25 September 2023

Hawaii’s famous Waikiki beach
Hot spot Hawaii
From whales to A-list celebs and even some veteran hippies… Jessica Barrett found them all at this Hawaiian paradise in the middle of the Pacific Ocean
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efore jetting off to Hawaii, a quick glance at some gossip websites told me I could soon be sharing a beach with Reese Witherspoon, Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow or Charlize Theron. Stars flock to Hawaii’s islands in their droves during the winter months, with good reason. Los Angeles may have decent weather, but Hawaii’s added bonus is its peace and calm.

Hawaii holds a certain mystery for Britons. For a start, there’s a 17-hour journey just to get there (including a brief stopover in a US West Coast city), so it doesn’t come top of most people’s list for a getaway. But this American state (the most recent, joining in 1959) in the middle of the Pacific is so full of charm and adventure that it’s well worth the effort. Six major islands make up Hawaii. Maui, my destination, is often the most popular choice for tourists as it’s so diverse.
There’s plenty to keep activity junkies occupied, with hikes, mountain-biking, surfing, whale-watching and parasailing all on offer. And if you just want to flop by the pool at a five-star resort pina colada in hand, you can do that too. I was hoping to spot whales at Lahaina, a small town on the west of the island.
There’s plenty to keep adrenalin junkies occupied in Maui
"The seafront strip feels like a Disney version of a Hawaiian town - even the Burger King looks idyllic."
The trip was organised by the Ritz Carlton in Kapalua, where I was staying. The hotel has an ecological centre where staff educate guests about Maui’s ecosystem and nature (and, inexplicably, keep two micro-pigs in the garden). The centre also has its own organic farm to provide fruit and vegetables for the hotel restaurants, and there’s a cafe stocked with local produce. As we drove to Lahaina from the hotel, my guide Kevin told me that the whale season in Maui runs from December to April. ‘They come down from Alaska to mate,’ he explained. ‘Lahaina actually used to be a whaling town, but now it’s a sanctuary.

The whales know it’s a safe place to come, so it’s popular now. They come here more than other places like Mexico or California.’ Whales communicate across vast distances using haunting and mysterious underwater sounds. Their very own version of Twitter it seems, and much longer established. Driving to Lahaina, the countryside looked different at each turn. On my right, there was a tropical paradise, with pine, banyan and palm trees (brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians in 300AD), while on my left-hand side there was a soaring mountain range. As we hopped on to the boat and sped off into the bay, I realised our vessel was smaller and much lower in the water than I’d hoped it would be. This meant we’d have a much closer encounter with the whales, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be face-to-face with them! I wondered how long we’d have to wait until we spotted these wonderful mammals.
We had a 90-minute viewing ‘window’ but I had an ominous feeling that it might involve 83 minutes of bobbing around in the bay and seven minutes of actual whale-watching. Fortunately, within five minutes we saw a jet of water spray into the air, making a rainbow above the sparkling sea.

‘There’s a mother whale with her baby,’ Kevin shouted. And that wasn’t all. To our left was a school of dolphins leaping out of the water. And to the front of the boat was a group of seven more humpback whales - and we were just minutes from the dock. Back in Lahaina after an amazing - and incredibly moving - 90 minutes on the ocean waves, I explored the town.
The seafront strip feels like a Disney version of a Hawaiian town - even the Burger King looks idyllic. And the view from the seafront restaurants as the sun sets is one of the most beautiful you’ll ever see. The town’s art gallery, Higgins Harte International, is an unassuming venue but there were works by Picasso and Warhol for sale, and in one corner there was a display of paintings by Sir Anthony Hopkins.

The Welsh actor has chosen this gallery as the only one in the world to show off his work. As pretty as Lahaina is, there’s not a huge amount to do, so I headed to the town of Paia, about an hour’s drive away. Paia means peace - a fitting description for such a carefree town. In 1969 it played host to some of the first hippies from California. That atmosphere lives on today and Paia still has a reputation for hippy culture (but probably with a lot less marijuana).

In the town I found Mana Foods - the best health-food store I’ve ever been to - plus some great gift shops and trendy boutiques too. There’s also a yoga retreat called Lumeria nearby, where you could spend two days undergoing a juice cleanse, or practising yoga and meditation with some of the best teachers on the island. I’ve decided there’s nowhere quite like Hawaii. There’s a reason why the whales - and celebrities - love to come back year after year.

Original article published in Oct 2014. All info and prices correct at time of publication.

"There’s a reason why the whales - and celebrities - come back year after year."
Ritz Carlton in Kapalua
Like the celebrities, whales flock to Hawaii for its peaceful waters
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