Thursday, February 22, 2024

Aloha Waikiki, we’re back!

By PJ (Phil) Taylor

Enough of Covid, we’re out of here, say Times Media’s Janine Hickmore and radio host PJ (Phil) Taylor as they saw their winter return to Waikiki, entertainment capital of tropical Oahu, Hawaii.

Sea turtles in the waves, close to the beach, is the first change we notice when touching down on Waikiki’s sizzling sands in mid-August.

It is three years since we’ve been on the world-famous beach, and it’s a privilege to holiday in the literally, hot global destination.

We’ve seen turtles before in the wide bay that gloriously laps the shores of the Waikiki district of Honolulu. It’s usually further out near the many reefs and breaks where surfers, paddle-boarders and outriggers catch their rides.

You never tire of gazing across Waikiki Beach and the bay with Diamond Head always looming as the magnificent backdrop. People from as many countries as you can count are frolicking in the reliable sunshine, in all shapes and sizes and dialects, in their thousands. It is 30 degrees Celcius, not a cloud in the sky, for eight days in paradise.

The yacht catamarans beached in front of the Royal Hawaiian, Outrigger Waikiki and Moana Surfrider Hotels are doing a roaring sailing trade. So are the people hiring two recliners and umbrellas at US$30 for two hours; US$80 a day. That’s probably gone up and cheaper at other locations.

It’s in front of those hotels, including the legendary Duke’s Bar and Restaurant, that we park ourselves on the sand for four to six hours a day. I like some palm tree shade. Janine is a sun goddess. We’re regularly applying Hawaiian Tropic factor 30 and it’s always time for a dip.

During the first swim in Waikiki saltwater that soothes the body and soul, up pops a turtle head – wide-eyed – followed by a lasting glance of its patterned shell and flippers a’ flappin’. It dives again for seaweed on a small reef 30 metres from where the waves wash up on shore.

“It’s a turtle!” we exclaim enthusiastically, as others get excited, too. A lady swimmer says “you don’t want one to bite you. They don’t let go. And it hurts.” I have no intention of patting a sea turtle. That’s frowned upon. I just like to look, at distance, bobbing in the tide.

Janine is more inquisitive and through the week enjoys more of the close-up encounters. She reckons the turtles are attracted to her floral bathing suits.

What’s amazing about this daily experience is the unique-looking, prehistoric sea creatures are going about their business in their habitat, amongst a lot of human activity. Swimmers and surfers come and go from the water, sailing catamarans and outriggers too. The turtles aren’t bothered. It’s beautiful to observe, nature at its finest, and bewildering.

It is the first time I really feel I’m in Honolulu when settling into Hawaiian Airlines’ smooth service to Oahu, departing Mangere at midnight. In nine hours, we are there. Can’t believe it. Masks on the whole way, through the airports, too. Easy enough. After a day, we stopped wearing masks occasionally.

We hear Hawaii has had lockdowns. Hospitality and retail people tell us they were out of work for 13 months as their employers were closed, putting our five-week lockdowns in perspective.

We’re there because it’s rainy and cold, finally feeling comfortable about making a break for it overseas away from Covid mentality. Janine’s found a good-value flights and hotel package through Luxury Escapes, comparable to pre-pandemic prices. Resort fees, breakfasts and cocktails included.

We’re staying at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort Hotel, by the US Army Museum and park, a great vantage point for the Friday night fireworks display for all to enjoy by the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The tradition survived Covid-era cost-cutting.

For us, a Waikiki break is eight days of beach, eating, drinking and shopping. Mostly in moderation, apart from the swimming and sunbathing.

The vibe – the Waikiki Vibe – remains your soul purpose of every woken moment.

It’s pancakes in the morning, outside in the shade by the pool, two-hour stints at Barnes and Noble Book and Music Store as Janine eyes 30 other shops (estimate), wandering at a saunter in the humid sea breeze, honey walnut shrimp, Kona Coffee, Kona Beer, an American cheeseburger, Maitais Mojitos Blue Hawaiians, pineapple with everything, Honolulu Cookie, Hawaiian music on the air, and, Duke’s on Sundays.

Just metres away some of the finest Oahu musicians are playing at Duke’s, on our Sunday. Stephen Inglis is a delight with sweet Hawaiian takes on Bob Dylan, Dr John, Chuck Berry and Grateful Dead, as well as his own songs and Hawaiian traditionals, and then it’s a legend, Henry Kapono, and band grooving everyone to sundown. Duke’s on Sunday is his song. It’s the best free gig in ages. Waikiki Beach backdrop, sand in the toes.

The Outrigger is a great place to stay. Welcoming, friendly, efficient service at its laid-back best. It’s undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation, and there’s still some to go. SpeediShuttle know what they’re about, too, and always busy. Honolulu Airport is a little easier to navigate after a partial and expensive overhaul.

Mahalo, Waikiki. Can’t wait to be there again. Aloha!

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