A surfing mecca and beachside holiday haven

Honolulu, with its island breezes and swaying palms, serves you instant relaxation. Perched on the south coast of Oahu, Hawaii’s capital is rightfully famous for the iconic Waikiki Beach. But beyond the surf and sand, there's heaps more to explore: jaw-dropping scenery, a buzzing culinary scene and excellent shopping, for starters.

Trek to the peak of Diamond Head for sweeping ocean views, or wander the eucalyptus-scented Aiea Loop Trail, at wildlife-rich Kaena Point. Check out the markets, boutiques and bars of Chinatown and pay your respects at one (or all) of the Pearl Harbour memorials. The North Shore surf beaches are legendary, while sunset is all about hula dancing and luaus, both time-honoured Hawaiian traditions.

Besides being a fabulous destination in its own right, Honolulu is your gateway to the rest of Hawaii. Whether you're after a blissful beachside resort in Maui, a volcano adventure on Hawaii Island (known as the ‘Big Island’), or nature in all its dramatic diversity on Kaua’i, Honolulu is your starting point.

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Things to do: Honolulu

  • Ash you were

    Hike Diamond Head

    Said to resemble the dorsal fin of a tuna, Diamond Head opens in new window is a 232-metre-high 'tuff cone' (huge ring of hardened volcanic ash) to the south of Waikiki. Named for the mistake of 19th-century British sailors mistaking the quartz crystals embedded in the rock for precious gems, Diamond Head draws hikers to the steep and surprisingly challenging 1-kilometre ascent to the crater’s ring to enjoy stellar views of Waikiki and the Pacific Ocean. Have lunch at the nearby Diamond Head Market.

  • Lawn, palm trees, and people on the white-sand beach at Ala Moana Regional Park, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii.

    Picnic at Ala Moana Regional Park

    Ala Moana Regional Park, across from the Ala Moana Center, packs in the family crowds thanks to its 800-metre man-made, lifeguard-staffed beach. It’s roomy, with ample space and facilities for picnics, barbecues and ball games. There’s a music pavilion, tennis courts and three concession stands. Extending from the beach, the Magic Island peninsula and its shallow lagoon is great for kids.

  • Lest we forget

    Visit the USS Arizona Memorial

    A sacred site to Americans, the USS Arizona Memorial marks the final resting place of 1102 of the 1177 sailors and marines aboard the battleship sunk during the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. Among the tributes to the fallen at the memorial, which takes the form of a floating bridge above the wreck, are exhibits and displays of artefacts such as the ship’s bell. It’s all part of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, which is also home to two museums and the Pearl Harbor Visitor Centre.

  • Mask marvels

    Snorkel at Hanauma Bay

    Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve’s corals and colourful array of sea creatures – from green sea turtles and parrotfish to yellow tangs and surgeonfish – have been drawing snorkelers for generations but only relatively recently were steps taken to protect the curved bay’s finned denizens. Just 17km from Waikiki Beach, the preserve limits the number of visitors, so book ahead for the chance to sight dozens of species (including the catchily named Humuhumunukunukuapuaa – formerly the Hawaii State Fish).

  • Red, blue and yellow shave ice, in a bowl with ‘Shave Ice’ written on the rim, atop a yellow table in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii.

    Dive into Honolulu’s food scene

    Hawaii has a multicultural culinary history and a bounty of fresh produce at its disposal. Try poi (taro) and roast pork on a spit – age-old mainstays of the traditional Hawaiian luau. Try pork-filled pastries called manapuas or a comforting Loco Moco – rice topped with a meat patty, fried egg and gravy. The signature Shave Ice is a refreshing treat to beat the heat. Explore the farmers markets or book a food tour to get straight to the culinary hideaways.

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Airport information

Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL)

Distance to Waikiki 14km

Taxi A taxi takes 30-40 minutes to reach Waikiki, and costs around USD $45, plus a baggage charge of 50 cents per bag.

Bus The Bus routes 19 and 20 go through to downtown Honolulu and the Ala Moana Center, ending in Waikiki. Adult one-way fares are USD $2.75.

Shuttle The Roberts Hawaii Express Shuttle will take you anywhere on Oahu from around USD $23.

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When to go

Winter, with its monstrous swells and periodic heavy storms, runs from the end of November to March, when temperatures range from 1625°C. Nevertheless, December to April along with May to August, when the mercury climbs into the 30s, are peak travel times as US families capitalise on school holiday periods.

Held annually in March, the Honolulu Festival is an arts and entertainment-focused event designed to celebrate the many cultures of the Pacific region. Held across six islands, the Aloha Festivals in September feature concerts, floral parades and street parties known as ho’olaule’a. September also sees the arrival of the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival.

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Getting around

The Bus plies a comprehensive number of routes in Honolulu and passengers pay a flat fare of USD $2.75 regardless of the destination. Four-day passes for four consecutive days of travel are available at ABC stores and the Ala Moana Center. Route 22 is known as the Beach Bus while Route 52, which can get extremely crowded, circles the island. Ala Moana serves as a hub for many other buses serving top tourist spots. 

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