SHRIMP SHACKS, SHAVE-ICE TREATS, HIDDEN WATERFALLS AND SECRET BEACHES. WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT FROM AN ISLAND?
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uS President Obama and his family spent their 2013/14 winter holiday in Honolulu.Prince Jackson was spotted there around the same time as hot couple Sean Penn and Charlize Theron.Honolulu,on the island of Oahu, is the gateway to Hawaii. It’s also where the volcanic archipelago’s natural virtues meld seamlessly with more materialistic pleasures: the golden playground is fringed by cerulean waters on one side and iconic resorts, like the rosecoloured Royal Hawaiian, on the other; just beyond the strip of luxe hotels lies Kalakaua Avenue, a posh main drag lined with Chanel, Bottega Veneta and Cartier boutiques. I book a spacious room at the Hilton Hawaiian Village – where the likes of Elvis Presley and Prince’s father, Michael Jackson,have rested their heads – which presides over a prime hunk of ocean-front real estate on Waikiki Beach.While it hosts thousands of families, spring breakers and conference goers alike, the resort’s sleek, luxurious Ali’i Tower is a sophisticated respite.The third-floor private pool deck seems a world away from the rest of the resort,and proves to be a prime spot to take in the weekly fireworks display on balmy Friday evenings.
Part of a cluster of specks floating in the isolated depths of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is a far-flung place where most visitors prefer to pick one island and spend a week or two in one resort. Instead, I’ve planned an ambitious tasting tour of a handful:10 days of the best of Oahu,Kauai and Maui. Glittering Honolulu is a bustling metropolis crowned by the Diamond Head crater. Close to sunset, I hike the circuitous path that winds around it, and my reward at the top is a stunning panorama over a city seemingly borne from the ocean.The skyscrapers appear to teeter along the water’s edge, looking as if they might tumble in at any moment. The next day I drive north through lush inland plantations and rolling fields, until I arrive at the famed surfing areas of the North Shore. Sunset Beach is regularly pummelled by
12-metre-high waves in winter but, when I arrive, the jade waters are peaceful and the northern coast seems oceans apart from the shimmering spires of Honolulu. Informal shrimp shacks line the stretch of Kamehameha Highway that traces the coast, and I pull in next to Giovanni’s, a truck coated in graffiti scrawled on it by happy patrons. After a plate of juicy, spicy shrimps wok-seared in butter and served with rice, I cleanse my palate with a refreshing coconut, mango and strawberry shave-ice dessert – Hawaii’s famed sugary treat. (It’s like a snow cone but the ice is shaved from a block rather than crushed.)
I leave Oahu for Hawaii’s garden isle, Kauai. Thanks to its cameos in movies like Jurassic Park, Tropic Thunder, and The Descendants, Kauai’s raw, natural beauty has long been etched in my psyche. The island is a hiker’s paradise, with thousands of trails leading to hidden waterfalls and secret beaches. But my favourite part is the little-known Hindu monastery,a lush,serene oasis overlooking a river.The best way to see an island that’s 90 per cent undeveloped and inaccessible by road is by booking a helicopter tour – from 1 500 metres high,the views of the protected and prehistoric landscapes are staggering. We hover over the lush Waimea Canyon, often called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, then skirt along the sheer cliffs of the dramatic Napali Coast, dotted with secluded beaches only accessible by boat. Kauai seems to have won the natural lottery, a stunning showcase of scenic majesty – but it’s also managed to retain its identity and keep tourism mostly at bay. I head back to the Grand Hyatt Kauai just in time to watch a dazzling sunset framed by the open-air lobby, and feast on one of the best meals of my trip at the hotel’s Tidepools restaurant: ahi tuna with foie gras- infused rice, a macadamia-crusted mahi-mahi (a ray-finned fish), and succulent steak.
The island of Maui is Hawaii’s golden child, known for its pristine beaches, the posh resorts that line them, and for its many scenic drives. It’s the kind of place where you go for a few days and wind up staying forever – indeed, many of the locals are expats who have been wholly embedded into the fabric of island life. If you look at the winding road to Hana, a town on the eastern tip of the island, on a map, it appears like a senselessly etched series of squiggles. Those brave enough to traverse this route are rewarded with beautiful black-sand beaches and a series of waterfalls along the way. If you’re looking to stay somewhere that feels more like your friend’s stylish beach house, try the ultra-modern Andaz Maui at Wailea, a minimalist resort with quirky touches like a sandpit in the the lobby. At the apothecary-like spa, a therapist treats me to a luscious, customized blend of cucumber juice, strawberries and macadamia-nut oil. Families may prefer the suites at the Fairmont Kea Lani nearby, a playground for grown-ups and children alike – there’s both a water slide for the kids, and an adults-only pool. One night, our waiter at Ko, the Fairmont’s signature restaurant, clues us into a hidden snorkelling spot where locals have planted a ‘No Parking’ sign to misdirect tourists.
On our last day in Hawaii, I’m eager to make the drive up to Mount Haleakala¯, rumoured to host one of the world’s most epic sunrises. But getting up at 3am to make the two-hour drive, only to jostle for space on top of a 3 000-metrehigh crater with other tourists, does not sound appealing and we opt instead to go for sunset. We wind up twisting roads past sugarcanecrusted fields and up to the summit of Haleakala¯. The clouds form a thick carpet beneath us and the sun casts a saffron glow over them before sinking down into the white abyss. There are surprises around every palm tree here, and moments to celebrate at any height.
Clockwise from top left Waikiki Beach; a bronze statue of Duke Kahanamoku welcomes you to Waikiki; the Waikiki Twin Towers are situated right on the Ala Wai Canal in Oahu; a Sephora outlet in Honolulu; longboards for rent on Waikiki Beach; tourists cover every inch of sand on Waikiki beach; President Obama enjoying a shave ice on a recent trip to Hawaii; downtown Honolulu.
Clockwise from right Hahalawe
Falls in Kipahulu, Maui; Hilton Hawaiian
Village; world-famous shrimp from
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.