 

Do: Some of the big to-dos on Maui are not on the beach at all. A sunrise trek at Haleakala, a dormant crater that dominates the island, allows visitors to drive to the 10,023-foot summit, hike around the perimeter (dress warmly, the wind chill is a monster) and fly down again on bicycles provided by any number of outfitters. At the lower altitudes pass lavender farms and protea fields and farmhouses serving great organic breakfasts on terraces overlooking the rolling countryside. 

Or consider the five-hour, twisting and turning Road to Hana. This is wild Maui showing off its tropical best. At the end of the road expect very little, unless you are staying at the luxe Travaasa Hana with its killer spa. 

Eat: Consider Spago for a reliably great meal at the Four Seasons Wailea. Mama’s Fish House in the funky road town of Paia is legendary for fish so fresh it practically wears the name of the person that caught it. If you gotta have poi, the Old Lahaina Luau on Front Street in Lahaina offers the pig, the poi, the sunset and the show, fire dancers included. 

Stay: A personal favorite: the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel. Find here old style Hawaii ambience in reasonable, no-frills proportions. Ask for a beachside room. Nearby, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua comes with privacy and history given the sacred grounds on which it sits. An on-staff historian/spinner gives complimentary access into the steeped story of this land, and 18th century whaling industry.

Big Island Basics 

The Big Island is awash in extremes. It’s the largest of the islands and home to Mauna Kea, the highest mountain in the archipelago, as well as the world’s most active volcano at Kilauea. 

Most of the action on this island, however, happens on the sunny and dry Kohala Coast, an area dotted with name brand hotels. But the Big Island is big enough for everyone and tourism does not seem to get in the way. The resorts hug the coast while quaint, thriving villages along Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway maintain their character and history. Visit Kailua-Kona for the Kona coffee shops and roasting huts and for the village life that still seems to carry on the way it has since missionary times. 

Do: See Kilauea by helicopter, preferably with the doors-off option (check out Paradise Helicopters in Hilo). Take a nighttime manta ray dive (check out Kona Ocean Adventures). Zip-line 250 feet over a cascading waterfall at Akaka Falls (Skyline Eco Adventures).

Eat: Merriman’s. Peter Merriman established Pacific Rim cuisine on this island some two decades ago and spearheaded the movement in locally sourced ingredients. Picks are Kahua Ranch lamb, day boat fish dishes that change with the catch, and some amazing things done with macadamia nuts and Japanese vegetables. 

Stay: Fairmont Orchid has an open-air spa, a turtle hatchery on the beach, a golf course and a lounge for those with points or who book the Fairmont Gold floor. Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in Waimea offers an ambiance easily found in Bali or Thailand while keeping to its Hawaiian roots. 

Wild Kauai Comforts

Kauai is the most remote on Hawaii’s tourism chain and remoteness has its privileges. Old Hawaii with its plantation-style big house expanses maintains a presence throughout this isle. This is the land of “The Descendants,” where everyone knows each other and chances are they are related. No one is better than anyone else, and the bars and restaurants of Princeville in the north and Poipu in the south are simply the laid-back places you would hope to find on an island where waterfalls and hidden coves are more plentiful than strip malls. 

The whole island is a movie backdrop. Scenes from South Pacific to Jurassic Park were shot here in easily recognizable spots around the island’s interior and rim.

Do: Hike the Na Pali Coast. The most popular hike is the eleven-mile Kalalau Trail, but you can opt for the beginning two-mile stretch from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapiai stream and beach. Take a helicopter ride through the Hanapepe Valley and land at the bottom of the 360-foot Manawaiopuna Falls. Then fly over colorful and dry Waimea Canyon, which Mark Twain nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”

Eat: The top spot is the Kauai Grill at the St. Regis. Jean-Georges Vongerichten delivers top-flight eclectic cuisine. Have a Mai Tai at Tahiti Nui and take in the luau dinner buffet at Nui next door. Make reservations, seating is limited, the show is entertaining and the pork ribs, divine. 

Stay: St. Regis Princeville is considered by many to be one of the finest hotels in the world with rooms that offer some of the best sunset views to be had. For more home style stays, rent a condo by the night at The Cliffs at Princeville. Wandering chickens and geese come with the views.  

By Lark Gould


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