hawaiiby Bonnie Tai

MY FIRST “aloha” came in the form of a warm Hawaiian breeze, welcoming me as I stepped off the plane into paradise. It’s early, and my partner and I have just arrived at Honolulu International Airport, after catching Jetstar’s red-eye service from Sydney through to Oahu for a quick 72-hour stop over holiday before journeying onward to Austin, Texas.

We drop our luggage off at the Ewa Hotel, a budget lodging located steps away from the famed Waikiki beach, and find a shaded spot beneath a large palm tree to absorb our new surroundings.

Although it’s still very early at this point, surfers bobbing lazily atop their boards can already be seen floating in the azure lagoon of Waikiki Beach, waiting to catch their first waves of the day.

Removing our shoes, we make our way towards the sea. Crystalline waters gently lap the white sandy shore, and as we dip our toes into the warm tropical waters, we are given a small taste as to why millions of people from all around the globe flock to this slice of island paradise every year.

Running parallel to Waikiki Beach is Kalakaua Avenue, one of the city’s main strips. Here, we observe a mixture of high-end designer shopfronts amidst casual eateries and souvenir stores. Hawaii is a melting pot of American, Japanese and Hawaiian culture, and the vast choices of dining options on Oahu reflect this sentiment, inspiring an exciting multi-ethnic culinary experience.

With tummies growling and a pretty firm budget to keep in mind, we find ourselves at a no-frills Japanese noodle joint named Ramen Ezogiku. “Irasshaimase!” shouted a chorus of friendly Japanese servers, welcoming us into the establishment. The atmosphere here is relaxed, much like the rest of the island, with multigenerational patrons from mixed cultures gathered around tables, slurping back ramen noodles and loudly chattering away.

What the place lacks in décor, it makes up in a friendly atmosphere and food quality. The pan fried pork dumplings are remarkably fresh, achieving the ideal ‘crunch factor’; whilst the traditional miso broth, hearty and flavoursome. We leave the establishment with full bellies, happy wallets, and a whole new level of appreciation for Japanese soul food.

As evening rolls around, and the sun begins its descent into the waters, we find ourselves back on Waikiki Beach to try and catch a glimpse of the elusive green flash sunset – an optical phenomenon which occurs on the island, colouring the sky a brilliant shade of green as the last sliver of sunlight falls below the horizon.

Blink and you’ll miss it though, because the majestic sight lasts but a few seconds, and we were lucky to see it as many dismiss the phenomena as “just a figment of your imagination”. To catch the flash, a pair of polarised sunnies is highly recommended, as staring directly into the sun without can leave you a bit starry eyed after a while.

The next day, we make our way to the Diamond Head track, a historic hike which promises an impressive 360-degree coastal panorama and a chance to experience the island’s landmark crater.

Built in 1908 as part of Oahu’s coastal defence system, the 1.3 kilometre hike to the summit takes just over an hour, and is suitable for a wide range of age groups. A moderate level of fitness and a pair of sturdy walking shoes is recommended as there are 327 concrete and metal stairs to crush, uneven gravel tracks, and fairly steep inclines to conquer.

We take our time on the hike, exploring eerie old bunkers and discovering a series of secret look-outs which provide us with unimpeded views of dramatic cliffs and aquamarine waters. Catching our first breath at the summit, we’re told by friendly locals that we are now standing at an elevation of 761 feet. And If the steep walk up wasn’t enough to take my breath away, the views here certainly are.

An endless horizon of blue skies, stretching into infinity rewards us at the peak. Below, calm waters glimmer gently, reflecting brilliant shades of cerulean, turquoise and teal. Perfectly juxtaposed to our right is Waikiki’s impressive cityscape, featuring towering skyscrapers dotted elegantly along the seaside – serving as a visual cue of the bustling metropolis which co-exists peacefully alongside the island’s laid-back lifestyle.

As we make our descent back down the crater, we share a few nods with passers-by as if to say “keep going. It’s hard but it’s worth it!”, with many exhausted hikers stopping us to ask, “how much longer to the top?”. After trading a few words of encouragement, we boost our way back to the bottom, where a food truck serving shaved ice – Hawaii’s signature frozen desert – awaited us.

As our final moments in Hawaii drew to a close, and we’re but moments away from boarding the flight to our next adventure; I can’t help but feel a little home-sick for a place I have only spent 72 hours in. Because in our short time here, we learnt that “aloha” isn’t merely a greeting or a word plastered on cheap souvenirs found in your closest ABC store, but a way of life in which you share kindness, wisdom and your authentic self with the community.

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