DURING the first millennium AD, the earliest Polynesian voyagers sailing by canoe, chanced upon several islands of unsurpassed natural beauty in the Pacific Ocean. What they discovered was Hawaii.
Today, Hawaii offers the visitor six major islands to explore, have fun and rejuvenate their spirits. They are Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui, Lanai and Hawaii, which is also known as the Big Island.
Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, is the capital of Hawaii. Although it is a melting-pot cosmopolitan city of skyscrapers, Honolulu is where "Aloha" (the Hawaiian welcome greeting) begins for many international visitors.
Its friendly people, fresh ocean breezes, unique culture and tropical island rhythms are just minutes from the airport. Most tourists head for Waikiki, for its world-famous beach, and some of Hawaii's finest hotels.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
- Rent a top-less car
Although you can get around easily by the bus system that runs all through and around the island, the year-round average temperature of 25 deg C is perfect for driving in a convertible.
- Take in the views
Hike, jog, walk or simply take your rental car 610m up to the Tantalus and the Puu Ualakaa Park for views of the famous Diamond Head Crater, downtown Honolulu and Punchbowl Crater. Best times are at sunset and after, when the city's lights are on.
- Get active
Surfing, diving, sailing, fishing and golf - learn to surf from the "beach boys" on Waikiki from just $20; book a sailing or fishing expedition, rent an outrigger, or play at the Ko 'Olina golf resort where you might run into teenage golf star Michelle Wie.
- Go horseback riding
49-560 Kamehameha Highway
Kaaawa, Hawaii 96730
Tel: (1) 808 237-7321
Besides horse rides in the 4,000-acre working cattle ranch, you can go on a personal all-terrain vehicle tour or travel in a six-wheel drive Swiss Pinzgauer.
Snorkelling is first-class at Hanauma Bay
- Round island drive
Take a scenic drive around Oahu. Head east of Honolulu, just beyond Diamond Head on Kahala Avenue, and you will come to many million-dollar properties fronting the ocean - definitely worth a gawk. Further on Highway 72, you will get to Hanauma Bay (left) where the snorkelling is first-class.
The North Shore's famed Sunset Beach, Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay are good stops for watching the sport of Ali'is (kings) - surfing. Afterwards, cool down with a shaved ice (Hawaiian ice kacang) at Matsumoto's.
If you head west of Honolulu, you reach Oahu's Leeward coast, with its isolated beaches of Nanakuli and Makaha. Dramatic and beautiful Ka'ena Point (below, right), is at the end of the road. There, you will find the leaping Rock of Souls (where souls of the departed leave the earth, according to Hawaiian beliefs).
Find leaping Rock of Souls at Ka'ena Point
Tip for self-drive tours: Pack a picnic as there are many scenic spots that you can stop at. Lock your car and do not leave valuables in sight.
- Go island hopping
Travelling from island to island, is quick, easy and lots of fun. Each of the islands has a distinct character. Flights depart and arrive as often as every half-hour. Airfare is about $70 per person one-way so book early for the best deals. See www.alohaairlines.com and www.hawaiianair.com
WHERE TO SHOP
- Ala Moana Center
1450, Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu.
Tel: (1) 808- 955-9517
The massive Ala Moana Centre is a destination in itself with 230 stores, free entertainment and restaurants. Between shopping, recharge at the food court - Korean BBQ at the Yummy's stall or Kung Pao Chicken at Panda Express are favourites. A shuttle bus takes you from Waikiki and back.
- Waikele Premium Outlets
94-790 Lumiaina Street, Waipahu, HI 96797
Shop for Quicksilver, Klein, Boss and 47 other stores at factory outlet prices. Drive there, arrive in a limousine from All Occasion Transport, tel: (1) 800-454-1380, or hop onto an Enoa Tour Bus, tel: (1) 808-591-2561.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Because so many people choose to make Hawaii their home, ethnic restaurants are aplenty. But if you miss Singapore noodles, go down to Chinatown!
- The Plate Lunch
Not to be missed, the lunch is a gastronomically challenging mixture of East and West - two scoops of rice, one scoop of macaroni salad and one or more portions of chicken katsu, beef curry, fried shrimp, mahi mahi, lemon chicken, barbecued short ribs, and more. Try it at any of the 43 L & L Drive-Inns (www.hawaiian-barbecue.com) in O'ahu.
- Kua'aina Sandwich Shop
1116 Auahi Street, Honolulu and 66-160 Kamehameha Highway, Hale'iwa
Tel: (1) 808-591-9133 and (1) 808-637-6067
Burgers, ribs, fries and coleslaw - surfers' sustenance at its best.
- John Dominis
43 'Ahui St. Honolulu
Tel: (1) 808 523-0955
Coastline and crater views accompany your crab-stuffed mushrooms, Alaskan King Crab or Angus steak. Enjoy!
WHERE TO STAY
- Live in luxury
The oceanfront Halekulani Hotel, a gem in Waikiki, is also renowned for its Sunday brunch. The Kahala Mandarin Oriental is set in a secluded bay, away from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki. The hotel's lagoon provides the opportunity to swim with dolphins. Information at www.halekulani.com and www.mandarin-oriental.com/kahala
- Bed and breakfast
Sleep like royalty, in old-moneyed, residential Honolulu. Opt for the Princess Ruth's Suite at the Diamond Head B & B. The B & B is a short walk to Waikiki, Sans Souci Beach, Kapiolani Park, the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquarium.
- Apartment rental
Consider renting an apartment if you are travelling in numbers, or plan on staying for longer than a week. Check out www.hawaiianbeachrentals.com
Edwin Soon is a freelance writer.
Photos: Edwin Soon