Oahu charms lovers with sunrise hikes, scenic afternoon tours and moonlit dinners.
By Kirsti Correa
The island of Oahu blends two completely opposite locales: a hidden oasis and a bustling metropolis. The contrast makes for a whimsical adventure of a Hawaiian vacation and also implies a metaphor of love. An old legend on the island tells the story of a princess from a noble region who fell in love with a commoner from both a different area and social class. Forbidden to marry, princess Naupaka and her lover, Kaui, decided to remain in their separate confines. Before their final departure, Naupaka tore a flower in half, giving one piece to Kaui and keeping the other. Today, the Naupaka flower blossoms with what appears to be only half of its petals all over Oahu, from the mountains to the beach; and while the small buds represent a lost relationship, they also remind that love can be kindled all over the island at any given time.
The romantic endeavors on the island are plentiful, so getting a head start on a trip together is the best way to experience all that Oahu has to offer. And it also helps that the striking sunrise alone is enough to call you away from the hotel room early in the morning. A prime viewing spot is at the highest lookout point on the Diamond Head crater at the eastern end of Waikiki. To reach the top, couples must first traverse a winding path (about three-quarters of a mile) that makes the ascent a bit longer but not as steep.
The National Historic Landmark attracts droves of tourists per day. Fortunately, not many are early risers, and hiking at sunrise gives couples some treasured alone time as they watch the day break over Honolulu’s tall buildings and coconut trees.
Following the morning hike, a trip to the spa is customary. At Halekulani, one of the oldest hotels in Waikiki, begin a traditional Hawaiian massage with a ritual foot pounding—a relief after being on your feet all morning. First, feet are blanketed in a warm towel followed by a silk sheet, then struck with puili sticks to promote circulation and undo the morning stress.
Following the ritual, enjoy a joint lomi lomi massage, which uses oil from Hawaii’s kukui nut tree for a moisturizing and soothing session. For a distinctly romantic setting, there are duet suites available for couples. Following side-by-side massages, light bites and Champagne are arranged on a private terrace to conclude a morning of relaxation.
With an average temperature in the mid-70s, Oahu’s daytime is meant for exploring by land, air and sea. To start, Kualoa Ranch offers horseback tours of the Kaaawa Valley, whose lush green peaks served as the film location for the upcoming “Jurassic World.”
Sitting atop steeds with Hawaiian names, riders take in breathtaking vistas of the valley, which was originally established as a “puuhonua,” or place of sanctuary, during the one- or two-hour outings.
For a chance to take in even more splendor of the isle, Honolulu Soaring jets to an altitude of 3,000 feet in a glider, providing a bird’s-eye view of the breaking waves on the North Shore as well as the majestic Waianae mountain range and other landmarks like Pearl Harbor in the distance. Suggested rides last around 30 minutes and call for two guests to sit cozily in the back of the small glider. It’s a nerve-racking yet thrilling experience as the pilot dips into the valley and quickly jerks back up moments before landing.
Flying over the shore is the perfect segue to another quintessential activity in Oahu: surfing. Back in Waikiki, the spot where the legendary Hawaiian waterman Duke Kahanamoku spent his early days on a board, Hans Hedemann Surf School provides instructions for navigating Oahu’s waves. Whether or not you catch a wave, being out on the water without a wetsuit is enough reason to brag to friends and family back home.
The views during the day are some to remember, but hardly compare to the glow the island exudes as the sun sinks into the horizon. Aboard the Star of Honolulu for the nightly dinner cruise, visitors experience the sunset with a gourmet seven-course meal that begins with the captain’s welcome reception and hula dancers. As the vessel travels along the Waikiki coastline, a jazz trio plays softly in the background. Minutes before sunset, guests are invited out to the observation desk for unobstructed views of the colorful sky.
Back on land, The Modern Honolulu’s on-site restaurants, The Grove and Passageway, are located outdoors with seating that faces the falling sun. Overlooking the Ala Wai harbor, the eateries are framed by docked yachts and trees twinkling with lighted glass bottles. Executive Chef Scott Toner’s shared menu for both venues is bursting with mouthwatering selections that make it hard to choose just one entree.
Sample a broad range of his culinary skills by sharing a plate of the soft fish tacos, which comes with house-made guacamole, salsa and fresh tortillas. For individual entrees, a couple of standouts are the braised Kurobuta pork shoulder with a side of butter whipped potatoes and caramelized vegetables, and the pappardelle pasta served with short ribs and doused with balsamic vinegar and Parmesan.
More alfresco dining can be found at The Kahala, which has an oceanfront veranda that serves cocktails and light bites starting around sundown. Pair the sushi and sashimi platter with well-crafted sakes or opt for a seasonal salad with the True Blue Hawaii cocktail, a mixture of Stolichnaya vodka, Bacardi rum, blue curacao and pineapple juice.
Under the Moonlight
As the exciting day comes to an end, it’s time for the evening entertainment to pick up. On the western side of the island known as Ko Olina, Monkeypod Kitchen features live music nightly. Local bands and musicians perform as diners nosh on sustainable and simple dishes prepared with locally sourced ingredients. Even the beverage menu maintains local roots: About one-third of the beer list is made up of craft brews from the Hawaiian Islands.
If you prefer entertainment other than music, “Cabarae” at the Hilton Hawaiian Village is a two-hour variety show with comedians, trapeze artists, dancers, impersonators and magicians. Starting at 7 p.m., attendees can lounge on the lanai outside of the showroom and sip on stiff drinks from the bar. The acts begin at 8 p.m. and dazzle audiences with death-defying stunts and amusing performances. Afterward, the space turns into an after-party with the performers and loud music going strong until 2 a.m.
The Modern Honolulu also plays host to late-night rendezvous. During the day, a wall of books in the lobby disguises what later opens to up to be a lounge known as The Study that serves literary cocktails. A selection of drinks named after classic novels offer a fun reference to the venue’s theme: Try the Dante’s Inferno, a martini made with Bombay Sapphire gin, Averna Amaro and sweet vermouth. Plush couches and intimate tables are also scattered throughout the bar for couples to raise their glasses for one last celebratory toast.
But saying aloha to the trip doesn’t just mean bidding farewell; by the end of the romantic getaway, it’s clear that aloha also means love.
A Shore Thing
Hawaii’s other islands also offer a haven for couples looking for an idyllic trip in paradise.
A popular honeymoon destination, Maui has also earned a consistent spot on Condé Nast Traveler’s list of the top 30 islands in the world. The varying landscape on Hawaii’s second-largest island provides endless options for visitors to relax and explore. Take in the beauty of Maui by planning a road trip to Hana; the 68-mile route runs past rainforests, waterfalls and lookout points with dramatic views of the island. Or, discover Maui below the sea level by snorkeling or scuba diving around colorful reefs bursting with vibrant fish and infamous sea turtles.
Kauai’s green paradise is the most rural setting on any of Hawaii’s major islands. Luxury resorts on the South Shore offers a nice contrast to the breathtaking backdrops of the Na Pali Coast to the north and majestic Waimea Canyon to the west. The Na Pali Coast is best explored by air or sea; helicopter tours provide an aerial perspective of the towering cliffs while catamaran cruises sail past the jagged green terrain. No matter where you stay on the island, you’ll find an ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
Where to Stay
An oceanfront resort, Halekulani features elegant rooms and suites surrounded by gorgeous views of landmarks like Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach. Guests achieve the ultimate relaxation when staying here, whether that entails lounging poolside, dining at the award-winning La Mer restaurant or enjoying Hawaiian music and hula each night at House Without a Key. (halekulani.com)
The Modern Honolulu
As its name implies, The Modern Honolulu fuses contemporary style with unassuming characteristics of island living. The decor is minimal yet stylish—think all-white linen in the bedroom splashed with vibrant colors from a small ukulele and orchids. Ideal for a sophisticated crowd, the hotel boasts two pools (one exclusively for adults) and a hidden bar in the lobby. (themodernhonolulu.com)