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Hawai'i - Catching a wave - Waikiki Style

Hawai'i - Catching a wave - Waikiki Style

story by: Jo Wedlock

The luxury of Honolulu

Waikiki Beach.  Darling of the American holiday dream.  The name alone conjures up images of the innocence of the 1950s. Of long boards and cocktails and watching the sunset.  Fortunately for me the image was not all that different from the reality.  A lot more built up of course, but the surf still reigned supreme, the Mai Tai was still calling and the orange ball of fire setting into the horizon was like something from a storybook.

Recently my 4 year old daughter and I embarked on a ‘girl’s week’ in the Paradise that is Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawai'i.  I’m a huge fan of the shop and flop holiday and have spent several years being an advocate of all our neighbouring tropical islands including Rarotonga, Samoa and Fiji as well as the exalted East Coast of Australia.  So when the opportunity arose to visit Hawai'i , I was at first excited but also a little nervous.  I’ve had mixed reports from friends over the years, some of whom have loved the bustling excitement, great US shopping and soft long waves that Waikiki offers.  Others have not been a fan of the crowds, the commercialism and the ‘beginners surf’, so I was dubious about what to expect.

Our Air New Zealand flights were at a wonderful time and departed at around 10.30 in the morning which gave us time for a leisurely breakfast, a bit of duty free shopping and then boarding our plane.  The flight was about 75% full so we got a spare seat to ourselves and while we were travelling in the older Boeing 767 it was a pleasant 8 hour flight.    I had mentally considered the flight to be much longer and was pleasantly surprised that I could get to Hawai'i in less time than it takes me to get to Singapore or Hong Kong! 

We crossed the dateline so arrived 2 hours later but the day before we left – confused anyone?  My 4 year old doesn’t understand the concept of days of the week other than ‘kindy or not at kindy’ so a mere 2 hour time change in her body clock was easily dealt with and we grabbed a cab to our hotel – the Halekulani on Waikiki beach. 

The Halekulani is located about midway along the boardwalk of Waikiki beach front and is perfectly positioned to take advantage of all that the area has to offer.  Set on the curve of the beachfront, guests can go left down to the more populated area towards Diamond Head or take a right at the waves and walk along the boardwalk towards the Hiltons manmade lagoon.

We were shown to our beach view room which was on the 19th floor where they had kindly set up a rollaway bed for Miss 4.  The rooms are great and the view from the balcony overlooking the pool and ocean has to be seen to be believed.  These rooms have a really large bathroom area and interestingly the wardrobe which separates’ the bedroom from the bathroom has a door which rolls all the way back, so if you push your clothes to the end, you can open the door and lie in the bath soaking while taking in the view.

One of the really nice touches at the Halekulani is the turndown service which, each evening offers a small ‘gift’ to the occupants.  The first night it was a shell that was painted with a small note indicating that this is a local custom to welcome us to the Island.  Some nights it was a small chocolate box, others a memento but each time accompanied by an explanation that was both warm and touching.

The other big highlight to a stay at the Halekulani is the food. Oh my – the food!  Breakfasts are a choice of a wonderful buffet, or a la carte.  The buffet selection was what you’d expect however the food was fresh, well presented and tasty and included great touches like cocktail glasses of Yoghurt Parfait or Buttermilk pancakes.  There is also an omelette station which is one of my loves in a breakfast! 

The crown jewel in restaurants, not just for Halekulani but for Oahu, is Orchids fine dining restaurant.  We a wine list of over 500 wines, mouth-watering I quickly flicked through to see what New Zealand wines were on offer.  As expected, the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc features prominently, however I was surprised at the inclusion of the lesser known Kumeu River Pinot Noir, a wine that I love, but don’t see on many international menus.

The head Sommelier Kevin Toyama and his team are on hand during dinner times to direct the inexperienced at selecting a wine to suit their meal, or offering those who wish to try a different combination a range of options.  I’m amazed that more diners don’t take them up on their services as the depth of Kevin’s knowledge of wines is astounding.  He can taste a blind sample of Pinot Noir and tell you what country, and in some cases, what region of the world that sample came from!  

Kevin and his team think of wine as ‘travelling in a bottle’ which is a phrase I love so much I’m going to start claiming is mine...

Orchids offers a stunning A la carte menu however the pieced resistance is the 7 course degustation.  This is an opportunity for Executive Chef Vikram Garg, to showcase his philosophy of uniquely inspired cuisine which transcends ethnic food groups and uses the finest regional ingredients – to combine with a carefully selected and matched wine that will be compliment and enlighten.  Kevin says that a good wine combination should enhance the meal, not be a standalone offering and I tend to agree.

I ask them what their favourite or most surprising food and at first Kevin can’t decide.  After much deliberation he settles on the Poached Keahole Lobster, Spinach Tikki, Fenugreek Butter with Smoked Chilli Oli.  The dish was crafted by Executive Chef Vikram and Kevin himself matched a wine by the Rare Wine Company – a Madeira ‘Charleston” Servical NV.  He describes this as a rare instance when you taste a wine and can visualize how the flavours might emerge with a dish … and it goes beyond expectations.  After trying the combination, fellow Sommelier Sean described it as such.  “… the flavours of the Lobster with fenugreek sauce are fabulous like a jet on the runway taking off, then you sip the Madeira and it’s as if the afterburners kick in, the pairing pops and keeps going.”

So having indulged in so much stunning food and wine, its time to work it off with a bit of exercise – and what better to celebrate the greatness that is Waikiki than a surf lesson.

I have made it my mission this trip to learn how to surf.  I’ve never been on a surfboard before, however am a ‘blue run level’ snowboarder and somewhat competent wake boarder, so I’m looking at rounding it out to a hat-trick on the board. 

Walking down the golden body-strewn sand there is a ‘learn to surf’ booth every 30 metres.  Most advertise at around the same price, but are they all as good as the next?  I put my trust in the concierge Wendy Wong at Halekulani and ask her to book me someone that can handle a complete beginner who can be a bit on the cheeky side (a girl has to have some fun!).  She delivers me to Aaron from Waikiki Beach Service which operates out of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, 2 doors down from Halekulani.  Aaron even comes to the hotel to collect me and walk me down the beach to start my first lesson. 

These guys at Waikiki Beach service are amazing and I’m really lucky that I got Aaron as my teacher – he’s patient, a little cheeky, but doesn’t let me get away with being lazy when my arms decide to paddle no more.  The waves are as gentle and long as legend has it, and before the end of the first half hour, I’ve ‘ridden’ my first wave into the beach.  I’ve even been lucky and spotted a giant turtle swimming under me! 

During the course of the (rather long) paddle back out to the ‘break’ (see – I’m a real surfer already!) I tell Aaron that I have my 4 year old daughter with me, who is currently with a babysitter.  He convinces me to bring her with me for the lesson the next day.  I’m a little dubious as, while is is super water confident, she can’t actually swim much more than a 2 second dog paddle, and I’ve wiped out several times already!  Aaron assures me that if I don’t want her to even get wet, she won’t touch the water.  Apparently the instructors take the smaller kids out on their boards.  So I decide to put my trust in him and give it a whirl.

The next day once again dawns bright and sunny, and after another delicious breakfast, daughter and I head back down the beach to try and spot of family surfing.

I’ve got Aaron as my instructor again, and he personally selects another instructor to take out my daughter.  She is super excited and I’m more than a little nervous.  Isn’t it funny how I’m perfectly happy to put myself into any extreme situation, but when its Miss 4, it’s not so fun anymore!

I had nothing to worry about, and as she jumps on the front of her instructors board and he paddles her out to catch their first wave, she is ecstatic.  The instructors do the paddling and they surf on their knees behind the kids who are on the front of the board.  When the wave is caught, the instructor literally holds the back of her rash shirt while she goes into the ‘kneel then stand’ position and then she ‘surfs’ the wave into the beach with him on the back – amazing!  At the end of the hour she is champing at the bit for more, but I’m knackered as there isn’t anyone behind me paddling and my arms are now marshmallow.

What an amazing kid’s activity and the guys at the Waikiki Beach Services were so amazing with kids that I cannot recommend this family activity more.

One day left on the holiday and it dawns cloudy, which is fantastic as I can now head to Ala Moana shopping mall for a relatively guilt free shopping day.   This mall is amazing.  It’s a short walk from the Hilton end of the boardwalk, or you can catch the ‘trolley’ for $2 each way from a range of points around Waikiki.  The trolley is a San Francisco inspired trolley bus that does a tourist loop around the main hotels and shopping areas.  If you can, get on this early in the day as by around midday each bus will pass you by as its too full for more passengers!

Ala Moana is amazing and his open most days from 9.30am until 9pm for a full day of shopping. It has over 290 shops spread over 3 floors and I get all my favourite brands in one place.  Gap, Victoria Secret, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Abercrombie and Fitch, Burberry, Guess, Juicy... the list is endless.  Needless to say if it’s a big brand, it’s at Ala Moana.

We wind up the last evening at Roy’s restaurant, just across the road from Halekulani.  Roy Yamaguchi is a bit of a local legend and he opened the first Roy’s restaurant in Honolulu in 1988.  His philosophy is that in Hawai'i there are two things of equal importance – food and the ‘aloha’ spirit.  The blending of these two principles is how Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine was born.  European techniques and Asian Cuisine meet Hawaiian Hospitality!  A divine dinner of fresh Tuna Sashimi, a wonderful yummy yet healthy kids menu and a selection of Hawaiian specialties -  this sums up a divine holiday. Hawaii watch out – we’ll be back.



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