Traditionally, Beijingers migrate south for the winter. The beaches of Southeast Asia offer an opportunity to soak up some rays and relax over Spring Festival, but when Hawaiian Airlines launched the first direct route from Beijing to Honolulu, it opened up a whole new tropical paradise to escape to. Not to mention a tropical paradise where you can speak English, spend dollars and expect US levels of service – a godsend for the city’s expat community.
The beach at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.
The flight time is nine hours, which is only an hour longer than from Beijing to Bali. As you’re in the US, accommodation and eating out are both more expensive than on a Southeast Asian getaway, but to compensate the islands have no off-months: temperatures are between 25-30°C year-round, with no humidity or rainy season.
There are two ways to see Hawaii: hop around the islands to cram in as many of the incredible natural wonders as you can – snow-capped mountains, dizzying waterfalls, beautiful beaches and still-active volcanoes – or book a resort, pack the Kindle and don’t look back. With a complimentary inter-island flight included with every international Hawaiian Airlines ticket, we decide to do a bit of both and split our time between Oahu and Maui.
Pools at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.
There are a number of high-end resorts on Maui, but we opt for the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua (pictured above) on the northern tip of the island. The resort boasts expansive, rambling grounds on the coast, and its courtyard-shaped layout, surrounding three pools sloping towards the azure ocean, means a large number of rooms enjoy commanding views.
The adjacent Kapalua Resort Plantation Course, which plays host to the PGA Tour’s annual season opener, attracts golf pros and tourists from around the world.
A sunset in Kapalua.
Maui is relatively small, but don’t rely on public transport to get around. This is America after all, where the car is king. The best options are to either rent a car (starting at 60USD a day) or use Uber.
The nearby seaside town of Lahaina is a popular tourist spot, brimming with trendy third-wave coffee shops, artisan stores and seafood restaurants. On the way, stop off at one of the coastal road’s cliff-side whale observation points. Humpback whales migrate to Hawaii from the North Pacific from November to May (optimal months for sightings are January and February), and within a couple of hours of watching, odds are you’ll be able to spot the huge mammals, which can live up to 100 years old, spraying water from blowholes and slapping tails against the waves.
Further south lies Haleakalā, an immense volcano crater that makes up over 75 percent of the island’s landmass. From the top of the three-kilometre-high peak, above the clouds, is arguably the the most stunning sunrise vista on the face of the earth. In his journal, Mark Twain described it as ‘the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed’. Getting there on time usually involves a 2am wake-up call and a grueling nighttime hike in sub-zero temperatures. The fact that the sunrise at Haleakalā is still the most popular attraction on the island despite this, speaks volumes for that view. Tours start at 125USD per person.
The craft beer revolution has extended as far as the Pacific islands, and Maui Brewing Company's charming brewpub, next to Kapalua, features over a dozen ales on tap and hearty, beer-soaking fare like Hawaiian barbecue pork flatbreads. Don’t miss the Big Swell, a West Coast-style IPA that’s dry, hoppy and all too drinkable.
A garden-to-glass cocktail at Banyan Tree.
Back at the hotel, it’s satisfyingly simple to plan your ideal day of indulgence. Hire a cabana and lounge by the pool all day, drinking Hawaii’s favourite cocktail – the mai tai – or book a treatment at the spa, which offers therapies based on traditional Hawaiian healing traditions that use plants, fruits and herbs native to the island. The Lomilomi massage (190USD) is a guaranteed stress-buster.
The highlight of any trip to Kapalua is undoubtedly dinner at Banyan Tree, a hilltop restaurant overlooking the coast, dappled in the flickering amber glow of tiki lamps. Chef Alvin Savella uses seasonal, organic ingredients from partner farms across the island to turn out signature Hawaiian dishes like ahi tuna poke, as well as creative concoctions that offer a nod to the Asian diaspora that’s shaped Hawaii’s cuisine, such as Pacific oysters topped with uni and shiso leaves, and Five-Spice Duck Buns – crispy Beijing duck served in mantou with a hoisin-raspberry sauce. Don’t sleep on the garden-to-glass cocktails, made using herbs grown beside the restaurant.
Oahu is Hawaii’s most populous island and home to state capital Honolulu, but most of the island is still free from the scourge of urbanisation. Four Seasons Resort Oahu is only a short drive from downtown Honolulu, but you wouldn’t know it, nestled as it is on a tranquil lagoon. Still, its location makes it close enough to two of the area’s most popular attractions: the Pearl Harbor Museum and Diamond Head, a dormant volcano near the tourist-heavy Waikiki Beach with superb coastal views from its peak.
Bikeadelic, a bicycle rental shop in Waikiki, stocks only new, well-maintained Trek bicycles (from 7USD an hour). Get yourself some wheels and cycle along the picturesque coastal road for a few miles to Diamond Head (entrance 1USD). After that it’s a 40-minute hike up to the peak and its superb views of the mountains and ocean.
Four Seasons Resort Oahu opened in May 2016, and is still practically gleaming. Beijingers acquainted with the Four Seasons Beijing may get a feeling of deja vu – the hotel’s GM and executive chef both moved from Beijing to Oahu to open the hotel, and levels of food and service are similarly sky high.
Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina.
Beachside restaurant Fish House offers line-to-table fast-casual fare with an ocean view. Get schooled in the most Hawaiian of dishes with the Poke Sampler, and wash it down with the Ha O Ke Kai, a house blend of Jamaican, Hawaiian and Demerara rums, hibiscus, pineapple and ginger soda housed in a huge frosty copper pineapple.
Seafood platter at Fish House.
Elsewhere, La Hiki restaurant is a pan-Asian affair, with dinner menus featuring dishes from across the continent – everything from chuan’r, to Philippine adobo pork, to Japanese-style lobster tempura with Sriracha yuzu sauce. You’ll want to order the KTV Old Fashioned for its brilliant name, but the blend of spiced peanut-infused bourbon, Hawaiian honey and six-spice bitters also makes for a fun taste of home.
Resorts such as this are all about not feeling guilty for being lazy, and there are plenty of ways to ease your conscience here. Separate family and adult-only pools, the latter an infinity pool overlooking the ocean with a daily ‘mai tai hour’, are a welcome addition both for families looking to cut loose, as well as adults looking for peace.
The service culture at the hotel is described to us as ‘ohana’. ‘Ohana means family, and in Hawaii everyone is ohana,’ they say. It’s a fitting description for these beautiful, hospitable islands.
Hawaiian Airlines offers direct flights to Honolulu three times a week, as well as 160 daily flights between the islands. It’s also the most on-time US airline 12 years in a row, which kind of destroys the ‘island time’ stereotype. A luggage allowance of two 50lbs bags means you can bring back more macademia nuts than you can possibly eat. The cabin crew embody the ‘aloha spirit’ and set the tone for what you can expect in Hawaii – unparalleled hospitality.
Female flight attendants even wear the plumeria flower behind their ears. Fun fact: if it’s behind their left ear it means they’re married; behind the right ear means they’re single. Kind of like an early Facebook ‘relationship status’.
Return flights to Honolulu start at 6,650RMB, excluding taxes.
Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Located in the heart of Waikiki, the Sheraton offers a central location from which to explore the area and nearby Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor. Rooms from 1,400RMB.
The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua A peaceful resort set in stunning grounds. A superb location to base your Maui adventures, or just kick back at the beach and take in the island’s natural scenery. Rooms starting from 4,000RMB.
A room at the Ritz-Carlton.
Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina Close enough to be a base to explore the sites, but attractive enough in its own right that you may never get around to it. Rooms starting from 4,800RMB, with Year of the Rooster packages available for the Spring Festival break.
A room at the Four Seasons.