Hawaii: A l-o-n-g Waikiki weekend

By Dana Johannsen

This is the kind of beach holiday daydreams are made of, writes Dana Johannsen.

A view of Waikiki beach on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Photo / Bloomberg
A view of Waikiki beach on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Photo / Bloomberg

1: Take a paddleboarding lesson

There's no excuse not to be out on the water at Waikiki. Several operations along the beach offer surfing and paddleboarding lessons or, if you're after something more sedate, you can take a ride in an outrigger canoe.

I decided to give paddleboarding a crack as I figured I'd have more chance of standing up than I would surfing. After learning a few basics ashore, including, helpfully, how to avoid being smacked in the head by your board when you fall off, I took to the waves.

The first half hour was rather humbling - particularly when 7-year-olds paddled past with ease while I staggered around the board like a baby deer. But, by the end of the hour, I was paddling around feeling pretty pleased with myself, although it was largely thanks to the patient tutelage of my instructor, Kai.

At the end of the lesson I was handed a disk containing shots from my time on the water, which could only have been supplied by a photographic ninja who, curiously, I never saw when I was out there.

2: Cocktails at Moana Surfrider

Among the proliferation of high-rises that line Waikiki Beach, the Moana Surfrider stands out for its old world, colonial charm.

Known as the "first lady of Waikiki", the Surfrider was the first hotel built along the now bustling Kalakaua Ave strip and was a popular resort for the famous and fabulously well-heeled.

Even if you're not fortunate enough to stay at the grand resort, pop in and check out the grand lobby and hotel grounds. There's no better place to watch the sunset than with a cocktail in hand under the beautiful banyan tree that forms the focal point of the main courtyard.

3: Shopping

You can't really avoid the in-your-face commercialism along the strip, so you may as well get among it. With all the luxury brands in one street, as well as other popular American retail chains, it can be rather difficult to resist anyway. Not to mention the in-store air conditioning is a welcome escape from the sweltering heat.

If you're keen to really take advantage of the low US dollar, go to the Ala Moana centre - the world's largest open-air mall. Those with serious shopping stamina could easily spend an entire day there. Ala Moana is about a 15-minute drive from Waikiki Beach, and shuttles run regularly.

4: Iolani Palace

Now a gleaming shrine to consumerism, it can be easy to forget Hawaii once was a monarchy. A great way to learn the history of the islands is with a visit to Iolani Palace, the official residence of the Kalakaua Dynasty until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893.

An 4.45ha site of coronations, lavish social events and political turmoil, the palace has been elegantly and meticulously restored with original royal furnishings. The opulent reception rooms on the first floor give a real sense of how the royals entertained. But the highlight of the tour is one of the less grand upstairs chambers where Queen Lili'uokalani was imprisoned following her overthrow by US forces. During her imprisonment, the queen spent her time reading, quilting, crocheting and composing music.

Some of her works are still displayed in the palace.

5: Chinatown

Honolulu's Chinatown is the island's main culture and arts district and is very much a historic, evolving neighbourhood. Beside traditional Chinese eateries, ethnic markets and herbal medicine practitioners, you'll find art galleries, theatres, boutiques and edgy bars.

If your visit coincides with the first Friday of the month, visit the arts walk. Conceived as the day when art galleries changed their displays, First Fridays have grown into a popular scene. All the galleries and boutiques here stay open late while, on the street, live music, dance groups and art demonstrations entertain patrons strolling between venues.

6: Take a cruise

One of the best ways to see Waikiki is from the water. You get an entirely different perspective of the scale of the place once you're a few nautical miles out.

A number of tour operators offer sailing cruises, from all-day adventures to sunset sails.

We escaped the bustle for an afternoon with a catamaran ride. According to the skipper Pete, it is common to come across whales and dolphins in the area but the only wildlife we came across was a sea turtle.

The crew also double as bartenders, and once they finished trimming the sails made sure we had refreshing beverages in our hands.

The pre-mixed maitais were very good.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies direct to Honolulu from Auckland three times a week.

Further information: discoverhawaii.co.nz.

Dana Johannsen travelled to Hawaii courtesy of Air New Zealand and Hawaii Tourism.

- NZ Herald

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