Oahu. A land where swaying palm trees and aquamarine beaches meet fine dining and five star hotels. Where surfing, smoothie shacks coupled with road trips to meet dinosaurs are part of the everyday. Where honeymooners dance under the stars and couples curl up on the beach in cabanas. It’s almost too easy to turn on the wow factor on the most famous of Hawaii Islands, so if you’re looking for a getaway that is high on romance and low on effort, this is it.
One stop wonder
Oahu has long been the favoured hotspot of Kiwis looking for a one stop shop – one non stop flight and you’ll be sipping Mai Tai cocktails on the beach. Even before you leave the tarmac, the holiday starts now. Hawaiian Airlines greets passengers with the ukulele playing on the plane speakers, chocolate covered macadamias on your meal tray and in some cases, a rum punch before landing. Departing Auckland several times a week, you’ll cruise to Honolulu in just under nine hours, enjoying a menu designed by Executive Chef Lee Anne Wong, who has her own famed Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu. We’re talking treats like Chicken Adobo and chocolate covered macadamias. And that’s just in the main cabin. Business class menus include the likes of Crab and Sweet Corn Cakes and Warm Teriyaki Salmon Salad, with Chilled Guava Strawberry Pie for dessert. You’ll disembark at Honolulu’s open air Daniel K. Inouye International Airport terminal with a smile on your face and a few Hawaiian melodies in your heart.
The sun sets on Waikiki Beach at 7pm in summer, tinging the length of one of the world’s most famous beaches in dappled pink and purple as it dips below the horizon. It doesn’t quite get as pink as the Royal Hawaiian’s famous blush coloured façade, but it’s a show rarely interrupted by rain or bad weather. One of the best spots to soak it up is from the manicured lawn of The Royal Hawaiian, where the famous hotel’s luau takes place every Monday and Thursday. The fading light is the backdrop for a spectacular visual storytelling of Hawaii’s past, starting with a slow, peaceful hula, before speeding things up with fire twirling and some seriously impressive hip work. The show doesn’t kick off until the sun is setting – guests spend the hour prior basking in the warm weather tucking in to a buffet of traditional Hawaiian slow cooked pork, heirloom tomato salads, Korean ribs, ginger fried rice and of course, the Royal Hawaiian’s famous pink coconut cake for dessert. Not all luau’s are created equal and the Royal Hawaiian luau is a show stealer. The sunset is the icing on the cake.
First lady of Waikiki
Since 1901, the Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort & Spa, has been considered the grand dame of hotels lining the white shores of Waikiki. The original Beaux Arts style building at its heart, has all the glamour of Gone with the Wind, gone tropical – walk under the archways and ionic columns, past the grand wooden staircase, out to the open air courtyard where a mighty Banyan tree reigns over rocking chairs, outdoor bar and the pool, before sinking your feet into the sand. These days the new tower wings host additional guests, but everything retains the white, creamy tone, from the beds to the balconies. The ground floor wrap around verandah hosts the Beach Club Lounge on one wing, where guests in suites and above can pop in day and night for breakfast, snacks and canapés – the mini macadamia muffins in the morning are a must – and the chic Beachhouse restaurant on the other wing. Dinner here is a fine dining affair, with glasses of crisp French rosé, an Ocean raw bar with ahi sashimi, Kona abalone and lobster, and a mighty Tomahawk steak that goes down a treat with creamy local garlic mashed potatoes and a glass of red. Don’t go past the chocolate s’mores for dessert; a sphere of dark chocolate cracks over vanilla gelato, graham crumbs and gooey handmade marshmallow. Unlike many of the hotels on Waikiki Beach, you can walk straight through the Moana’s front door, look past the banyan tree and see the water in front of you – you’re on the sand in a minute flat. This is the spot for unrivaled beach access, without the crowds. It feels intimate and special, and these days that’s precious.
Dish it up
If you thought Hawaii was all about burgers on the beach, think again. There are restaurants for every type of cuisine clustered just back from the beach – Asian, Italian, Mexican, American, and every kind of fusion in between. If you’re after a special meal, make a beeline to the open air rooftop of the International Market Place shopping centre. Called the Grand Lanai level, this is where you’ll find the serious food, in clever open air dining that lets you sit out under the stars or soak up some air conditioning. STRIPSTEAK WAIKIKI takes things up a notch, with an indoor outdoor bar leading into a super sleek dining room where you’ll find some of the island’s best served steak. Ask for one of the chic booths alongside the black rock walls to watch the magic unfold. Chef Michael Mina has a reputation for serving up showstoppers all around the world and he doesn’t disappoint in Hawaii. Dry aged beef, trios of duck fat chips, steak tartare with quail egg, salads made with local Waipoli greens, and a caviar ‘twinkee’ are just a taste of the menu. The flambé Maui Gold pineapple foster is flamed right at your table and served straight up in a half cut piece with haupia sorbet and vanilla-infused rum. It’s the new crepe suzette and we’re never going back.
If you want to shop, Hawaii is your spot. Unlike other American hubs where the malls are outside of town, you’re spoilt for choice without even leaving the Waikiki strip. Walk off dinner with a peruse of the International Market Place shops – the likes of Kate Hudson’s own legging label Fabletics, Sketchers, Anthropologie, Abercrombie and Fitch await. Duck into Tesla on your way out of the International Marketplace, head down the street to Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret and Sephora. If you’re after a proper mall experience, Ala Moana is only 10 minutes down the road, just past Ala Wai Boat Harbor. The good news is, there’s no need to stress about your luggage limits. Hawaiian Airlines’ bag policy will cover you, with 2 x 32kg bags for all international departures.
Meet the dinosaurs
Hop in your Jeep and head north for an hour to Kualoa Ranch for a fix of star power to up the voltage of your romantic getaway. The Private Nature Reserve sprawls over 1,500 hectares of Oahu’s most spectacular forest, valley and mountains – making it the favourite for some of the world’s biggest movies. Its major claim to fame is Jurassic Park and Jurassic World. You’ll spot classic scenes and even sets from the movies throughout the property, including jumbo sized dino bones. There’s also locations included in King Kong, Lost, Jumanji and a host of other movie shows. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to exploring the Ranch. There are ATV tours, horseback riding tours, VIP movie tours, trolley tours – almost every type of tour departs from the ranch style home base, which feels a little like an extremely well run school camp, but it’s the ziplining tour where you get to see the real star. The rainforest. Over two hours you zip through the ‘Jurassic Valley’, across seven different zip lines and two suspension bridges, laughing, screaming, canon balling, jumping and even superman flying over trees and rivers. It’s a birds eye view up close, with the longest zip line stretching nearly 400 metres through the valley. The guides are a well rehearsed cast, sharing quick history lessons in culture, botany and history; their jokes are still fresh and their efficiency at latching you on and off each zip line in record time is impressive.
At the heart of history
Take a few hours and head indoors (yes it may sound counterintuitive, but trust us it’s worth it) to explore the Bishop Museum. Officially the Hawaii State Museum of Natural and Cultural History, this beautiful historic building dates back to the late 1800s, and is housed in what was once a boys school. These days the halls house artifacts and objects from the islands of Hawaii’s dramatic past. Everything from whale skeletons to towering Kahili feather standards are on display – with each room more dramatic than the next. Navigating the maze-like staircases is part of the fun, the building is on display as much as the unique pieces of Hawaiian history. Save time to duck across the manicured lawns to the Science Adventure Center included in admission. Big kids will enjoy simulating waves and learning about volcanoes.
Oahu is the easiest of the Hawaiian Islands to get to from New Zealand – hop straight aboard a Hawaiian Airlines flight departing several times a week from Auckland and you’ll heading to the beach in no time. If you want to splurge and really arrive in style, try the Business Class seats on the Airbus A330 – lie-flat beds, top notch food and wine, great entertainment the whole way.
For great deals on the Hawaiian Islands, click here.
Lisa Perkovic was the guest of Hawaii Tourism and Hawaiian Airlines