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Lei lines

Break out the loud shirts. Australian travellers are heading to Hawaii in record numbers, writes Kendall Hill.
Tom Bingham

Break out the loud shirts. Australian travellers are heading to Hawaii in record numbers, writes Kendall Hill.

It’s boom time on Hawaii’s beaches. Lured by the temptations of sun-drenched days and a robust dollar, we’re invading the Aloha State like never before.

Around 68,000 Australians touched down at Honolulu International Airport in the first three months of this year, a 29 per cent increase on 2012 figures. By year’s end, the Hawaii Tourism Authority expects to welcome some 282,000 Australians to its shores and, in the process, notch up a new record in trans-Pacific traffic.

Why Hawaii? “Apart from our well-known beach culture, more Australians are discovering the diversity of our islands,” says Helen Williams, Hawaii Tourism Oceania’s chief. “[They’re] viewing the lava flow to the sea in the Volcanoes National Park, diving with the manta rays off the Kona Coast, teeing off a round of golf overlooking the Pacific Ocean, or catching a wave on the North Shore.”

Australasian arrivals have risen by 30 per cent each year since 2011, but it’s not all about Oahu and the pleasures of Waikiki. Visits to lesser-known but equally enticing islands such as Hawaii (The Big Island) and Maui are up by 40 per cent. And there have been more and more holiday-makers flying in for family reunions and weddings.

The upsurge has led to a boost in airline capacity, with 16 weekly flights from Sydney (even more in peak periods), plus new direct links from Melbourne and Brisbane.

There’s also serious investment in accommodation. Hyatt’s Andaz brand opened its first resort on the Mokapu beachfront at Maui last month. The Andaz Maui at Wailea has 290 rooms and seven two- to four-bedroom villas occupying a prime, six-hectare seafront plot on the island’s south-west coast. In keeping with the Andaz aesthetic, resort décor channels Maui’s rich culture into a contemporary setting full of character and designed to dazzle even the most jaded 21st-century jetsetters. Its attractions include the poolside Morimoto Maui, a signature restaurant by Iron Chef’s Masaharu Morimoto, fusing Japanese tradition with Hawaiian ingredients, and a series of cascading pools with private cabanas.

The Andaz leads a pack of new or improved properties, including the rebooted and rebadged Shoreline Hotel (formerly the Seaside Hotel), a 135-room tower of white on Waikiki. Interior highlights include Wegner wingback chairs and four penthouse suites with panoramic Pacific views.

Hokulani Waikiki by Hilton Grand Vacations Club is due to open late this year and will feature 143 apartment-style rooms in a 14-storey resort. And Hilton has spent $27 million freshening up the guestrooms and public areas of the Ali’i Tower at its Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.

This month dozens of high-profile chefs and winemakers will gather on the islands of Oahu and Maui for the third Hawaii Food & Wine Festival (1-9 September). Tetsuya Wakuda will fly the flag for Australia, conjuring culinary treats from Hawaiian ingredients, part of a line-up including Grant Achatz of Chicago’s Alinea, fusion maestro Nobu Matsuhisa and Christina Tosi of New York’s Momofuku Milk Bar.

Bill Granger is preparing to take a bite of the Hawaiian pineapple, with his Waikiki outpost at 280 Beach Walk due to open this month. The diner, called Bills Sydney, will be “the ultimate beach house”, says Granger, with a downstairs café open from breakfast until late and casual restaurant dining above. Menus will feature such Sydney classics as ricotta hotcakes and toasted coconut bread alongside dishes inspired by Hawaii’s cuisine.

“When I first visited Hawaii I had no idea how vibrant the food scene was,” he says. “I’ve found their version of fusion, with Vietnamese, Japanese, indigenous and, of course, the odd bit of Portland or Brooklyn thrown in, an inspiration.”

So he’s dabbling in a bit of fusion himself, creating new plates such as an avocado and tuna poke with brown rice, cherry tomatoes, sea asparagus and sesame seeds. And, in keeping with Waikiki’s laid-back vibe, this Bills will be the first of Granger’s restaurants to introduce pizze, topped with locally sourced ingredients such as heirloom tomatoes from Ho Farms at Kahuku on Oahu’s north shore.

Like many of his fellow Australians, Granger was drawn to Hawaii for its climate and formidable hospitality, and Honolulu in particular for its accessible pleasures.

“Honolulu is my favourite type of beach, an urban beach,” he says.

Granger spoke to Gourmet Traveller as the fit-out was being completed. “I can’t wait to see the whole place in full swing: banquettes along the verandah filled with customers, baristas churning out coffees and juices in the big feature bar downstairs, the full effect of the space with its timber-clad ceilings and walls, concrete staircase and sunny skylight. I really can’t wait.”

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