THE CITY BREAK
SET AGAINST the backdrop of Diamond Head – a lush volcanic crater with finger-like ridges – Honolulu is the first stop for most visitors to Hawaii. It isn’t exactly a laid-back beach getaway, though. The thin strip of sand slithering down the neighbourhoods of Waikiki and Ala Moana is inundated with tourists and luxury resorts clambering over one another for sea views. But what Honolulu lacks in beachside bliss, it more than makes up for with big-city charms: wide boulevards, gleaming malls, glossy resorts and historic sites.
Explore the stately lawns and ornate rooms of Iolani Palace (iolanipalace.org), the only royal residence on American soil, or join a tour of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor (pearlharboroahu.com). A rare feat of modern architecture, the sombre monument sits above the sunken hull of the USS Arizona.
Later, lose yourself in the world’s largest open-air shopping mall. With more than 300 outlets spread over four floors, Ala Moana Center (alamoanacenter.com) will happily lighten your wallet.
And if you want to escape the sea of selfie sticks, head to Kaimana Beach. “It lies beyond the Natatorium War Memorial, which acts like a visual barrier,” enthuses Honolulu celebrity chef George Mavrothalassitis. “Visitors don’t quite realise it’s there so it’s a bit of a local haunt.”
Despite its location on tourist-soaked Waikiki Beach, Halekulani hotel (hotel.qantas.com.au/ halekulani) has an unmistakable air of elegance, thanks to its quiet courtyard, lush lawns and crisp white corridors that bring to mind British Colonial architecture. Upstairs, the rooms are just as pleasing, with white sliding shutter doors that open onto private balconies. But the hotel’s most sought-after spot is the palm-fringed outdoor pool area with spotless day beds and uninterrupted water views – either that or the sumptuously decorated La Mer restaurant, where head chef Alexandre Trancher serves decadent French fare.
Almost 20 years after it first opened, Chef Mavro (chefmavro. com) remains one of the finest restaurants in Honolulu. You could opt for the relaxed small-plates menu but to fully appreciate chef Mavrothalassitis’s culinary prowess, you’ll need an empty stomach and an entire evening to work your way through the nine-course tasting menu. The hottest ticket in town, however, is Sushi Sho (ritzcarlton. com). It has room for only 10 diners so book well in advance. Flanked by two assistants, Japanese titan Keiji Nakazawa slices, trims, chops, fillets and flays fresh seafood right in front of the diners, turning it into edible origami. Prepare for a procession of fresh-beyond-belief morsels and animated chatter between the chefs that ranges from Japanese whispers to outright orders.
Halekulani hotel is a haven of tranquillity in Honolulu (above)