A whistle-stop tour through Hawaii

Last updated 13:41 10/05/2013

AROUND HAWAII: Sign in Oahu, Hawaii.

BEACH LIFE: A sail boat passes in front of the sun as the last rays of sunlight of hit the waters off Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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Roy is a jovial driver. He doesn't tell us to "wiki wiki" as we board his coach in Waikiki, but once settled into our seats he says we'll be seeing quite a lot on our day trip and there may be times when we'll have to "hurry up".

Hawaii's main island of Oahu is far from huge, just 48 kilometres from north to south and 70 kilometres east to west. So it's possible to whip around it in a day, and that's what I'm doing.

Everyone's been to Hawaii right? You'd think so. But not me. When I do finally make it I'm only there for three nights, having arrived by cruise ship after 17 days crossing the Pacific Ocean.

On day one I take the ship's tour of Pearl Harbour and the downtown Honolulu sights.

The next day I mooch around Waikiki, walking on the beach, a bit of shopping, sunset half-price drinks at the fab bar of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel aka "The Pink Palace", and dinner next door at Duke's.

Eager to see what's beyond Diamond Head but not wanting to hire a car, I go online and book a Circle Island tour for my last day. The price, at US$28 ($33) is great, although it's a stripped-down version of others on offer.

First stop is Halona Beach Cove, better known as Eternity Beach after the wave-lashed love scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in the 1953 film From Here to Eternity. It's bathed in sunshine and looks suitably secluded if you cast your mind back 60 years.

Time for a photo and back on the coach. Next is Sandy Beach, renowned for its dangerous rips, where President Barack Obama loved to bodysurf.

We tick off several beaches on our way up the eastern windward coast, however because it's a Tuesday we miss out on a brief look at Hanauma Bay. This beautiful spot, situated in a volcanic cone, is closed one day a week to let the fish and turtles feed in peace without humans splashing around its delicate reef.

Nevertheless we do get to view Waimanalo, a little further north, the location of the TV show Magnum PI. Oahu is a smorgasbord of film sets, as the island's 1554 square kilometres has terrains that could well be found in Africa, South America and the Caribbean.

Meandering along, Roy fills us in on Hawaiian land heritage (those with 50 per cent Hawaii blood can lease land for US$1 a year for 99 years), the humble pineapple's place in history, and the demise of the sugarcane industry.

At the north-east tip of the island is the Laie Hawaii Temple, which is so big it looks like the White House. Just like Waikiki, there's a certain spick-and-spanness about the whole island. One reason is the lack of billboards: they are banned in Hawaii (along with bingo, lotteries and casinos).

The island's famous surfing beaches stretch out along the 11-kilometre North Shore, where swells can reach nine metres in the winter months. But during my visit in May it's calm as I walk along Sunset Beach.

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Here I can't resist posing with a Hawaiian "warrior" in a grass skirt, a mask made from coconut and waving the original Hawaii flag known as the Kanaka Maoli, which symbolises the native Hawaiians; it's worth the US$1 tip and no one else has that photo - well, not on our bus.

The shrimp trucks are another North Shore institution; they're parked on the side of the road at Kahuku selling takeaway prawn dishes. About 10 vendors compete for business, while on the opposite side of the road corn-on-the-cob trucks supply the vegetarian option.

We whiz past them all, but there is the inevitable stop at a curio shop. Let's face it, it's all part of the charm of a bus trip and I pick up some dried noni fruit (the plant grows throughout the Pacific islands and is said to be a cure-all) and taste some delicious macadamia nut flavours.

I'd seen Spam-flavoured nuts earlier that day in a convenience shop and ask Roy the obvious question - why? He says Hawaiians love their Spam, with the islanders consuming more of the spiced ham per capita than the rest of the US. He tells us there's even a Spam Festival in Waikiki each April.

Far more appealing is the pineapple ice-cream tasting at the Dole Plantation, a former working farm and cannery now operating as a fun family place with the world's largest maze.

Our last stop is the Pali Lookout, teetering on the edge of 370-metre cliffs. Here, King Kamehameha I fought a historic battle in 1795 that claimed the lives of 400 warriors but saw him emerge as conqueror of Oahu and eventually all of Hawaii.

Nine hours later I'm deposited back in Waikiki with time for happy-hour drinks. I'm feeling just a little more acquainted with the place after a leisurely whiparound, without any "wiki wiki".

Caroline Gladstone travelled to Hawaii courtesy of Royal Caribbean Cruises.

Who knew? Hawaii's Waikiki Beach is the world's most photographed beach but it's also the world's busiest, attracting over 70,000 people in a day.

Trip notes

Staying there The Royal Hawaiian is right on the beach at Waikiki. 2259 Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki. Rooms from US$430 ($512) a night. royal-hawaiian.com.

Touring there Several operators, including Roberts Tours, Grand Circle Island and Enoa run tours. robertshawaii.com, grandcircleislandtouroahu.com, enoa.com.

More information gohawaii.com.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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