Hawaii…it’s not just a destination. It’s a feeling.

Words by Irit and Jonathan Jackson. Photography by Show & Tell Imagery

Hawaii, the Pacific Island paradise with an American accent has grown up since we last visited its sandy shores. However, no matter how much it has changed, the feeling remains the same.

We first experienced that feeling on our honeymoon seven years ago. Back then, we may have misunderstood it as a mix of stunning destination and newly married bliss that makes you see everything through rose coloured glasses.

However, with our 6-year-old daughter Lily-Rose in tow, and the newly married elation way behind us, that blissful feeling was still very much present.

The Hawaiian feeling is apparent from the second you disembark the plane.

It’s a long 15-minute walk from the gate to customs and you may be exhausted from the long flight, but it’s worthwhile stopping for a minute to admire the beauty of the green mountains. Pinch yourself now – you have reached your destination.

Everything surrounding you indicates you are in Hawaii: from the patterns on the carpet and wallpaper to the music playing ever so gently in the background. The relaxed manner and smile of everyone who greets you at the airport is an easy way to help you start immediately unwinding.

We chose to stay at Hilton Hawaiian Village. It is the perfect resort if you are travelling with a family. With its five pools,  lagoon and widest stretch of beach in Waikiki you are sure to find something that will make everyone in the family happy.

From the resort, it’s an easy walk into the heart of Waikiki on Kalakaua Ave featuring luxury shops, the popular Cheesecake Factory, souvenir stores and anything else you may need.

If you feel like getting lost in a maze of 340 shops and restaurants, head over to the Ala Moana shopping centre. There’s even a Bubba Gump restaurant in the mall where you can eat shrimp and test yourself on Forrest Gump trivia.

It’s an open air, shopping oasis that receives a very refreshing light breeze running through it once the sun sets. It’s a really nice relaxing way to end a hot day.

Waikiki is all hustle and bustle, so we took off for a day for a tour to the North shore. No trip to Hawaii is complete without a tour of the island and we were very fortunate to have Adam White from Private Hawaiian Tours show us around.

Adam became sole owner of Private Tours Hawaii back in 2013. Running a small, local business, he understands the importance of good customer service, flexibility, punctuality and professionalism. Private Hawaiian Tours customize each day’s itinerary to the requests/desires of their clientele. The vehicle was clean, well maintained, comfortable and safe with a booster seat for Lily-Rose.

This service fills a much-needed customised niche in Oahu’s circle island tour industry.

Having our 6 year old with us, we wanted a tour that would excite her just as much as it would please us. The benefit of our private tour was that we could tailor it to our wants and needs (although, as much as we had hoped our child would try some local produce from the amazing food trucks on hand…she requested a McHappy meal from McDonalds).

Our tour was full of photo opportunities and stops. Adam, who was promptly labelled Madam by Lily-Rose, kept us entertained with his kid friendly jokes and trivia questions to which the person with the correct answer would win a pineapple candy. That alone was enough to thrill our child.

Our tour took us to Diamond Head Lookout, Chinaman’s Hat, Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay just to name a few hot spots. We stopped at a roadside fruit stand where we bought fruit, treated our daughter to a famous Matsumoto Hawaiian Shave Ice in the small historic town of Haleʻiwa, ate like locals and got our shrimp fix at the North Shore Shrimp Trucks.

Haleiwa is very much a laid- back surf town with a very local country style to it. It has a number of boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. The north shore is more tropical than the south, with mountains, trees, flora and fauna surrounding you in every direction. It’s the total opposite to Waikiki and that’s exactly how the locals like it.

During the tour, Adam drew our attention to the cause of Keep the Country Country.

It’s a group of residents working to protect communities on Oahu, predominantly along Ko` olauloa and the North Shore from the dangerous effects of large scale development.

With close to 1 million people on the island of Oahu at any one time, 800,000 of them work in or visit the southern part of the island every day making it an extremely busy area to be in. Keep the Country Country is trying to ensure the north shore coastline isn’t ruined with high-rise buildings and tens of thousands of tourists.

Oahu teaches you the importance of respecting the land. Caring for and living in harmony with the land is at the core of every Hawaiian’s values. If you respect the land, it will sustain life. This is a relationship that has been honoured for many years and shows in every aspect of Hawaiian life.

Being a family holiday, we chose the obvious child friendly activities during the rest of our stay.

The Honolulu Zoo is one of the smaller zoos we have visited but its beautifully organized exhibits are divided into three tropical ecological zones: the African Savanna, Asian and American Tropical Forests, and Pacific Islands…introducing us to some animals we have never seen before.

All of this with the magical backdrop of Diamond Head right in our line of vision. Being able to see it in the background was a wonderful reminder that we were in Hawaii.

Not far from the Zoo is the Waikiki Aquarium. This is also one of the smallest aquariums we have visited but its exhibits did not disappoint. They included sea horses, sea jellies and fluorescent jellyfish and giant groupers that could reach 2.44 m in length and weigh over 360 kg.

There are also two resident Hawaiian monk seals from a critically endangered species.

After we experienced all the usual tourist spots, we managed to spend a few days relaxing at the Hilton Hawaiian Resort and felt like we ate for Australia: the Tropics Bar

& Grill offers a great atmosphere and excellent food overlooking the beach, Bali Steak and Seafood is a fine dine experience also beach side, CJs will give you a pure American diner experience, go to Benihanas for teppinyaki and there are plenty of other restaurants on the resort – too many to mention.

There is no reason to leave, however it is always great to check out the food trucks and local restaurants and then there is a pretty classy Hard Rock Cafe (albeit a small menu) and the aforementioned Cheesecake Factory franchise’ where you can always get a decent meal and a large slice of cheesecake.

Note: don’t order nachos as an entree at the Hard Rock Hawaii. It’s a main size meal and ruins whatever you ordered as a main – that you now can’t get through.

I’m not usually much of a beach fan. I don’t like to get in to the ocean for a dip…but when in Hawaii, I seem to crave it. Maybe it’s the fact that the water was so blue, maybe it was the warm water that I have never felt anywhere else, maybe it was the soothing waves…or maybe it’s just the Aussie in me, excited that I was back in Hawaiian waters with Diamond Head to the left and a lone monkey pod tree to the right.

Hawaii has a real hold on me. Mahalo. We shall return!” BFM

Jonathan Jackson is an experienced editor and writer who has worked in print and digital media for almost 20 years.

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