In August, Hawaii hit the headlines when devastating wildfires ravaged Maui and travellers have been wondering if it’s okay to visit ever since. The answer is a resounding yes, writes Anna Sarjeant.
Whenever wildfires ransack a country, images of charred land and traumatised residents are etched into memory. But Mother Nature has a remarkable way of bouncing back, both efficiently and effectively. If you were worried Hawaii - Maui in particular - was off limits for the foreseeable future, think again. Respectful tourism is welcomed in the Aloha State. Here we detail 7 of the best hotels to suit your travel style; bolstering the islands’ revival every time you book.
Iconic to the very last
Hilton Hawaiian Village
Best for: Living like a celebrity in central Waikiki
Frequented by the likes of Elvis, myriad US presidents and the colossal entourage – and ego – of Michael Jackson, the Hilton Hawaii is an Oahu Island mainstay. Spanning decades and an impressive 22 acres which has sprawled up and over the shoreline since 1955, this Hawaiian icon is (almost) as recognisable as Diamond Head. Spread across five towers and home to Honolulu’s only saltwater lagoon, there are 18 restaurants and more swimming pools and water slides than you can throw your lilo at. Famed for its clientele, traditional luau nights and Friday fireworks, it’s the party-goer that refuses to age. The Tapa Tower has undergone an extensive refurb this year, with the other four towers following suit between now and 2026. Consider it the boomer with a Gen Z outlook on life.
For the young and young at heart
Aulani Disney Resort & Spa
Best for: Families, kids and Peter Pan-personas
There’s a misconception that Disney is solely for children and while most adults won’t squeal to the same decibel as a 5-year-old hugging Mickey in a hibiscus shirt, Aulani Disney Resort boasts an award-winning Laniwai Spa and plenty of adults-only hideouts. Of course, there’s also no escaping the Hawaiian locals, Moana and Stitch and a host of child-prioritised thrills such as splash zones and kids’ clubs. Located on the southwest corner of Oahu Island, it’s a 40-minute drive from Honolulu Airport and a far cry from the hullabaloo of Waikiki. The magic of Disney can be felt everywhere, with unmissable experiences that include fireside storytelling with “Uncle”, a master storyteller of Hawaiian folklore and the enormous saltwater snorkelling lagoon. That’s all before you reach the grottoes, lazy river and whirlpools.
Mauna Kea Resort
Best for: Getting away from Honolulu but not the ice-white beaches
Island hopping on a boat isn’t an obvious – or easy – option within the Hawaiian archipelago, but you can fly from Honolulu to Kailua-Kona airport on the Big Island in 45 minutes. As the largest motu in the collection, the island is well known for its rugged, volcanic terrain and resulting black-sand beaches. Privy to some of the motu’s rarer, soft white sands, and arguably the best beaches on the island, is Mauna Kea Resort. Effectively two hotels in one, the resort comprises Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort: five and four-star respectively. Guests can enjoy the beach club facilities at both properties, an eight-minute drive apart, or if you’re feeling spritely, a one-hour walk in the sunshine. The water is notably calm with snorkelling right off the beach. Regaled by families, there are plenty of adult-only areas, too.
Along with Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort, guests can stay at Mauna Kea Residences, featuring dozens of luxurious residences within Mauna Kea Resort. They’re available for short-term rental as well as long-term - should you be inclined to stay in Hawaii for longer. Highlights include private pools, lanai spaces for outdoor relaxation, a panoramic golf course and ridiculously good views.
More Hawaii for Aloha price
Courtyard Oahu North Shore
Best for: Authentic Hawaii on a tighter budget
Waikiki is a place that must be experienced; it’s a hedonistic mix of resort-town rituals and macadamia nut cookies on repeat, but if you want to feel the essence of authentic Hawaii without scrounging for another flight, drive 45 minutes up the island to Oahu’s North Shore. Here you’ll find all the surf culture you could dream of, with rustic food trucks and roadside coconuts.
To call the Courtyard Oahu North Shore a no-frills option would be remiss, but it’s definitely for those who prefer to be out and about, enjoying the local sights and in need of a decent base rather than a trumpeted resort. Good news for thrifty types too, the hotel doesn’t charge resort fees or for additional guests. There’s a pool, a tasteful selection of rooms and suites, on-site bistro and rental service for boogie boards and surfboards. Both the beach and the Polynesian Cultural Centre are walkable and because it’s Marriott, you’ll receive impeccable service throughout. The Courtyard is currently open but enjoying a revamp, to be completed in December; suites will be looking extra spick and span by February next year.
Outrigger Ka’anapali Beach Resort, Maui
Best for: Experiencing Maui and supporting the recovery
Perched on Maui’s western shore, Outrigger Kaanapali Beach Resort was not affected by recent wildfires and is receiving guests again from October 8, which is also when all other travel restrictions will be lifted. Enveloped by tropical gardens, Outrigger Kaanapali is officially recognised as “Hawaii’s Most Hawaiian Hotel” and with daily cultural lessons, you might come home with a new-found talent for the ukelele. At the very least you’ll return with a sense of serenity; with obscenely good sunrises and sunsets, Maui is a 40-minute flight from Honolulu and known as The Valley Isle. A safe bet for the budget-conscious, children up to the age of 17 years of age stay for free at Outrigger Kaanapali. Affordable without compromising on holiday essentials, enjoy beachfront accommodation, a golden beach, swimming pool and endless water sports and beach activities.
Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach
Best for: Visitors seeking sustainability
When you holiday somewhere as pristine as Hawaii, you can often experience a protectiveness for the land and its inhabitants, and a desire to retain the beauty and future-proof it for generations to come. Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach is going above and beyond to ensure Hawaii’s flora and fauna do not go the way of the dodo. Committed to becoming Hawaii’s first fully carbon-neutral hotel property, it’s already making plenty of headway. There are the obvious efforts such as zero single-use plastics, refillable water stations, LED lighting and electric vehicle charging hubs, and then there are less obvious incentives such as linen-less dining tables and a carbon neutrality fee - but before you biff this inclusion and skim to the next blurb, it’s only US$1.38/ NZ$2.32 per room per night. The resort is also helping to return native trees to both the Big Island of Hawaii and Oahu with a promise to plant 100,000 indigenous trees. So lie back, sip that mai tai and sprawl yourself across the pool deck, your stay is as guilt-free as it is stress-free.
High-end relaxation, minus the airs and graces
Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu, Autograph Collection
Best for: Laid-back luxury on Kauai Island
Marriott International boasts 17 properties across every Hawaiian island, so if you’re looking to branch out from Oahu – and its skyscrapers - you’ll find something to suit. For understated luxury look no further than the island of Kauai and specifically, the Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu (Autograph Collection by Marriott). No high-rises to be found here. Notable highlights include extra spacious accommodation, including Deluxe Studios and Luxury Villas with either kitchenettes or a full kitchen, as well as laundry facilities. Both options are noticeably larger than most Hawaiian island resorts. Then there are the swimming pools. Three in total and previously voted the best in America. With waterslides, an infinity pool, hot tubs, and a shallow lagoon for smaller swimmers, the resort is huge so the vibe always feels peaceful. Enjoy the spa, complimentary yoga lessons and two on-site restaurants, and while that may seem a trifle light, the surrounding area jostles with restaurant options.
A word from Darragh Walshe, Tourism Director – Hawaii Tourism Oceania
Tourism will play an important role in Maui’s recovery and the Hawaii Tourism Authority is welcoming and encouraging respectful travel to all of the Hawaiian islands, including the accessible areas of Maui. Your visit will support Hawaii’s businesses and workers who rely on tourism for their families’ livelihood.
On October 8, the resort area of West Maui (including Napili, Kaanapali, Honokowai and Kapalua) will reopen to visitors with the exception of Lahaina.
Other areas on Maui (including Kahului, Wailuku, Kihei, Wailea, Makena, Paia and Hana) and the islands of Kauai, Oahu, Lanai and Hawaii Island remain unaffected.
The tourism industry urges visitors to visit with aloha and compassion. But please do visit. When in Hawaii, one additional way of supporting is by buying locally made and designed products. Particularly from businesses that are supporting Maui disaster relief funds. You can find more about these companies across all the islands at hawaiimagazine.com/support-maui-by-shopping-from-these-local-businesses
If you would like to support Hawaii from afar, donate to the Hawaii Community Foundations’ Maui Strong Fund - hawaiicommunityfoundation.org/strengthening/maui-strong-fund
To keep up to date with Hawaii, its recovery and tourism, see gohawaii.com