It’s known as the land of surf, mai tais, and the hula, but dig beneath the stereotypes and you will discover a whole other Hawaii.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to see just a few Hawaiian clichés come to life during my first ever trip to Hawaii. Who doesn’t dream of laying on the beach and sipping on an umbrella-ed cocktail, to the soothing sounds of a ukulele?
While I’m happy to report my visions of leis, cocktails, beaches, and sunshine came to fruition, there are plenty of other Hawaiian clichés I managed to avoid.
It’s not that the clichés aren’t acceptable (clearly. I indulged in a few), it’s just that I didn’t want my entire trip to become one big, predictable excursion; an exact replica of the people that went to Hawaii before me, the people before them, and the people before them. It’s exciting to discover something more authentic than the hotel’s nightly hula performance.
I might’ve indulged myself a little, but I also managed to trade out the hula for sea expeditions with a research boat, pina coladas minus the pina and colada (so, just the rum), and even a spot of karaoke at a local karaoke bar.
If, like me, you like things a little more niche than cliché, consider give these activities a go when you find yourself in Hawaii. They get my big tick of approval, and hopefully they will get yours too.
Discover the creative community
You don’t have to step foot in a gallery to see the best in Hawaiian art. All you need is a phone, a wifi connection, and a keen sense of adventure.
Sound a bit cryptic? It’s not as cryptic as it sounds, I promise.
Before hitting Honolulu, do yourself a favour and download the Art World Escape app. With the app in hand, a whole world of local art experiences will open up for you.
Connecting visitors with locals in the art world, the app gives you access to the creative industry on O’Ahu, on a whole other level. This isn’t just about watching somebody playing the ukulele at happy hour. This is about meeting creatives and becoming involved in their process. You can book in to tour the local street art alongside the gorgeous artist couple, Wooden Wave; or do something really off kilter, like learning to breakdance.
We wandered the streets with the Wooden Wave team, and learned all about the street art culture in Honolulu. Honestly, it was one of the highlights of my time in Hawaii as it was so real. The same night, we booked in to see an experimental light and projection exhibition, and sat down for cocktails with the artist post experience.
Do something good for the environment
These days, I’m a lot more conscious about who I choose to book my activities and tours through. The thought of a conglomerate getting my dollars, and the local community benefiting precisely 0% from my booking, doesn’t bode too well with me. Seeking out companies with a social and/or an environmental agenda, are high on my own agenda.
Up on the north shore of O’Ahu, there’s a ranch that ticks both of those boxes for me.
Spending a day out at Gunstock Ranch can end up looking a number of different ways. It can involve a horse ride through their property, petting their kids (of the bovid, not human, kind), heading out on a discovery tour, or planting a Milo tree in their Hawaiian Legacy forest. The latter (paired with a ranch tour on horseback or buggy) is the experience I would say that everyone should have on the ranch.
The legacy forest is a special place. A joint initiative between Gunstock Ranch and the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation initiative, the forest aims to regenerate the population of native Hawaiian trees on O’Ahu. It’s a dedicated 500 acre area that will hopefully – one day – be home to around 600,000 new trees. One of them, the one that I planted.
You can’t help but feel good knowing that, after enjoying a day out on the ranch, you planted and contributed to the regeneration of an almost lost species. You can even check up on your tree’s progress online, thanks to the smart tagging system used to identify the trees.
Get into some ‘heirloom’ rum
Though sugar cane was once the lifeblood of Hawaii, there’s little left but remnants of a once booming industry.
Paying homage to the agricultural history of Hawaii, Kō Hana Distillers are bringing back cane farming and doing darn delicious things with it – rum being their core focus.
This operation isn’t just any old cane farm and distillery.
Instead of planting a common cane variety, Kō Hana spent a considerable amount of time researching and planting varietals of cane that grew naturally on the island; before cane farming was even a viable industry. They honour each heirloom variety, hand harvesting, pressing, and distilling them as single varietal rums.
The result? Boutique, handcrafted rum, with flavours I’m willing to bet you’ve never tasted before. Example: their agricole rum; a rum made from the sugar cane juice itself, and not the byproduct of sugar production.
Jump aboard a research boat
There are dolphin tours, and then there is Wild Side Specialty Tours. They do animal encounters the right way.
Wild Side tours aren’t about providing purely for the tourist dollar. Instead, they invite guests on board their twin hull catamaran as they go out on their daily research missions. It’s just you, the marine scientists, a handful of other guests, and whatever is swimming by in the big blue.
The deluxe wildlife charter starts with a snorkel over a reef. You’re almost guaranteed to spot a sea turtle or 3 there. It’s strictly no approaching and no touching, leaving the turtles to go on their merry little way. If you’re lucky, you might even get to jump in the water with a pod of spinner dolphins too. Should all the stars align (as ours did), some pilot whales or whale sharks might even swim by.
As well as doing the right thing by the sea life, Wild Side give a portion of all charter proceeds to the Wild Dolphin Foundation for conservation purposes. And that research they’re doing? That all goes to Cascadia Research Collective, to help ID all the whales and dolphins in the area. Cue the warm-fuzzies.
HOW TO GET TO HAWAII
Their are daily flights to Hawaii ex-Sydney (Qantas, Jetstar, or Hawaiian Airlines), 3 days a week from Melbourne, and just 4 flights a week ex-Brisbane. If you’re travelling from Perth, you can expect 14hrs of air time, with a transfer in Sydney.
WHERE TO STAY
Most people opt to stay either on the North Shore, or right in the centre of the action in Honolulu. Waikiki Beach is considered to be the epicentre of Hawaii. Home to hundreds of hotels and restaurants, Waikiki Beach is a great spot to station yourself.
If you’re after a quirky, super-grammable stay, you can’t go past The Surfjack Hotel and Swim Club. It’s a bit more of a walk to the beach than other hotels, but the free cruiser hire fixes that problem quick smart. Modelled on a 60’s surf bungalow, the rooms here are big, bright, and fresh feeling. Bonus if your balcony looks out over the pool and it’s giant ‘wish you were here’ message tiled into the bottom. It’s a pretty cool sight!
Luxury lovers best check themselves into the ‘Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach. Recently redeveloped, this hotel oozes sophistication. Despite it’s mammoth size, there is warmth and character to the hotel in it’s hidden Wooden Wave murals, white and beige palette, and charming hotel staff. There’s an acclaimed restaurant, Morimoto, there, panoramic views on the upper levels, and a more than generous club lounge for anyone who has club access.
** I was a guest of O’Ahu Visitors Bureau. All thoughts and opinions are my own. I value your feedback, and am happy to discuss any queries you may have.