A cinematographer’s dream, not to mention a bucket-list destination for everyone from surfers to volcanologists, Hawaii will have you at aloha. Cecilia Yee reports.
Your guidebook will tell you that Hawaii has been a US state since 1959, and that it is the northernmost island group in Polynesia. A volcanic archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, it comprises hundreds of islands spread over 2,400 kilometres. But all that is just words – you really have to see Hawaii to believe it.
Fortunately, Hawaii’s dramatic scenery has provided the backdrop for countless Hollywood movies, so even armchair travellers can get a good look at the so-called Paradise of the Pacific. While its plunging cliffs, fearsome volcanoes and lush rainforests steal the show in blockbusters like Indiana Jones (1981) and Jurassic Park (1993), its palm-fringed beaches and lavish resorts have set the stage for countless romantic comedies, notably Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). The cult thriller Point Break (1991) – forget the 2015 remake – continues to turn viewers on to Hawaii’s big wave surfing, and movies like South Pacific (1958) and 50 First Dates (2004) provide a tantalising glimpse of the laidback island lifestyle.
With so many diverse (celluloid) images imprinted in our minds, deciding which Hawaiian island to visit first can be a challenge. Island hopping is the way to go, and Oahu, Maui and the Big Island (officially Hawaii Island) need to be at the top of your wish list.
The Gathering Place
Oahu, known locally as the Gathering Place, is where most visitors get their first taste of Hawaii. While its high-rise resort hotspots don’t provide anything like a desert island experience, they can claim to supply the ultimate in RnR. With every amenity available on tap, you’re free to enjoy the best beach holiday ever, with a large helping of Hawaiian hospitality thrown in.
Waikiki main beach, which is credited with some of the world’s best sunsets, is a first port of call. Here you can take your first surf lesson, relax on the sands and then party with the locals after dark.
Venture a little further afield and the beaches of Oahu’s North Shore quickly reveal why Hawaii is a celebrated surfer’s paradise. Stretching over 11 kilometres, the North Shore attracts the best surfers in the world in the winter months but in the summer, the massive waves become much more hospitable, making it the perfect spot for beginners to get into the sport.The surfer resorts of Waimea Bay, Ehukai Beach Park and Sunset Beach have a more laidback, bohemian feel than nearby Waikiki.
For a stunning panoramic view of Oahu, head up 232-metre Diamond Head. There are crater climbs to suit just about everyone, with the Koko Head crater trail, known locally as the ‘thigh-master’, being the most hardcore.
The Valley Isle
Less commercial than Oahu, Maui, with its plunging cliffs, lush rainforests and pristine beaches, delivers everything you’ve come to Hawaii to see. It is encircled by 48 kilometres of glorious beach, notably crescent-shaped Kapalua, which is sheltered from strong currents by gigantic lava-rock promontories.
Haleakala National Park with its rolling green valleys is a highpoint of any trip to Maui, best accessedvia the dramatically scenic Hana Highway. On the winding road to Hana, you’ll navigate hairpin turns and narrow bridges and soak up jaw-dropping views. Covering a vast 135 square kilometres, the park is home to the island’s highest peak, dormant Haleakala volcano, as well as the freshwater pools and waterfalls of Oheo Gulch.
At over 1,980 metres, Haleakala dominates the island, and its protected nature trails are well worth exploring. While there’s no better place to experience Hawaii’s diverse flora and fauna, adrenalin junkies can opt to make the descent by mountain bike on a dedicated 32-kilometre trail.
Maui’s beaches are a great place to spot the 12,000 humpback whales that swim from Alaska to Hawaii from December through May.
The Big Island
For many, the Big Island, the largest in the archipelago, reigns supreme. While its diverse terrain encompasses rainforests, waterfalls and coffee plantations, it is also known for its coloured-sand beaches – green at Papakolea and black in Punaluu. Hapuna Beach Park and Kahaluu Beach Park in the west are popular snorkelling sites, and a great place to swim with dolphins and manta rays.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to two active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, with Kilauea being the most active in the archipelago. Head here to witness molten lava flows, heated steam vents and huge summit caldera.
The Big Island also homes the tallest mountain in Hawaii – Mauna Kea. When measured from its oceanic base, Mauna Kea reaches over 10,000 metre s, which makes it even taller than Mount Everest. At the summit, you’ll find the world’s largest observatory for optical, infrared and sub-millimetre astronomy. Take the opportunity to stargaze and be awed by the limitless sky above.
The Big Island plays host to the annual Ironman World Championships each October. If you’re lucky enough to be in Kona during race week, be sure to watch the athletes competing in the fun ‘underpants’ run in the lead up to the main event.
You can fly to Honolulu from Hong Kong via Guam, Tokyo or Seoul – or consider a side trip to Hawaii on your next US getaway.
Flight Centre Hong Kong specialises in tailor-made travel experiences, the widest choice of airfares and unique products, and 24-hour emergency assistance. To book your getaway, call 2830 2776, visit www.flightcentre.com.hk, or drop by the retail stores in Discovery Bay, Central, Happy Valley or Wanchai.