Strolling along Waikiki beach promenade following an afternoon exploring this iconic area of Hawaii, I notice crowds massing on the shoreline. The bars and cafés which lace the front are also packed with onlookers gazing out to sea, prompting me to search the horizon for the source of the mystery. And there it is, bang in front of my eyes – the most dramatic sunset imaginable is just moments away.
The crowds are hoping for the magical “green flash”, a brief moment of intense emerald light which illuminates the sky as the sun hits the horizon. Apparently it’s quite a feature in these parts. It doesn’t make an appearance tonight, but there’s nonetheless something special about being part of such an unscripted “Honolulu Happening.”
This is the Hawaii I was expecting – the sun, sand and sea, along with a halcyon natural setting. But there’s a lot more to this island chain, perched in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The dramatic, volcanic scenery and hidden coves have made it a magnet for hikers. Movie fans can visit the breathtaking locations for some of Hollywood’s most enduring blockbusters, while cultural interest has been spiked by the shift among islanders in recent decades to reclaim their Polynesian heritage.
My trip was focused on the main island of O’ahu and neighbouring Kaua’i. An early morning hike up an extinct volcano wasn’t the introduction I expected to Honolulu. But the stunning vistas from the top of Diamond Head State Monument have made it a real fixture for visitors, so it pays to get there early to beat the crowds – and before it’s too hot. There’s a 40-minute climb to the 760-feet summit, if you’re in reasonable shape. Here you can take in the view from the gun placements which once provided coastal defences. On a clear day neighbouring islands are visible.
It’s still only mid-morning when I arrive back at Waikiki for that must-do Hawaiian experience – a surfing lesson. I’m a novice, but as I’m in the reputed birthplace of the sport, I figure I should have a go. Professional surfers from Waikiki Beach Services provide coaching on technique on the beach before leading my group out to find the surf, but I fear I am a lost cause, tumbling off my board at every feeble attempt to find my feet and ride the waves. I’ll stick to the pedalos.
Of course, Hawaii was the location of one of the most dramatic episodes of the Second World War when Japan launched its aerial attack on the US Navy base at Pearl Harbour just north of Honolulu. Although still an active military facility, it also stands as a memorial to the thousands of troops killed and wounded during the attack, which also saw 18 ships sunk or disabled. We take a tour of the now decommissioned USS Missouri. The cabins, office and mess areas have all been fully restored below decks and provide a fascinating insight into life at sea. But the real sense of history comes on the deck of this battleship, where the Japanese signed their surrender in August 1945, formally bringing an end to the last great global conflict.
Back at the hotel I take the chance to unwind. I’m staying at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. It’s a massive complex with 90 shops and 20 restaurants as well as lounges and bars on site, but “royal” treatment is received by guests at the ocean front Ali’i tower. It’s a boutique-style hotel-within-a-hotel with check-in privileges and VIP treatment around the resort. And there are incredible views from the ocean front room over the beach below and out across the Pacific.
The best waves are to be found on the north shore of the island. I stop off at Hale’iwa Town, which has become known as the “surf capital of the world” and check out its charming cafés, and sample a local favourite, the multicoloured Shave Ice.
Hawaii has been the backdrop for movies like Jurassic Park, Godzilla and the latest King Kong movie, as well as TV classics such as Lost and Hawaii Five-O. And the Kualoa Regional Park has become known as Hollywood’s “Hawaiian backlot” for the range of locations it has provided. We take a VIP tour around the sprawling estate, visit the dinosaur pen from the latest Jurassic World film and see the famous “fallen log” from the first movie, Jurassic Park, where Sam Neill and the children sheltered from a stampede of dinosaurs.
It’s a 20-minute flight to nearby Kaua’i and I’m struck by its dramatic volcanic landscapes, which blend with lush tropical forests. It’s not hard to see why the island is known as Hawaii’s garden paradise. For a real bird’s eye view of the place, we take the Jurassic Falls chopper tour. This is a breathtaking 80-minute ride across the island, allowing you to nestle among the towering sea cliffs and beautiful beach coves of the Na Pali Coast State Park on the north of the island, then hover through the impressive gorges of the Waimea Canyon State Park. The highlight is the chance to stop off at the famous 350-foot Manawaiopuna falls which opened the original Jurassic Park movie.
It’s not hard to see why cinema A-listers like Pierce Brosnan, Ben Stiller and Bette Midler have all made homes here. Back on the ground, I try a spot of off-road fun at the Kipu Ranch Adventures ATV tour. It can get a bit dusty but it’s worth it to take in some stunning vistas of the surrounding island. The Hollywood connections are never far away. We get a chance to enjoy an Indiana Jones-style vine swing into the Hule’ia River from the opening to Raiders Of The Lost Ark and stand on the same spot as George Clooney, when he surveyed Kipu Kai Beach below, in a memorable scene from his movie The Descendants.
The south side of the island is the place to stay and the Grand Hyatt ocean front resort carved into the picturesque Keoneloa Bay is a truly breathtaking haven. My room has a stunning view over palm trees into the Pacific disappearing into the distance, while 50 landscaped acres include a range of pools. There’s even a sea water option, which stays open 24 hours, while spa treatments are on hand for those who fancy a bit of pampering. For a close-up view of the lush, tropical forest which are such a hallmark of Kaua’i, I head off to Backcountry Adventures where we harness up for thrilling zipline adventure on seven slides through the valleys, gulleys and jungles of plantation lands. It certainly gets the heart pumping.
At the finish we take lunch in the shadow of Mount Wai’ale’ale, one of the rainiest spots in the world, which dominates the surrounding region and leaves an indelible snapshot of this magical island in the memory.
Netflights.com is offering seven nights in Hawaii staying 4 nights at the 4 star Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort on a room only basis and three nights at the 5 star Grand Hyatt Kaua’i Resort and Spa on a room only basis. Prices start at £2,459pp and include flights from Edinburgh with United Airlines. Based on select June travel dates. Book by 1 April, 2018. (0207 001 4377, www.netflights.com)