Hawaii

Aloha.  For some reason I scribbled the following paragraph on the back of a coaster in Waikiki…

Surfers Waikiki“Surfers on their long boards catch the last long waves in the fading light at Waikiki Beach. The strip builds to a friendly buzz of buskers, painters and mime-artists to greet the flow of diners. In a late night Karaoke Bar the regulars gather and an elderly man sits on a stool, microphone in hand. Once a professional singer, he effortlessly hits the high notes and his voice keeps the rank amateurs and inebriated where they should be. Watching.”

I’m glad I did because it immediately jogs a memory.  I have never been a fan of watching karaoke and I would take a fork in the eyeball before taking to a stage BUT this was a fabulous night – not a bad note hit all night – it was like watching The Voice without the annoying mentors.  I got chatting with the elderly man – he was Afro-American with a voice like treacle over a bar – he started his career in the 50’s and 60’s in a five-piece band not unlike the Temptations – while he made a good living from singing, his motivation was just the love of singing.  It still was.  What a happy retirement.

This was just one of the many surprises Hawaii had in store for me.  You see, I had a preconception that the place would be an American version of Queensland’s Gold Coast – skyscrapers, surf and superficiality to the max.  Pretty young things whipping by on rollerblades while the white-shoe brigade with methamphetamine-funded chunky gold jewellery eyeball high-fives to others in the clan.  “Book him, Danno…”  Nope, no such thing spotted on my visit – but I did bump into a few street performers, which can be quite surreal…

There are similarities between Honolulu and the Gold Coast with high-rise buildings skirting the famous Waikiki Beach but it has a totally different personality – it is livelier, but somehow more laid back… yes, it is obviously commercial and capitalist, but it is also romantic and excellent value. No wonder really that it is the world’s most popular wedding and honeymoon destination.  I wasn’t there for either, but I had a ball simply exploring.

Waikiki and Diamond HeadThe climate is fabulous year round (there’s no cyclone season like most Pacific destinations), the beaches deserve their fame on the sand and in the water with excellent surfing on offer, and the shopping is also legendary. I am, like most Australian males, a reluctant ‘shopper’, but I enjoyed the markets and the malls there – I even bought clothes – and the shirts didn’t come with a volume knob.

The island of Oahu is home to Honolulu, surf beaches like Waikiki and Waimea, Pearl Harbour, the Polynesian Cultural Centre, Kualoa Ranch and shopping outlets like the Waikele Mall and the Ala Moana Shopping Centre.

Aqua Palms Waikiki HotelMost visitors to Oahu will stay in Waikiki and, indeed, wai not?  There’s the beach, the cafes and restaurants, the shopping, the nightlife and accommodation options to suit all needs and budgets.  I stayed in the Aqua Palms on Ala Moana Boulevard – from memory, the nightly rate was around $130 a night with breakfast included – located opposite the Hilton Hawaiian Village it was a short stroll to the main beach, a walk to the restaurants and nightlife – rooms were clean and comfy, the staff friendly, breakfast more than adequate and there were free crunchy apples on the desk at reception.  Nice touch.

ADA accessible City View rooms have bathrooms that include either a roll-in shower or accessible tub. Rooms feature either 1 Queen or 1 King bed plus an additional sofa sleeper, and some have private lanai balconies.

Rooms are outfitted with a 42″ wall mounted flat screen TV, complimentary internet access, bath toiletries, hair dryer and coffee maker with Kona coffee. Accessibility amenities (available upon request) include: telephone call alert, knock light, bed shaker, TTY phone, shower chair and toilet riser.

Waikiki is a great place to explore on foot or wheels, block by block, beach by beach.  It is hard to explain, but somehow there is a ‘happy vibe’ in the air and you just feel like smiling.  Apart from famous Waikiki Beach this area is also home to Diamond Head Crater, the Waikiki Aquarium, Honolulu Zoo and the 500 acre Kapiolani Park, the oldest and largest public park in Hawaii.

Attack on Pearl HarborPearl Harbour is a ‘must do’.  You can get there by local bus, taxi, hire car or on an organised tour.  I hired a car and visited as part of an around the island ‘look’ but a tour will give a lot more background and history via their guides.

When it comes to military memorials and museums, the Americans do them very well – reverent, respectful with just the right amount of emotion.  In the wee hours of December 7, 1941, Japanese planes flew low over the still harbour and bombed the USS Arizona, sinking it and taking 1177 lives.  So began the Pacific War.  And even now, over 70 years on, you can still feel an aura of disbelief.

Pearl Harbor Memorial MonumentPearl Harbour is fully accessible to those with disabilities, and National Park Service rangers will happily assist guests with special needs. Reserved parking is available at the visitor centre and is accessible by ramp. If you book on an organised tour, your tour bus will be fully wheelchair-accessible. The visitor centre restrooms, movie theatre, exhibit area, bookstore, information desk, and drinking fountain are all fully wheelchair-accessible; the navy boats and memorial are both wheelchair-accessible. Wheelchairs are not available for rent on-site.

If you are driving, lock your personal items in your car.  The security measures are tight and all purses, handbags, backpacks, camera bags etc are not allowed inside – pretty much anything that could conceal a weapon.  There is a storage facility at the entrance to the National Park ($3 a bag). Cameras and camcorders are permitted.

Kualoa RanchKualoa Ranch has a scenically stunning backdrop.  It is very ‘touristy’ but that’s okay.  It sits well.  Most people will have seen parts of Kualoa because it has been featured in more than a handful of movies and TV shows.  To name a few…Jurassic Park, Godzilla, Pearl Harbor, Mighty Joe Young, Tears of the Sun, 50 First Dates, Hawaii Five-O,m Magnum PI and LOST.  There’s 4000 acres to explore and you can do that by bus, boat, on horseback or in a six-wheel Swiss Pinzgauer.  Makes no sense without a photo (below right).  There are half-day tours from Honolulu that include lunch or dinner and entertainment.

Kualoa Ranch TransportIf you hire a car, it’s about a 45 minute drive.  They also grow their own beef there and sell to the consumer – hearty t-bones sell at about $25 a kilo ($11 a pound).

An aside, my first Hawaiian ‘experience’ was in the Gundagai Theatre, aged 7 or 8, watching Elvis tell me how he can’t help falling in love in Blue Hawaii. This was the first time I noticed Hal Wallis in movie credits.  Hal didn’t just produce visual popcirn, he also made Casablanca, Dark Victory, The Maltese Falcon, True Grit, Now, Voyager, Anne of a Thousand Days and Mary, Queen of Scots.  That’s Hal and Elvis in 1961, in Hawaii, and in the disability info box coz I didn’t have a better photo…

Hal Wallis Elvis Blue HawaiiKualoa Ranch is wheelchair accessible.

For horse riding, participants must be able to self-assist or be a member of a party that can assist with saddling the horse. Also, you must be able to hold yourself up on the horse without assistance.  All riders need closed shoes and long pants.

And you can see why the thinner, younger incarnation of Elvis made many a young lady’s heart flutter.  Hold the phone… 

Whoooooooaaaaa… surf’s up!

Waimea Bay surfing

If you are heading around the island, a rewarding stop for a break and a refreshing dip is Waimea Bay at the top of the island.  In summer it is calm and inviting for a swim or snorkel… in winter, just sit on the shore to marvel at the massive waves and the surfers mad enough to take them on.  Bet the theme from Hawaii Five-O pops into your head… da da da da daaan da…

Polynesian Fire DancerI didn’t go to the Polynesian Cultural Centre but I can imagine what it is like – by day to explore the customs and traditions of the various Polynesian island nations (Hawaii, Marquesas, Tahiti, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Aotearoa) and at night to enjoy a buffet, luau and entertainment with the show Hā: Breath of Life.  The tag line is “Think Broadway, then add flaming knives”.

All major areas of the Polynesian Cultural Centre, including the canoe and Laie/Temple Visitors Centre tours, are accessible to folk in wheelchairs. The Centre does not provide wheelchair pushing services. Guests must provide their own means to get around during their visit.

The Centre has a limited number of wheelchairs and available with advanced reservations. There is a $20 deposit fee, $15 of which will be refunded when the wheelchair is returned.

Hawaiian dancerHaving said that, I did go to one festive Polynesian evening with a bunch of other travel agents who were in serious party mode – the Polynesian Cultural Centre above would not have suited because it isn’t licensed to sell alcohol – the one we went to not only sold alcohol, you could make and mix your own cocktails.  Which we did.

The buffet was good, the live show exciting and professional and as for the cocktails… well, that’s why I don’t recall where exactly we were.  I will leave the official review for one of my colleagues on the way back to the hotel in a shared stretch hummer… “Man, that place went off like a frog in a sock.”

Waikele MallI won’t dwell on Waikele Mall because I ran a mile when the ladies in our entourage wrestled their hangovers into submission and hit the factory fashion outlets.  They all swore they got amazing discounts and there are 50 ‘known’ designer brand outlets that may offer up to 70% off – I don’t know them all but they may ring a bell with you – A|X Armani Exchange, Adidas, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, Coach, Guess, LeSportsac, Michael Kors, Osh Kosh, Polo Ralph Lauren, Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, Tommy Bahama, Tommy Hilfiger, True Religion Brand Jeans and Quasimodo.  Ah!  The last one rings a bell for me!!  Did you have a hunch I’d say that?

Ala Moana CenterThat morning I did, however, walk from the hotel to the ginormous Ala Moana Shopping Centre… talk about supersized shopping! Aparently it is the largest shopping mall in the entire United States.  This open-air retail oasis has 290 stores flogging beachwear to high fashion and 70 dining options serving up fries to fine dining.

With its tropical landscaping and koi carp ponds it is indeed an enjoyable place to shop.  To entice me to go clothes shopping by choice rather than need it had to be doing something right!  The shopping tip from the ladies was to arrive with one slightly smaller suitcase inside a slightly larger one, which will be full of purchases for the return journey.

Being a huge shopping mall, access and getting round is easy and if I were to revisit I would start at the Customer Service Center on Level One, Centerstage, and hire a wheelchair.

A couple of tips on enjoying Hawaii:

  • Hawaii lei greetingIf you are aged between 18 and 21 and like the occasional alcoholic drink, probably best to look elsewhere. The legal drinking age is 21 and it is strictly enforced. Even if you are aged 21 to 30 you should take photo ID (enjoy the flattery!).
  • Unlike our other Pacific destinations, tipping is expected. Like most employees in the USA, Hawaiian wages are low and waiters, hotel staff and taxi drivers rely on tips to survive (approx 15% to 20% is a good guide). The upside of this is, you really get such great service you are more than happy to part with a dollar or two. Unlike other parts if the States, Hawaiians aren’t at all pushy when it comes to gratuities. A tipping tip – put a bunch of $1 bills in a pocket away from your wallet – apart from the ease when necessary it will ensure you don’t part with a $10 or $20 by mistake as all US notes look pretty similar to us.
  • The water is safe to drink and ‘casual’ is the dress code. While the weather will be warm by day, best pack a jacket or sweater as sometimes evenings can be cool and it can get chilly if you visit some of the higher mountain landmarks.

You have a nice lei now…

County of Maui LogoI didn’t go further than Oahu on that trip but The Valley Isle of Maui offers friendly culture, stunning scenery and is terrific for a romantic break.  If you are looking for adventure and an active volcano, the Big Island beckons. And Poipu Beach on the island of Kauai has been named in the top 10 most romantic getaways from USA Today.

I shall now hand you over to Cane & Able’s Canadian correspondent, Andy, for his musings on Maui – gosh, it’s all alliteration today!

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I like Maui because it’s easy to get to, has nice beaches, has relatively inexpensive booze, and I don’t need to speak or be abused in Spanish or French.

We’ve travelled to Maui twice before.  It’s only a 6 hour direct flight from Vancouver to Kahului. It’s an easy place to get to.  Maui isn’t travel so much as a nice destination to enjoy time off.

What’s the weather like in Maui? It’s sunny and warm followed by sunny and warm.

Maui has public transit but it’ll only get you so far, so we opt to rent a car.  This time we went with a used Camry with only 300,000 km’s on the clock.  I turned the rental car agreement in, and noted the many various scratches and dents on the body.  The rental agent, who might have also been the mechanic and salesman, laughed and told me that I’d missed the dents on the hood and roof.  It ran like a top, and no one gave us a second look.

Maui has several distinct resort areas, and one main Town, Kahului.  All are beachfront places; some offer the hotel restaurant scene, while some have condos.  Some are very expensive and others are ones that I can afford.  Me, I like about one meal out per week, so we opt for a condo, with a decent kitchen.  There are grocery stores in each area, and their prices are about 10% more than what I pay at home.  Maui has a Costco and a Wal-Mart. Whereas the Costco at home has a large selection of fruit and veg, the Maui one has a large selection of wine, beer and scotch. ‘Yeah, Honey I’ll come into the store with you.  Yeah, get the large buggy; I’ll just be over there by the liquor’.  Luckily the rental car had a good size trunk.

Last trip we rented a condo in Kihei, across the road from Kamaole 2 beach.  The beach is busy with boogie boarders, families, walkers, and great people watching.  Like many of Maui’s popular beaches it has lifeguards.  Some of these guard stations have beach wheel chairs- large cartoon like wheels. There are several restaurants along this strip plus grocery stores.  Get a loyalty membership using your home phone number and qualify for slightly better pricing.

We try to have a day on the beach, and a day sightseeing.  One day we drove up the Haleakala volcano, the crater was clouded in one moment and clear across the next.  With an elevation of 10,000 feet, the top is ‘nipple check cold’ and the air is getting a wee bit thin.  My W went for a walk with local volunteer’s to see the local fauna.  I was happy to wait near the car.  Several tour companies offer bike ride down from the edge of the state park.  We’ve done this on past visits.  For $60 -$100 bucks you can go downhill for 23 miles and 29 switch backs.  Just because you’re on holiday doesn’t mean that you leave your brain at home. Wear a helmet and be very cautious.  This trip is considered dangerous. It’s not the cycling that will get you, its meeting immovable objects that will.

Another day trip we like is to take a boat charter out to a sunken cinder cone called Molokini.  The trips leave from both Kihei and Maalaea.  Kihei is closer to the snorkeling/dive site.  The fish, turtles, whales and beautifully clear water makes this a great trip.  The trade winds can pick up on the trip across, so when you go to heave make sure that you feed the fishes and not be stuck having to wash your breakfast off the boat.

Taxes are a nice thing about a destination like Maui, – so that they have roads, sidewalks, police, water that you drink out of the tap.  I think that this is part of a worry free trip.

I love live music and Maui has the nice Arts & Cultural Center.  On our last visit we saw Maceo Parker- the grand master of funk.  The food is catered by local restaurants, the seating was comfy.  Maceo was a touch loud but that was likely because his sound guy has hearing problems.  Maceo drew a mixed crowd including folks who are one toke over the line.  Friendly but annoying when they dance directly in front of the stage. With an indoor outdoor style stage, this meant the tropical breezes were part of the set,

Using a snorkel/dive guide we drove to several beaches.  Tropical fish, nice sand, reefs, more reasons we like Maui. Our favorites are mile 14 towards Lahaini, and near the Wailea Fairmont.  If the waves are right there can also be some boogie boarding near Wailea.  Last time there, two young amply endowed bikini babes were having a tough time of it.  An older guy in a banana hammock came along and offered them a lesson.  It was straight case of quid pro quo.  They got a lesson and he got to hold them while they got the hang of it.

And Luau, I hear you ask?  The first time to Maui, I said, no, that sounded too touristy for me.  A bunch of sun burned, over refreshed tourists being entertained by bored locals in plastic grass skirts and coconut bra’s.

On the last trip we went, and I was right but also very wrong.  Several places offer Luau’s.  Prices range from $90 to $130.  We chose the Grand Wailea because it was close to where we staying.  With a beautiful site right beside the beach and facing west.The evening starts at 4pm with check in and Lei’s for the Ladies.

Ours included an open bar, and locals selling a variety of crafts. The meal was served buffet style and included foods I knew and ones I’d only heard of. Poi anyone?

After dinner and as the sun goes down, the entertainment starts.  This included a live band, emcee, and many men and women dancing traditional stories.

Their costumes were colourful, their moves practiced, and the narration superb.  Towards the end of the evening they included fire dancing.

The total time runs about three hours, and with the food, drinks, and entertainment we had a great time.