Hawaii: how to do paradise with the whole family

Hawaii is a winner. Picture: Shutterstock
Hawaii is a winner. Picture: Shutterstock

Hawaii is a true Polynesian paradise for all the family, Mark Chipperfield discovers.

You might not be able to jump on the plane now, but there's nothing to stop you planning ahead for your next family holiday. With its wide range of child-friendly activities, welcoming resorts and fascinating cultural experiences, Hawaii is a winner.

From the moment your kids accept their first lei (flower garland), they will be captivated by the colour, warmth and energy of Polynesian culture. Ohana (family) is at the core of life in the islands, so expect a generous welcome - whether you are bodysurfing on Waikiki Beach, exploring Honolulu Zoo or hiking to Diamond Head.

With its warm tropical climate and abundant beaches, national parks and jungle-clad mountains Hawaii offers plenty of outdoor adventure, but you will also find a very dynamic and inclusive culture guaranteed to spark the imagination of every child.

A highlight is watching a hula under the southern stars. This cultural performance tells the story of Hawaii and its kings through dance, song and spoken word.

Music, especially the ukulele, is an inescapable part of Hawaiian life. You'll find ukulele versions of pop tunes, reggae and even Christmas carols everywhere. Why not enrol your kids in a ukulele lesson? Many of the hotels offer free lessons and instruments are widely available.

The islands

Collectively known as the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui and the Big Island represent a smorgasbord of tropical delight and adventure. Each island has a distinct personality but they share the same exuberant Polynesian culture.

The island of Oahu, which contains Honolulu, Waikiki Beach and Pearl Harbor, is widely seen as the gateway to Hawaii. It has modern resorts, great food and stunning beaches.

Oahu is also a convenient stepping-off point for exploring the other six islands, with outdoor types heading to the Big Island, couples to Maui, serenity seekers to Molokai and nature lovers to Lanai.

Great food and culture

Apart from its dominant Polynesian culture, Hawaii has been home to people from around the globe for generations. Europeans, Chinese and Japanese settlers were the first to arrive and their culinary influence is now everywhere.

Those on a tight budget will appreciate the rise of high-end food courts in Waikiki. The Street Food Hall on Kalakaua Avenue has an affordable selection of contemporary street food - from spicy Mexican tacos to Japanese noodle soup. You'll also find wellness bars serving salads, acai bowls and smoothies.

The food experience in Hawaii is as extrovert as its indigenous Polynesian culture which is visible (and audible) on the street and not just confined to museums, art galleries and national monuments.

From strolling ukulele players to traditional feasts (known as lu'aus) and hula dance performances, Hawaiian culture seeps into every corner of daily life.

Every evening the International Market Place on Kalakaua Avenue hosts a performance called O Na Lani Sunset Stories, which weaves together Polynesian folklore, royal Hawaiian history and energetic dance routines from across the Pacific. It's free.

Walk with heroes

The Pacific War (1941-1945), triggered by Japan's unprovoked attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, has left an enduring legacy on Hawaii. While the entire island of Oahu was fortified against a Japanese offensive, Pearl Harbor was home to America's mighty Pacific fleet and bore the brunt of the casualties on 7 December 1941.

About 1.5 million people visit Pearl Harbor each year to explore the national memorial, climb inside the wartime sub USS Bowfin and tour the aviation museum. A simple white pontoon marks the spot where the USS Arizona sank, an enduring symbol of duty and sacrifice. The wreck of the battleship is still a watery tomb for the 1177 sailors who lost their lives.

Another not-to-be-missed naval exhibit is the USS Missouri (Mighty Mo), the giant battleship that hosted the formal surrender by Japanese forces to General Douglas Macarthur.

Explore the great outdoors

As the birthplace of modern surfing, Hawaii is an energetic place. From aquatic sports to hiking, mountain biking and road running, Hawaii is constantly on the move.

Comfortable year-round temperatures of 25°C to 29°C are the ideal platform for outdoor adventures. Why not join the stand-up board riders on Waikiki Beach, tackle the hike to Diamond Head or snorkel with manta rays off the coast of Kona?

The coral reefs are a paradise for scuba divers and snorkellers, but you'll find plenty of land-based activities such as zip-lining, off-road touring and golf. On Kauai you can take part in Hawaii's latest outdoor craze: mountain tubing through a series of 19th-century canals on Lihue Plantation.

Experienced surfers will find plenty of challenging breaks on Oahu. If you haven't climbed on a board for a while, there are surf schools on Waikiki Beach. Or join spectators at the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, held each November-December.

Five Oahu highlights

1. Waimanalo Beach

Just 40 minutes by car from Waikiki, this white sand beach is perfect for anyone who wants to escape the crowds. Waimanalo is celebrated for its clean sand, turquoise waters and unspoilt location. Popular with locals, this pristine beach requires a little more effort to reach - so bring a picnic. See best-of-oahu.com

2. Pearl Harbor

When Japanese aircraft attacked the US Pacific naval base at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 they brought death and destruction - but also precipitated the entry of the United States into World War II. Highlights include the USS Arizona Memorial, the Missouri battleship and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park.

3. Diamond Head

This extinct volcano, visible from Waikiki Beach, is a popular destination for hikers, joggers and other outdoor types. Gun emplacements and other coastal defences were installed here during the 1940s and many of them are still visible. A hiking trail leads from the crater to a lookout point.

4. Waikele Premium Outlets

The island's most popular discount centre, about 40 minutes' drive from Waikiki, is a magnet for shoppers from around the globe. The low-rise precinct houses about 50 outlets ranging from high-end labels Coach and Kate Spade to everyday US brands Levi's and Banana Republic.

5. National Memorial Cemetery

A short drive from Waikiki, this manicured war cemetery contains the ashes of 53,000 American servicemen and servicewomen, including many of those who died during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The site, which includes a memorial chapel, is open Monday to Friday. Guided tours are also available.

Fly: Check your preferred airline for flights. Visit smartraveller.gov.au to check current situation.

Stay: The Queen Kapiolani Hotel is in a quiet part of Waikiki with friendly service, a pool, suites with kitchenettes and views over the park to Diamond Head. Rooms are from $260 per night. See queenkapiolani.com

Tour: E Noa offers small-group guided tours of Oahu, Honolulu and Pearl Harbor. Half-day tours of Pearl Harbor cover the national memorial, USS Arizona and Missouri. See enoa.com

Explore more:gohawaii.com

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