Best of places - Honolulu
Honolulu has become one of my favourite holiday destinations. Not just for the endless sunshine, crystal clear water, stunning sunsets, outstanding American service, and to-die-for shopping - what's not to love - right? It's a place to chill out and recharge your batteries. Locals call it 'the gathering place' and for reconnecting with family it's magic. Here is my list of the 'best of places' in Waikiki.
Where to stay: Moana Surfrider, Westin Resort & Spa, Waikiki Beach: From the moment you step into the colonial-style lobby of this five-star hotel you can hear the pounding surf, which instantly evokes that beach holiday vibe. It's one of the oldest hotels on the island, and it's managed to maintain its charm thanks to the vintage rocking chairs on the porch out front and massive Banyan tree that shades the beach bar and restaurant. Enjoy breakfast on the verandah, and then step onto the sandy shores of Waikiki beach for some R & R. Or head down Honolulu's luxury shopping strip, Kalakaua Avenue, for some retail therapy. One note, you have to side step the assembly-line of Japanese weddings in the hotel - yes they happen almost every day. But it's hard to beat a day on that white coral beach, and then sleeping with the sound of the ocean hitting the shore. Expect to pay $450 per night.
The Modern Honolulu: Not far to Ala Moana Shopping Center, which is a bonus, but away from rom Waikiki, this hotel is a little off the beaten track. However, if you prefer a pool holiday, and there are two Sunrise and Sunset (adults only) it's perfect. One bonus, the Japanese restaurant, Morimoto Waikiki ranks as one of the best in Honolulu. Expect to pay $550 a night.
Trump International Hotel Waikiki: I feel in love with the pool (not to mention the facial at the spa) and the super friendly staff at the lobby entrance. Who remember your name, and no request is ever a problem. We were there on a day where there was a spot of rain, and while it was still warm, the staff had the umbrellas out at an alarming speed. It's quiet, luxurious and a brilliant location. This five-star hotel offers five-star service, and that doesn't always go hand in hand. It's also the best hotel to watch the Friday night fireworks, (that happen each week from The Sheraton beach), cocktail in hand the view from the 6th floor is unbeatable. Expect to pay $700 a night.
Halekulani Hotel: For modern neutral interiors, glossy marble, and a to-die-for pool area, this more formal hotel (no swimwear or bare feet in the hotel’s restaurants after six p.m.) is a standout. If watching the sun go down on Waikiki beach is on your bucket list, (along with fabulous views of Diamond Head) - then this will be the perfect stay. Happy hour at the pool is a must, and if you want to plan a special dinner book in at Orchids, it will be unforgettable. Just one note, this is also a favourite spot or Japanese brides-to-be, there is a production line of weddings at this hotel too. Booking a first class room will cost around $800 NZ per night.
For breakfast, lunch and dinner, Waikiki offers food for every taste. I must confess; there is a lot of fast-style American food on the island, but peppered between the burger joints, are some gems - you just have to know where to find them.
Where to eat: If you like Japanese, Doraku offers traditional low fat and tasty options, from sushi platters to share, to delicate plates of island-fresh sashimi, the spicy shrimp and eggplant miso are a must, and they also have an excellent Rosé on the menu.
PF Chang’s is primarily a sports bar in a restaurant. However the Asian fusion menu is healthy and light. After a day at the beach, share a plate of chicken lettuce wraps or Mahalo rolls, both are the perfect size for two.
Heavenly is where you will find healthy home-style cooking with an Asian fusion flavour and a great breakfast smoothie. The Hawaiian Pho Noodles and organic eggs are superb, and if you like a healthy start, the acai breakfast bowl is divine. There is no ocean view; it's situated a few streets back from the beach, but the cute atmosphere makes up for it.
Bills Honolulu, yes that would be Australian chef Bill Granger's who has a café and restaurant in Waikiki, and it's a great spot for a leisurely breakfast. Request a table on the veranda if you can, and order the ricotta pancakes with banana and honeycomb butter or organic scrambled eggs with roast tomatoes and avocado salsa. Or if you are hanging out for a decent NZ-style flat white, (these are far and few between) grab one from the takeout bar downstairs.
You can’t visit Oahu without having dinner or cocktails at Dukes. It's the place to sip a Mai Tail and watch the sun go down. Take a seat in the dining room where the salad bar and grilled local fish are brilliant. Or sit out front, at the Barefoot Bar, it's almost on the beach and order the Mac Nut Chicken Katsu the Cajun Fish Tacos, but be prepared the portion sizes are massive.
The Cheesecake Factory – while the name does not inspire top-notch cuisine, it’s one of the best bistros on the island. The tuna salad and Mexican burritos are delicious, and the selection of home-style baked cheesecakes, are impressive (you won't finish it). There are 35 flavours last count, 'The Original', with the sour cream topping is my pick, and perhaps the reason there is a queue every night for a table. Expect to wait at least 40 minutes but don’t give up, it’s well worth it.
Finally, if you like to poke around art galleries and local markets, feast on exotic, tropical fruit and BBQ island seafood, Chinatown is the way to spend an afternoon and evening. If you are a noodle lover, don't leave without a visit to Yat Tung Chow Noodle Factory - it's fab.
You would have to be blind not to notice the plethora of luxury and fast fashion stores along Kalakaua Avenue Ave, which is the place to start your shopping marathon in Honolulu.
Where to shop: Immerse yourself in Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel, Balenciaga, Kate Spade and even H&M as you wander along the avenue, shopping at your own pace. From strip shopping to the open air mall of Ala Moana Center where 290 shops await any budget. From Bloomingdales, Nordstrom to Neiman Marcus, to chain stores such as Zara and J Crew, you can spend until your hearts content, with what’s on offer there.
If you like a bargain, Ross Dress for Less has the end of the line and last season fashion, accessories and homewares, and if you time it right, (apparently the best time to get there is 10 am for fresh stock) there is some excellent sports luxe on offer?
Hire a car (or you can take a shuttle for $16 US) to Waikele Premium Outlet in Waipahu. Michael Kors, Calvin Klien, Adidas, Kate Spade Banana Republic and more offer discounts that you would rarely find elsewhere.
This is a beach holiday, so don't feel like you have to move far from your deck chair relaxing on the gloriously white sands of Waikiki beach. However, it only takes a day to drive around this stunning island and explore what's on offer.
What to do: Hire a Mustang or book a tour and head East to the North Shore, where at Turtle Bay you swim with the Honu, (Hawaiian green sea turtles). Stop at Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay on your way to Pipeline, where you will be amazed to see 30-foot waves and watch pro surfers take their lives in their hands to catch them. The day we visited the surf was only a mere ten foot, but we did spot Kelly Slater, wave-watching from the Volcom pro-surfer house that sits beach front at Pipeline.
Hanauma Nature Preserve, a 30-minute drive from Waikiki on the southeastern tip, and a great place to take the kids. This beautiful cove once a volcano crater, is now home to brightly coloured fish and stunning coral, which makes for great snorkeling. Be sure to pack lunch and plenty of water, (there are no shops) and expect a $7.50 US entry fee. The Cove is open daily except Tuesday.
Book online before you leave, so you don't miss a tour of the Hawaiian heiress Doris Dukes, Shangri-La, and the Honolulu Museum of Art. A 60-year passion for collecting Islamic art sits on show in her stunning architecturally designed home. Situated on Leahi (Diamond Head), where the view of the Pacific ocean is the most magnificent backdrop for what is, in my opinion, one of Honolulu's best kept secrets.
Make sure you set out early and climb to the top of Diamond Head State Monument, a 760-foot crater, it's one of Hawaii's most famous landmarks. If you're fit, it will take you 30 minutes to reach the top, where along with the way you tackle 175 steps and pass through damp underground tunnels and old military bunkers. However the stunning azure ocean view that awaits you is well worth the climb.
A visit to Pearl Harbour has never been on my bucket list. However, it's now a place I will never forget. Once famous for harvesting pearl oysters, this Harbour is the only US naval base to be designated a National Historic Landmark. Take a tour or drive 30 minutes from Waikiki and visit the sunken Battleship Missouri. Guarding over her is the USS Arizona Memorial, a stunning white ark-like structure that sits on the turquoise blue ocean. A short boat ride to the site, it's a place to stand in silence, over the burial ground for 2,390 men, women, and children who lay to rest beneath your feet. Along with the Memorial, climb inside USS Bowfin Submarine and visit the Museum and Park. No bags are allowed in the park (lockers are available) and do get there early, before the temperature rises. There are limited walk-in tickets daily from the visitor center, so book online to secure a pass. Expect to pay $65US.