Eight things you have to do when in Hawaii

Travel to Hawaii from Australia has never been easier or more affordable. Budget carrier Jetstar offer some of the cheapest deals between the east coast of Australia and Honolulu, while their parent company Qantas also offer daily services. Hawaiian Airlines – who sit as part of Virgin Australia’s Velocity Network – are usually the best bet, however, for those looking for direct services out of the budget arena, offering easy connections to the US mainland, as well as internal Australian connections with Virgin. Their departure time, too, is also the only way to fly overnight between Australia and the US, which can be handy for those looking to avoid jetlag – be Hawaii the final destination or just a stop over.

In either scenario, it’s a crime not to spend at least a few days in the tropical paradise – with key advice from any traveller to the region being to leave the tourist-soaked confines of Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach to take in the rest of the island of Oahu, or island hop to the other beautiful and diverse islands that make up the US State. Maui, The Big Island (Island of Hawaii) and Kauai are the three most popular, and easy to get to via brief and affordable flights operated by Hawaiian Airlines. While it barely scratches the surface, here’s just 8 things you have to make sure you do on any trip to Hawaii:

Swim with the dolphins

There are a number of options around the islands of Hawaii to get up close and personal with a myriad of marine life. For yours truly, it had always been a dream to swim in the wild with dolphins. While there are tour operators who do invite guests to snorkel in open ocean with the beautiful sea creatures, I opted to spend my time with them at Dolphin Quest at the Hilton Waikoloa Village in Kona, on Hawaii’s Big Island (Island of Hawaii). Dolphin Quest often a myriad of options to interact with a family of dolphins who live on site.

Photo: Dolphin Quest (of author)

Kids can become trainers for the day and learn all about conservation of marine life – and in particular dolphins – along the way. Other packages allow you to spend half an hour floating and swimming with the family, watching them interact, feeding them fish, helping train a new addition to the family with ice cubes and giving them a gentle hug before you go on your way. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it really is a wonderful, educational, once-in-a-lifetime experience. And if you don’t have the time or budget to swim with them, any guest to the hotel can watch the dolphins play from a distance – some rooms even offer a view of their reef, and you can hear them singing through the night. Here’s hoping they don’t sing “So Long and Thanks For All The Fish”, however. More details about Dolphin Quest experiences around Hawaii can be found HERE. If you’d like to know more about the particular activities at the Hilton Waikoloa Village site, head HERE.

Pay your respects at Pearl Harbor (Oahu)

In an age where leaders are on the cusp of war, threatening to bomb islands in the Pacific Ocean, it feels more timely than ever to take some time to remember the realities of such conflict. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, which commemorated a 75 year anniversary this year, is still a moment in living memory of many on the island. The floating monument to the victims is beautiful, moving and important – built naturally with the hope that the atrocities would never occur again; so future generations wouldn’t forget. Just outside of Honolulu, the site is worth the visit and a moment of respect. Learn more about the memorial HERE.

Photo Credit: Gray Line Tours

Attend a Luau

Pretty much every major hotel around the islands of Hawaii will provide their own take on the traditional Hawaiian Luau. Eat copious mountains of food – including signature dishes like Poke and spit roasted pig – drink some of the island’s most well known cocktails, like the Mai Tai, and be taken on a journey through the variety of stories and cultures that precipitate around the islands of not just Hawaii but the entire Pacific Ocean. I was surprised to even see New Zealand’s famous Haka a part of proceedings. And of course there’s fire twirling, too. I enjoyed the Waikiki Starlight Lū‘au at the Hilton Waikiki Beach. No doubt some luaus are better than others, but across the board, the quality of the food and the show itself makes it a wholly enjoyable experience, one that no trip to Hawaii is complete without.

Photo Credit: Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort

Take a surfing lesson

Now this entry is not applicable for any surfers out there – if that includes you, you already know no trip to Hawaii is complete without some time in the waves. But for the rest of us, one of the best beaches for beginners is Waikiki Beach, with steady and predictable waves and a surprising lack of shark attacks (a welcome reprieve for us Australians). The iconic Hilton Hawaiian Village on the beach’s western most point offer up beginners lessons with a guarantee that you’ll catch a wave on one of their long boards. They’ll make sure of it, even if they have to jump on the board with you themselves. And indeed, in our group of six, every single one of us managed to catch multiple waves – and though we all returned to the beach exhausted, we were quick to understand what all the fuss is about. So be warned: you may leave Hawaii with your inner surfer unlocked. *Insert “Hang Loose” emoji here*.

Hike up Diamond Head (Oahu)

While I said earlier in the article to limit your time in Waikiki – as it is the tourist Mecca of the state – there are a couple of must-do activities while you’re there. One of the best is to take the 1km hike up the beach’s iconic (long dormant) volcano Diamond Head. There’s a set trail to follow, and you can drive to the start of the trail. It’ll take you about an hour to get up and half an hour to get back down, with the hike offering incredible views of the beach and greater Honolulu. It’ll also serve for some great exercise, which may be particularly necessary if you’ve attended a luau, and the crater is filled with some unique scenery of its own.

See Lava! Explore Volcano National Park (Island of Hawaii)

As beautiful as Diamond Head is, you can’t help but feel like the only thing the experience was missing was actual lava. You need to head to the southern most island of Hawaii to get this experience, where you’ll find Volcano National Park. It’s best to get a tour to take you from your hotel up to the park, and you’ll need the whole day to do it. We went with Wasabi Tours, who provided lunch and dinner for our group of 12 as part of the trip. They took us to see the island’s growing coastline, near where the lava continues to hit the shore (smoke rises in the distance to show you the exact spot), and then to the Halema‘uma‘u Crater on the Kīlauea volcano – the most active of the island’s five volcanos – where you might be lucky enough to watch lava fly out (from a safe distance) as the sun sets.

Smoke can be seen in the distance as lava flows into the ocean and cools. Either that or this is a “Lost” scenario.

There’s something quite remarkable about standing on an island that’s still growing. Elsewhere in the park you’ll find lava tubes and a number of activities that can get you up close and personal with one of the world’s most active volcanoes. But the volcano called Kīlauea is a “Shield Volcano”, which thankfully means that it’s reasonably predictable in its output and is highly unlikely to unleash an unexpected eruption in our lifetime.

The Halema‘uma‘u Crater

The Halema‘uma‘u Crater is your final destination, where you see the lava glow just in time for sunset. This still doesn’t mean that spraying lava will always be visible on your journey, and some tours may leave disappointed – but short of jumping in a helicopter over certain points of the volcano – which is an option, but cost prohibitive – this is your best option to tick “see an active volcano” off your bucket list… safely and affordably.

I should mention, too, that this tour also takes you to one of the island’s beautiful black sand beaches, Richardsons in Hilo, which is another enjoyable experience. Though keep in mind though that the Island of Hawaii (also known as “The Big Island”) is essentially one big desert, and it gets HOT here.

Richardson Beach (Hilo, HI)

Eat as the locals do: Try the Loco Moco

There’s a lot of wonderful, fresh cuisine in Hawaii. Pork is incredibly popular across all the islands, be you eating spit-roasted pig at a Luau or taking part in their love of the tinned version of the meat, Spam – which has an annual festival in its honour. But there’s one dish that you have to try while you’re here. They call it “Loco Moco”, which traditionally is white rice, covered in a hamburger patty, a fried egg and brown gravy. The dish is a prime example of the Asian-meet-Western flavour that has giving Hawaii its unique cuisine over the years. It’s also a dish you won’t be likely to find anywhere else. It’s… a bit of a delicious mess.

I was told to avoid it at the fancy restaurants, and rather find a greasy spoon to enjoy it with the locals. I had mine at the Kihei Caffe (1945 S Kihei Rd, Kihei HI), not far from Waldorf Astoria’s Grand Wailea resort on the island of Maui. It was as equally bizarre and delicious as you’d expect it to be. Of course I added hot sauce, and barely left a drop. I had it for breakfast, though I imagine it’s acceptable to eat any time of day. And of course this isn’t the only Hawaiian delicacy to enjoy. You can’t leave Hawaii without having some Poke (raw fish salad), having some shaved ice, and some Shrimp Scampi, perhaps most popular at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck (66-472 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI), just outside of Honolulu on Oahu.

Go parasailing

As this article shows, there is no shortage of water activities to enjoy in a visit to Hawaii. But ever since I watched Jurassic Park III as a kid, I’d always wanted to go parasailing off the Hawaiian Coast. And so that’s just what I did (off of Waikiki Beach to be exact) – and while they were almost certainly bullshitting me, I was led to believe I was even in the very vessel used for the scene which opened the film. Of course things didn’t end well for that group of parasailers, but they assured us this had never happened in real life. It’s a surprisingly relaxing experience, with an incredible view at your disposal. And as you’ll be hit by some pretty intense sun, one of the best parts is when you get dunked in the beautiful ocean water before they bring you back onto the boat and onto the shore.

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The writer travelled to Hawaii compliments of Hawaiian Airlines. You can read his review of their service here. While in Honolulu, the writer stayed with Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. In Maui, the writer stayed at the Waldorf Astoria Grand Wailea Resort, and in Kona on the Island of Hawaii the writer stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa Village. Additional support, including Car Rental from Alamo, was provided courtesy of Hawaiian Tourism.

Photos by the author unless otherwise mentioned.