The West

Metropolis in paradise
Honolulu, Hawaii. Supplied picture

There is nothing quite like getting off a plane at a tropical destination, greeted by warm air and gently swaying palm trees which hold the promise of a winter escape ahead.

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That familiar feeling instantly stirs at Honolulu, where the mild summer breeze, the open air and the pretty greenery let you know the winter blues have been left behind.

Nestled between lush mountains on one side and crystal blue water on the other, Honolulu is a thriving metropolis.

Many of my travel companions compared Honolulu to Australia's Gold Coast, likening the crowds and the high-rise beachfront to the holiday destination at home.

Honolulu is a big and bustling city on the island of Oahu, which is nicknamed "the Gathering Place". Comparisons aside, it has an enormous variety of travel experiences to offer.

For Australians, it is also the perfect spot to recover from jet lag and make the impossible choice between the beaches, shopping, eating, drinking and taking in some cultural sights.

For holiday-makers from Perth, the 8½-hour flight to Honolulu fron Sydney - Qantas offers an overnight flight which makes things easier - is preceded by the extra leg from Perth to Sydney.

This makes Hawaii's capital city a great place for Sandgropers to acclimatise, perhaps before venturing out to one of the US State's other beautiful islands for a different experience. For those seeking the sun and surf, Waikiki beach offers a stretch of pristine white sand (replenished under a multi-million-dollar project this year) leading to beautiful blue waters.

The beach is busy during the summer season, so grabbing a towel and claiming some real estate early is a good idea.

Out-rigging, paddle boarding and surfing are popular in the water, with lessons and tours easily available.

Blissfully, there are no noisy jetskis or powerboats to interrupt the tranquil waters. And there are no private beaches allowed anywhere in Hawaii, so the sand and water are always open to all.

Otherwise, pick from the back-to-back beachfront hotels to grab a lounge chair and enjoy the amazing views.

There is accommodation galore to choose from on the Waikiki strip. In the midst of the resort strip sits the Moana Surfrider, known affectionately as the first lady of Waikiki.

This graceful oasis, with its colonial verandas, high ceilings and sweeping staircase, is a relaxing retreat from the busy streets on its doorstep.

An enormous banyan tree in the hotel's beachfront courtyard provides a shady spot for breakfast or a leisurely lunch. Whether staying at the Moana or somewhere close by, dinner at the Beachhouse is a treat not to be missed - local fish and "artisan Amish-raised" Angus steaks tantalise the tastebuds, while the eyes are captivated by surfers catching the last few waves of the day against a backdrop of the fading sunset.

If you want somewhere a little quieter, but close enough still to be part of the action, just around the bend from Waikiki beach is the Modern Honolulu hotel.

Overlooking the pretty Ala Wai Yacht Club, there are views beyond to the ocean and, behind, to the mountains.

The boutique hotel's clean, white decor, dotted with splashes of colour, and big wide spaces, are a calming retreat.

Morimoto's restaurant is an added bonus, boasting modern Japanese cuisine such as wagyu carpaccio, toro tartare and a deliciously spicy "angry chicken".

Hotel prices range from $US300 ($285) a night to thousands, but be prepared for the additional and compulsory daily resort fees, as well as the tips.

Shopping is also in abundance in Honolulu. Visitors can scour the vintage stores and weekend markets for souvenirs, as well as browse at shops with upmarket brands.

Even in the brand stores, uncovering a bargain has been made easier by the strength of the Aussie dollar and seemingly never-ending sales.

The Ala Moana Centre, with 290 stores and more than 70 dining options, boasts it is the biggest outdoor shopping mall in the world.

The shopping strip along Kalakaua Avenue also offers every big brand name imaginable. At night, the avenue comes alive with street performers.

Just metres away from the shiny windows showcasing some of the world's most elite brands, there are hawkers with exotic parrots sitting on their shoulders, breakdancers, singers, musicians, living statues and big crowds of spectators.

But Honolulu offers more than just shopping and the beach.

A daytrip to Pearl Harbour is a popular option for historic tours. A less crowded alternative is to head out to the Bishop Museum and Planetarium, which houses collections representing Hawaii's cultural and natural past and providing an insight to the islands' fascinating multicultural and spiritual history.

The pretty grounds of the museum also provide a welcoming picnic spot, with a view across the city below.

After such a tough day, head back to the beach for a mai tai or other cocktail of choice for the spectacular sunset - after all, this is a tropical holiday.

Grab a lounge chair and enjoy the amazing views.

Amanda Banks was a guest of Hawaii Tourism Oceania and Qantas.

The West Australian

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