The perfect trip if you want to see the mesmerising mountains have been used in Jurassic World, Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla
IMAGINE Jurassic Park but without the dinosaurs.
Sure, it’d make a terrible movie but it’s a far more pleasant tourist experience.
And that’s what Hawaii’s Kualoa Ranch offers, with scenery that looks like it’s straight out of a film… because it is.
The mesmerising mountains have been used in Jurassic World, Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla among others, and if you spot a monster movie trend, it’s perhaps because the backdrop looks like it belongs to a long-lost world.
The best views came when we took a big raft out on to the ‘fishpond’, an 800-year-old manmade lake that served as the Sea World-style feeding pool for the monstrous Mosasaurus in Jurassic World.
But if Oahu – by far the most heavily populated of the eight main islands that make up Hawaii – can boast prehistoric pleasures in parts, it’s surprisingly modern in others.
We stayed at the Outrigger Reef hotel on Waikiki Beach in the state capital of Honolulu, a city which defied my preconceptions of grass skirts, lei garlands and hula dancing.
Honolulu is a thriving metropolis that combines the bustle of city life with surf culture. A wander around the main streets at night, lit by tiki torches, has a relaxed, classy feel, while restaurants like seafood specialist Herringbone or new Asian grill Baku offer a spectacular setting to indulge your tastebuds.
Other highlights are a Friday sunset fireworks cruise, or learning how to make a delicious Mai Thai cocktail at Tiki’s bar (top tip, don’t squeeze the squirty cream gun too hard like I did).
The Outrigger Reef’s position smack bang on the beach provided a chance to try out another famous Hawaiian pastime: surfing.
Waikiki Beach is a great spot for beginners, and the Gone Surfing school was able to get every one of our group of novices riding the waves on supersize boards in an afternoon. It’s exhausting but you only need that one time when you catch the rushing swell and stand aloft for ten seconds to make it worthwhile.
While Oahu is the busiest island, it’s not the biggest. That honour goes to the confusingly named ‘island of Hawaii’ – pronounced have-eye-ee and also known as ‘the Big Island – a short plane hop away, where we stayed for two nights.
Our base was the Hilton Waikoloa Village, a magnificent sprawling hotel boasting a huge pool with waterfalls, a waterslide, a rope bridge and a jacuzzi grotto, as well as a dolphin pool and a manmade lagoon with pedalos and paddleboards.
It’s the first hotel I’ve stayed in where to get to your room from reception, you have a choice of travelling by monorail or boat!
The Hilton was the perfect base to explore the island – you’ll need to hire a car to get around – and its active volcanoes.
The scenery is rugged and barren in parts, a change from the tropical fertility of Oahu but still spectacular.
Sadly we didn’t get to see any lava bubbling on our volcano visit – just steady wisps of smoke from the crater – but if you opt for a longer drive, there is a boat tour that takes you close to the magma as it oozes into the ocean.
Thankfully, there was no sea lava for our other major activity – a night snorkel with manta rays. While not for the seasick, this was a spellbinding chance to get up close to the gentle 8ft-wide mantas. Visitors cling to a rig trailing off the boat that shines light into the depths, attracting plankton and, in turn, hungry mantas. Our rig transfixed a couple of female rays, who spent much of the hour gracefully looping up so close to us that they brushed us, causing lots of snorkel-muffled oohs and aahs.
For the less adventurous, don’t miss a visit to the Lava Lava Beach Club, for glorious cocktails and scrumptious food in a big beach hut with fabulous views.
Back at the Hilton my yearning for touristy stereotypes was finally satisfied with a luau, or Hawaiian barbecue, accompanied by an outdoor theatre show. Hula-dancing, singing, dancing, grass skirts, a flower garland around my neck and some impressive fire-dancing (I always think that sort of thing sounds dull but this was genuinely thrilling) that put a big grin on my face.
All that and we’d only seen two islands, barely scratching the surface of even those. Each has its own distinct feel, and I’m already eyeing up my next trip, when I’ll want to add Maui to the itinerary.
Any downsides? Well despite being good value, Hawaii’s still not cheap, and it is an awfully long journey.
I’d never travelled first class before – and usually wouldn’t see the point even for long-haul – but Hawaii is 17hrs of flight time, on top of waiting for a transfer halfway and travel to and from the airport at either end. So on this occasion the upper class berth with reclining bed seats and food and drink on tap was a real boon, as was the access to the Virgin lounges at Heathrow and LA. If you want to treat yourself, this is the flight to do it on, so keep an eye out for special offers. That way, you’ll have the best chance of arriving fresh and jetlag-free.
And believe me, you won’t want to miss a moment on these magical islands. Aloha!
GETTING / STAYING THERE: Virgin Holidays have seven nights room-only in Hawaii, staying at the Outrigger Reef from £1,395per person. Includes Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow to Seattle and a connecting Delta flight to Honolulu. Price based on March 1, 2018 departure. A two-week two-island trip to O’ahu and Hawaii, staying at the Outrigger Reef and Hilton Waikoloa Village is from £2,295, based on March 12, 2018 departure and including internal flights. See virginholidays.co.uk or call 0344 557 3859.
MORE INFO: See GoHawaii.com/UK