Waikiki is a human zoo.
From the dramatic tip of Diamond Head, to the towers of the Hilton, the strip is a seething mass of shoppers, surfers and sun-bakers.
This can be challenging for Australians, accustomed to wide open spaces. Especially with kids, who are easily overwhelmed by the sensory stimulation. But there are ways to manage this menagerie.
Get wet. Despite over-development along the shoreline, marine life flourishes in these waters. The kids spot three large green turtles, metres from the beach. You can hire surfboards from the stand near the The Duke, for $14.50. The spirit of aloha is alive and well, with no request for a deposit, and an offer to, “Leave your stuff here, we’ll look after it!” from a smiling dude, straight from the ’60s. Although crowded, this is the best place to learn to surf, with long, gentle waves. For a lesson, go to Waikiki Beach Services in front of the Rainbow Tower at Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Ditch the strip. Most of the restaurants on Kalakaua Avenue are over-priced American franchises. Head to the back streets for delicious sushi at Chiba-Ken, or hand-made pasta at Arancini. If you’re there on the last Friday of the month, check out the food trucks in Eat the Street. There are some good options in Chinatown, but avoid those that are full of tourists: the food is rather bland.
Strap on the boots. Diamond Head shines bright at sunset, but the best time to climb it is early morning. (American tourists tend to sleep in.) Catch a bus from Waikiki, or drive your car and park it outside the gates. It’s an easy walk but becomes crowded from late morning. Bush bashing is a wonderful way to wipe off the slick of commercialism.
Go snorkelling. Travel half-an-hour east to the glorious Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, where 400 species are protected. Test the kids’ spelling with the state fish of Hawaii, Humuhumunukunukuapua’a.A further 15 minutes north is a tiny strip, known as Waimanalo: the longest white-sand beach on Oahu. We snorkel with turtles, climb ironwood trees, and gaze at azure waters. This is the ideal antidote to Waikiki.
Lest we forget. A visit to the USS Arizona Memorial is a must for families. There’s a fascinating film about the events at Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, then a tour of the site. Littlies would also enjoy the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Centre and Bishop Museum.
Friday fireworks. Stock up on produce from Don Quijote grocery store, in Kaheka Street, for a picnic at Ala Moana Beach Park. It’s lovely during the day, or on a Friday night to watch the fireworks at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Sublime sunsets. “It’s like a big orange ball, sinking into the sea!” Grace marvels. We’re on the Sunset Cocktail Sail, which leaves every afternoon from the Port Waikiki Cruises kiosk. Wine, soft drinks, and substantial snacks are included. It’s magical watching the strip twinkle into night.
Shop until you stop. It’s easy to lose days in the labyrinthine lanes of Ala Moana Centre, or the sun-scorched space of Waikele Premium Outlets.Set a limit of half a day at each. Make sure you have a cheap and cheerful lunch at the Makai Market Food Court.
Off your trolley. While walking is the best way to get around Waikiki, you can get footsore. Waikiki Trolley operates on three lines: green for Diamond Head, red to Chinatown, and pink for Ala Moana Mall. Buy tickets online atwaikikitrolley.com.
Draw a line in the sand. If you stay in Waikiki, surrender to the chaos. However, schedule in some breaks. Hire a car to discover the natural opulence of Oahu. Swim with dolphins off the west coast, grab some shrimp and shaved ice from the North Shore, or go to the Byodo-In Temple, which houses a huge Lotus Buddha. The kids can ring the peace bell, for happiness.
The human zoo is fun, for a while. But make sure you eventually escape captivity.
The author and family travelled to Waikiki as guests of the Hawaiian Tourism Authority, Hawaiian Airlines and Hilton Hotels & Resorts.