- - Monday, February 29, 2016

What happens in Hawaii stays in Hawaii — that is, if you want to escape the wrath of Pele. The Goddess of fire and creator of these far off islands in the Pacific will follow you home and turn your life into your own personal volcano if you fill your suitcase with lava stones and take them back to Kansas. The good news is Hawaii is mostly about fun, beauty, and a rainbow of experiences to be had, whether adventurous, languorous or just plain quirky.

For airline cowboys who happen to be flying across the Pacific and want to stop in the land of Paradise, here is a quick guide to Hawaii: what to find and what to do. For road-weary warriors ready to turn off the always-on for a week, Hawaii is a good place to return to nature and re-acquaint self with self. Hawaii is not just for honeymooners, but if a little romance is coming your way, Hawaii says, “Bring it on!”

Hawaii is mostly about four islands and all the “ests” that go with them. Oahu is the most populated and the easiest to manage for those who just want a “taste” of what Hawaii can offer. Maui is the most popular for vacationers who are on their honeymoon or re-commitment moon and want to partake in the full resort experience.

Hawaii, or the Big Island, is the largest in the archipelago and offers diverse ecologies, lots of history, and some excellent resort options along its Kohala Coast. Then there is Kauai, considered the wild island. It is small enough to move between the north and south coasts with convenience, and it is not overrun with mainland vacationers and the malls they bring. Kauai is full of natural wonder — often captured in seminal films of the last century.

Curiously Hawaiian

  • Hawaii has the largest per capital consumption of spam in the world.
  • It’s the world’s longest archipelago, spanning over 1,500 miles and 10 degrees of latitude.
  • Kilauea (on the Big Island) is the most active volcano in the world – molten lava creeping by inches – as you read this.
  • The southernmost spot in the U.S. is on the Big Island at South Point, and just nearby at Papakalea find an actual green beach: the sand grains are olivine crystals formed by volcanic eruptions.
  • The island of Molokai still houses a working leper colony, now with only sixteen patients after the quarantine restrictions were lifted in 1969.
  • Finally, some 10,000 humpback whales migrate to the north Pacific from January to April. More than two thirds of these behemoth sea mammals skirt the islands of Hawaii, easily spotted in great numbers from land and waters around Maui and Kona.

Happening in Oahu

Honolulu is where the action is — then, and now. “Hawaii Five-O” still solves seat-of-the-pants murders along the shores of Waikiki. Sunset Beach projects old Elvis favorites onto a big screen by the breakers every weekend. There’s plenty of culture to be found amid the city’s art and history museums. The central Chinatown District looks like it dropped in from a 1940s film noir. And then there is shopping aplenty – some of the best and most compact boulevards of designer fashion to be found within a 2.500 square mile radius.

Do: Consider this island to be made up of two huge parts: The North Shore and Honolulu. And while Waikiki in Honolulu offers some of the island’s most crowded beaches, it also offers the phalanx of swank resorts, shopping and top restaurants, all the touristy fanfare one could want (free torch-lighting ceremonies and hula shows at sunset on Kuhio Beach Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, for starters), as well as surf lessons and fun tiki hang outs.

But Honolulu also offers surfeit of poignant American history. A visit to Pearl Harbor is a must, even for the most ardent of anti-tourists. The rusted USS Arizona rises like a ghost from the shallow waters while a sophisticated museum complex fills in the gaps with compelling interpretive exhibits. And yes, you can board the USS Bowfin submarine and the Battleship Missouri.

For hikers of iconic peaks, Diamond Head presents itself as more than a backdrop. Hikers can take the 1.5-mile roundtrip walk to the summit, a rigorous trail that starts midway up the volcano and climbs 560 feet to the top. Or they can opt to drive up to summit to see the 475-acre land caldera that was formed 300,000 years ago from a single explosion.

Not far from the hustle of Waikiki is the Doris Duke house, which, along with the Bishop Museum, may be the top cultural take-ins and heritage sites you may want to visit. Avoid the Polynesian Cultural Center en route to the North Shore and instead watch crowds of surfers catch waves at Waimea Bay, Ehukai Beach (Banzai Pipeline) and Sunset Beach (sorry, pros only in these spots).

Try the shrimp plates at Romy’s Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp or at Giovanni’s – these are trucks parked along the road near the surfing spots. Order Poki or Loco Moco (Nitrates at the ready) at local cafes for true island tasting traditions. Don’t leave without a cone of shave ice, preferably at Matsumoto’s, even if the lines are long.

Eat: Alan Wong’s: One of Hawaii’s most celebrated chefs. Go for lunch in the Pineapple Room at the Ala Moana Shopping Center or for dinner at the location on King Street. Try “Da Bag,” an inflated foil packet of seafood, kalua pork, and vegetables, or kiawe wood-grilled mahi-mahi.

Stay: In Waikiki, The Royal Hawaiian, of the Starwood Luxury Collection, is still an elegant flash from the past. Also the Halekulani also offers a sense of royal history (built in 1907) with a certain calm in luxury and stateliness on quiet Gray’s Beach. Use your HiltonHonors points at Hilton Hawaiian Village, or take in the views from the upper floors of the Outrigger Waikiki Beach.

Maui in Mind

Maui, like Oahu, divides into two main areas of interest for visitors. The Ka’anapali Coast presents a refreshing and very walkable three miles of uninterrupted white sand and waves along a line-up of resort hotels. Nearby, Lahaina is the honky-tonk town worth wandering for its bars and restaurants, although the hotels along the beach strand keep vacationers busy with live music and local entertainment.

The other center of tourism life is on Wailea, but this is a more upscale center with a Four Seasons, an Andaz and the Grand Wailea as honeymoon faves. The compact fashion complex, the Shops at Wailea, keeps the wallets busy while an easy and scenic beachwalk provides the other ambulatory entertainment. Mostly it’s the pools and spas that see action in Wailea and, of these, the SpaGrande at Grand Wailea is perhaps the prime mover when it comes to creative sybaritic pampering.

Do: Some of the big To-Dos on Maui are not on the beach at all. A sunrise hike at Haleakala, a dormant crater that dominates the island, allows visitors to drive to the 10,023-foot summit, hike around the perimeter (dress warmly, the wind chill is a monster) and fly down again on bicycles provided by any number of outfitters. At the lower altitudes pass lavender farms and protea fields and farmhouses serving great organic breakfasts on terraces overlooking the radiant rolling countryside.

Another drive to consider is the five-hour, twisting and turning Road to Hana. Head through hidden fern grottos and hairpin into unexpected waterfalls. This is wild Maui showing off its tropical best. At the end of the road expect very little, unless you are staying. And that spot would be the luxe Travaasa Hana. It’s got a killer spa, a sweet seat to meet the dawn sky in the east and promotes the Travaasa experience in packages designed to help guests disengage.

Eat: Consider Spago for a reliably great meal at the Four Seasons Wailea. Mama’s Fish House in the funky road town of Paia is legendary for fish so fresh it practically wears the name of the person that caught it. If you gotta have poi, the Old Lahaina Luau on Front Street in Lahaina offers the pig, the poi, the sunset and the show, fire dancers included.

Stay: A personal favorite: the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel. Find here old style Hawaii ambience in reasonable, no-frills proportions. Ask for a beachside room. Nearby, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua comes with privacy and history given the sacred grounds on which it sits, plus gorgeous terraced pools and a magnificent view over the roiling surf. An on-staff historian/spinner gives complimentary access into the steeped story of this land.

Big Island Basics

The Big Island is awash in extremes. It’s the largest of the islands and home to the highest mountain in the archipelago: Mauna Kea, as well as the world’s most active volcano at Kilauea. Find some of the state’s rainiest lands at Hilo – 130 inches a year.

Most of the action on this island, however, happens on the sunny and dry Kohala Coast, an area dotted with name brand hotels. But the Big Island is big enough for everyone and tourism does not seem to get in the way. The resorts hug the coast while quaint, thriving villages along Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway maintain their character and history. Visit Kailua-Kona for the Kona coffee shops and roasting huts and for the village life that still seems to carry on the way it has since missionary times. Visit weekend farmers markets in Kailua and Kona where you can find anything from Kona coffee on the cheap (beware of the old bean mixture trick, though) to elaborate hair dressing ornaments, shell jewelry, tie-dye wraps and bikinis and all manner of antiques.

Do: See Kilauea by helicopter, preferably with the doors-off option. (Check out Paradise Helicopters in Hilo). Take a nighttime manta ray dive (check out Kona Ocean Adventures). Zip-line 250 feet over a cascading waterfall at Akaka Falls (Skyline Eco Adventures).

Eat: Merriman’s. Peter Merriman established Pacific Rim cuisine on this island some two decades ago and spearheaded the movement in locally sourced ingredients. Picks are Kahua Ranch lamb, day boat fish dishes that change with the catch, and some amazing things done with macadamia nuts and Japanese vegetables.

Stay: Fairmont Orchid has an open-air spa, a turtle hatchery on the beach, a golf course and a lounge for those with points or who book the Fairmont Gold floor. Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in Waimea offers an ambiance easily found in Bali or Thailand while keeping to its Hawaiian roots. Pods of whales and manta rays congregate near the shore. Guest like the twice weekly luaus, traditional Sunday brunches and Saturday clambakes on the beach.

Wild Kauai Comforts

Kauai is the most remote on Hawaii’s tourism chain and remoteness has its privileges. The island is mostly untouched by development. Old Hawaii with its plantation-style big house expanses maintains a presence throughout this isle. This is the land of “The Descendants,” where everyone knows each other and chances are they are related. No one is better than any one else and the bars and restaurants of Princeville in the north and Poipu in the south are simply the laid-back places you would hope to find on an island where waterfalls and hidden coves are more plentiful than strip malls.

The whole island is a movie backdrop. Scenes from South Pacific to Jurassic Park to Tropic Thunder to Gilligan’s Island to Pirates of the Caribbean were shot here in easily recognizable spots around the island’s interior and rim.

Do: Hike the Na Pali Coast. The most popular hike is the eleven-mile Kalalau Trail, but you can opt for the beginning two-mile stretch from Keʻe Beach to Hanakapiai stream and beach. Take a helicopter ride through the Hanapepe Valley and land at the bottom of the 360-foot Manawaiopuna Falls that were used in the Jurassic Park series. Then fly over dry Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” by Mark Twain, and back through the valley shrouded in cloud condensation in an area believed to be the wettest place on earth.

Go horseback riding and swimming in a remote and verdant patch of a private ranch through Princeville Ranch Adventures, or swim with dolphins and turtles on the waters off the Na Pali Coast (HoloHolo Charters), try zip lining or mountain tubing (Kauai Back Country Adventures) or kayaking along the Hanalei River (Blue Lagoon Kayak Adventure Tours).

Eat: The top spot on the island is the Kauai Grill at the St. Regis. Jean-Georges Vongerichten delivers top-flight eclectic cuisine. Have a Mai Tai at Tahiti Nui, a familiar backdrop in The Descendants film and true to life as the country café it is. Take in the luau dinner buffet at Nui next door. Make reservations, seating is limited, the show is entertaining and the pork ribs, divine.

Stay: St. Regis Princeville is considered one of the finest hotels in the world with rooms that offer some of the best sunset views to be had. For more home style stays, rent a condo by the night at The Cliffs at Princeville. Wandering chickens and geese come with the views.

Getting there

Hawaii is accessible by a number if airlines from U.S. gateways. These include American, United, Alaska, Allegiant, Delta, WestJet, Hawaiian Airlines, and soon Virgin America (daily nonstops from San Francisco to Honolulu start Nov. 2 and to Maui on Dec. 3.).

Hawaiian offers free stopovers in Hawaii between the U.S. Mainland and Asia when the point of sale is the U.S. Mainland. These can be managed through the multi-city booking tool on Hawaiian Airlines’ website. Once in Hawaii, for a few days in Waikiki going car-less is fine. For longer trips and wandering tripsters, a car rental is a must.

Between flights: Hawaiian Airlines opened its new Plumeria Lounge for international business class travelers in June at Honolulu Airport. The re-do of the lounge complements the renovation of Hawaiian’s Premier Club at the airport, which opened in January. Premier clubs have also opened at the Maui Airport in Kahului, the Kona and Hilo airports on the Big Island, and Lihue Airport on Kauai.

Passengers not booked in business class but flying on Hawaiian Airlines can access the Plumeria Lounge at HNL, located on the third floor of the Honolulu interisland terminal, for $40 a day. They will find wine, local craft beers, Wi-Fi and a variety of food options in the 3,600-square-foot space.

Lark Gould reports on travel and the travel industry from Los Angeles, covering travel trends and destinations on Travel-Intel.com and  etravel.news.

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