Although the image of Hawaii had been forming in my brain over the course of many years, it was still somewhat of a mystery; a tropical paradise that only existed in the movies and seemed available solely for the super rich. A place where people drink cocktails out of coconuts and the locals wear Hawaiian shirts regularly. You know- standard, gross generalisations.
I always felt that getting there was going to be unobtainable. It appeared to be a destination that people talked about hopefully but not realistically. That was my thought process and I was more than comfortable with that.
So when I touched down at Honolulu Airport a few months ago I really had no idea what to expect. I knew that all the bars weren’t going to have thatched rooves made of palm leaves, as much as I wanted them too. I knew all the cafes weren’t going to be beachside, as great as that would be. I quickly learnt what a Hawaiian holiday was really like.
Honolulu is what you expect; a tropical haven filled with tourists. Souvenir shops dominated street corners, all offering a fine collection of beach towels and little bobble head statues of hula girls in grass skirts. The collection of shot glasses at these establishments is also impeccable. The feel of the city is one of relaxation with an emphasis on going slow and enjoying a drink. Every organised activity came with a traditional flower lei, even the shuttle from the airport. While it was a nice touch, my daughter thought it was a nice feed and destroyed/ate mine, hers and my partners. It was a tropical flower massacre in a minivan.
I was surprised at how big Honolulu was. The drive from the airport took a lot longer than anticipated and involved stopping at what felt like every second hotel on the island of Oahu. I also think that there are more traffic lights here than most densely populated cities. My judgement of this may have been impaired though, particularly after we stopped at one set long enough to watch a local man relieve himself on a nearby building. That may have affected my opinion a touch but when you got to go, you got to go.
Each travel destination has its own unique, must do activity. You don’t go to New York and fail to visit Central Park, for example. Just like you don’t visit Australia in summer and expect to avoid getting sunburnt. So nothing screams “I went to Hawaii” quite like going to a Luau. With only three short days to visit, we figured it would be negligent on our behalf if we didn’t go to a Luau. After all, everyone likes dinner and a show. The truth was we had no clue about what was involved or what to expect. Like Hawaii itself, you assume a lot based on Hollywood comedies and hotel brochures. The only guarantees in my mind were that we would receive another flower lei on entry and we would watch a performance of the hula. However, I actually learnt more about the history and culture of the Pacific Islands on that one evening than I had my entire life. I was expecting a feed and couple of cocktails on a beach, not a history lesson. It was an unexpected, entertaining, Pacific Island education.
Food and drink wise, Honolulu has a lot on offer. Breweries and restaurants were everywhere. Come night time the streets were even busier than during the day. Queues at eateries stretched out the door at some places as people patiently waited for a table. I lined up at the Cheesecake Factory for twenty minutes just to get a piece of cake to take away (and also so I could say I went to the Cheesecake Factory, lets be honest). Even from our hotel balcony we couldn’t escape how lively the streets were. Musicians played until late and street performers put on shows while the shops stayed open till all hours. We could have a beer and listen to the music from the comfort of our hotel room. Lazy traveller bliss.
Hawaii is a naturally beautiful place and as such can overshadow the fact that the people there were some of the nicest I’d come across. It wasn’t just the service staff who were delightful but just about anyone else you ran into who wasn’t a tourist. Even the beggars were nice. The amount holding signs asking “Help. Need money for weed!” was astounding. It was honest. I appreciate that.
At one point we decided to take a walk along the beach and ended up at a rotundas at the end of a sea wall jutting out into the ocean. At the end was a large family group, all locals, jumping from the rocks into the water below. They had music playing and were having a whale of a time battling the waves and the rocky sea wall set up to limit the size of the swell on the beach load of tourists further in. One bloke climbed out, smiled at my little daughter, turned to me and asked where I was from. He had a tattoo of the Hawaiian Islands on his back and, after I explained I was from Australia, he informed me that he was 25 and never left this island. He flashed a grin which revealed quite a few missing teeth and jumped back in, laughing. To be fair, you couldn’t blame him either. If I called a place like Hawaii home, I wouldn’t leave either.
It’s not hard to see why Hawaii is one of the most well-known places on Earth. People swimming and surfing, relaxing in the sun, having a quiet cocktail or seven- it’s an easy place to want to be. The problem is that there is never enough time. I missed visiting Pearl Harbour, for example, and didn’t have time to climb the Diamond Head. Hawaii is made up of approximately 152 different islands and I got to see one suburb of one of them. It’s an unashamed tourist hotspot and I’ll go back for sure.
Wayward Tip: Most hotels here have resort fees. The closer you are to the beach, the more your fee will be. Some hotels don’t have any, but they are generally towards the centre of town so if you want to be close to the beach, expect an extra charge on your hotel bill.