Honolulu remains a hugely popular travel destination for Australians – in fact I heard so many Aussie accents everywhere I thought we’d taken over the place. An easy plane ride (well compared to Europe or New York), clean beaches, plenty of shopping and warm weather all year round, what’s not to love?
If you don’t feel like sightseeing, it is a great place to just relax by the pool or beach, cocktail in hand, for a week or two. Despite the crowds, the beaches are sparklingly clean – you won’t find any washed up Woolies plastic bags or coffee cups, it rather puts us to shame.
If you do want to get off your beach chair, there is plenty to do. It’s worth hiring a car, driving through the pineapple fields, and checking out the serious surf on the other side of the island. For those with small people, the Honolulu Zoo and the Sea Life Park are popular; luau’s, though a little commercial, are entertaining.
Having been here before, we didn’t do much sightseeing this time around. But with the boys a bit older now we thought a trip to Pearl Harbour would be worthwhile where you can wander through the museums and watch a couple of films. The calculated attack was quite extraordinary in its planning and execution considering the lack of technology and resources at that time. You can then take the short boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial; its all sad and quite touching and nicely done. I’m not sure why but there were flowers from the Australian Embassy that day.
We also did the hike to the Diamond Head Monument. If you’re someone that exercises, you won’t find this too difficult – I even saw people doing it carrying babies and toddlers on their front or back. But me, not being one of those people, nearly keeled over. But there are great views at the top. If you’re there on a Saturday morning, across the road you’ll find the KCC Farmers Markets, where you can grab a shaved ice to cool down.
It is pretty easy to get around using TheBus (flat $2.50 for adults and $1.25 for kids over 5, whether you travel for five minutes or fifty) or the Waikiki Trolley (flat $2 for everyone); otherwise Uber it.
And where to eat? You won’t struggle for choices, particularly on the main strip. The Cheesecake Factory is a bit of a Waikiki institution. The lines are long, the place is loud, the serves are huge – you get the general gist of the adjectives. When we saw that for our group of eight people we had a few cocktails, beers, a mixture of high priced (rib eye steak and salmon) and low priced (fish burger) dishes, that including the tip it was US35 per person, its understandable that there are queues every night. The food is pretty decent and with over 200 items on the menu you are bound to find something. A particular highlight was my ahi poke stack – loved it.
With lots of the flights from Australia landing early morning, you’ll be in search of breakfast. In my pilates class of all places I heard that Bill Granger had opened up a Bills, so we headed there. The menu has been Hawaiianised a little, but a lot of Sydney favourites are there, and we enjoy our breakfast sitting on the small terrace. The fit out looks to me like Miami art deco style and its an airy space.
We also try it for dinner one night. Our server brings out all the entrees and mains at once, which is a bit odd, but the food is tasty and well priced.
My sticky pork is absolutely delicious, and the schnitzel also gets the thumbs up.
The kids want to try an American Diner for dessert, so afterwards we head down the road to Denny’s, the regular haunt of Jack Reacher. Looking at the menu, if you’re on a budget and need a big feed and aren’t worried about cholesterol (plus cover your eyes so you don’t see the notes showing the staggering number of calories in the meals), then you’ll like this long standing American chain. The desserts were $4 each or so and just huge.
But the best treats in town are the malasadas from Leonard’s Bakery. Leonard’s has been making these Portuguese treats since the 1950’s. You can buy them plain or with a filling – I bought vanilla, chocolate and coconut – go vanilla all the way. Absolutely gorgeous and all of $1.50. I did try a few other malasadas during our trip and none were as good as these.
Another treat I loved was this honeydew melon ice block we got at the pool – can we get these in Australia?
A place that has stood the test of time is Arancino di Mare. We came here eight years ago and liked it, and found it still to be the same homestyle, casual Italian we remembered.
For a bit of family fun head to Tanaka of Tokyo. The teppanyaki chefs have some good moves, and in our case some dry wit as well. Unfortunately the vegetables and fried rice were ordinary, but all the seafood and meats were very tasty and well cooked. There is no food throwing done here like the teppanyaki we find in Australia – it is not considered safe. We thought it was pretty funny that a country that allows you to freely carry arms thinks its too dangerous to throw an egg.
I was also pleasantly surprised by Il Lupino, which turns out some pretty flavoursome Italian. My wild boar ragu was rich and fragrant.
One night we hop on TheBus to Pier 38 to try Nico’s seafood restaurant. It almost feels like sitting at the Sydney fish markets. By day you order at the counter and take a number, but at night its table service. Lots of fresh seafood at good prices. I saw a ahi poke sampler on the menu and ordered it, for a “sampler” it was huge and I would have been shelling out a fortune for that much tuna in Sydney.
The clams and tuna steak are nicely done but the battered fish is a winner with a very thin and crispy batter and beautifully cooked fish.
One night we Uber it to Waialae Avenue, ten or so minutes from the main strip. A lot of dining choices here, among them we spot a craft beer place, Vietnamese, a French Bistro, a Chinese restaurant that is heaving with Chinese patrons, and a place called Mud Hen Water which has a great looking menu and is also very busy. But we’re here to try Town, whose philosophy is “local first, organic wherever possible, with Aloha always”. (Aside and a bit of trivia for you that we learned from Cousin Jay our Pearl Harbour tour guide – Aloha doesn’t just mean hello, it can also mean love. Trivia two – did you know the Hawaiian alphabet only has 12 letters?).
The house bread is fantastic. And we both adore the ahi tartare on top of a small risotto cake – one of the most delicious things we had on the trip.
It is all tasty, fresh and nicely presented by enthusiastic and friendly staff. One of the boys has pappardelle and they are silky smooth.
After dinner we walk up the road to Via Gelato. The gelato is handmade and the flavours change pretty much daily. Depending on the day, you might find flavours like ginger lemonade, apple pie or lavender.
For the first few days we stayed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, or the Pink Palace as its commonly known. The beachfront location is great and the foyer is pure Grand Old Hawaii, but the rooms are a little dated and the bathrooms very small. Views are cracking – we arrived on the 4th of July and it was very busy with a huge regatta about to start.
If you are staying in the Mailani Tower section, it has a small pool, but otherwise its a shared pool with the Sheraton next door and it gets very crowded and hard to find a seat. But the kids loved the pool slide which they went on a thousand or so times. I wanted to rent a beachfront chair ($40 per day, even if you only turn up for an hour), but found out that people rent them like, 25 years in advance (would be nice if the hotel tells people this when they make a reservation) so get in early.
Then off we went to The Big Island and when we came back we stayed at the Halekulani. Good location, lovely rooms (though a tiny shower and bath), huge balconies, and probably the best swimming pool on the strip. Great breakfast buffet too. The place is branded to death, in case you forget where you are (I was surprised they didn’t have Halekulani stamped on the toilet paper, it was on everything else) and every night there was a different treat at turndown – one night there was a little book light, which was cool. But having come the incredible warmth of the staff at the Four Seasons in Kona, I found this place a little snobby. The gestures were all there, but not the same soul as our Kona stay.