A string of islands scattered through the North Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is both exotic and alluring for its remote location and the beautiful and inescapable spirit of aloha. A far-flung treasure, delicious tropical cuisine, fascinating Hawaiian cultures and dramatic landscapes play out in magnificent form across the sunny archipelago. Warm blue waters lap at the shores of ancient volcanic terrain, where the sandy beaches range from glistening black and creamy white to golden, with one beach a peculiar shade of green. Coral reefs flourish beneath the water’s surface, volcanoes erupt with lava and smoke in the distance, and palm trees grace the shores of calm bays in true tropical style. But you’ll also discover spectacular red cliffs jutting out into unruly ocean, lush green jungles and rainforests, and waterfalls that tumble down gorgeous valleys.
Despite Hawaii’s location in the middle of the ocean between North America and Australia, the island vibes aren’t limited to rural villages and small coastal towns. The capital city Honolulu is famous for its spectacular skyline, where towering skyscrapers meet the sea and mountains soar nearby. The vibrant epicentre of Hawaii, it’s a melting pot of languages, customs and cuisines. But there are also many resort towns, including Waikiki, Kapalua, Kihei and Wailea, which provide convenience and an array of tourist options, as well as luxurious accommodation options tucked away in the wilderness. Across the eight main islands, each provides a unique atmosphere and experience, from authentic dining with locals to traditional show extravaganzas with eye-catching costumes.
Things to do
Hawaii is about so much more than just lazing on the beach. Beyond the quiet fishing villages and beaches strewn with bodies, be sure to wander some local markets and galleries for colourful new buys, and catch a traditional Hawaiian show. The best nightlife, music and dining is to be found on Oahu Island, while quaint towns and artist communities abound on Maui. You’ll also discover important historical highlights ranging from traditional cultural sites to modern war memorials. Don’t miss the Pearl Harbour memorials at the site of the World War II attacks, or the handful of linked museums that offer a glimpse into submarines, battleships and war aviation. Otherwise explore the royal remnants of Hulihee Palace, or important heritage sites such as temples, rock carvings, fishponds, waterfalls and the very site where Captain James Cook first set foot on the island. From hula lessons to golf courses and indulgent spas, there’s no shortage of things to do.
If you prefer to pamper yourself with natural sights, there’s a plethora of outdoor adventures – or pretty scenery – to throw yourself into across the islands. On Hawaii’s Big Island, admire the snow-capped peak of the dormant volcano Mauna Kea, or get up close and hike through the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Take in the lush scenery on offer, from the beautiful Halawaa Valley on Molokai to the soaring mountains, red canyons and waterfalls of Kauai. Or take in the incredible lunar landscapes of Lunai. All across the islands you’ll be blessed with great snorkelling and diving opportunities, including fabulous shipwrecks around Oahu. Otherwise, surf the massive waves of Oahu’s renowned north shore, take a sunset cruise or go spotting dolphins. From ziplining and kayaking to dune buggy adventures and coffee plantation tours, that’s still just the start of it.
Food & restaurants
Hawaiian cuisine features a fragrant mix of influences, thanks to the many different cultures that make up the islands. From Polynesian to Japanese, Chinese to Portuguese – as well as the tropical island touch – Hawaii has a lot to offer in the cuisine department. Expect lots of fresh seafood, delicious tropical fruits, vegetables and free-range meats on the menu, all locally sourced. Saimin is a local favourite, an Asian-style noodle soup, as is Spam musubi, Hawaii’s own take on the sushi handroll with fried spam for filling. The bento box and Asian-style plate lunch are also bound to pop up at meal times. When it comes to sweets, you can thank the Portuguese for the deep fried deliciousness of Malsadas, donuts dusted with sugar or filled with coconut, guava, custard or chocolate. Otherwise, indulge in some crack seed (preserved fruits and nuts), or do as the locals do and whip out some shaved ice drizzled with tropical syrup flavours to cool down in the glaring heat.
When it comes to eating out, your best bet is in the thriving capital Honolulu. Not only is there a wide variety of options, but here you’ll also find a great fusion of the many flavours that represent the different islands. Honolulu and neighbouring Waikiki is also the place to go for fabulous fine dining – some of the world’s top chefs dish up the goods here. On many of the islands though, it’s easy to find a traditional ‘luau’, where you can sample a range of flavours from the buffet whilst enjoying the entertainment of Polynesian music and hula dancing. From oceanfront restaurants to small restaurants brimming with locals and hole-in-the-wall outlets selling traditional fare, there’s a meal to suit every taste and budget. You’ll even find a handful of microbreweries and wineries to try, as well as plenty of locally grown coffee. And for those who have children in tow, children’s meals are often easy to come by considering the islands’ popularity as family-friendly tourist destinations.
Hawaii is packed with accommodation options to suit every kind of getaway: romantic retreat, family-friendly vacation, luxurious escape or beachside getaway. If it's the lap of luxury you're after, renowned chains such as Four Seasons on the Big Island come with a reputation for high quality and fantastic service. But you’ll also discover glamorous waterfront villas and overwater bungalows perfect for couples and honeymooners, as well as luxurious resorts that come with five-star accommodations and indulgent health spas on site. From two-storey beach bungalows to golf resorts and beautiful villas nestled in the countryside, the hardest part is choosing. If you like the sound of luxury that’s a little off the beaten path though, consider staying at one of the top resorts in Lanai, which has the added bonus of seclusion and less tourist traffic.
If your holiday is more about what you see and do rather than where you stay, you may prefer a more low-key option. There’s a wide range of budget-friendly hotels and self-catering apartments across the islands that might be just what you’re looking for. You can choose from lovely little bed and breakfasts, long-term holiday rentals, and home stays that enable you to live with the incredibly warm and inviting locals. If you’re bringing the whole family, you can’t look past one of the great family-friendly resorts touting children’s facilities, kids’ clubs and pool complexes to keep the young ones entertained. Whatever it is you seek, you’ll find it. But you’ll also discover that the widest range of options exists on the two most popular islands: Oahu and Maui.
Shopping in Hawaii is a real adventure. From quaint shops and boutiques to bustling markets and shopping centres home to international chain stores, it’s easy to find souvenirs, last minute beach wear and new fashions. Wander through the lively bazaars for a glimpse at the local culture as you browse. Here it’s easy to find a variety of handmade artisan crafts, from beautiful wood carvings to art, as well as iconic mementos such as hula figurines, ukuleles and stacks of frangipani-scented products. For some authentic local fashions, don’t miss the chance to choose your favourite colourful Hawaiian shirt and a muumuu, the loose breezy dresses women wear around the islands.
If you’re looking for more upscale purchases, the Honolulu and Waikiki area has the most variety. Home to the largest shopping mall in the state, Ala Moana Shopping Centre, this is the spot to get your designer brand name fix, indulge in glamorous boutiques and check out the typical major department store scene. For a fantastic range of jewellery, crafts and art around the world, drop into the International Marketplace in downtown Waikiki, or for great buys at bargain prices, head to Waikele Outlet Mall. All across the islands though, you can spot one-off stores and boutiques selling fabulous art and clothing. Just beware: you’ll probably have to bring your own shopping bag for purchases, as Hawaii is mostly a ‘plastic free zone’.
Hawaii is much more than a beautiful island destination – and so much more than the vibrant mix of language, music, art, theatre, dance and cuisine that plays out on its beautiful shores. Hawaii is bound by the spirit of ‘aloha’, a word that characterises more than just a greeting, but a way of life. It’s about treating yourself, others and the land with love and affection – and any traveller here will feel its presence. The locals are so genuinely warm and inviting, happy and respectful, and they embrace travellers who too show care for the land and adopt a few simple phrases. Try mahalo to say thank you, or mahalo for your kokua, which means thank you for your assistance. When receiving directions, you can expect to hear the words mauka, which means towards the mountain, and makai, which means towards the ocean.
Other important parts of the local culture include music and the hula. Music is how Hawaiians celebrate their love of the land, while the hula is an ages old custom, a unique dance performed to chants and songs that tell stories of Hawaiian traditions and culture. Many resorts and hotels arrange authentic live hula performances, while festivals and events are also a great place to see it in action. Keen travellers can even take part in hula lessons, as well as lei-making classes, to create their own beautiful garland of flowers, shells, feathers and beautiful decorations. The lei is another lasting tradition, a symbol of love, friendship and celebration that’s often used in greetings.