To most of us, the word Hawaii (Hawai’i to the locals) conjures up images of exotic hula dancers, swaying palm trees and crystal clear water lapping at white sandy shores. With hundreds of beaches scattered around the six main islands of Hawaii this picture is indeed true, however the ‘Islands of Aloha’ offer so much more.
Hawaii holiday ideas
The Big Island is still growing, thanks to one of the world’s most active volcanoes – it has been erupting since 1983! Known as the world’s only drive-in volcano, Kilauea produces enough lava to resurface a 32km, two-lane road daily. Watching Kilauea’s blistering lava flows meet the sea and walking through a 500-year-old lava tube into the rainforest is a treat for everyone.
Kailua Village is a lively seaside town with affordable accommodation and great shopping and dining. The nearby Keauhou resort area is perfect for snorkelling, diving and kayaking. You might even spot green sea turtles and manta rays.
If you go to only one island other than Oahu during your holiday, go to Maui. This scenic island offers visitors the chance to experience Hawaii’s true culture and natural wonders, far from the crowds of Waikiki. Ka’anapali Beach hosts a nightly sunset cliff diving ceremony and the nearby historic town of Lahaina is a hotspot of galleries, shops and fun places to eat out.
Be sure to make time for a traditional luau while you’re here. Old Lahaina Luau is a fabulous venue to experience coconut pudding and taro cooked in an imu (earth oven), followed by hilarious hula dancing under the stars.
Maui is one of the world’s best places to spot humpback whales. Lahaina is actually an old whaling village and as many as 1500 sailors would take leave here in the 1880s, including Herman Melville who wrote the classic novel Moby Dick. The Westin Maui Resort & Spa on the famed Ka’anapali Beach has plenty of aloha spirit and although it’s close to all the action the island has to offer, it has all the amenities and activities you could wish for if all you want to do is stay put.
Home to Honolulu and the iconic Waikiki Beach, this vibrant island is a bonanza of shopping, dining and entertainment options. The legendary ‘father of modern surfing’, Duke Kahanamoku, grew up surfing the waves of Waikiki, so what better place for the kids to take a surfing lesson? The waves are gentle and the waters calm, so stand-up paddle boarding is also on offer. Sign up at one of the seaside booths along the beach. Thrill seekers can head to Waimea Bay for some big wave surfing.
Oahu is home to the historic Pearl Harbor, where kids of all ages will love exploring a battleship and US submarine. Embassy Suites, Waikiki’s all-suite resort, offers Pearl Harbor packages, while those looking for a dose of island culture will be spoilt for choice. Outrigger on the Beach, for example, offers free family cultural activities daily, ranging from lei making to hula and ukulele lessons.
Relaxation is the order of the day on tranquil Lanai, and there is a range of resorts to cater to your every whim. If you think your kids will get bored with lazing about, fear not – there are kids’ clubs available to keep them busy. The Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay offers a full range of organised activities for children aged three to 12 years. They’ll learn about Hawaiian culture, build their own erupting volcano, and take tennis lessons with a pro.
Be sure to take a family day trip to picturesque Hulopoe Bay and Sweetheart Rock, where legend has it that two lovers lost their lives – one in the waves of a storm, the other from a broken heart. Lanai City started out as a pineapple plantation town in the early 1900s and is a great place for shopping and inexpensive dining.
With its absence of traffic and no building taller than a coconut tree, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you arrive on Molokai. This island may be serene, but looks can be deceiving because Molokai is Hawaii’s adventure capital. Whether you want to try sport fishing, hiking to Mo’oula Falls, or taking a mule ride to Kalaupapa Peninsula, there’s something here for everyone.
Be sure to visit Kapuaiwa Coconut Beach Park, a royal coconut grove planted in the 1860s – just watch out for falling coconuts! The safest (and most memorable) view is just off the highway at sunset. Fishponds the locals built about 800 years ago from lava boulders and coral are also worth a look.
This island has Hawaii’s only navigable river – explore it by kayak or outrigger canoe, and keep an eye out for the iconic Sleeping Giant, a mountainous formation that looks like a human figure lying on its back. Water skiing, wake boarding and boat tours are available. There are 80km of perfect beaches for sunbaking, snorkelling and surfing, and be sure to visit Waimea Canyon, the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific.’ For a dose of adventure, Princeville Ranch offers ziplines, horse riding, hiking and kayaking on a working cattle ranch.
Kauai is home to Old Koloa Town, settled when the first sugar mill opened here in 1835. Have a wander by the old-fashioned storefronts and devour a locally made ice-cream under the shade of the monkey pod trees.
Best time to go to Hawaii
There really is no bad time to visit Hawaii weather wise. There are, however, two peak tourist seasons when the islands are more crowded and prices are higher. Those seasons are June through August and December through February.
Hawaii is tropical. That means it’s sunny and warm all year round but thanks to refreshing trade winds it has lower humidity than other tropical islands. The average temperature difference between summer and winter is a tiny 4.5 degrees Celsius.
The winter months are wetter but Hawaii doesn’t get tropical rains – so winter certainly isn’t a bad time to visit! Rainfall varies more with location than with season. The majority of Hawaiian resorts are located on the sunny and dry side of the islands. The weather varies slightly between the islands.
During the summer months (June-August) the average in Honolulu is 30 degrees Celsius
In winter (December-March) the average is 26 degrees Celsius.
Passport and visa requirements
Australian and New Zealand nationals may travel to the United States for tourism purposes for stays of 90 days or less under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP). However, travellers are required to have a valid authorisation through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) PRIOR TO TRAVEL.
Apply for your Visa online at the official ESTA application site.
It’s about a 10 hour flight from Sydney to Honolulu International Airport on O’ahu. Hawaiian Airlines, Qantas and Air Canada have direct and regular flights from Sydney to Hawai’i. To get to the neighbouring islands you need fly from O’ahu but don’t worry – flights are very short and you’ll be on another island in no time! The Big Island which is furthest away only takes an hour.
O’ahu is serviced by public transport. Buses are the cheapest but longer to get from the airport to Waikiki, and can take over one hour; a taxi will take you to Waikiki in about 30 minutes. Taxis are also the best way to get from the airport to your hotel on Maui, Kaua’i and the Big Island. Or treat your family to a limousine they are about the same price as a taxi and will give the family a thrill.
Getting around the islands
The Bus, O’ahu’s public transport, is excellent. Check their timetable to organise your day(s).
Car hire is highly recommended on the quieter and less crowded neighbouring islands, as they do not enjoy the same public transport network as O’ahu. Keep in mind however, that Hawaiians drive on the right hand side. You don’t require an international driver’s license to hire and drive a car in Hawaii. The roads are well maintained and there are numerous scenic drives to explore on the different islands. On Maui, do not miss the Hana Highway, best described as the ‘Great Ocean Road’ of the Pacific. It’s simply stunning.
Food and drinks that kids will love
Thanks to the multi-ethnic population you’ll find everything from fun sounding Loco Moco hamburgers (swap the buns for rice and add two fried eggs) to Pu Pu platters (Chinese/Polynesian inspired appetisers) available. Not to be missed, and a highlight for kids, is the famous Luau – a traditional Hawaiian feast. With great food, dancing, music and Aloha spirit the Luau represents everything that is Hawaii. For mums and dads, there is an interesting range of local fare. If you’re a fan of sashimi or anything Carpaccio; try Poke (rhymes with ‘okay’), raw, marinated fish salad – sounds odd but it’s delicious!
O’ahu is Hawaii’s largest and most iconic shopping district. The island boasts a mix of boutiques, discount shopping, US department stores and outlet stores. The Ala Moana Center and the Waikele Premium Outlets are two of the largest shopping precincts in O’ahu. The island Maui also has designer wear, local boutiques and outlets, but on a smaller scale.
Like the US, tipping is expected and often depended on in Hawaii. In restaurants, tip about 15% and 10% is generally enough for taxi drivers. Hotel bellhops are tipped $1 US or $2 US per bag depending on weight.
What to wear
With beautiful and warm weather all year round, packing for your Hawaii trip is a breeze! Swimwear, shorts, T-shirts and a light jumper or jacket (just in case) is all you need. Hawaiians dress very casually and love their Aloha attire!
Electricity mainly operates on 220 volts, the same as Australia, although you will occasionally find 110 volt sockets. The two-rounded pin standard Asian plug is used in most parts of the country.
No vaccinations are required to visit Hawaii and it is perfectly fine to drink the tap water.
Although English is the official language, most residents also speak the traditional Hawaiian dialect. Below are some basic terms that can be spoken to locals.
Hello/goodbye/love – Aloha
Thank you – Mahalo
Family – Ohana
Child/children – Keiki
Yes – Ae
Excuse me – Kala mai ia‘u
How are you? – Pehea ‘oe?
Koko Head Summit
What better way to start the day than with a serious leg workout and a jaw-dropping view? With 1000 steps to the summit, the Koko Crater Trail is not one for little legs, but excellent if you’ve got some trailing teens with energy to burn. The hike itself follows a railway that was used in World War II to transport personnel and supplies up and down the volcanic crater, and while it is only just over a kilometre each way, the elevation is sure to get the blood pumping. However, the view at the top is well worth the struggle as it stretches across the horizon with views of Hawaii Kai and the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail. Catch your breath and take in the magnificent views, and be sure to snap a picture atop the metal grate platform for the ‘gram (and to prove you conquered the hike!).
Shinnyo Lantern Floating Ceremony
If you are in Honolulu on Memorial Day (May 27), the Shinnyo Lantern Floating Ceremony is an unforgettable experience. Founded in 1999, the ceremony celebrates cultural harmony and understanding while remembering loved ones who have passed. The ceremony commences with the sounding of the pū, or Hawaiian conch shell, where hula, light of harmony, blessing and shomyo, a fusion or traditional Buddhist chant and Western choral harmony, all take place. The lanterns are floated at the end of the ceremony creating a stunning scene as the sun sets over the water. Lanterns are available for purchase before the commencement of the festival where you can write a special message with your family, and then practice some of those low-light shots.
The road to Hana and rainbow eucalyptus trees
The road to Hana is a scenic drive located on the northeast coastline of Maui and really demonstrates the meaning behind the sentiment ‘it’s the journey, not the destination’. This stretch of road weaves through stunning scenery with a number of stops along the way at waterfalls, ridges and lookouts. The whole road is incredibly picturesque, but try your luck at spotting some rainbow eucalyptus trees for an extra-special view. While they may look like a toddler has gone to town with rainbow paints on the branches, the psychedelic trees gain their multicoloured streaks from the shedding of their outer bark throughout the year. The most well-known grove of trees is located near mile marker seven on the Hana highway so be sure to keep your eyes peeled.
Sunrise over Haleakala
An early rise will be well and truly worth it as you view the sun peeking over the horizon at Haleakala National Park in Maui. Haleakala means ‘house of the sun’ in Hawaiian, and standing atop one of four of the viewing points (the highest of which stands at over 3,000 metres above sea level), you will have the best seat in Hawaii for viewing these incredible skies. You will need to book in advance to secure entry to the park for sunrise, but don’t fret if you miss out, because sunset lends itself to equally impressive scenes and does not require a reservation. You can also make a day of it at Haleakala National Park as there are many other snap-worthy sites to be seen, including Seven Sacred Pools, bamboo forests and Waimoku Falls.
The Kakaako Murals
Kakaako is a trendy up-and-coming neighbourhood with a trail of hidden gems in the form of street murals. Go on your very own scavenger hunt through the streets in search of these murals which are created by artists from all over the world. If you’re around on the week surrounding Valentine’s Day, the annual Pow! Wow! Festival is an excellent way to see the artists at work as they add to the outdoor gallery. Need another reason to visit? Eat the Street is a monthly event that happens in the neighbourhood with over 40 food trucks set up in Kaka’ako Park so you can try some tasty treats as you explore the maze of artworks.