LET me start by saying, I am not usually a fan of island holidays. If I wanted to sit by the ocean sipping cocktails out of a coconut, I would just stay at home at no expense.
That is why it took a spur of the moment decision (or perhaps a momentary lapse in judgement) to get me to leave the comfort of one island and travel 10 hours to another island. I found cheap flights and accommodation on Friday, booked my ticket on Saturday, and stepped off a plane at Honolulu Airport on Easter Sunday. That impulsive decision sparked a week long island adventure that would include everything from barbecuing under the light of a Tiki torch on Waikiki Beach, to coming face-to-face with sharks on the North Shore. Let’s just say, I am a reformed man.
A tourist and his sport
Honolulu is the gateway to the Hawaiian Islands, and as such is undoubtedly the most commercialised location in Hawaii. It is like a port city in an old Hollywood pirate film; everyone there comes from somewhere else, and most of them have a story to tell. Tourists flock to the resort district of Waikiki, where daytime recreation and a thriving nightlife service the needs of any traveller looking for a good time, at any time.
I must confess. I did not head to the beach on my first day in Hawaii. Not wanting to miss the FA Cup match between Chelsea and Manchester United, upon arriving I made a beeline for the closest sports bar. Australian sports fans in Honolulu should go no further than Legends Sports Pub on Nahua Street. This cosy venue has an atmosphere lacking in many overtly commercialised American sports bars, and much to my delight, they regularly play soccer, NRL and AFL matches. The locals are friendly and the drinks are cheap, making it the perfect place to go when the chaos of Waikiki Beach becomes too much to handle.
Waikiki’s main strip, Kalakaua Avenue, is a combination of haute couture and surf-chic. High fashion labels like Prada and Louis Vuitton sit comfortably across from the glassy blue water of Waikiki Beach, watched over protectively by an imposing statue of the father of surfing, Duke Kahanamoku. There is nothing that cannot be found on Kalakaua Avenue, from fine dining to tacky gift shops, making it the perfect place for any tourist to begin their exploration of Waikiki.
While many of Hawaii’s recreational activities like surfing and paddle boarding take place between sunrise and sunset, the city boasts a vibrant nightlife to rival any other destination in the world. Shore Bird Restaurant & Beach Bar on Kalia Road offer amazing views of the Hawaiian sunset and gives patrons the opportunity to grill their own meals to perfection under the supervision of some of Honolulu’s best barbecue chefs. The bar and nightclub strip on Kuhio Avenue can be slightly hit and miss, however Maddog Saloon has great drink specials and a happy hour that goes all day (except between the hours of 8pm and 10pm).
The beaches and nightlife are only one part of what makes Hawaii a special place to holiday. Honolulu is only a short drive or bus ride from Pearl Harbor, the site of one of the most devastating attacks of World War II. On December 7, 1941, 3500 people were killed in a surprise attack by the Japanese military. Visitors can take a short boat ride out to the USS Arizona memorial, situated on a pontoon directly above the sunken remains of the battleship, which continues to serve as a grave for over a thousand servicemen killed during the attack.
Surfing with sharks
About an hour’s drive from Honolulu lies the fabled North Shore of Oahu, renowned for its big wave surfing beaches and amazing scenery. Most of the coastal highway that circles the island is one lane, making for a relaxing journey, as most Hawaiians tend to drive well under the speed limit. Cars and tour buses line the side of the road at prominent locations like Banzai Pipeline, home to some of the biggest waves in the world; a mecca for anyone with an interest in surfing.
On the second last day of my Hawaiian adventure, I left Honolulu before sunrise to meet North Shore Shark Adventures, based in Haleiwa. This attraction gives tourists the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the oceans most intriguing and misunderstood creatures. A boat takes groups three miles out to sea, where participants climb into a cage and spend around twenty minutes swimming inches away from dozens of Galapagos sharks.
Despite being warned that reaching out of the cage might result in several missing fingers, the shark cage is an experience of complete serenity. As I ducked my head under the water to admire the sharks, the singing of humpback whales serenaded me from the deep blue. Although I had some reservations about spending a morning with sharks, it was as close as I have ever come to having a quasi-religious experience with nature. I could have stayed in the peaceful waters off the North Shore for hours (if they had let me).
People often ask Australians why they would go to Hawaii when they have beautiful beaches and warm weather at their doorstep. The truth is that Hawaii could not be more different to Australia. It is a place of mystery and beauty that is wholly unique, and the experiences that it offers will draw you back time and time again. What are you waiting for? Grab your tacky floral shirt, order yourself a mai tai and prepare to soak in the aloha.