17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you are a newbie

17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you are a newbie

Nikki ParkinsonLife, Travel 29 Comments

Editor’s note: this post was originally based on a family trip to Hawaii in July 2016 and has been updated following a second visit to Hawaii in January 2020. My hottest tip if travelling to this magical paradise is to travel outside of peak seasons (July 4 and New Year’s … umm, yes the very times I’ve travelled to Hawaii). If you can swing it outside of those times, your flights and accommodation will be so much cheaper and that will offset the hit you’ll take with the AUD vs USD exchange rate.

For a pictorial and video view of our 2020 holiday, check out the Hawaii highlight on my Instagram profile HERE

For all our food stops, check out the Instagram highlight HERE

Tulle-skirted outrigger paddlers formed a guard of honour for their teammates running out of the water and up the beach after a race.

Young mates took to a giant inflatable; floating on the turquoise water, complete with stocked esky.

Defence force personnel from around the world enjoyed some pre-RIMPAC R and R.

Local families nabbed early beachside positions under shade shelters, bringing with them enough food and bevvies to last until the 8.30pm fireworks.

In my family, the two surfers each hired a board and paddled out to the reef break.

My two sons played paddleball together on the sand.

Despite the massive crowds, Fourth of July in Waikiki was looking mighty fine from my position, gently bobbing on the lagoon-protected water in my $8 pink, Hibiscus-flowered ring.

It’s safe to say that during our 10 days on the Hawaiian island of Oahu that I perfected the art of bobbing.

It’s all quite meditative, hanging in crystal-clear water and watching the passing parade that could at any time include other bobbers, stand-up paddle boarders, snorkelers and turtles.

I did not make that last bit up. More on that below.

Also below, I’ve listed out my 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you’re a newbie.

We were newbies this time but we are already planning our return trip. And yes, we’ll venture beyond Oahu in future visits. This visit was to celebrate our son’s 21st on the Fourth of July before he and our daughter continued their travels elsewhere.

17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you’re a newbie

17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you are a newbie

1. Pick flights to suit your needs

In 2016, we flew Hawaiian Airlines and can highly recommend them, particularly if you’re fond of packing ALL the things and/or shopping for ALL the things. Each of us could have taken two 32kg suitcases. We didn’t – and my suitcase going over was only 18kg – but we did take with us an extra small suitcase to swallow up any purchases. Glad we made that call.

Hawaiian Airlines flies direct from Brisbane and the flight was about nine hours. We left in the evening and got to do that day all over again on the way over. We were tired as sleep was not plentiful but it didn’t take too long to get on Hawaiian time. Coming back we lost that day but flew during the day, arriving home early evening so were able to fall into bed pretty quickly after a little unpacking. The only downside to the flight was the inability to request a gluten-free meal.

In 2020, we flew Air New Zealand via Auckland. Staff were great; food and service were great. The stop-over? Not-so. It was delayed six hours, which was no-one’s fault except the weather but showed that you do leave yourself more open to delays when there is a stop-over. A word of warning: you need to pay for The Works to get most of the entertainment options and food service. There is a paid drinks and snacks menu available. It’s also worth paying the extra for seat selection … or you may just be a little too conveniently placed next to the toilet, as happened to friends of ours. And, one suitcase each – 23kg. 

Long story short, we stuffed up. I thought Air New Zealand was still in alliance with Virgin Australia (therefore points, status credits, great seats, priority boarding etc). Umm NO, they broke up in October 2018. We thought we were saving some dollars during a peak time of flying by opting for Air New Zealand but ended up paying for all the “extras” when we realised we didn’t have what was basic on Hawaiian Airlines. Lesson learned.

Hawaiian Airlines | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

2. Pick accommodation to suit your needs

When we started planning our family trip about 12 months ago, we were mindful of two things: we were travelling across the busy Fourth of July weekend and we were a party of four adults and one child. Finding an apartment seemed like the way to go and a little searching on Last Minute lead me to Outrigger Waikiki Shore – the only apartment building on the beach at Waikiki. We wanted to be staying in the thick of things and this choice proved fantastic for that but with a slightly more chilled element than other parts of Waikiki.

Outrigger Waikiki Shore | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Our two-bedroom apartment included a super comfy king-sized bed, two singles and a sofa bed in the living area. A ceiling-mounted timber room divider separated the main “bedroom”. There were two bathrooms (a laundry included in the main) and the kitchen was large and well appointed. The building itself is quite old but each apartment is individually owned, so you are at the mercy of that owner’s décor taste. Housekeeping changed towels every day if you needed and sheets every three days.

What made the accommodation a winner for us was the ability to self-cater most breakfasts (there are “variety” ABC stores everywhere for everything from deli goods to booze – at such good prices we questioned why we bothered with duty free purchases, Hawaiian shirts and sunscreen) and some lunches, the amazing view from our balcony and the relatively quiet beach on our doorstep. All apartments face towards the Hilton Hawaiian Village complex and, with the Fort DeRussy Beach Park and military reserve next door, the view from level five and above is priceless. You don’t need to leave your apartment to watch the sunset or the Friday night fireworks. You also have access to the pool and facilities are the Outrigger Reef next door. We preferred the beach to the pool though and didn’t spend time there.

Outrigger Waikiki Shore | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

In 2020, it was just the three of us (two adults; one teenager) travelling to Waikiki. We stuck with Outrigger, opting to book at the new Waikiki Beachcomber by Outrigger. The hotel was formerly a Holiday Inn and is just across the road from the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort (home to Duke’s). We loved that it was right in the thick of things but that you could easily retreat to a beautiful, modern and spacious room with a view when the crowds got too much.

Beachcomber Waikiki by Outrigger

Beachcomber Waikiki by Outrigger

We booked a one-bedroom, ocean-view suite for three nights over New Year’s. Our bedroom was separated by sliding shuttered doors from the lounge room which was where our son slept on a sofa bed. There was one bathroom and toilet. And the view from the 25th floor was amazing.

Beachcomber Waikiki by Outrigger

Beachcomber Waikiki by Outrigger

Beachcomber Waikiki by Outrigger

Beachcomber Waikiki by Outrigger

For our one-night back in Waikiki before flying home, we were kindly upgraded to a two-bedroom, two bathroom Beachcomber suite. This was next level in terms of space and also included a kitchenette and full lounge room. Travelling as a larger family or two couples? This would be an ideal option as you could semi self-cater. The Level 19 balconies looked towards Diamond Head, and across to the beach.

Beachcomber Waikiki by Outrigger

Beachcomber Waikiki by Outrigger

Beachcomber Waikiki by Outrigger

Beachcomber Waikiki by Outrigger

Where would I stay on a return trip to Waikiki with just the two of us? The charm of the iconic Moana Surfrider or Royal Hawaiian for lots of fun right on the main beach at Waikiki are both on our bucket list.

3. Plan and book some tours and dinner reservations in advance

When we travel I always like to sort a few things in advance and balance that out with some winging it and going with the flow.

2016: The busy time we were travelling in (and the fact we were travelling as a party of seven) meant I did err more on the pre-organised stuff but I purposefully didn’t fill up every day with a pre-booked activity. Relaxation was the top of everyone’s agenda for our time on Oahu. What we did book was dinner for the Fourth of July (absolutely didn’t want to take our chances on this special occasion); airport transfers; Pearl Harbour tour; car hire; sunset/fireworks cruise and a spa visit. On arrival, I booked a dinner and lunch at restaurants where it may have been more difficult to get a walk-in spot.

2020:  I pre-booked less this time around. The Open Table app makes it so easy to book dinners in advance, which we did for New Year’s Eve and our final night in Hawaii. We also pre-booked our car hire online through Alamo after experiencing such great service and pricing on our last trip.

4. Visit Pearl Harbour

Mr SY and his Dad are self-confessed war/plane nerds. Pearl Harbour was always going to be on the agenda. What I didn’t expect was how much I enjoyed the morning of reflection. The USS Arizona memorial has been created so beautifully and with so much respect for the history of the place. On the USS Missouri, I thought it would be inappropriate to make reference to Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time video clip but, no, the tour guide beat me to it. We booked this tour through Discover Hawaii Tours. If you do as well, I hope you get Kenn as your driver. Kenn’s a native New Yorker and Vietnam vet who moved to Hawaii 40 years ago. Think Morgan Freeman with House of Cards’ Kevin Spacey’s voice and a wry humour which had us in stitches.

Pearl Harbour USS Missouri | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Pearl Harbour USS Missouri | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Pearl Harbour USS Arizona | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

5. Go shopping

OF COURSE. It goes without saying that any holiday of mine involves a little shopping … and a little bit more.

2016: Many who have shopped Hawaii before me told of a hit and miss situation when it came to nabbing bargains. I can tell you that our experience was very much on the hit side of the equation. A lot of that had to do with the Fourth of July sales we landed smack bang in the middle of. This meant that the outlets at the Waikele Premium Outlets were offering up ridiculous discount situations that my non-maths brain struggled with. Luckily attentive sales assistants did the calculations for me. Kate Spade and Michael Kors yielded most for me. The boys cleaned up at Adidas and Tommy Hilfiger.

Waikele Premium Outlets Shopping | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Aside from the outlets, the Ala Moana shopping centre (think indoor/outdoor like Gold Coast’s Pacific Fair) offered up excellent value across the Fourth of July weekend. A long list of shops offered 25% off; others had 40% off. In Macy’s department store, the reductions were on top of reductions. Make sure you stop in at Nordstrom … there’s a bar smack bang in the middle of the womenswear section. And, of course, there’s Anthropologie.

Ala Moana Shopping Centre | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Downtown Waikiki also offered up fun shopping opportunities. Loved Sephora and Tommy Bahama.

Shopping Waikiki | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

2020: The poor exchange rate means that bargains are not so easy to come by but we gave it a red, hot go. HAH. Would you expect anything less? There were some New Year’s sales just winding up but for clothing it was strange to see full winter clothes in store. Yes, it was technically winter in Hawaii but the most you’d need would be a light jumper on a rainy night.

We still visited the Waikele Outlets and the boys managed to score on a deal for two pairs of sneakers at ASICS. I picked up a cuff from Tory Burch; the husband stocked up on polo shirts at Tommy Hilfiger but I left this metallic number in the same store on the rack!

In Waikiki, we popped on over to Ala Moana again but could have just popped next door from our hotel to the International Marketplace, which was revamped and re-opened in August, 2016. I didn’t need to trek over to Ala Moana for a visit to Anthropologie. It’s a beautiful centre, that’s a bit of an oasis in the crazy of Waikiki.

International Marketplace Waikiki

6. Visit a day spa

2016: I am nothing if not predictable. Always on the top of my holiday/escape list is a trip to a day spa. I call it advanced relaxation therapy and that’s what I found at Lather Spa at the Modern Honolulu. Let’s just talk briefly about The Modern Hotel. This boutique hotel exudes a cool factor from the moment you enter. We dined first at Morimoto (see below) before I sent Mr SY on the 20-minute walk back to our apartment while I hopped in the lift up to the spa. I’d booked in for an 80-minute Modern Harmony Massage (always a good idea to try the local signature treatment I say … much like the local drink). This was a delicious drool-and-snore-inducing mix of shiatsu, Hawaiian Lomi Lomi and warm stone massage techniques. It started with my therapist creating a signature aromatherapy blend at the essential oil blending bar and ended with me lamenting that it was all over too quickly. This was quality massage therapy in a luxe location. 

Lather Spa at The Modern Honolulu | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

7. Drink Mai Tais

I think it’s important to assimilate oneself with the environment in which you find yourself when travelling. Me? I like to adopt the “local” drink. In Italy about the Aperol Spritz in Italy. In Hawaii, I became a self-appointed Mai Tai aficionado. On both trips to Hawaii, I thought, to be a true aficionado I should sample as many Mai Tais as humanly possible. This wasn’t about binge drinking. This was about quality control and rating the best in Waikiki. The Mai Tai actually originated in California but when its inventor was asked to create a drink for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, adding the variation of pineapple juice, it became Hawaiian folklore.

Mai Tai Bar Royal Hawaiian

At a very basic mix (and one that was served to us on a sunset cruise in 2016), it’s a matter of whacking dark rum into a cup with ice and filling with pineapple juice. At the fancier end of the Mai Tai spectrum, I experienced additions of crushed pineapple, a ball of sorbet and an ice-blend that came with a shot of more rum on the side to pour in.

Moana Surfrider Beach Bar Mai Tai

Expect to pay anything from $US2-18 per Mai Tai. And here’s a recipe to try at home.

8. Dine out

One of the questions I’ve been most asked was how expensive it was to eat out in Waikiki and my answer has been, “as expensive as you want it to be”. We did what we usually do on holidays and opted for a variation of high-low dining options – from self-catering in our apartment for most breakfasts and some lunches to buying from the nearby food trucks and treating ourselves big time at Nobu (we sent the kids to Denny’s Diner that night!). In between the food trucks and Nobu are a tonne of other options for all budgets.

The Japanese influence on the culture and cuisine in Hawaii made for beautiful, fresh eating options at every turn. Service is top notch – yes, wait staff work on tips but it was still amazing to be treated so well everywhere we dined.

What I also loved was that wine prices on restaurant menus were comparable to Australian restaurant prices – and in some cases cheaper, even for a NZ sav blanc, which has further to travel to Hawaii than to our shores.

These were our 2016 and 2020 faves:

Nobu: simply exquisite Japanese food. We couldn’t decide on the menu so went with a set-course degustation and this ensured we sampled a mix of flavours that will long be etched in my memory. This night is definitely in my top five dining experiences of all times.

Nobu Waikiki| 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Nobu Waikiki | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Morimoto: we lunched here for the view over the harbour from the deck. Mr SY will be dreaming about his Spicy Alaskan King Crab for many a day to come. In 2020, we saved Morimoto for our final night in Waikiki. It’s now in a new location in the Alohiani Resort, past Duke’s statue in central Waikiki.

Morimoto Waikiki

The Cheesecake Factory: this is a chain restaurant in America (that the world knows from TV show, The Big Bang Theory) and on paper it shouldn’t work – the menu is pages and pages long. But good systems and efficient service mean it does. There is literally something for everyone on the menu. Portion sizes are big so keep that in mind as you will not want to miss ordering a piece of cheesecake to finish. You can’t book a table but arrive early, grab your buzzer and come back around the time they estimate a table will be free. In the interests of optimum time management, we hot-footed it to the beachfront Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian while waiting.

The Cheesecake Factory Waikiki| 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Buho Cocina y Cantina was not only a fab rooftop destination but also a great dining option. Authentic Mexican, excellent margaritas and a setting with a great vibe made for a memorable night out.

Buho Cocina y Cantina Waikiki | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Duke’s: Everyone told us to eat here and it ended up being our venue of choice for our son’s 21st. Book ahead – you’ll only get a two-hour slot – but this was enough for us to indulge in probably the best salad bar I’ve ever experienced, a main from the menu and the restaurant’s famous Hula pie, a mix of biscuit base, ice-cream, fudge sauce and macadamia nuts that you really do need to share with at least one other.

Duke's Waikiki| 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Shorebird Restaurant and Bar: This was just downstairs from us in 2016 on the beach in front of Outrigger Reef. By night it’s all about the grill and you choose what you’d like to have grilled and then cook it yourself – seriously good food and a whole lot of fun. This is a great venue to catch the sunset too.

Shorebird Waikiki| 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Bills: Bills is the brainchild of Aussie chef Bill Grainger and its Waikiki location was an easy walk in 2016 for our takeaway coffees most morning. You can dine at Bills for breakfast, lunch and dinner but we couldn’t resist booking for a family breakfast (and some sweet corn fritters!). We lucked a veranda spot too.

Bills Waikiki| 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Bills Waikiki| 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Beachhouse at Moana Surfrider (or the Veranda): a special occasion should start with a special breakfast and that’s what we had at Moana Surfrider. The buffet was up there with the best and we loved that our the omelette, waffle and pancake orders were brought to your table.

Beachhouse Moana Surfrider| 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Maui Brewing Co.: this restaurant and bar is in the Beachcomber Waikiki complex and offers great cocktails, craft beers and a breakfast, lunch and dinner menu with a focus on fresh, local pub food. 

Maui Brewing Co

Maui Brewing Co

Hawaiian Aroma Cafe: we made a beeline for this cafe in the Beachcomber complex on arrival … because COFFEE. you’ll find a fun poolside, casual dining option for breakfast and lunch and if waffles are your thing, then you’ll love the selection available. 

Hawaiian Aroma Cafe

Hawaiian Aroma Cafe

Shirokoya Japanese Village Walk, Ala Moana Shopping Centre: Our Uber driver steered us (HAH) to this hidden gem in the Ala Moana centre. It was like we had stepped into a food court in Tokyo. So delish and extremely good value.

Shirokoya Japanese Village Walk Ala Moana Waikiki

Koko Head Cafe: There is something fun about reading about a food venue off the tourist trail, making it there and finding it just as fun as you’d hoped it would be. Celebrity chef Lee Anne Wong is the genius behind Koko Head. It’s a brunch-all-day situation and the speciality is the dumplings of the day. The cornflake French toast is something else. Be prepared to wait for a seat but it will be worth it – for the food and the impromptu singing by the kitchen staff.

Koko Head Cafe

Koko Head Cafe

Leonard’s BakeryI convinced the fam that walking the 5km round trip to Leonard’s would very much justify the consumption of the piping hot, malasadas (Portuguese donuts) that this bakery is known for. They concurred. 

Leonard's Bakery Honolulu

9. Take a cruise

The over-the-water sunsets were pretty spectacular most nights but watching them while on board a catamaran off the coast of Waikiki was something else. Do this on a Friday night and you also get the weekly fireworks as a bonus to the end of the cruise. In 2016, we sailed on the Spirit of Aloha with a very attentive crew, “snacks” (that very much constituted dinner) and drinks for the two-and-a-half-hour duration.

Spirit of Aloha sunset cruise | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Spirit of Aloha sunset cruise | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

In 2020, we were kindly invited on board with friends who had booked the Manu Kai catamaran for the New Year’s Eve fireworks. It was so magical. The crew were amazing, so we booked a turtle snorkelling tour with them for the next day.

10. Watch sunset from the beach

We are lucky to have a sunset view from our balcony on both trips but grab a vantage point at any spot on the beach or at a beach bar (Rumfire at Sheraton is great for people watching) and you’ll be treated to a show from Mother Nature.

Beachcomber Waikiki by Outrigger

Hawaiian sunset from Rumfire Bar Waikiki

Sunset Waikiki | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

11. Catch the fireworks

There are weekly fireworks near the Hilton Hawaiian Village every Friday evening. They can be seen from the Honolulu end of Waikiki Beach (or from the water as above). In 2016, we also got a treat in the Fourth of July fireworks, watching the 20-minute show from our balcony. 

Fireworks Waikiki | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

And in 2020, we saw the New Year in, watching fireworks from the water in Waikiki.

New Year's Eve Fireworks Waikiki

12. Go surfing or stand-up paddle boarding

There are board hire stalls all the way along Waikiki Beach. The two surfers in our family hired longboards from central Waikiki Beach for $US10/hour and had a lot of fun hanging out the back and catching a few easy waves. Me, I had my first go at stand-up paddle boarding (more on that next week).

Waikiki Beach | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

13. Climb Diamond Head

Diamond Head beautifully dominates the landscape at Waikiki and we’d been told that we should do the walk but do it early on a Saturday morning because you can indulge at the farmers’ markets at the bottom when you’re done. This was great advice, as was getting a cab to the base of the walk. It’s about 30 minutes up – it’s not super hard going but there are steep, uneven pathways, steps and a long, dark tunnel to walk through (be mindful of this if you’re claustrophobic). The views are incredible. I chanted Mai Tai all the way up as motivation.

Diamond Head | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Diamond Head | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

In 2020, I made a big mistake. Firstly, I suggested we walk to the base from our hotel. All good, yes we took the long way round and clocked up 6km past some very beautiful homes and fantastic ocean views but the big fail was in not carrying any cash on us. Entry is $1US per person – and they don’t carry cash. So we jumped into a cab driven by an ex-prisoner (true story – he told us he’d only had eight girlfriends since getting out of jail) and headed to brunch at Koko Head cafe (mentioned above)

Diamond Head walk

14. Swim with turtles

In 2016, I had planned to book a special trip to snorkel with them but I didn’t get around to it … but they came to every afternoon right out the front of our apartment. 

Swim with turtles Waikiki | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

In 2020, I wasn’t missing out. I booked us spots on board Manu Kai, which sails off the beach in front of Moana Surfrider, and it was hands-down one of the best experiences ever. There were only about 12 of us on board (maybe a quiet day) and our turtle experience offshore at Turtle Canyon was incredible. Do it!

Manu Kai snorkelling Waikiki

15. Spend a day (or a few hours) at Hanauma Bay

Hanamuma Bay had become something of a family joke/myth/story to share with grandchildren and I’m glad to say in 2020 we made it all happen for my husband. Why my husband? He first visited Hawaii on a stopover when he was 10 and his family got to this marine park as it was closing for the day. In 2016, history repeated itself. Oops. If there was one thing we weren’t missing on our latest trip, it was this.

So, I did the research, which advises getting up early and get to the park just after opening (6am), so you get a carpark and and space on the beach. We did that and snorkelled all morning. There are lots of guidelines and rules about swimming here to protect the reef but I feel it’s been loved a little too much. The reef life is plentiful but the reef it itself is not abundant with coral. Or maybe we’re spoilt here in Australia with the Great Barrier Reef?

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay

16. Get out and explore the island

In 2016, Hawaiian Tourism Australia hired a car for us (through Alamo) for two days to explore more of the island of Oahu. On the first day we drove to the North Shore and what an absolute treat that was. In less than two hours it felt a million miles from Waikiki, like time had stood still. The beaches were stunning, and there was zero high-rise. The same beaches we swam in were like lagoons but in winter (our 2020) we got a glimpse of some of the some of the world’s biggest breaks that host major surfing competitions. A lunch stop of fried shrimp and shave ice at the food trucks is a must. Want to stay on the North Shore? Check out Turtle Bay Resort.

North Shore Oahu | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

North Shore Oahu | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Pipeline North Shore Oahu

In 2016 we headed east to Kailua and Lanikai beaches for another day trip. It’s the part of Oahu where you’re most likely to run into the Obamas. It was windy the day we visited but the beaches here were so beautiful – white sand and turquoise water beautiful. The vibe in Kailua was a whole lot of fun too. We ate burgers at Teddy’s Bigger Burgers and I wandered the shops, finding some super cute boutiques. This area would be a great alternative for a more low-key holiday. Check out Lanikai Beach Rentals

Lanikai Beach, Kailua, Oahu | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

We loved the East Coast – Lanikai and Kailua – that we returned in 2020 to stay for a week. I’ll be writing a specific post about that very soon. Stay tuned!

Lanikai Oahu

17. Do absolutely nothing at all

All beach holidays should contain an element of this. We purposefully didn’t fill every day of both holidays as we all needed down time. Time spent lying under a beach umbrella, reading a novel or two and taking it all in is time well spent.

Waikiki Beach | 17 tips for travelling to Hawaii if you're a newbie

Can you tell that we absolutely loved both our stays? On top of all the things I’ve listed, big pluses for us were the lack of humidity. If you like milder day time temperatures but still like to swim in warm water, January is perfect. July was really hot in comparison. The fact that we felt safe walking out at night, the way Waikiki is looked after (cleaning and landscaping) and the uber-friendliness of its people were also bonuses. 

So tell me, have you been to Hawaii? What were your favourite things to eat, do and visit?

* In 2016, Hawaiian Tourism Australia helped organise our Pearl Harbour tours, Spirit of Aloha cruise and car hire. I was a guest or received a discount on these and paid for the others travelling in our party. I was also a guest of the Lather Spa. We booked and paid for our accommodation, airfares and dining options independently.

*In 2020, we booked our flights, dining options and accommodations independently. Outrigger gave us a discount on our accommodation at Beachcomber Waikiki and upgraded us on our final night.

Because I know you want more …

Styling You: What to pack for Hawaii

Kirsten and Co:  Your ultimate guide to Hawaii (Kirsten was in Hawaii at the same time I was in 2016 and regularly stays in the same apartments)

Fat Mum Slim: Chantelle’s happy place is Hawaii and she’s been there LOTS (with small children). Here’s a link to all the posts she’s written about Hawaii

Why I think travel insurance is as important as your passport

For me, I don’t book a holiday without first taking out travel insurance. Often the time of booking flights and accommodation can be long before the time of travel and you can never be certain of what might happen between then and showing your passport at customs.

I then want to take off knowing that if someone in my family needs it, I’m backed up with help from my travel insurance company. For all my recent international trips – to Europe, Hawaii, Bali, Japan and New Zealand – I’ve chosen and paid for Allianz travel insurance. I also take out Allianz travel insurance for any domestic travel or road trips we do.

In my experience, obtaining Allianz travel insurance is a simple and easy process. I select and purchase my cover online. I’ve found that the insurance cover is competitive in price for the inclusions I select.

For me, it’s about having peace of mind when we travel. I want to know that if anything goes wrong, I have purchased a policy that includes medical help if travelling overseas or simply help with additional accommodation or replacement belongings should something be stolen.

When our son injured himself while snowboarding in Japan, we weren’t concerned about being out of pocket for the potential expense of his treatment. And when I book holidays in advance, I do so with the knowledge that if unexpected cancellations occur, I’m insured.^

In short, I don’t leave home – or book a holiday – without it.

Book with Allianz Travel Insurance online HEREEnter STYLINGYOU to receive up to 10% off Allianz Comprehensive Travel Insurance*


*Discount based on standard premium rates and applies to International Comprehensive policies only. Please note some discounts may have already been applied to premiums when a product is purchased through a certain channel (for example, online) (Original Discount). In such a case, the greater of the discount offered under this voucher and the Original Discount will be applied. Discount applies to standard premiums only. No discount will be applied to other premium components such as pre-existing medical condition cover.

Allianz Travel Insurance is issued and managed by AWP Australia Pty Ltd ABN 52 097 227 177 AFS Licence No. 245631, trading as Allianz Global Assistance, on behalf of the insurer Allianz Australia Insurance Limited ABN 15 000 122 850 AFS Licence No. 234708. Styling You have entered into a commercial arrangement with AWP to write this blog post. Styling You does not operate under an Australian Financial Services Licence. Before making a decision please consider the Product Disclosure Statement which is available at allianz.com.au.

^Terms, conditions, limits, and exclusions apply. Styling You does not operate under an Australian Financial Services Licence. Before making a decision please consider the Product Disclosure Statement which is available at allianz.com.au. If you purchase a policy, Allianz Global Assistance receives a commission, which is a percentage of your premium – ask them for more details before they provide you with any services on this product.  

My 10-step packing guide for any destination

For me, the holiday planning is all part of the excitement and anticipation of being on that escape. I love nothing more than going down the rabbit hole that is the internet looking for inspiration and ideas for what to do at the chosen destination but also for the types of clothes and accessories that will best suit that destination at the time that I’m travelling.

The formula I use for packing is one that can be adapted and applied to every destination and type of holiday. It’s not complicated. If you follow all the steps it’s quite liberating. I can’t ever imagine returning to my bad old days of throwing everything into a suitcase, sitting on said suitcase to get it closed, and hoping that I’d packed what I needed.

Want to get that formula? It’s all in my e-book.

Last year I released my e-book, How to plan and pack for your next holiday (confessions of a reformed over-packer) and I’m excited to let you know that it’s had a 2018 update and an expansion with some new chapters.

Buy my e-book HERE

Comments 29

  1. Thank you again Nikki
    Fabulous post
    Loved the original and followed slot of suggestions then
    Am now researching and scheming to surprise my husband for our 30th anniversary, he loves Nobu too and going to book lots of hiking, water activities and a trip to volcano as a surprise

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  2. Loved the post and as a Travel Agent you covered every recommendation I would have made BUT I doubt you booked with one ….. you would have had the ins and outs of Air New Zealand explained and guess what we cost no more !!! Always happy to help!

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  3. What a great post! Very informative. I’ve visited Hawaii a few times and this article makes me want to go back! The last visit was 2015. I am looking forward to Reading your post on East Hawaii. I’ve visited the beaches you mentioned and my boys enjoyed surfing in that part of Hawaii but I’ve never considered staying there so I am very keen to see what you thought.
    I am a fellow Nobu fan and always seek out a Nobu restaurant whenever I travel. My favourite Nobu is Nobu Malibu. Put it on your bucket list.

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  4. Ahh I’m flying to Hawaii tomorrow. One-way… no idea when I’ll return. My trip will be very different from yours but I appreciate the perspective. I’ll be farming and sleeping in a tent but when I have visitors from the mainland I’ll use some of your suggestions to show them a good time. Chanting Mai Tai all the way up Diamond Head had me rolling! 🙂

  5. omg brings back such great memories. I want to go back. We went for the first time Jan 15. We stayed 7 days which wasnt long enough. The place the people the shopping Loved every minute of it.

  6. Years since I have been to Hawaii. Way back in my 20’s. Even then many of your recommendations were the things to do. Shopping was a must. Especially at sale time. My most favourite memory is all the costumes at Halloween. It was a non event in NZ at the time so to see guys dressed up as Dianna and the Supremes, singing in the street make an everlasting memory.

    Great pics!

  7. How lovely for your son to enjoy his birthday amongst the festivities! Your pics are gorgeous (as always) and thank you for giving us a taster of Hawaii…it’s a place that has always intrigued me but I’ve never been. The Cheesecake Factory is always a hit, I once bought a whole cheesecake from there (in Orlando), which was quite something lol! p.s I’m a little envious of your shopping trips 😉

  8. Thank you Nikki for sharing your pics and tips on your Hawaiian holiday,it looks so beautiful!
    I love that the turtles came to you ,how special and what a wonderful family holiday with so many wonderful memories Xx

  9. Oh I loved following you and Kirsten on IG…am overwhelmed in a good way with all the brilliant info, thank you so much…bookmarked everything and will check in again later when my excitement settles . Look forward to SY community contributions before my trip in Oct.

  10. I went to Hawaii twice in the late 80’s so it’s about time I went again! My husband, after 30 years in the navy and as well traveled as he is, has never been so perhaps I need to put it on the list!
    I remember so well the pineapple and macadamias, the surf on the North Shore, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay and Ala Moana shopping centre! It’s a magical place alright 🙂
    Great post Nikki as always!
    We are heading to the UK and Paris in six weeks so I am busy reading your previous posts on what to pack!

  11. I’ve been lucky enough to go to Hawaii/Oahu twice (am about to go back for a 3rd time in September, en route from San Francisco & before stepping on a cruise home), but there’s some places/things in here that I didn’t know about, so thanks for the round up! Definitely looking to climb Diamond Head, but I’ll be flying in on a Saturday, so I’ll miss the markets sadly. Funnily enough, I’ll be staying at The Modern (with my folks) whilst in Honolulu this time – judging from the pictures, it looks quite nice. Might consider a spa treatment, provided I haven’t done my dough shopping!

  12. Snorkelling at Hanauma Bay is a must. You need to book a tour to get there, but the coral and sea life is so close to the shore that even the most novice snorkeler will enjoy it. Also the bar Rumfire in the Sheraton complex is great for chilled out live music and tapas when the whether is crappy.

    1. We missed out Julia as the carpark was full by 9am on our drive across to the east – will do next time! And yes,the Rumfire bar was great. Cocktails fantastic – just wanted to be in the pool drinking them!

  13. What a fantastic wrap! Thanks so much for sharing. One thing I wondered was whether you found Hawaii on par expense (food/accomm/activities) wise with the mainland? x

    1. It’s four years since we were on the mainland US, Vanessa … I’d say though comparable prices and the same ability to high-low it depending on budget or how you like to mix it up. Re accommodation, we travelled at a peak time (Australian and US holidays plus Fourth of July) so premium prices but booked the apartment a year ago through Last Minute for about $500/night – for 4 adults/1 kid this was good value for this time of year. If you can go in a low season (we can’t because of school), it would be a much cheaper opposition. A mum from school who we met up with priced the Moana Surfrider for Easter next year and found that it was cheaper than the Noosa accommodation they usually book! I think the Shenanigans clan would very much enjoy Hawaii!

  14. Fabulous round up Nikki with a few places in there I didn’t know about (lunch and spa treatment at The Modern looks incredible!) I think you’ve just convinced me to get back there next year x

    1. It was only about 20 minutes to walk there too – we cabbed over so fresh for lunch but easy stroll back past the Hilton Village. We’ll be going back – not sure if next year. Did you hear about our building getting demolished in 2018? Sad face!

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