From the thumping hub of Waikiki to the sublime stillness of the Big Island, this is the ideal family destination, as Tracey Spicer and her family discover.
Hawaii truly has it all. Beautiful beaches, sensational shopping and ancient volcanoes are a fraction of what these six islands offer. Our family holiday began in Waikiki, Oahu, a popular choice for families. Despite decades of tourism, this strip of sand, stretching from the rugged rocks of Diamond Head to the Rainbow Tower of the iconic Hilton, remains a natural wonderland. It becomes immediately apparent, however, that the only problem with a holiday in Hawaii is how to fit it all in. Here’s how we did it:
Day 1: At home in Hawaii
You’ve touched down in paradise. What’s next? Flights from Australia to Honolulu are overnight, so it’s best to relax and rejuvenate on your first day. At the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, everything you need is on site, from cafes and restaurants to the five pools, water slides, a kids’ club, surfing lessons and free DVD rental. A sunset sail on the Spirit of Aloha with Port Waikiki Cruises, which leaves from the wharf in front of the Hilton, was a magical way to end our first day. As the blazing orange sun drops into the ocean it casts a magical golden glow over Diamond Head.
Day 2: Surf’s up!
Once you’re feeling thoroughly refreshed, I’d recommend booking a surfing trip for your first morning. Hawaii is, without doubt, the best place in the world to learn to surf, not merely because it is the rumoured birthplace of the sport. Taj and I stand up first try, which is nothing short of a miracle. Next, we wander to Waikiki (about a 15-minute walk) to check out the shops and cafes. Those positioned on the beachfront can be expensive, so explore the back blocks for the bargains.
Day 3: Dolphin discoveries
It’s tough being an animal-lover these days. The experts are divided on the issue of swimming with dolphins in their natural habitat. Our guides at Wild Side Specialty Tours – an hour’s drive from Waikiki on the west coast of Oahu – are cautious, suggesting we snorkel around, rather than through, the pod. It’s marvellous hearing these magnificent creatures communicate with one another.
Day 4: Dive into history
Depending on the age of your kids, it’s worth fitting in some educational activities. Tourists too often ignore the troubled past of this tropical paradise, but the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbour (a half-hour drive from the resort) brings history to life and is great for tweens and teens alike. For little ones, the planetarium and replica of an erupting volcano at the nearby Bishop Museum will leave them totally enamoured.
Day 5: Relax and recharge
After a busy few days, it’s time for a dose of relaxation! Drive an hour to the north shore of Oahu, with its killer surf breaks and shrimp vans. There’s nothing more refreshing than a swim beneath the waterfall at Waimea Valley and you can ride the Pineapple Express Train and visit the world’s largest maze at the Dole Plantation on the way! It’s the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of Waikiki.
Day 6: Wildlife at Waimanalo
Back at the resort, it’s only a half-hour drive to the small slice of Tahiti that can be found on Oahu’s east coast. The kids climbed the towering Ironwood trees that line the shore and within minutes of snorkelling in the fluorescent waters of Waimanalo, our family was followed by two honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles). Further south, you’ll find the protected marine reserve of Hanauma Bay; it’s like swimming in an aquarium surrounded by thousands of fish. Get there early, because there are limited parking spaces.
Day 7: The Big Island
To keep restless kids on their toes, this stage of the holiday is a great time to island-hop. Gate-to-gate, it’s only a 45-minute flight from Honolulu to Kona on the Big Island. Prepare for a prehistoric landscape as you land on black lava! From here the resort precinct is just a 20-minute drive away, with plenty of restaurants, cafes and a shopping centre, to stock up on beer, wine and snacks.
Day 8: Volatile volcanoes
The Big Island offers countless unique experiences for families. For ours, the eighth was the biggest and best day of the trip. After piling into a mini-bus with a couple of other families, we journeyed to an Evening Volcano Tour with Kapohokine Adventures. Our guide, Billy, kept the kids entertained with bloodthirsty stories about how Captain Cook met his end here. After stopping at an eerie black-sand beach, we drove up Mount Kilauea to see the spectacular spurts from its caldera. It really is an up-close and personal experience; we stood only a few hundred metres from its fiery centre.
Day 9: Marine magic
Your last day in Hawaii should be reserved for all things aquatic. We spent ours snorkelling, paddle-biking and kayaking in the natural lagoon at the heart of the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Kohala Coast. It’s teeming with tropical fish, turtles and sea snakes, and is the perfect end to a wonderful holiday. Our most important advice? Sure, have fun. But take time to relax into the Aloha spirit and let it guide you on your journey of this incredible archipelago.