Alex is a social media strategist and a self-confessed Hawaii addict living in Sydney but making her way to paradise as often as possible, with a special skill of being able to pack for a Hawaiian escape in 25 minutes flat.
I’ve found the irresistible magic of Hawaii beyond the tourist route and a little further than Waikiki into Oahu. Sandy beaches and salty water are part of what makes this island beautiful, but they’re not all that makes it beautiful.
To sit on Waikiki Beach and take it all in, mai tai in hand, as happy travellers frolic in the ocean is a joy and I’ve hand some of my favourite moments in just that setting. But to go beyond the resort culture and head into the underrated wilderness of Oahu is to truly discover the islands and to understand and experience more ‘aloha’.
No place has taken my breath away like visiting Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden. Entering the park on the palm-lined road and peering through the fronds as the mountains rise above leaves you feeling as though you’re witnessing something really special, and there are many stops along the way for you to pause and photograph views that will catch your breath.
Explore the kind of Hawaii you would if you lived here, as locals arrive with fishing rods and packed lunches, children feed the ducks and groups set off for a day’s hiking.
In the afternoon, you might indulge in lunch at Haleiwa Joe’s in Haiku Gardens, just a short drive away, or drive literally as far as you are able to up Oahu’s West Coast to Keawaula Bay, often said to be the best spot to watch the sunset drop in Hawaii (and that’s saying something with countless memorable places on the island to watch the day turn into the night). Maybe you will drive the Pali Pali Highway and stop at the Nuuanu Pali Lookout with views of the sheer Koolau cliffs and the lush Windward Side but perhaps most impressively at this stop? The howling winds themselves. They whistle through the mountains and feel electric to experience in the flesh.
Turtle Bay Resort a resort with a no shoes vibe far away from the crowds in Kahuku, Turtle Bay is home to surfers, dreamers and explorers with every single room opening out onto a jaw-droppingly magnificent ocean view.
Halukulani the chicest hotel in Waikiki and the only one where passers-by can’t enter the hotel beachside. Luxury and elegance are inherently present at the Halekulani, which means “house befitting heaven.”
The New Otani Kaimama Beach Hotel a few kilometres from downtown Waikiki, this boutique hotel offers the most impressive view of Diamond Head and a slower sense of place. Brunch at the Hau Tree Lanai downstairs is a must.
Satisfy your sense of adventure and discover the natural beauty of the island on one (or more) of the many excellent choices for hiking routes in Hawaii.
Don’t forget; wear comfortable shoes, take a water bottle and insect repellent with you. As always in Hawaii, there may be some clambering over rocks and even if a hike is classified ‘easy’ there may be some challenging parts along the way.
Haleiwa Joe’s Haiku Gardens just a few minutes drive from Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, Haleiwa Joe’s is sheer serenity in a lush setting, nestled beneath the beautiful Ko’olau Mountains.
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck food trucks are everywhere on Oahu but Giovanni’s is an institution. Classic Hawaiian fare in a graffitied food truck - it is the perfect pit stop for a delicious plate of garlic shrimp.
Roy’s Beach House at Turtle Bay placed right on the sand at Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s fabled North Shore, lunch or dinner at Roy’s Beach House is casual but luxurious.
Orchids Dining at this Waikiki restaurant is like something right out of a movie; absolutely beachfront and the perfect mix of casual and elegance.
The Beach Bar in The Moana Surfrider or House Without a Key in Halekulani these hotels are Waikiki establishments and I just couldn’t decide between the two. If you have to do one thing in Waikiki, it’s enjoying a mai tai beachside while you listen simultaneously to the sweet tones of the ukulele band and the crashing of the waves.
At ‘The First Lady of Waikiki’, The Moana Surfrider, you will sit beneath the 116-year-old banyan tree that reaches out to the far corners of the bar, filtering the light in the most exquisite way. The music is vibrant and fun, and the location in the middle of Waikiki makes it the perfect spot for pre-dinner cocktails.
House Without A Key is a very similar atmosphere, right down to the banyan tree (although this one is a little smaller and forms part of the backdrop with the ocean) but where The Beach Bar is vibrant, House Without A Key is relaxed yet sophisticated and arguably serves up the best mai tai on the island.
Leonard’s Bakery it’s a no-frills bakery on the outskirts of town where you’ll almost certainly have to line up for one of the best malasadas outside of Portugal, baked fresh all day and handed to you in their iconic pink box.
Visit Gunstock Ranch on the North Shore for an authentic Hawaiian experience up close with nature. With your wrangler as your guide, traverse the landscape and take in the moment - on horseback.
Film buffs and nature lovers alike will want to see Kualoa Ranch, a private nature reserve and working cattle ranch that has set the scene for a number of Hollywood movies with the terrain varying greatly. Move from waonahele (dense Hawaiian rainforest) into waokanaka (broad valleys) within the hour. Here you can explore in many ways; mountain biking, ATVs, Jeep, zipline, tour bus, kayak or on your own two feet.
Snorkelling at Hanauma Bay, one of the most popular activities on the island of Oahu. I recommend getting there early, and I mean early - sometimes it’s shifted to a one-out/one-in system by 8am. Here you can seek out Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a.
Enjoy the urban side of Hawaii for a minute in Honolulu, enjoy brunch at Liliha Bakery or lunch at The Pig and the Lady and wander the Instagrammable streets of Kaka’ako.
" For Hawaii, I love the linen shirt dress, worn as a beach cover-up or an evening shift with a pair of slides (thanks to the magic flexibility of white linen) and the linen balloon pants. If there’s a cooler evening, as they're often is thanks to the island tradewinds, I’ll pair the shirt dress with the balloon pants and the woven cotton shawl for a casual but chic look. Natural fibres are a necessity for warm weather. "