Looking for the perfect family holiday destination? With its wide range of child-friendly activities, welcoming resorts and fascinating cultural experiences Hawaii is the obvious choice.
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 wherever you travel – 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 of any island holiday is watching a hula under the southern stars. This traditional Hawaiian cultural performance tells the story of Hawaii and its kings through dance, song and storytelling.
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 and shopping centres offer free lessons and instruments are widely available.
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.
The island of Oahu, which contains Honolulu, Waikiki Beach and Pearl Harbor, is widely seen as the gateway to Hawaii and for many visitors represents the ultimate tropical destination, complete with modern resorts, great food and stunning beaches.
But 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.
Despite their separate personalities and unique attractions these magical islands all share the same exuberant, generous and welcoming Polynesian culture which permeates every aspect of life here.
Combining modern accommodation, world-class shopping, pristine scenery and white sand beaches it’s hardly surprising that Hawaii had become a byword for relaxed, sun-kissed travel, attracting people of every age. But as you’ll discover, one trip is never enough. Hawaii will get under your skin.
Great food, amazing culture
Apart from its dominant Polynesian culture Hawaii has been home to people from around the globe for many generations. Europeans, Chinese and Japanese settlers were the first to arrive and their culinary influence is now everywhere. So whether you are looking for a New York-style steak house, a buzzy sushi bar or fine diner serving contemporary Scandinavian fare, you’ll find it right here.
Those on a tighter budget will also appreciate the rise of high-end food courts in Waikiki. The Street Food Hall on Kalakaua Avenue, for example, offers an affordable selection of contemporary street food – from spicy Mexican tacos to Japanese noodle soup. Elsewhere you’ll find wellness bars serving fresh salads, acai bowls and healthy 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 Nā Lani Sunset Stories that 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 of Pearl Harbor, has left an enduring legacy on Hawaii.
While the entire island of Oahu was fortified against a possible Japanese offensive, Pearl Harbor, located on a vast natural waterway, was the home of America’s mighty Pacific fleet and bore the brunt of the casualties on 7 December 1941.
An estimated 1.5 million people visit Pearl Harbor each year to explore the national museum, climb inside the USS Bowfin, a wartime sub, tour the Battleship Mississippi and stand on a pontoon which floats above wreck of the USS Arizona – a watery tomb for the 1177 sailors who lost their lives.
Visitors to the museum learn about the attack on Pearl Harbor itself but more importantly the whole trajectory of the Pacific War which cost the lives of 106,000 US military personnel and a staggering 2.1 million Japanese sailors, soldiers and airmen.
Major naval exhibits include the Battleship Missouri (Mighty Mo) the giant ship that hosted the formal surrender by Japanese forces to General Douglas Macarthur in 1945 and the wreck of USS Arizona, an enduring symbol of duty and sacrifice. A simple white pontoon marks the spot where the battleship sank.
Explore the great outdoors
As the birthplace of modern surfing you’d expect Hawaii to be an energetic type of place and it won’t disappoint. From aquatic sports such as surfing, snorkelling and swimming to hiking, mountain biking and road running – Hawaii is constantly on the move.
Blessed with comfortable year-round temperatures of 25°C to 29°C the islands provide the ideal platform for outdoor adventures of many kinds. Why not join the contingent of stand-up board riders on Waikiki Beach, tackle the challenging hike to Diamond Head or snorkel with manta rays off the coast of Kona?
The Hawaiian Islands’ 1900 kilometres of coral reef are a paradise for both scuba divers and snorkellers, but you’ll find plenty of land-based activities including zip-lining, off-road touring and golf.
Visitors to the island of Kauai can take part in Hawaii’s latest outdoor craze of mountain tubing that will take you on an adventure through a series of 19th-century canals on Lihue Plantation.
Surfing remains a core activity on Oahu and experienced surfers will find plenty of challenging breaks on the island – especially on the west and north shores. 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, Hawaii’s premier surf competition, 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 Pearl Harbor, a major US naval base in the Pacific 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 Battleship Missouri and USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park. See pearlharbor.org.
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. See dlnr.hawaii.gov
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. See: premiumoutlets.com/outlet/waikele
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. See: govisithawaii.com.
Take me there
Fly: Qantas flies non-stop from Sydney and Brisbane to Honolulu from $930. Visit smartraveller.gov.au to check current situation.
Stay: Trump International Hotel Waikiki is an award-winning property in a quiet part of Waikiki with brilliant service, in-house dining and a lap pool. Rooms from $591 per night. See trumphotels.com
Tour: E Noa offers small-group guided tours of Oahu, Honolulu and Pearl Harbor. Half-day tours of Pearl Harbor cover the national museum, USS Arizona and the Battleship Missouri. See enoa.com
Explore more: gohawaii.com