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Waikīkī, Hawai‘i: Top Destination for a Great Family Holiday

From swimming with turtles to a raptor ride through the valley where Jurassic Park was filmed, MEG LAW and her family discover the top activities and experiences for families on O‘ahu

Jasper enjoys a sunset sipper at Outrigger Reef Waikīkī Beach Resort
Jasper enjoys a sunset sipper at Outrigger Reef Waikīkī Beach Resort

Aloha is a word you will hear over and over again in Hawai‘i. Over the course of our family holiday, we came to realise it is so much more than just a greeting. Aloha is a way of life. It’s a vibe. You can see it in the breeze blowing in the palm trees, taste it in the fresh roadside coconuts, hear it in the strum of the ‘ukulele. You can see it in the authentic smiles of the locals, and feel it when you walk barefoot on the white sandy beaches. It’s a sense of contentment, gratitude and happiness that emanates across the whole island of O’ahu.

For our first family holiday in Hawai‘i, we chose to base ourselves in Waikīkī and balance time spent enjoying Mai Tai cocktails by the pool with exploring the incredible island.

Swimming with turtles tour

A turtle swimming in Waikīkī
A turtle swimming in Waikīkī

First on our list of adventures was swimming with turtles. We jumped aboard the aptly named Spirit of Aloha catamaran and sailed out to a snorkel site known as Turtle Canyon. The kids squealed with delight as they sat on the trampoline netting at the front of the boat watching spinner dolphins perform acrobatics in the wake, water splashing through the two hulls, as our captain, Amy, shared stories of local marine life. After dropping anchor, we decked ourselves out in yellow buoyancy vests and snorkel gear. Our 10-year-old daughter raced ahead with Dad to see the turtles, while I swam behind with our six-year-old son, armed with a pool noodle in case he got tired.

Waikīkī Beach is a children's playground and the perfect family holiday destination
Waikīkī Beach is a children's playground and the perfect family holiday destination

Turtle Canyon is a ‘cleaning station’, where the reptiles congregate to have their shells cleaned by schools of hungry reef fish, and soon there were giant green sea turtles everywhere we looked, with these majestic creatures happily swimming beside us in their natural habitat.

As my daughter was swimming along in her own little world, one playful turtle decided to surface right in front of her and challenge her to a stare-off competition with its giant eyeballs, giving her the fright of her life. It was such a memorable experience to expose the kids to this magnificent underwater world, alive with colourful coral and tropical fish.

Family-friendly resorts in Waikīkī

Family selfie on the balcony at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach Resort
Family selfie on the balcony at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach Resort

It was so hard to decide where to stay in Waikīkī, we decided to do some ‘resort hopping’. Our time at Outrigger Reef Waikīkī Beach Resort felt like being on a second honeymoon, albeit with two kids in tow! It was luxe living at its finest, consuming coconut margaritas, garlic shrimp and acai bowls by the pool, and lazing on sun lounges on the private beach while the kids took part in ‘ukulele lessons and wood carving and bracelet-making workshops. Whoever said you can’t do relaxation when travelling with children has obviously not stayed here!

Every day was a continual cycle of contentment — kids with their sandy feet and sun-kissed freckles armed with boogie boards and shaved ice with huge grins on their faces; parents reading books, swimming in the warm water and lying on sun lounges. It was topped off at night with happy hour on the deck overlooking Lē‘ahi (Diamond Head State Monument) whilst listening to live music in the family-friendly poolside bar, or watching the sunset from iconic oceanfront restaurant Duke’s Waikīkī – a Hawaiian institution.

Daisy enjoys some beach play at Waikīkī Beach
Daisy enjoys some beach play at Waikīkī Beach

Next, we dialled up the action at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach Resort, swimming in one of its five pools, flying down waterslides, and joining in hula dancing and lei-making classes. This Resort is so large it even has its own shopping precinct, as well as 18 restaurants and cafes, a private beach, mini-supermarket, and a day spa. It caters for all ages with a man-made lagoon where you can hire kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and paddleboats, and even book your own cabana for the day.

SUP yoga at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach Resort

Mum and Daughter enjoy some SUPing on the lagoon at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach Resort
Mum and Daughter enjoy some SUPing on the lagoon at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach Resort

One morning, my daughter and I joined instructor Yumi for a one-hour private SUP yoga session. As the sun rose, we paddled our stand-up paddleboards out into the lagoon and learned about the asana (postures), pranayama (breathing) and meditation aspects of yoga, all whilst wobbling and trying to balance on our boards. So many laughs were shared as we splashed into the water headfirst with our accidental ‘legs eleven’ poses and tried to get used to our yoga mat being a paddleboard. After some coaching from the ever-patient Yumi, we progressed from the seated and kneeling postures to sun salutations and more challenging poses.

Connecting with the traditional Aloha Spirit, we focused on the gentle flow of our breath and the calming effects of the soft rocking of the ocean’s waves, being lulled into a deep relaxation as our body moved with the water.

Waikiki Starlight Lū‘au: An immersive experience

The family enjoy their first traditional Twilight Lū‘au at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach
The family enjoy their first traditional Twilight Lū‘au at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach

If there’s one tradition every family should experience in Hawai‘i it’s a lū‘au – a traditional party and feast featuring music and cultural performances, such as hula dancing. We set off to Waikīkī Starlight Lū‘au with father and son wearing matching Aloha shirts, and mother and daughter in identical floral crowns and lei. Daisy went all out, even wearing a grass skirt.

Sitting barefoot on long tables with flickering flame lanterns on the grass by the ocean, we settled in for a night of drama with fire knife dancers as well as traditional Samoan, Tahitian, and Hawaiian dance. The kids sipped on pineapple mocktails while we ate kalua pig, seared fish, Huli Huli chicken and Hawaiian fried rice. When not eating and drinking, t hey were up the front dancing and twirling, making new friends.

North Shore: Beyond Waikiki

Pacific Ocean and Diamond Head
Pacific Ocean and Diamond Head

But there’s way more to O’ahu than Waikīkī. We hired a convertible jeep, put the tunes on and drove 45 minutes straight up the middle of the island to check out the chilled-out vibes of the North Shore. Known for its giant waves and epic surfing contests, the North Shore has more than 50 beaches stretching for more than 27 kilometres.

It’s easy to fill in time in this laid-back region, and we loved every second of our time there. We stopped to eat shave ice and roadside coconuts, and to dine at its iconic shrimp trucks. We watched grommets surfing at Banzai Pipeline, snorkelled at Shark’s Cove, shopped in Hale‘iwa and admired the view from Kahuku Point at dusk, before stopping at the legendary Seven Brothers Burgers for a bite on the way home. And did somebody say malasada? You can’t do this road trip without a pitstop at Leonard’s Bakery for a fried sweet donut without the hole. Your hips won’t thank me, but your tastebuds will!

Jurassic Park movie sites tour at Kualoa Ranch & Private Nature Reserve

Jurassic Park tour at Kualoa Ranch
Jurassic Park tour at Kualoa Ranch

With a dinosaur-obsessed six-year-old in tow, we couldn’t visit O’ahu without a trip to where Jurassic Park was filmed. We chose to get dirty and dusty on the two-hour UTV Raptor tour at Kualoa Ranch & Private Nature Reserve, with the four of us buckled into our self-drive 4WD open-aired buggy. Speeding through the deep scenic valleys and rambling over dirt roads, dusty trails and trickling streams, we were treated to panoramic views of Ka’a’awa (Jurassic) Valley, Kualoa and Hakipu’u.

A great family experience on the Jurassic Valley Kualoa Ranch ATV Raptor Adventure Tour
A great family experience on the Jurassic Valley Kualoa Ranch ATV Raptor Adventure Tour

This bumpy trek had us all screaming with laughter as we got to relive the excitement of Jurassic World, with its bunkers and dinosaur cages used in the movies, and visit the most famous field of all, where the Gallimimus dinosaurs roamed.

As we reflected on our time in Hawai‘i, we felt confident that we had indeed embraced the Aloha way of life. It was about living life, appreciating everything, being thankful for the incredible natural beauty of the Hawaiian Islands, and most importantly about staying rooted in our ‘ohana (family).

Planning your family's Hawaiian adventure!

Getting there

Hawaiian Airlines, Qantas and Jetstar fly from Australia to Honolulu, on the island of O’ahu.

Where to stay

Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach Resort is a favourite among Aussie families, with the longest waterslide in town, five pools, a manmade lagoon and a spectacular fireworks show every Friday night.

Outrigger Reef Waikīkī Beach Resort has renovated guest rooms, artwork celebrating the islands’ culture, a pool deck with cabanas, and a revamped cultural centre.

Daisy checking in to the Hyatt Centric Waikīkī Beach
Daisy checking in to the Hyatt Centric Waikīkī Beach

The writer was a guest of Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach Resort and Outrigger Resorts and Hotels

More Information

Follow Meg and her family’s adventures on Instagram @traveltalesblog

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